(This Dave Barry column was originally published July 29, 2001.)
I received a letter from a reader named Dick Demers, who relates a shocking story:
It seems Dick and his wife had driven a long distance to visit his wife's sister. To refresh himself, Dick went into the guest bathroom, took a shower, then dried himself off. That's the story. Pretty shocking, huh?
Dick's wife thought so. She was horrified.
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''You used the GOOD TOWELS!'' she said.
And he had. It's a mistake many guys make. A guy will be in a guest bathroom, dripping wet, and he sees a towel, and for some insane reason he thinks it was put there for guests to dry themselves with.
In fact, as Dick's wife angrily pointed out to him, the towels they were supposed to use were NOT in the bathroom; they were (of course!) in the bedroom. The towel Dick used was intended solely as decoration.
Here's a similar bonehead error that guys often commit in guest bathrooms: They see soap on a soap dish, and they use it to WASH THEIR HANDS. This, of course, ruins the guest soap, which is defined as ''soap that guests are not supposed to use.'' Its purpose is to match the guest towels.
In his letter to me, Dick criticized this kind of thinking by comparing it to a hypothetical situation involving guys. Suppose, he wrote, that a guy is working on his car, and he asks you to hand him a 9/16 wrench. You go over to some wrenches hanging on the wall and start to take one, and the guy yells, ``NOT THOSE! THOSE ARE FOR DECORATION!''
Dick, when you put it that way, the concept of purely decorative towels DOES seem silly. But there's actually a very logical explanation for it: Women are insane.
No, I am, of course, just kidding. There really is a good reason. I just don't know what it is. What I do know is that the practice of providing guests with conveniences they cannot use is not limited to the bathroom. The guest bedroom is usually equipped with decorative candles that you must not burn, because that would ruin them. Also you must never throw any waste into the decorative wastebasket, which has never contained any waste and may have been waxed just before your arrival. If, during your visit, you generate waste, you should hide it in your suitcase and take it home.
But the trickiest thing is the guest bed. Oh, it may have attractive pillows on it, and a comfy-looking quilt, but you are NOT supposed to use these. You're supposed to take the pillows-which are called ``shams''-off the bed and replace them with the REAL pillows, which are hidden somewhere, generally in the closet, which is where you're supposed to put the quilt, which is on the bed solely to match the shams and should NOT come into contact with your disgusting oily guest body.
If your hostess subscribes to Martha Stewart Living, the guest bed may be so massively fortified with decorative objects that it can be deconstructed for sleeping use only by a licensed interior designer. I'm talking about a bed that is surrounded by a dust ruffle and buried under a complex, towering arrangement of approximately 46 shams and other decorative pillows, which are on top of the quilt, which may be encased in a ''duvet cover'' and further accessorized by (these are real decorator names) a ''soutache.'' In extreme cases, the entire bed will be surrounded by a giant net, as if to protect it from vampire bats (which will be dyed to match the duvet cover).
If you, as a guest, encounter such a bed, do NOT approach it. Back slowly out of the room and sleep on the lawn.
Of course, you won't encounter these problems if you're a guest in a household run by a guy, because he won't have fancy guest bedding. In fact, he won't have a guest bed. You'll sleep on the sofa under a Batman beach towel with stains dating back to the Reagan administration. In the morning, you can use this towel to dry yourself after your shower. Feel free to use the guest soap, which you can assemble yourself from ancient shards of Dial on the shower floor.
But to get back to Dick Demers' letter: Dick, you make a logical point about the towels. But this is not about logic; this is about etiquette, and too often we males forget the basic underlying principle of all etiquette, which is: We are scum. So I urge you to apologize to your wife's sister, and henceforth show proper respect for her good towels by not treating them as if they were towels.
And do NOT blow your nose on the shams.
(c) 2008, Dave Barry