April 1, 2007
Seating ArrangementsBy Paul Shlichta
In a recent analysis of current gender disparities in communication, Selwin Duke wisely refrained from tackling the toilet-seat-position (TSP) issue. I was less prudent a few years ago, when my three sons and two daughters lived in five apartments in Seattle and gathered frequently to drink and talk.
Soon enough, the TSP dispute flared up when the girls demanded that the seat be left down whenever anyone left anyone's bathroom, claiming that this was an extension of the Affirmative Action Program. The boys appealed to me for guidance. Since I was working on a manual of methods, including consulting and negotiating strategies, I jumped at the chance to display my methodological prowess.
Starting with the usual Homage-to-Predecessor Gambit, I pointed out that by previously leaving the seat whichever way they had used it, they had approximated the Gilbreth Method of making the fewest possible movements.
The girls objected on the somewhat contradictory grounds of gender equality and male noblesse oblige. I therefore suggested the more sophisticated Game Theory Method, in which the probable sex of the next user would be estimated. A box of pink and blue marbles would be kept in the bathroom and a selection made on each social occasion, corresponding to the number of males and females then present. Before leaving the bathroom, each user would draw at random from the selection and leave the seat up or down accordingly.
This practice would in theory require even fewer seat changes but was unanimously rejected as involving too much effort. I countered with the Mathematicians' Method of always leaving the seat the way one found it, thereby reducing the problem to one that had already been solved. The girls vetoed this as favoring them only 40% of the time.
The French Method-of hiring elderly women to stay in each bathroom, usher in users, flip the seat for them, and hold out a hand for a tip-was ruled out because of inadequate bathroom space.
I next suggested the Miss Manners Method, guessing that she would have decreed that the seat be left in the position corresponding to the sex of the host or hostess. The girls countered that it would be more polite for the host to favor the guests. After lengthy discussion, this approach was dropped.
Moving on with the times, I proposed the Politically Correct Method of creating the greatest inconvenience for the greatest number of people. Accordingly, both seat and seat cover would be left down after every use, thereby giving everyone something to do.
A variant of this, the Apparent Compromise method, would entail installing special hinges so that the seat could be left at a forty-five degree angle, thereby providing everyone with an equal task.
Alternatively, the Government Method, of yielding to all pressure groups at maximum cost, would involve installing two appropriately labeled toilets in each bathroom, or better yet, two bathrooms in each apartment.
I also suggested the NASA Method of using the highest tech, most-likely-to-malfunction approach-in this case, an automated sex-sensing seat flipper that would instantly adjust to each entrant. All of these were rejected, showing to my delight that my brood had more sense than the society in which they lived.
Next, as consultants often do, I tried to slip in a few personally advantageous methods. I proposed the Scientist's Method of applying for a Federal research grant. My clients immediately saw through my self-serving and refused to join me in a HUD proposal.
I next tried the Barter Method of trading one concession for another. I had long chafed at the female habit of leaving the driver's seat of a car pushed forward, so that the next (bigger) male to enter finds himself jammed between seat and steering wheel. I proposed that we men would concede downward toilet seats in exchange for rearward car seats. But my boys, having no cars to worry about, backed down when my wife vetoed the measure.
In retaliation, I proposed the Draconian Method of eliminating the problem by removing the seats altogether, as they do in prisons. This was also vetoed.
The reader will note that two obvious methods weren't considered. The Minimal Correction Method would have involved a handle attached to the side of the seat, so that no one would have minded flipping it.
The Courtesy Method would have been for each gender to willingly accommodate the other. But this is the twenty-first century, the Age of Intransigence, and such compromises are not acceptable.
By this time, the girls accused me of using the UN Method of conducting interminable discussions while nothing was actually done. The threatened to counter with the North Korean Method, of walking away from the bargaining table and boycotting future gatherings.
So for a while, the seats remained down after every departure. The girls thought they had won by using the Henlein Method ("Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.") but then discovered that the boys were using the Passive-Aggressive Method. They weren't putting the seats down after use; they just weren't putting them up and were relying on careful aim.
In the end, out of sheer fatigue, everyone reverted to the Gilbreth Method and I returned to my book, unabashed by my failure. For theory, thank God, is much easier than practice.