A few weeks ago, my husband and I had dinner with our old friend Craig. Craig reads this blog and occasionally comments on it. He was also our interior decorator when we moved into our condo and had to deal with many deepseated emotional conflicts, such as my husband’s troubling aversion to interesting-looking colors on the walls. (I know Craig probably agreed with me most of the time, since I have really great taste and my husband doesn’t, but he was too tactful to mention it.)
But, as usual, that’s neither here nor there. The condo’s painted and the yelling has stopped, and we were having dinner together in Houston. The bill came and my husband picked it up. Craig didn’t utter a peep, since he worked for us and never charged us a dime; if we take him out to dinner every week for the next 50 years, we will still come out way ahead.
Still, it made me think. Going out to dinner with Craig didn’t used to be so trauma- and drama-free when the check arrived. Circa 1975, for example, I have a vivid memory of the three of us eating at a steak restaurant in Austin. We were young, we were broke students, and dining at a decent restaurant — when we usually ate homemade bean soup at home — was a big, expensive deal.
The check landed on the table. The war began. You would have thought Craig and my husband had wrestled in high school instead of being in the school band together. They lunged, they grabbed, they feinted, they loudly insisted, they argued.
“Let me get it!”
I watched idly, noting to myself that women never behaved like that. They had other pick-up-the-check personality disorders of the more nitpicky variety (“Well, you had the iced tea, and I just got water — ” “Yeah, but you got dessert and I didn’t — ” “Let’s see” — whipping out a pencil to do math — “you owe me $1.98.”) That kind of low-rent stuff that can simmer on for hours.
But this! This gimme-the-check routine was high-handed and loud and insistent in a way I didn’t quite understand at the time. I didn’t have brothers and my father had been sufficiently cheap to be thrilled any time somebody else tried to pick up a tab; I didn’t know that this was all a result of testosterone-poisoning. I just thought, at the time, that both guys were a little cuckoo.
The fracas built to a shattering denouement in the parking lot. By then, both guys had kind of split the check, but there was some kind of disagreement on one paying more than the other — and that was very, very bad. Lines were drawn and jaws were clenched.
One or the other of them — to make his macho point — threw three one-dollar bills on the pavement. The money stayed there, as both guys stared at each other with some kind of unflinching O.K. Corral rectitude. Finally, Craig got into his car and my husband and I got into ours and engines were gunned while the $3 lay there on the pavement. (By the way, it is hard to gun the engine if you’re driving a rattletrap VW bug whose engine is as powerful as a sewing machine. But whatever.)
I can still see them there — three little paper monuments to male intransigence. Three dollars — at a time when our weekly grocery bill was under $10.
Sweet Jesus! I jumped out of the car, picked up the money, screamed something unprintable about the male sex and jumped back into the car and slammed the door.
Three dollars. I recently did the math and realized the equivalent percentage of money — given inflation and our current, more affluent circumstances — is something like $375.
Three hundred and seventy-five dollars. If you leave that kind of dough in a parking lot to make your alpha male point, I know your problem. You are not traveling with a woman.
(Copyright 2012 by Ruth Pennebaker)
For yet another thoughtful post on men, please see this post on how In Spite of Everything, I Still Miss John Wayne