How Many Men Does It Take to Pick Up the Check?

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

16 comments… add one
  • Craig Link

    I am reminded of my early days doing my laundry at the local washarama. No matter how I stuffed those underwear deep in the laundry basket they had a way of rising to the top once I placed the basket on the folding table.
    Again my shit stained shorts have risen to the top for all to see.

    Let me just say that the gangly collection of quirks, tics,and generally obstreperous behaviors that we called Craig is no longer with us having been replaced with a kinder, gentler, and yes , more portly being. My days of wrestling Jimbo in the parking lot are long gone. I now tip when I am supposed to and just smile beatifically when I am not.
    I know you gals think the mother/daughter debacle is comparable to the father/son version but that genetic pipeline is sometimes scary. I can see where Aeschylus was coming from. Let’s just say that was the old man that peeled away that night and I will get back to folding my laundry

  • carla Link

    thanks for an early morning giggle!

  • My husband and his father do this at dinner. There is lunging. There are raised voices. The last time we ate out, I was closest to where the waitress stood and my husband whispered to me “When she puts the bill on the table, I want you to grab it!”

  • Sheryl Link

    You always manage to make me laugh, Ruth. The toughest part about figuring out the check is when one couple drinks and the other doesn’t. I’m of the school where if you drink, you should pay for it, not expect the others to…but lots of people differ on this.

  • You are so right. As I grow older, I learn to appreciate the differences between men and women more every day.

  • Meg Link

    I have been blaming testosterone poisoning for all kinds of male behavior for years. Delighted to see you use that term!

  • Patricia N Link

    My teen son doesn’t get the infighting over the bill which happens every time we go out with family or friends. His response is that he will always let the other person pay!

  • Cindy D. Link

    I, too, remember those days when $3.00 was a huge deal. When my husband and I were in undergraduate school, we’d save all week to be able to go to Dunkin Donuts and have our date night – 2 donuts each and 2 cups of coffee. Now I’m one of the 47% that Mitt Romney thinks is a freeloader. Think I could sell him my Ph.D.? Retiring as a school teacher doesn’t get you a big pension.

  • I would have jumped out of the car to pick up the money too. I think I might have left the alpha males to walk home tho.

  • I actually do try to pay a lot. I don’t know why. So I’ve on occasion gotten into such a fracas. Sometimes I arrive early and hand my credit card to the waiter, telling him to run it and not bring the bill to the table at all. That way no one can fight with me.

  • Ha! This made me laugh, because it’s so true. I’ve just given up with these sorts of struggles. If someone else wants to pay the bill, by god they can go crazy with it.

  • This is so funny. The strange thing is that we usually have friends who have money and never fight us when we pick up the check! 🙂

  • Thanks for the morning laugh with my coffee. I’d rather see macho behavior over who pays the check than a gaggle of females with a calculator figuring who owes what to the last penny. And don’t get me started on the tip.

  • I’m with Donna. And, among women, freelance writers can be the worst!
    Great post!

  • This reminds me of something that happened when I was a teen. There was a tornado that went through downtown Denver while my dad was driving home from the city. So what did he do? Followed the tornado home.

  • That’s hilarious. You’re such a great writer, Ruth.

    We kind of have the opposite issues now, with nobody picking up the check.

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