Don't Fence Me Out
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – I went to the Super Bowl and it was all right. The game itself was pretty terrible unless you came from Baltimore, which, sadly, I do not. But just being there made me feel like a very important person, and I had ample opportunity to enjoy that status for most of the four-day weekend. Except when I didn't. You'd think that being at the Super Bowl would make you a very important person ipso facto, a priori. But you'd be wrong. All it does is make you an important person. The "V" is up for grabs and as hard to get hold of as a greased pig.

There are people, and there are important people, and then there are very important people. The trick is to be as many of the three as possible--all at the same time. That's not easy, because the state of being very important is relative. That is, you may be a very important person only to find that there are very, very important people around, and even if you by some chance manage to ascend to very, very, there will most likely be others who are up to the job of out-verying you by one or two verys. I venture to say that there is always, in fact, someone more very than you are, unless you are, perhaps, the Pope, and he doesn't go to the Super Bowl, I don't think, or Frank Sinatra, and he is dead.

Plus, there is this consideration: that while you may be a genuinely very important person in one location, you may only be an entry-level important person in another one. Being just a run-of-the-mill important person after you have tasted very-hood is a comedown, creating tremendous feelings of inferiority and rage among those to whom it happens.

A drum roll, please. VIPs assemble! How noble they are, their aquiline noses flaring in the fumes from the steam tables! Yes, it's here that the contest is played out on a very public field of battle--the VIP room. There always is one, no matter where you are, and sometimes two or three, depending on the levels of caste that are being determined. There is the velvet rope! Here are we, and shall we enter? The blood runs hot--and cold too. For it is here that the entire pageant will be played out in all its infinitesimal glory.

At the commissioner's party in the Convention Center, there was a beautiful spread that took up acres of real estate, with fabulous decorations, very good food, and lots of bands. In the middle of the central ballroom was a very large space--cavernous, empty. Everyone who wanted to be in the VIP space was excluded. All those who were welcome were not interested in being there. It was a wonderful, pristine VIP room, expressing everything about all VIP rooms in its purity and emptiness. My friend Harold, an old friend of the commissioner's, approached him with a couple of friends. "Hi, Harold," said the commissioner. He and my friend hugged. "Have you seen the rest of the party?" the commissioner asked my friend Harold. We walked away from the VIP space, and it loomed huge in our imaginations, and there was nobody in it.

Later that night, or maybe it was the next, I went to a party thrown by Maxim magazine. It was way the hell out in the middle of nowhere, and you needed wheels to get there. A big screen projected images of the new arrivals as they pulled up to the front door in their 40-foot-long Lincoln Navigator stretches. We had a modest Town Car, and nobody looked at us. Inside it was a zoo. A huge, impatient line of people who had already proved they were On the List were being rudely siphoned through one little tiny door. Then, we were in! How very important! Except...the gigantic room was jammed, mostly with hungry, swarthy guys in open-collared shirts, circling a very small number of women in ornate lingerie. There were three very small bars at which you had to pay the bartender $20 just to get his attention. When I got to the front, they were out of beer. I didn't feel very important at all.

But good news. Outside the room, at the end of the lobby, there was a small door. In front of it was a rope, and on the rope it said VIP. That was for us, and we got in, too, because a pal of mine knew somebody who knew somebody. In the room were even more people per square inch than in the main room, and it was hotter. 'N Sync, I heard, had just left. The main VIPs in the room, other than myself and my friends, were Tom Arnold, Rob Schneider, and Gervase. If you don't know who any of those people are, I can't help you. You probably don't belong in the room anyhow.

The next night, or maybe it was the one before, I went to a Ricky Martin concert on an Air Force base. There was no VIP room per se--but there was a VIP seating area, where some genuinely important people crammed in rather than sit anywhere else. "Can you help me get in there?" said a fellow who would have been a legitimate VIP at Spago. He was sitting right next to me, and I took this as an insult to our section, which was way better than the one to its left or right. "No," I said.

The following day I had lunch at Hattricks, which boasts one of the better cheeseburgers in Tampa, which means they don't put Cheez Whiz on it. The bar was very crowded with people celebrating the joy of Super Bowl, so when I was done, I left. To the right of Hattricks as you face it, in a parking lot next to the door to the kitchen, some rickety folding chairs nestled around three or four sad, saggy, little plastic tables. At one a guy sat with what remained of a beer, staring off into the middle distance. A hank of something like brown packing string was stretched across the front of the parking lot, so no cars could go in. On the string was a little sign on the kind of raw, brown paper they use to make garbage bags. I bet it once was a garbage bag. On the paper were three letters in what looked like magic marker. I don't have to tell you what they were.

Later that night I met a guy at the bar in the hotel who bent my ear awhile about how great things were in the VIP room of the strip club he had just come from.

I did finally go one place in Tampa where there were no VIPs, or at least there was no room dedicated to them. It was my own company party. We had hot dogs and grilled-chicken sandwiches, and we all made a lot of noise. Maybe everybody knew who was a VIP in that group without the little roped-off room. Maybe after a few beers together it wasn't very important. But we all had dinner with the people we'd hung with a million times and were pretty thoroughly bored with, and we took in a bit of warmth on what turned out to be a chilly evening, and then we went out again to a waiting limo to see whether we could get into the Sports Illustrated party at Ybor City.

We couldn't, by the way. There were too many jerks in there. But it wasn't very important at all.

By day, STANLEY BING is a real executive at a real FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name. He can be reached at