It's a !@#$% Man's World
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – A true story, in three acts.

Act 1: I go to my car the other night and it is a big, cool-looking doorstop. That is, the key goes into the ignition and then, quite dramatically, nothing happens. It has something to do with an anti-theft chip that GM puts into its ignition keys. The car is deader than Napster. I take a train home and the next day bring in another key, which works just fine.

The idea of having only one key standing between me and a totally moribund Camaro gives me agita, however. A second key is clearly advisable. Like all great business executives, I delegate the problem to my chief operating officer in these matters, my wife--who is, as you may guess, a woman.

Act 2: My wife, who as you may imagine has other things to do and knows as little about automobile anti-theft systems as I do, calls the local dealer, where we purchased the car. She reaches a guy in the service department.

The conversation goes like this:

"Good morning," says my wife. "My husband's ignition key won't start his 2000 Camaro. We think it has something to do with an anti-theft chip in the key itself. The second key works fine, and we'd like to get a copy so that we have a backup. The car is on warranty still, so the new key should probably be free."

"I don't think I get what you mean, honey," says the service guy.

"Well, there's this chip that doesn't let the car start, right? Built into the key?"

"Chip?" says the guy. "You're gonna have to bring the car in and we'll see."

"You can't make a new key without the car?"

"Nah, you gotta leave the car here. Hold on a minute," says the guy and goes away for a while. Then he comes back.

"Then...can I make an appointment?" my wife inquires.

"You can come in any time after eight," says the guy brusquely.

"Then it's first come, first served."

"Really?" says my wife. "You can't have a solid appointment?"

"Well, honey," says the guy, "It's not like everybody is just standing around the place waiting for your arrival."

My wife is no consumer cream puff. "You have some kind of a problem?" she says quietly.

"No," says the guy, immediately snapping to. "Is there some way I could be serving you that I'm not?"

"What's your name?" says my wife.

"Tom," says the service guy.

My wife then calls and tells me the whole story. I think I know what's going on. My wife is getting woman's treatment. I'm determined to handle this like a man.

Act 3: I call the dealer back. Tom is not in, having accomplished his goal for the morning, i.e., nothing. I get Barry.

"Barry," I say in my nastiest tone imaginable. "You have some !#$!@ named Tom who works there?"

"Yes, sir," says Barry. "Is there a problem?"

"Yeah," I say with maximum truculence. "You're damn right there's a !@#!$ problem. Your guy was rude to my wife and is wasting our @#$% time, that's the problem."

"I'm very sorry, sir," says Barry. "How can I be of assistance to you right now?"

"I need to have a key made for my Camaro. I need it today."

"We can do that."

"And you don't need the car to do it, right?"

"No, sir. We need your VIN number."

"You have the !#@$$ VIN number. You sold me the car, didn't you, Barry?"

"Yes, sir. Then we do have your VIN number, and there won't be any problem at all. When would you like the key? Later today?"

"I can pick it up tomorrow morning."

"It'll be here for you, sir," says Barry. "Say...about 8 a.m.?"

"I'm very busy, Barry. Make sure it's there on time."

"Yes, sir. No problem, sir. See you then, sir."

"You know, Barry," I say, "it's been very nice to deal with you. But that guy Tom has some kind of problem dealing with women. You ought to do something about it."

"He's a relative of the owner," says Barry.

I go to the dealer at 7:45 A.M. the following day. The key is ready. Barry is waiting for me. As I arrive, dressed like a businessman in a suit and tie, the entire service department begins orbiting me as the moons orbit Jupiter. Barry offers me coffee. Another gentleman prepares the warranty work so I won't have to pay a dime. I scowl and prowl around as if I'm about to yell at someone.

I look around for anybody named Tom. No one fitting that description is there. I'm not surprised. Who would want to deal with a jerk like me?

I'm out of there in five minutes, tops, with my new key and an added appreciation of what it's like to live in a world where white, nasty men in business suits get all the breaks, particularly if they know how the !#@!$ game is played.

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