Picking it up
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – There are questions lodged deep in the center of the universe, in that dead zone where the last vestiges of the big bang hang around emitting gas and tiny gluons, queries that have endured, insoluble, since before time was of the essence.

What is the nature of existence?

Does humanity possess, as Spinoza believed, free will, or was Calvin right in his contention that our destiny is formed by immutable forces that none of us may understand or alter in any way?

And who should pick up the check?

Of these, only the last can be answered by rational means. Let's try, since its resolution may be of considerably more importance in daily life than the first two.

1. If you are dining with your boss and a few associates under cordial conditions, think: Your boss has a boss who has a boss. His boss and his boss's boss look at his expense account, unless you're working someplace that has yet to hear of the odious new controls on corporate spending. Your boss would rather approve your expenditures--particularly the ones he helped rack up--than have to justify his own to his boss, his boss's boss, and the boss of the finance department. Pick it up.

2. When you're with a crowd talking business and everybody looks at the check when it arrives and trembles, be a dude. Your legend will grow.

3. At quasi-social but legitimate business occasions, if you're with an attractive member of a gender not your own and want to impress him or her with your moxie, stretch your arm in the proper direction and lift. Money is power is sex, not necessarily in that order, but often, as is proved by the number of great-looking women who seem to accompany rich trolls with too much eyebrow.

4. If you're with a peer and want to show that your largesse is more muscular than his, exercise that plastic with aplomb. He'll wonder just how big your chops are in comparison with his own, and that's always a good thing.

5. If you're with a pal from another corporation who thinks he's a bigshot, show that your company is not afraid to put players on the field who know how to swagger.

6. When people start calling you America's Guest, prove them wrong. My pals Rafferty and Morgenstern have each earned this sobriquet through years of resolute stinginess. Rafferty is worse. Not only does he suck up expensive wine and food--he's been known to order "a lobster for the table"--but at the end of the meal he often exhorts his host, "Don't embarrass me with the tip."

7. Speaking of the tip, paying the tab gives you control and the right to express yourself. If your steak, which you ordered medium, first comes with a pulse and then, after you send it back, returns ironically charred, here's your chance to show your editorial displeasure.

8. If you're in a large public place where all the powermeisters go, and you want to be the center of attention, allow your platinum to shine. People really serious about making a statement can get those cheap eyeglasses for ostentatious perusal of the bill. "What a hitter!" they will say as you peer at the check like a banker examining his books.

9. If you are with a friend who has stoutly done his part over the years, who has taken you out to places both high and low, who has slapped down his card even when the name on it is not the corporation's but his own, then pick up the frickin' check now and then, and not just for a hamburger either. When the pedal hits the metal in the three-digit range, then, ah, what glory your generosity will bring!

10. If you're with some poor dork who doesn't have an expense account, pay the bill. Other people give to save the whales. You can do this, and feel beautiful.

And oh, yeah. I know I don't have to tell you this, but keep it real. You know what's a permissible expense, don't you, pal? No, it's not your greens fees. It's not your clothes. It's not the La-Z-Boy you just picked up for the rumpus room or the car you and your spouse are renting for the trip to Squaw. It's the New York strip at Sparks, accompanied by a reasonable red that you can enjoy without question because the guy dribbling gorgonzola on his tie across the table confers a ton of business on your operation. Life is good. Everything is free. Because you're doing the right thing. You're staying within the lines, even as you make them bulge just a little.

But not too much. I know a guy who blew up the balloon just a little too far. When it popped, he was in for a world of hurt. No, they didn't fire him. They made him pay a whole bunch back. Some things are too scary to think about.

But think about it. Then go out there and spread some joy!

STANLEY BING's new book, Sun Tzu Was a Sissy: Conquer Your Enemies, Promote Your Friends, and Wage the REAL Art of War (HarperBusiness), is available at finer bookstores everywhere. He can be reached at stanleybing@aol.com.