Great questions of our age
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – AS WE TRAVEL THROUGH THIS VALE of tears and laughter, we encounter certain phenomena that, I am convinced, we were never meant to understand. And there seem to be a lot more of them lately.

•Why have bartenders suddenly decided to serve me half a martini? Several years ago there seemed to be universal agreement that the drink should be presented in a glass that contained roughly eight ounces of liquid. That was a pleasant departure from the original concept of the drink, which was far more modest in scope. The new dimension of the beverage was accompanied by an aggrandizement in the olive, which became a juicy object roughly the size of an egg. There was also an escalation in the price, which, in the places where I do business, now hovers near the $15 range and sometimes, in very pretentious places, a fifth of a C-note. Then, about a year ago, the level in the glass began to drop. The price stayed the same, as did the olive. If it were removed, the fluid would now barely fill a third of the space. I'm a thirsty guy. This won't do. Should I complain? Why are they doing this?

•What has happened to all the men at the construction sites that clog traffic in every city where I travel? The cones are there, permanently narrowing the lanes as dramatically as bacon fat clogs my arteries. Now and then you spot someone in a hard hat, smoking. Other than that, it's a ghost town out there. Where have all the workers gone? Are they meeting in some secret location, laughing about what they have done to the traffic? Can they be found, so that they finish a project or two before I die or retire, whichever comes first?

•At airports, when I am paying for six magazines, a pack of Polar Ice Eclipse, a soda, a pen, a newspaper, and a $12 paperback, why am I asked if I would like a bag? Is there a shortage of bags? Do they expect me to exit the store balancing my trove on top of my briefcase?

And while they are hoarding bags, why are they shoving a receipt at me? In my youth I was accustomed to getting a receipt when I made a major purchase, or one that might be reflected on my taxes, or when acquiring an item that might need to be returned later. Now, even establishments that sell perishable goods like burgers and doughnuts have little signs that read IF WE DON'T GIVE YOU A RECEIPT, IT'S FREE. Who needs them? I don't. Do you? The other day I received a piece of paper as long as my arm when I picked up a Diet Coke at Best Buy! Can we make it stop?

•Why do the powers that be demand documentation and possible restitution if we have a jar of macadamia nuts and a tiny Grey Goose from the minibar, when at that same moment an army of executive boozers is down at the bar sucking down drinks and scarfing up appetizers without fear of a colonoscopy from Accounting?

•Why do people find it necessary to tell us where they are when they are calling us on a cellphone? Nobody says, "Hi, I'm calling you from my office on a landline. Now I'm getting up from my desk and walking to the window. Now I'm sitting down again and pouring myself a glass of water from a tiny bottle." But people will regale you with nonsense like "Hi, I'm on Third and Weaseltier, and I'm about to go over the bridge, and I'm down to one bar, and bleh-bleh-bleh," so that it takes five minutes to figure out what they are actually calling about.

•Does Diet Coke make you fat? Have you ever seen a thin person drinking one?

•Do traffic cops cause traffic jams? How many times have you been in a snarl, only to find that at the dead center of it is a police officer in white gloves making sure that everything remains that way?

The other day I was forced to call AOL about some issue, and the message said, "Due to system enhancements, there may be longer holding times." Did somebody write that to amuse himself?

•Why is it that when you land at Kennedy airport in New York City at midnight after a flight from the coast, the ground crew there routinely makes everybody on the plane wait for 20 minutes before showing up to roll out the gangway and let us out? Are they surprised that we're here? Why? Didn't they have six hours to prepare for this moment? Are they secreted somewhere with the construction workers who have been hiding since 1975 instead of finishing the work on the airport? Are they off drinking half martinis, laughing with fat policemen drinking Diet Cokes and planning the next traffic jam?

If there is anyone out there who has the answer to any of those questions, please let me know. I'll consider your solution with great humility and appreciation, and then probably tell you you're full of it.

You can't tell me I need a friggin' receipt for a $2 pack of gum.

STANLEY BING's latest 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