Bill didn’t feel like he had to justify it for any particular reason. He just had a Shania Twain song stuck in his head, and wanted to post the video to Facebook. He heard “Still The One” at the supermarket when he was buying salad fixings and almond milk, and for better or worse, it lodged itself in his brain sideways.
Maybe, he theorized, if he just announced to the world that it was stuck in his head, that would be enough to un-stick it. He wasn’t even particularly upset about it being there, truth be told. As far as earworms went, it was far less offensive than, say, “Nookie”, or, “I’ve Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts”.
But still, he had other things to think about, like ebola, and picking the exact right excuse for not working out. So far “ebola” was looking like the frontrunner. But he couldn’t be 100% sure, because there was “Still The One”, marching around his brain like it owned the joint, making itself comfortable and moving in all of its luggage and furniture and gauzy linens.
Maybe all it would take is one of his Facebook friends to click the link, against their better judgement, and the song would instantly leap from his brain into theirs, like the aliens in The Hidden.
So Bill posted the YouTube video for “Still The One” on Facebook, along with the note, “This is stuck in my head for some reason, so let’s all enjoy it together.” Originally he was going to write “suffer through” instead of “enjoy”, but as previously noted, it wasn’t even particularly bothering him. Much.
And then he made himself a salad and watched two hours of CNN ebola coverage.
After calling his trainer to cancel his workout, Bill checked his Facebook. There were a smattering of “Likes” for his Shania Twain post, and a couple of comments from his sisters about how they LOVE. THIS. SONG. SO. MUCH. One of them, Terri, referred to it as an “oldie”, and he didn’t really know how to feel about that. Old, mostly.
He was going to close his computer and go back to waiting for his television to tell him when and how he was going to die, when a new comment popped up. It was Frank Rheingold, a dude he went to high school with a million years ago. Back when “Still The One” was a “newie”.
“Oh, Jesus Christ, Bill. This is just embarrassing. Turn in your Man Card IMMEDIATELY.”
Bill spent the next 20 minutes starting to write a response, erasing it, starting it again, erasing it again, and staring at his screen. At first he thought he was at a loss for words because what Frank The High School Dude had written was patently ridiculous, but after some consideration and soul-searching, he knew what he had to do.
Bill sat in his home office, holding a manila folder of his most important documents. He sighed, and opened it. He flipped past his Passport, his birth certificate, and his Social Security card. And there it was. There it was at the back of the folder, wedged in the crease. It was yellowed around the edges and had definitely seen better days.
It was his Man Card.
He thought about his late father, and the ratty bar he took Bill to on his 21st birthday. Bill had heard plenty of stories from his dad and his dad’s friends about the amazing times they had at the Silhouette. Stories about drinking, playing darts, drinking, getting into fights over dart games, drinking, going to the ER to treat dart-related injuries, and drinking. “It’s a MAN’S place,” Bill’s dad would say, “And I’ll take you there when you are a MAN.” Bill was excited about this prospect. He was never really sure about the delineation between “not manhood” and “manhood”, so he was happy that his dad was going to take the lead on this one.
But as Young Bill looked around the Silhouette, with its flickering fake neon beer signs, its peeling fake wood paneling, and the real old guys who looked like they had a seat there twenty years ago and never stood up again, he suddenly wasn’t 100% on this whole “manhood” deal.
Nevertheless, his dad ordered them a pitcher of Yuengling, a couple shots of Jack, and a basket of popcorn from the machine that looked like it had been cleaned once, maybe. Young Bill’s dad filled the glasses with beer, dropped the shot glasses into each pint glass, and the two of them clinked, and knocked them back as best they could. The Boilermaker was patently disgusting to both of them, because Boilermakers are patently disgusting, but neither wanted to admit that to the other.
When that was out of the way, Young Bill’s dad reached into his back pocket, and pulled out The Card. On it, in letters that looked like they typed on a manual typewriter as forcefully as possible, it read simply:
Young Bill looked at it for a few seconds and then asked his dad, “Why would a guy ask me to turn it in?” His dad looked around the bar, making sure that nobody heard this awful, stupid question. “Boy, do NOT make me be the one to take this from you. Just be a man, BE A MAN, and you don’t have to worry about it.” Then he made Young Bill pay the check.
He died about two years later from cirrhosis, spurred on by years of chronic alcohol abuse. As Young Bill was going through his father’s effects, he found his dad’s Man Card in his sock drawer. His father had made many, many mistakes in his life. The drinking, the affairs, the friendships ruined over dart-related injuries, the list went on.
But no man ever asked him for his Man Card. So there was that.
Young Bill tucked it in his father’s jacket pocket at the wake.
Frank was surprised to hear from Bill, and even more surprised that he wanted to meet him for a drink. “I suppose you want to meet at a wine bar, or some bullshit like that,” Frank messaged back to him. Bill told him the Silhouette would be fine.
Bill got to the Silhouette early, because he wanted to sit at the same table he sat at with his dad all those years ago. His manhood began here, after all; it should end here.
Frank showed up twenty minutes late, because, he explained, of some bullshit traffic that was some REAL bullshit. They made some small talk about people from their class, who was married, who was divorced, and who was dead. Frank talked about his upcoming third marriage, and how this one was going to be “the real-deal Holyfield,” because they were “simpatico,” and how she was “the shit,” and not “bullshit.” Bill talked about his girlfriend, and how they were going to move in together one of these days.
Frank rolled his eyes. “String her along for as long as you can, bro. Once she’s in your space, you know what that means.” Bill had a pretty good idea the answer was “bullshit”, and Frank did not disappoint.
Then, it was time to get down to business. “Frank, we both know the rules here,” said Bill. “You told me I needed to do this, and so, uh… Here.” He pulled the Man Card out of his pocket, and put it on the table.
Frank didn’t expect Bill to call his bluff, and was woefully underprepared for the next step. “Uh...Yeah. Right. That was some bullshit you did, you know, posting that song on Facebook. So, uh, okay. I guess...Yeah.”
The card sat there on the table, between the two of them.
Bill sensed Frank’s reticence. Bill watched Frank stare at the card, mouthing its words over and over.
Bill asked Frank if everything was okay.
Frank stared at his shoes. “I’ve never...seen one of these before.”
He said it quietly, so nobody else could hear. He didn’t even want Bill to hear, really.
“Your old man must have really loved you.”
Bill didn’t say anything, because Bill wasn’t really sure he had an answer.
Frank took a gulp of his Boilermaker, and stared at the card again.
“I’ve never known...I don’t know if anything, whatever I do, you know...I’ve never known if it’s right. I never got one of these. I drink, I fuck around, I get into fights, all that stuff that sounds like it’s right, but...it’s all been a guess. What do you do?”
Again, Bill didn’t really know what to say, but he tried anyway. “I do my job, I pay my bills, and I try not to drive my girlfriend crazy. I work out sometimes, I watch way too much TV, and I drink Boilermakers even though they taste like shit.”
Frank laughed. “They do. They taste like bullshit.” Then there was a pause, and Frank informed the entire bar that he had to “drain the main vein.”
Fifteen minutes later, Bill realized Frank wasn’t coming back. He left the card on the table, and paid the check.
He walked to his car in the parking lot, and saw Frank sitting in his truck. Frank was resting his head on the steering wheel. Through the rolled up windows, Bill could hear the faint strains of “That Don’t Impress Me Much” playing on a warped old cassette.
Bill didn’t say anything. Bill silently walked past Frank’s truck, got in his car, and drove home.
When he got home, Bill called his girlfriend and told her that it was time they made a move. While he waited for her to come over and fill his apartment with the sound of joyous “SQUEEEEEEE”s, he watched CNN, and thought he could probably tough out a case of ebola if push came to shove.