I strayed on down the road from ten hours’ worth of labor on the job site. Boy, let me tell you. I could have just fallen right out. I needed a shower and a shave and a hot meal. More than all that, I needed a good night’s sleep. But hey, I ain’t no old codger. So when I saw the sign on the highway that pointed to The Barrel, I turned my Dodge Ram in and squeezed my old beast between two shiny new trucks. Boy, I can just imagine the sweat on the drivers’ faces when they backed out away from my old heap.

Pretty smooth. Huh?

I sprayed on a little Old Spice, combed my mop and five minutes later, I stood at the bar. A husky boy with a mean mug stared at me when I ordered. I nodded and winked at him like I do. He handed me my Jack and Coke and then just kept watching me. I tilted my head. He formed a pistol out of his thick hand, aimed it at me and said, “Bang.”

I pointed at him and nodded. “Yes, sir! Haha.”

After a swallow of my old friend, I stepped over to the dance floor. This little old band played some Skynyrd. So I got to stepping out there. Didn’t take me more than two songs before I had a fine little lady cutting the rug with me. I have that kind of effect, you know. Hell, a few songs and one drink later, another lady joined us. Yes, sir. We had us a little naughty thing going out there, boy. I felt a few looks from some jealous boys but I just closed my eyes, danced and had me a time.

When the crowd flowed out a little, I took me a rest at the bar. I ordered another drink and sipped on it for a spell. I peered over at the ladies who’d danced with me. One of them smiled at me while the other one winked at me with a more determined look. I turned back around. I had to pick one. That much I could tell. I nudged the man next to me. “Say, let me run this by you, boy.”

“Boy?” he said.

I took a better look at him. He wore a baseball cap with the Tennessee emblem on it. A patch of flesh hung from his neck like a bed sheet on a clothesline beneath his block head. I guessed he carried at least fifty years on him. I patted his shoulder. “Excuse me. I meant to say ‘man’. Can I run something by you, man?”

He studied me with little dot-sized pupils. I grinned at him. He took a swig of his Bud heavy and waved a hand. “Go ahead.”

I said, “Well, when you got two women after you and they’re both about the same as far as looks and all, which one would you choose? I mean, how do I pick between a apple and a…apple?”

I laughed for a while at myself. Old jack paddled through my veins at a good pace at this point. The man said, “Just don’t take a wife.”

I turned back toward the ladies. Only I didn’t see either one of them. I stood and scanned the crowd. No, sir. I couldn’t find either one of them. I ambled back out to the dance floor, working my magic. Still, though, I didn’t see them anywhere. “Damn it.”

I returned to the bar stool and the old man. He turned to me with his Bud in hand. “Well, champ? Did you pick the right apple?”

I shook my head. “I reckon not. I took too long I guess. A man’s got to dump or get off the pot around here.”

He shook my hand before I could even agree to it. “I’m Ace.”

I gave him a name but not my real one. You see, I find it’s best to keep a low profile and that way, every time you enter a place, you’re a mystery man, like James Bond. Ladies love a mystery. Still, it looked like my ladies would be the mystery to me. Sue enough, they’d left my charming ways.

Ace said, “Hell, you be glad. You get close and the next thing you know, you got yourself a wife. You don’t want that. My wife just gave me hell when I got home from work today. She ran down my paycheck and told me I should have earned a promotion years ago. Nonsense.”

I shrugged. “Well, a lady does like a provider I guess. No offense.”

Ace spread his hands out. “I make enough to pay the bills. We have some put back. She just wants to nag.”

I sipped my drink and faced the bar. All the females worth stalking must have left. I ran a hand through my hair. Damn, it needed washing. I think a woman likes a natural musk but I ain’t ever met a one that really likes greasy hair.

Ace said, “And just yesterday, she told me to wash the dishes. Hell, a man ain’t made to wash dishes.”

“I don’t know, Ace. I’ve washed a few dishes in my time. It ain’t so bad. She just wants you to help her out is all.”

Ace waved a hand. “Hell, man. It ain’t like she’s in here.”

After taking a long gaze at him, I chuckled. “Aw, I know that. Sorry. I ain’t trying to disagree with you. Just trying to look at it from both sides, man.”

Ace finished his Bud and ordered another. The bartender gave him the same routine he gave me. I laughed, ordered another and pointed at him. He gave me two guns this time. I nearly fell off my stool.

Ace cleared his throat. “And hell, last week, she takes out the trash and just leaves it right outside the door. Damn raccoon tore it all to pieces. How stupid can you be?”

I swallowed. I shouldn’t say anything. I should just let Ace have his say. Still, I reckon old Jack put the devil in me. I said, “She probably thought you’d put it in the can.”

Ace turned to me like a mad bull.

I held up my hands. “Hey, my ex-old lady always did that. All’s I’m saying, hoss. All’s I’m saying.”

Ace kept facing me but his eyes shifted around in thought. I raised my eyebrows at him. He scoffed and faced the TV again. I took a long breath. When I looked over my shoulder, what I saw got me to choking on my drink. Ace looked over at me. “You all right?”

I sucked in a few breaths, set my drink down and patted his back. “Be right back, man.”

I headed over to my two ladies from earlier who sat on either side of this guy who wore a cap high on his head. I think he was paying attention to the game on TV when he threw his arms up and yelled, “Yeah! Hahaha” I took a seat by the one and said, “Hey, darling. When are we getting out of this place?”

I nuzzled up to her but she turned away my affections. I said, “What?”

The other one across the table said, “We walked by you earlier and heard you asking Ace about which one of us you should choose.”

I said, “Yeah and?”

The one next to me said, “We don’t like men who can’t make decisions. A real man would have taken us out of here right from the dance floor.”

The other one said, “Yeah, you think too much, boy. Get out of here.”

I laughed. “Aw, y’all playing hard to get. Okay. Well, I’ll be over here by the bar.”

They both said, “So” at the same time.

I stepped back over by Ace and watched the two of them, giving them equal eye time. Still, they both got up with that loud fellow and out they went.

I turned around, facing the bar again. After ten hours’ work, I didn’t deserve this. Damn women. I definitely didn’t deserve this.

Ace said, “And the other day, my wife…she tells me to shut off the Titans game with just two minutes left.”

I said, “Yeah. What a damn nag.”

Boy, he might be fifty or older even but I’m here to tell you that this son of a gun stood up and clocked me with a fist that must have been a cinder block. I tumbled over but my beating didn’t end there. He whooped me upside the head with his fists and then started slapping me with his cap. I tried to swing back but boy, he lit me up and a few other old boys got me out the door.

I don’t know how I got home but I know ever since my trip to the Barrel, I just can’t look at women with the same zeal anymore. And boy, my wife still hasn’t forgiven me.