Vernon sat with his chair facing Efrem, not the TV, which he made a point of ignoring. He liked the Budweisers from the fridge and grinned genially at the younger man. "Perfect day, am I right? Or almost, if only there were a friendly fifty-year-old lady here too. Or one for you, one for me."

Efrem snorted. "Fifty? Try twenty, or twenty-one."

"I defy you to come up with any way that a young lady would win out over an experienced one. I'm talking real life, not fantasy life. No, don't look at me like that, I'm serious. But make the playing field level: head-to-head, an older lady and the young girl, each with a couple of kids, no job. Which one to pursue?"

Efrem sipped his beer while he considered the question. It was ridiculous, of course, but he was aware that these man-to-man conversations do center around crazy premises like this, making that no grounds to throw out the question. "Well, I'd say it depends."

"Bullshit. Everything else being equal, the fifty or the twenty?"

"Fifty-one vs. twenty-one. I could make a case for either one being more desperate and therefore less desirable."

"Wrong. The twenty-one year old girl would automatically be more desperate. The fifty-one year old probably has a twenty-one year old among her offspring, clearly less work than a toddler."

"Okay. I'll give you that one. But how about a matchup without the children but each one is the owner of an unbreakable smoking habit? I'd say in that case the younger one would have a better chance of survival and thus would win out."

Vernon interrupted. "She might last longer, but she'd probably be more messed up in the head, tipping things the other way."

"Now you're bringing on the bullshit."

"You're so smart, then, case three: this time each lady has a neat little stash of cash. Say six month's worth of living expenses for two. Which one do you go for, all else being equal?"

"Meaning which one is going to be willing to share and not put up a big fuss? Isn't it obvious?"

"What are you, talking about, obvious? Young or experienced?"

"Young! I don't want to be on an allowance from my Mom, I want a frisky girl who wants to see a good time."

"Wrong again. The girl won't be able to make it past one month under those conditions. She'll either end up blowing it all, or splitting. The mature woman would see your stellar qualities for what they are and want to invest in them in a prudent, yet alluring, fashion."

Efrem finished his beer. "I don't know what to say to that. It sounds like you have had the pleasure already."

"Who, me? My wisdom is strictly theoretical, my boy, strictly through close observation. Let's not make this an interrogation about me now."

Then there was a knock on Efrem's door and it opened. A girl dressed in jeans and a winter coat walked in and waved hi to Efrem. The two men laughed.

"What, did I miss something funny?" she said.

"Vernon, this is my friend Elna. My just-a-friend friend Elna."

Vernon grinned. "We mean you no harm, just-a-friend Elna. Nice to meet you."

She called from the kitchen. "Hey, what happened to all the beer that you had?"

"We squandered our nest egg," Efrem called, and again the two men laughed. "Party's all over. You might as well be fifty now."

"Fifty-one," corrected Vernon.

Elna came back in to the living room holding a Coke. "So, all right, I know you're an idiot, Efrem. You, I just met, but I have my suspicions."