The Bet went to the giant drain in the sky on Jan. 21, 2012. He was 11 years old.
The Bet leaves behind a scarred father, Bill Landauer, a used Norelco Beard Trimmer and some scum crusted on top of a drain.
The Bet was born 11 years ago, when Landauer, then a 20-something corporate writer, was, like many 20-something corporate writers, bored stupid. He made a bet with his then-wife that, yes, he could grow a goatee and keep it going.
“Huh?” she said. “What?”
Landauer took her challenge. He’s one of those guys who will look 12 years old until one day he wakes up and looks 65. But 27-year-old Landauer, scrubbing his naked chin, knew the follicles there could grow a mighty civilization of hair, making him look a little like an adult Richie Cunningham — with an edge.
A month later, as everyone in Landauer’s corporate office was dozing at a staff meeting, a shaft of light streamed in through a conference room window. It landed on Landauer’s chin and cast the clear hair growing there in shadow.
Landauer’s boss squinted at him as though trying to see something very far away.
“Are you growing a …” she squinted harder. “… a goatee?”
Landauer smiled. “Why yes,” he said. “I am.”
To be exact, Landauer was growing a Van Dyke, a ring of hair around the mouth with a little golf tee holding up his bottom lip, and the effect was to make his mouth look something like a … something we shouldn’t mention here. But the point is, it had been noticed. Now, Landauer reasoned, if he could only position a shaft of light to stream across his face in exactly the same way every day, his new stake on manhood would bear fruit.
His then-wife was a fan. “Huh?” she said. “I – I don’t care.”
In his first year, The Bet became straggly, so Landauer purchased the first of many Norelco Beard Trimmers. The sink became covered in the tiny filaments The Bet left behind in his semi-daily grooming rituals.
Needless to say, Landauer’s marriage disintegrated.
But Landauer’s relationship with The Bet never faltered. It was his soul mate. The source of his power. The Bet was his masculinity, the only thing keeping him from being carded at R-rated movies. Plus, when he ate hotdogs, The Bet always set aside for Landauer a surprise mustard snack gunked in the corners of his mouth hours later.
Landauer and The Bet were inseparable, surviving the attacks of those close to Landauer who looked in his sink and the yellow mustard on his chin, shook their heads and said “When are you gonna shave that ridiculous thing?”
At last, Landauer could take it no longer. In the wee hours of Jan. 21, Landauer took the protective guard off his Norelco Beard Trimmer. The scum at the bottom of the sink thickened briefly, and then The Bet — the last remnant of Landauer’s late 20s efforts to look like a grown up — was gone. And when he sprayed shaving cream into his palm, Landauer was certain he heard the can’s hissing noise faintly playing Amazing Grace.
The next morning, when he stumbled into the bathroom, Landauer looked at the amputated face staring at him from the mirror and screamed.
At work, among his friends, everyone mourned the loss of The Bet. Oh sure, everyone tried to act strong, PRETENDED not to even notice, like it didn’t matter. But Landauer knows better. Like them, part of Landauer dies every time one of his friends says the words: “Huh? You shaved a what now?”