Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Edwin Balder sat in his sparsely decorated living room, flipping anxiously through his copy of McSweeny’s, and listening to the Chinese woman’s television as it sounded through the walls. Edwin wandered what she was watching that evening. It was probably one of those ubiquitous cop dramas that took place in locales such as Los Angeles or Miami. He listened in closer but could not make out the show to save his life. Whatever, Edwin thought. He didn’t watch television except for professional soccer at the English Pub on 3rd Avenue, or the occasional episode of Mad Men that he rented from the local library. That said, the Chinese woman’s television was annoying. That constant buzz could drive a man nuts. Edwin once tried being neighborly, going over to the woman’s door, and asking her to turn down the sound on the television, but she began waving her arms and squawking at him so loudly in Chinese that Edwin had no choice but to flee back into his apartment before one of the neighbors accused him of assault. He’d established his own détente with the sound since then.

Edwin looked around the apartment. There were four bookshelves full of classic novels that he’d never read, travel books for places that he’d never gone to, and art books full of the work of artists whom he’d never cared about. The only books shelf that he used was the one holding all of his current literary greats. It was filled with the likes of Michael, Jonathan, Jhumpa, David, Jonathan, Zatie, Jonathan, and Jonathan. There was one green couch in the apartment and this sort of hammock chair that Edwin had picked up during one of his runs to Ikea. He had a coffee table, a lamp, and the radio across the room, resting on an old telephone stand, was set on the classical station. The walls were asylum white. Edwin had always meant to paint them some kind of outrageous color, but he reasoned that living in New York City was sort of like living in an insane asylum, so why not keep the walls white. He had one photo hanging on the wall.

Edwin sat there looking at his apartment, holding his copy of McSweeny’s as the Chinese woman’s television bellowed through the walls, thinking that he really should fix the place up. He tossed the magazine on the coffee table and rose. Edwin grabbed his glass of scotch and took a macho slug from it, finishing it off. He felt like Marlon Brando. Brando would slug scotch like that, he thought. Or else he’d eat a dozen cheeseburgers. Edwin looked around his place with his hands on his hips, determined to create a new look. Joy rested deep inside of him. It was silly to think something like that, that joy rested deep. But that was how Edwin Balder felt in that moment. A deep joy. Who needed Molly Brown? Although he hoped that she was all right. Who needed Lawson, ugly Mary, and that ridiculous birthday party for that backstabbing failure, George Pollard Jr.? Edwin sure as hell didn’t. All he needed was the classical music, the Chinese woman’s television coming through the walls, and some interior design initiative. He also needed another scotch.

It was when Edwin was in the kitchen, humming a Gershwin tune and cracking a few ice cubes for his next drink that he heard a car pull up. Immediately he put the ice cube tray down and ran over to the window in his kitchen. Edwin pulled back the dirty, white blinds to see the long, black car parked in front of his apartment building. Molly had returned! Edwin shouted aloud. I wonder if the police know, he thought. I should contact them as soon as possible. Edwin shut the blinds so as to not seem such a nosy neighbor, but he could not contain his happiness. He smiled and squealed and did a triumphant dance all over the apartment. Edwin mimicked Ivan’s chicken dance from that night at the bar.

It felt good to really feel joy. It felt so good. It was better than the false joy that he got from momentarily trying to enhance his station in life by remodeling. Let suburban housewives remodel, Edwin thought, having his new scotch straight from the shot glass. One didn’t need to remodel when one was youngish and in love, okay infatuated, okay curious in a way that could possibly be infatuation or maybe just intense interest. Was it really infatuation or was it like? But like was a strong word. Of course Edwin has just used love, so like was kind of a step down from that. Were his feeling fading already? What in the hell did Molly look like again? Edwin shook his thoughts off. One didn’t need to remodel or think or give themselves a cheap, dime store analysis when one lived in the same city as Molly Brown.

Edwin Balder heard the lock click in the hallway and then the echoing of voices, and the sound of bags being dragged through the hallway. He wanted to burst right out of his apartment but thought that might seem pushy. It had to be casual. But how casual could one be. Edwin checked himself in the foyer mirror. Tight plaid shirt? Check. Trendy tight jeans? Check. Glasses on straight? Check. Trendy, wavy gray hair? Definitely Check. Grayish stubble from his four day old beard experiment? Check…ish. Edwin was mostly satisfied with himself. I look like one of the literary Jonathans, he thought, before patting himself down and opening his apartment door.

“Oh…hi,” Molly said when Edwin poked his head out of the door. She seemed semi-happy and surprised to see him, he thought. But who in the hell was that with her?

“Hello,” Edwin said. “I was just getting the mail. I see that you’re home. Not quite eleven days, but home nonetheless.”

Molly gave Edwin an odd look. “Oh, eleven days. Yeah, I stayed one day extra. Traded in my plane ticket for someone on standby, and got a good deal on a flight the next day.”

“A rarity in these troubled times.”

“Yeah. It was cool. I was able to spend more time with my family,” Molly said. She looked away from Edwin toward the turn in the hallway that lead to the stairway and elevator that constantly broke. “I see your face has healed.”

“Yes,” Edwin said. And then he remembered the mugging. “Oh, YES! Us Balders heal very well.”

“Edwin was mugged the night I left,” Molly said to the young man standing next to her. Edwin looked at him. He was thin, almost concave, and had long, greasy hair. You could tell that it was dyed black. He wore a t-shirt from some ancient band that never had a prime, and looked as though he had pimples on his face.

“And who is this, Molly?” Edwin asked.

“Um,” Molly began. She looked at the boy next to her and then back at Edwin, not making eye contact. “Matt.”

“The boyfriend!” Edwin shouted with false happiness. He shook Matthew’s hand. “Good to meet you, Matthew.”

“It’s Matt,” Matt said. Edwin withdrew his hand, as if recoiling from some gross terror, for he hated name truncation, unless one of his literary heroes chose to bestow a truncation upon himself. Also, Matthe…Matt’s hand was cold and clammy. “Matt Joy.”

“Ah,” Edwin said, thinking he’d never use to word joy to describe his emotions ever again. He looked the youngling over. Matt Joy was sullen looking, and seemed to have no emotion other than boredom. He was the antithesis of joy. He was walking irony. “And are you a student as well?”

“Matt’s in a band,” Molly said, as Mr. Joy (personified) put his hands in his pockets and stared at the ground.

“Of course,” Edwin said.

He felt his face reddening. Suddenly all of the feelings that he had for Molly Brown began to shrink. She dates a boy in a band, he said to himself. The kid probably skateboards as well. And he had expected so much more from Molly. She was a college student, after all; a soul engaged in higher education. But then Edwin remembered that she was a business major, which explained the skateboarding boy in a band. Plus Molly didn’t look like Babs Streisand. Babs was much more attractive, even at damn near seventy years old. Let’s see Molly Brown look hot at seventy. Let’s see her get out there and sing Somwhere nearly a dozen times a year at that age. It was official, Edwin thought, standing there silently, making Molly and Mathe…Matt more uncomfortable with each passing second. He disliked Molly Brown for sure. He hated Matt Joy for certain, obvious reasons. And he would masturbate to Barbra Streisand effective immediately.

“Well,” Molly said. “I’m kinda tired.”

“Sure,” Edwin said. “Well, goodnight.”

Molly squinted. “Weren’t you going to get the mail?”

“Ah, I forgot how perceptive you college kids were.” Edwin stepped out into the hallway, letting his whole trendy ensemble decorate the first floor of the apartment. He looked to see if Molly was impressed. It was his last attempt. She wasn’t. “Guess I’ll get the mail.”

He walked ahead of Molly and Matt JoyLESS, sure that she was checking out his behind in those tight jeans. Edwin made a show of it. He went around the corner and down the three steps to where the mail slots were. Of course he didn’t have his key, so he could not complete the rouse.

“Well, goodnight again,” Edwin called up to Molly and Matt as they began walking up the staircase.

“Goodnight, Edwin,” Molly said. She sounded tired and annoyed, whispered something to Matt that Edwin couldn’t make out.

“Nice meeting you, Matthew,” Edwin said.

“It’s Matt,” Matt said.

“Of course it is.”

Edwin waited until the pounding of their feet stopped (good Christ, that girl’s feet were like cement weights), and Molly and Joyless were safe inside her apartment, before returning to his. He got inside and just stood in the foyer, one hand resting on his kitchen table. Edwin felt nothing but hatred, humiliation, and sadness. He was devoid of joy, and would be for quite some time, or at least until the new issue of McSweeny’s arrived in the mail. What to do with the evening now? He looked around the apartment. To the right was the living room, holding the faint sound of the Chinese woman’s television. Also, Guitarzan had started plucking away on his guitar. When it rained it poured, Edwin thought. To the left was the bedroom, and the elephant footsteps of that harlot, Molly Brown, and her morose paramour. Edwin went straight ahead. He went into the kitchen and poured himself another scotch. The ice cubes were starting to melt, as he’d left them out, but that was okay. Imperfection suffocated the night. Edwin stood in his kitchen and drank.

He had to do something. He had to get out of this sweltering hell for the evening. But go where? Rooney’s? But it wasn’t even pizza night. Edwin only went to Rooney’s alone on pizza night. It was a treat to himself to have a few beers amongst those cloudy denizens and then head up to Vesuvio’s for a small pie. Pizza night was Edwin’s treat for putting up with Mr. Owen Chase, those like him, his neighbors, and for suffering the world at large. He’d originally concocted the idea of pizza night as a treat for buckling down and writing all week. Edwin had yet to start writing. And it wasn’t Wednesday night yet, so Rooney’s was out of the question.

Then Edwin remembered. He remembered Pollard’s Party. Sure, going there wouldn’t brighten Edwin’s mood any. In fact, it would probably add to his current malaise. But if one couldn’t spread…er…joy around, then spreading misery was the next best thing. Edwin smiled to himself. He felt like a super villain in one of his Marvel Comic books. Then he finished his scotch, looked at himself and the mirror again, and prepared for a night on the town with old friends.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

12 Days Later


Edwin Balder was sitting in his usual stall in the bathroom of the singular office outpost of the Insert Multinational Conglomerate Here Invoicing Company (not its real name), reading the latest edition of McSweeny’s, when he heard his boss, one Mr. Owen Chase, call to him with such a passion that his voice reverberated heavily against the bathroom walls. Edwin hadn’t heard Chase call for him since that day when the tile had fallen on Mary’s head, and all hell had broken loose. That was twelve days ago, Edwin thought, flipping through McSweeny’s and glancing at the latest article by Michael Chabon concerning his long, lost novel. That was the day that I met Molly Brown, Edwin thought, again, flipping the pages and waiting for Owen Chase’s next bellowing call. Had it really been twelve days since such a fateful meeting? Was the meeting even fateful? Molly had been due back in Brooklyn yesterday by Edwin’s best estimation, which was an exact actuality in terms of the passage of time. But she had not arrived home. Molly’s floor and Edwin’s ceiling had made no sound. And no planes had crashed from what Edwin Balder gathered from the ceaseless babbling on the nightly network news. Where was Molly? He thought, before Chase called to him again.


Edwin sighed. He closed the issue of McSweeny’s and rose off of the cold toilet seat, his backside a tad bit numb from the time he’d spent in there. There’d be no rest for the weary, Edwin thought. Where could a man go and make a living where he didn’t actually have to go and make a living? Such a ponderous question for a Tuesday. Was it even Tuesday? Time had ceased to exist the moment Molly Brown got into that long, black car and drove off toward the Rust Belt and out of his life. It had ceased moving. The ebb and flow of life had come to a complete standstill for Edwin Balder. It took all of his energy to make the slightest bit of conversation, to “nuke” his evening meals, as the hooligans at Rooney’s Pub referred to the art of fine dining, or to even come to this job on a daily basis. What if Molly was not coming back? Edwin would not allow for such a silly thought to truly penetrate his mind.

“Who is that?” Mr. Owen Chase said, the minute Edwin appeared at his side, the copy of McSweeny’s discretely rolled up and shoved down the back of his tight and trendy pants. Edwin looked beyond Chase’s sweat stained armpits to the jovial black man sitting on the edge of Mary’s desk and talking very closely to her. “Balder?”

“Mandingo, Sir?” Edwin said.


“The White Man’s Burden?”

Chase looked at Edwin. “Talk sense, son!”

“That’s Mary’s new man.”


“I’m as surprised as you,” Edwin said. “Seems our mousy little harlot has finished with the drunken masses of the club scene, and has moved on to bigger, darker meat.”

“I don’t like him sitting on the desk,” Chase said.

“Of course not, Sir. It’s bad for business.”

Again Chase looked at Edwin. Edwin removed his eyes from Mary’s desk, where his friend, Lawson Thomas, had been moving himself closer and closer to her by the second. “And what’s with all of this ‘Sir’ business, Balder?”

“Something that I’m trying out,” Edwin said.

“I can’t tell whether or not I like it,” Chase said.

“Neither can I. Shall I call security and have the Negro removed?”

“I don’t think you can say Negro these days, Balder. And if he’s a friend of Mary’s, I don’t want to cause too much of a problem. It could be construed as harassment if I went over there and asked that man to leave.”

“Not to mention the racial entanglement of you calling him a Negro,” Edwin said.

“I…” Chase started.

“I’ll see what I can do.”

Edwin walked over to Mary and Lawson under the watchful glare of Owen Chase. The ceiling above Mary’s desk was still missing a tile, and there was nothing but a black void and the faint traces of piping and wire. Many a moment during these twelve days of longing and misery did Edwin look up into that void, fancying it an escape route from this hell, a pathway to salvation. Of course, when the rat fell out of the ceiling and stood frozen on Mary’s desk before scurrying off into the hinterlands of the corporate Gulag, as she screamed bloody murder and nearly collapsed on the floor in a panic, Edwin decided that this hole in the ceiling would not be a proper escape route after all.

“Tell your boss to quit looking at me,” Lawson said, after Edwin came over. They gave each other a masculine hug and then Edwin turned to Mr. Owen Chase and winked, before Chase stomped off to his office and slammed the door. “I’ve only been coming here to see you for years now.”

“I think he thinks you’re going to rob the place,” Edwin said.

“There’s nothing to take.”

“Pens,” Mary said. “We have pens.”

“Why are you here?” Edwin asked.

“I’m taking Mary to lunch,” Lawson said.



Edwin swallowed, trying to keep down his breakfast Hot Pocket. Off all the nothingness that had abounded in his life these last twelve days, the one harsh slap in the face of change had been the budding relationship between his best friend, Lawson Thomas, and his co-worker, Mary Baldacci. Who knew that a couple innocent comments to Mary about Lawson’s interest would lead to this? It would be the last time Edwin would ever again make small talk with someone while soliciting an aspirin to nurse his hangover. He was sure of it. But a couple of kind words and a phone call to Lawson had resulted in over a week of constant companionship for these two lovebirds. They were like high school children. Didn’t either of them realize that the key to dating in the twenty-first century was an ironic disposition and a cold calculated hand and dealing with the feelings of others? Hell, Edwin thought. Those two were like dimwits in some romantic comedy, so free with their gaudy feelings that it made him ill. Plus he was in the middle of it, fielding evening phone calls from Lawson, gushing about Mary, or listening to Mary talk Lawson talk all day at work, in between her bouts of staring at the ceiling, waiting for the next rodent to descend from the heavens. Edwin was sick off all of this love, and he has a good mind to tell them both off.

“Don’t you have a job?” Edwin asked suddenly.

“If you listened to anything that I said, you’d know that the kids have spring break this week,” Lawson said, taking ahold of Mary’s hand.

“And what does that have to do with you?”

“I’m a lit teacher.”

“Oh that business again,” Edwin said. “Well, maybe if you spent more time talking to me about something other than my co-worker, I’d retain a bit more information.”

Mary looked up at Lawson with her wide almond eyes. “You talk about me?”

Lawson blushed. “Well…”

“Incessantly,” Edwin said. “The man is like an idiot savant. In fact, I watched Rainman again last night and saw a distinct similarity between Raymond and Mr. Thomas here.”

“That’s so sweet,” Mary said.

“It’s disturbing,” Edwin said.

“Don’t be such a sour bear.”

Edwin turned to Lawson. “Did you hear that? You date someone who says phrases such as ‘sour bear’.”

“So?” Lawson said. “You’re being a sour bear.”

“Et tu, Brute?”

“You don’t even read Shakespeare,” Lawson said.

“Maybe you should ask out that girl from your apartment building,” Mary said.

“Oh, now Ms. Sour Bear is giving advice on love,” Edwin said. “In case you didn’t know, and judging by that lovelorn, drooling gaze, you hadn’t, the girl from my apartment building has gone missing.”

“Missing?” Lawson said.

“Yes. She was due back yesterday and has yet to return.”

“I didn’t know that,” Mary said.

“Well, you should have,” Edwin said. “I was only on the phone with the police for thirty minutes this morning, trying to get them to do a missing person’s report on her.”

“Isn’t that a bit extreme?” Lawson said.

Edwin turned angrily to his old friend. “I have a heart and I care. Sue me.”

“Maybe she just stayed an extra day,” Mary offered.

“It’s always so simple with you, isn’t it? Ms. Sour Bear,” Edwin said.

“All the same we need to get you out of that apartment.”

“Do we?”

“Why don’t you come with us tonight?” Mary said.

Edwin stepped back from Mary’s desk, giving her a traumatized look. Then he looked at Lawson. “How dare she even suggest that! Have you no heart, Ms. Sour Bear!”

“I…I just thought it would be fun,” Mary said, looking nervously from Edwin to Lawson.

“Has your girlfriend no sense of history?” Edwin asked Lawson. “No sense of virtue? Of good versus evil?”

Lawson, who had his head buried in his hands, lifted and looked at Edwin. “It’s just a birthday party for Pollard. This isn’t some moral platform.”

“Not for you, it’s not,” Edwin said. “But for me, he and I might as well be Roman combatants.”

“You were invited,” Lawson said. “Despite your attitude.”

“I refuse,” Edwin said, storming back toward his desk. He sat down and immediately grabbed his vintage Hulk doll for security purposes. “Even if I had something to wear I wouldn’t go.”

“It’s his birthday,” Mary said. “Isn’t George your friend?”

“For your information, Ms. Sour Bear, Pollard and I are no longer friends.”

“Stop calling her Ms. Sour Bear,” Lawson said. “And you two are friends.”

“Well, I refuse to enter into his den of sin,” Edwin said.

“Nothing happened between George and Natalie.” Lawson stroked Mary’s hair and then hopped off the edge of her desk. This caused Mr. Owen Chase to rise from his chair and look out his glass window. Lawson waved to him and then walked over to Edwin’s desk. “Besides, it’s not even the same apartment.”

“It’s the idea that counts,” Edwin said. “The memory.”

“You’re memory is clouded,” Lawson said.

Edwin put his Hulk doll down. “All the same, I refuse. I’d rather sit in my apartment all night, listening to a police radio in case something comes over the wire about Molly.”

Lawson shrugged. “Suit yourself, man.” He turned to Mary. “You ready, Babe?”

“Babe,” Edwin mocked Lawson. “There’s irony for you.”

Lawson slammed his fist on Edwin’s desk, causing Mary to jump as she went for her coat. “Shut up, Edwin.”

Lawson walked over to Mary and put an arm around her. “I hope you change your mind,” Mary said to Edwin.

“I’m a stubborn man,” Edwin said. “Enjoy your lunch with the militant, Ms. Sour Bear.”

With that Lawson and Mary left the office, and Edwin sat at his desk. He felt something poking him in the backside. It was the copy of McSweeny’s. Edwin reached behind him and pulled it out. He stared at the cover. He read the names of all those important writers, and imagined that he was one of them. Edwin saw himself in Northern Brooklyn again. He saw the crowds flocking into his reading. He saw himself and Molly at some pretentious restaurant, laughing over expensive food that no one really wanted to eat, drinking wine that was probably dyed horse piss, and generally having a good time. If only Edwin remembered exactly what Molly looked like. For now he’d just picture Barbra Streisand.

“Balder!” Chase shouted, coming out of his office. “Is the coast clear?”

“I don’t know,” Edwin said. “That man was dangerous. You saw him man handled me, right? Then he stood there speaking in the basest form of Ebonics that I’ve ever heard, before slamming his meaty fist on my desk!”

“Where’s Mary?” Chase asked.

“He took her.”

“Oh my God! Should we be informing someone?”

Edwin nodded down toward his phone. “I’ve got the FBI on hold right now, Sir.”

Friday, March 18, 2011

Good Night

Edwin Balder stumbled back to his apartment building, the wind from the estuary blowing in his face the whole time. Edwin hated the wind. It burned the sore spots on his face where the mugger had punched and slapped him. His stomach hurt too. What once had been pangs of hunger had turned into good old pain. Edwin had, by his own estimation, had enough of the day. But the day had just begun, he reasoned. Fine. Then he’d had enough of the previous day, and certainly wasn’t getting on very well with the new one. Edwin stopped in front of his building and looked up into the night sky. The single star was gone. Fucking helicopter, he thought. Then he took out his key and walked into the foyer, which smelled of cigarette smoke. Fucking Superintendent Isaiah Sheppard.

“Oh my God, Edwin are you all right,” Molly Brown said. Edwin looked up and there she sat on a pink marble bench. Molly had a long black coat on and her hair was pulled back. He looked at her long nose. She looked nothing like Barbra Streisand, Edwin thought. Not that Babs was a bad looking lady at damn near seventy. Edwin Balder could admit freely to himself a small amount of jealousy toward one James Brolin.

“I’m fine,” Edwin said. Still, Molly got up from the bench and took ahold of Edwin’s arm. His first reaction was to pull back; too many immediate memories of Ivan and the mugger. But when he realized that it was only the unsinkable Molly Brown, Edwin loosened his body and let her help him up to the pink bench.

“Who did this to you?”

“Oswald Spengler.”


“I was mugged,” Edwin said.


“Up the street.”

Molly sat next to Edwin. She pulled her coat tighter, as if it were a blanket. “Really? I thought that this neighborhood was safe.”

“It isn’t,” Edwin said. “Nowhere is safe in Idiot America.”


Edwin turned to Molly. “I don’t mean to scare you. It was nothing. It was random. My glasses didn’t even fall off.”

“What did he take?” Molly said.

“Seven dollars. And then he berated me for not having a cellular phone.”

“You don’t have a cell phone?”


“Why not?”

Edwin shrugged. “I couldn’t even tell you at this point. Stubbornness? A general distaste for the current zeitgeist?”

“Have you seen what some of those phones can do?” Molly said.

“Oh cruel night!” Edwin shouted into the near empty hallway. He turned away from Molly Brown, bent over, and put his head in his hands.

“Edwin, can I get you anything?” He felt Molly put a hand on his back. “Like water or a drink?”

Edwin lifted his head, his mood instantly brightened. Molly removed her hand from his back. “Do you want to come inside and listen to Gershwin? I think I still have some scotch left.”

Molly smiled a sad smile. “I can’t. I’m leaving.”

“For good?”
“No, silly. I just moved here. I’m going away to visit my family.”

“Where do they live?” Edwin asked.

“Rochester,” Molly said.

“My God! Why would anyone willingly travel there? It’s damned good that you got away from that place. Don’t go back, Molly. They’ll suck you in with all of their folksy Rust Belt voodoo and then you won’t know Knut Hamsun from D.H. Lawrence.”

“I don’t know them now.” Molly smiled at Edwin. “Rochester is nice. It’s home. Don’t you miss home, Edwin?”

“Maybe,” Edwin said. “When a Jefferson Airplane songs comes on the jukebox, or I catch Easy Rider on the television.”

“So you understand what I mean.”

“I understand most everything to a degree,” Edwin said. “How long will you be gone?”

“Eleven days,” Molly said.

“Eleven days? Is there some kind of mathematical code in the arbitrary set of days that you’ve chosen?”

Molly laughed. “You crack me up.”

“I’m serious. I love mathematical codes. I’ve watched Good Will Hunting more times that I can count.”

“I’ve never seen it.”

“How could you not?” Edwin said. “Ben Affleck. Matt Damon. Surely you had some sort of crush on them.”

“They’re old,” Molly said.

“They’re in my relative age group. They’re not old.”

“Well, how old are you, Edwin?”’

“I refuse to say now,” Edwin said. “How old are you?”

“Twenty-one,” Molly said.

“My God!” Edwin shouted for the second time in the near empty hallway. “You’re a child.”

“I’m an adult.”


“I can drink,” Molly said.

“You can’t even rent a car.”

“So. That’s why I call for cars.”

“I thought you were at least twenty-two. Twenty-three tops.”

“As if that would make a difference,” Molly said. She put her hand on Edwin’s. “How old are you?”

“Thirty-eight,” Edwin said, sadly.

“You don’t look thirty-eight.”

“I have gray hair.”

“True,” Molly said. “But it’s wavy and kind of trendy.”

“That’s exactly the look I was going for!”

“Well, you’ve achieved it.”

They were silent a moment. “What about school?” Edwin asked. “Won’t you miss school while you’re in Rochester?”

“Just a couple of classes,” Molly said. “I’ve already spoken to the professors, and I have work that I’ll be doing up there.”

“What do you study?”


“Ah, preparing to take Wall Street by storm, are you?” Edwin said.

“Something like that.” Molly looked at Edwin. “Are you sure you’re all right?”

“What? These bruises? It takes more than some technocrat with a knife to wound Edwin Balder.”

“I didn’t think so.”

“What about the boyfriend, Molly. Won’t you miss him?”

“Matthew? I…we need some time away from each other.”

“I thought that was the reason for the apartment.”

“I mean geographically away from each other,” Molly said.

Just then a car pulled up in front of the building. It was long and black, not a limo, but not far from it. The driver didn’t honk, just idled there.

“That’s for me,” Molly said.

“Very fancy,” Edwin said.

“Yeah.” Molly stood up and grabbed her bag. It had been resting to the left of her, and Edwin had not noticed it until that moment.

He stood. “Well, I guess this is goodbye then.”

“For eleven days,” Molly said.

“Eleven. Fascinating!”

She leaned in and gave him a quick hug. “Take care of yourself while I’m gone, Edwin Balder.”

“I will,” Edwin said.

Molly grabbed her bag and walked toward the first set of glass doors. Edwin, though sore, ran ahead and opened it for her. He watched as Molly walked down the steps and out the second set of glass doors. She turned to Edwin and waved, and then turned back and walked over to the long, black car. A faceless driver was there to greet her. He was a shroud as well, Edwin thought, as he continued to stand there. Perhaps Molly would turn back and wave a second time. But she did not. The driver opened up the backdoor on the passenger side, and Molly Brown got in. Then the driver got in and they drove away, leaving Edwin Balder in the brightly lit foyer, the one still smelling a bit like cigarette smoke.

Blood Drips will be on a break until monday march 28th....aproximately 11 days from now.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mugging (A Comedic Interlude)

Edwin Balder realized that he was very drunk around the time that he turned off of 3rd Avenue, and began the longish decent down 75th Street. He had drunk too many scotches and made quite an ass out of himself once again. It was that damned Pollard, Edwin thought. If only Lawson would quite bringing that Benedict Arnold, two-faced librarian around then they could have a peaceful evening at the joint; at least as peaceful as that Geritol swilling den could get. How long had he been mad at George Pollard Jr.? At least two years. Of course, two years! Edwin shouted into the cold night. He tried emulating Ivan’s dance, chicken arms and all. Edwin stopped dancing. He sighed, looked at the one star shining in the Gotham sky (it was, in fact, a helicopter lingering over the bay), and started walking back to his apartment.

It was at Ridge Avenue that someone crudely took ahold of Edwin’s arm. Instantly he thought of Ivan and that lousy chicken dance, wanting to do it again. But when Edwin felt what seemed like a knife in his back, he began along a much different line of thought.

“Don’t look back at me, don’t say a word,” the mugger said. In that moment, Edwin knew that this was going to be an old fashioned, classic New York mugging. If he wasn’t so scared he’d be excited by the honor. “Just move.”

The mugger lead Edwin half way down the block and then turned him left into a small alleyway between apartment buildings. He turned Edwin around but between the dark and shadows of the alleyway, the streetlights casting a glare, Edwin could not make out the mugger’s face. What he saw was a shroud in a hooded sweatshirt.

“Are you going to mug me?” Edwin asked.

“I said don’t say a word,” the mugger said. He leaned in. “Damn, what have you been drinking?”

“Scotch and water…and I had a Hot Pocket earlier this evening.”

“A ham and cheese Hot Pocket?”


“You need to brush your teeth, nigga,” the mugger said.

“As soon as we conclude this transaction, my nigga,” Edwin said.

The mugger pushed him into the cold brick and alley wall, smacking the back of Edwin’s head a little rougher than he’d have liked. “Who you calling a nigga?”

“It’s a term of friendship,” Edwin said.

“It’s racist. And I’m not your friend.”

“Well, you said it first. Plus we’re standing in a dark alleyway together a few short hours before the witching one, so I’d say we’re at least intimate.”

“What are you? Some kind of fag?”

“Fag? Nice. Now who’s being vulgar?” Edwin said. “I was merely pointing out a fact.”

The mugger put the blade up to Edwin’s face. “Didn’t I tell you not to talk?”

“You addressed me first.”

“Did not.”

“Did too,” Edwin said. “You asked me what I had been drinking.”

The mugger was quiet a moment. “Right, right. The whole Hot Pocket and scotch thing.”


“Well, I’m telling you to be quiet now.”

“As you wish,” Edwin said.

The mugger withdrew his knife a little bit, and began to pat down Edwin Balder in the alleyway. He opened the buttons on Edwin’s pea coat and searched the pockets. He patted Edwin’s pants until he found his wallet and took it out. Then the mugger backed away into the darkness of the alley to check the wallet’s contents.

“Seven dollars,” he said, coming back into the shadows and light. “You only have seven goddamned dollars.”

“It’s the twenty-first century,” Edwin said. “What did you expect that I’d have on me, a stack of Benjamins?”

“I expected more than seven dollars,” the mugger said.

“Well, Rooney’s doesn’t accept credit cards. I’m just putting that out there.”

The mugger hit Edwin in his stomach twice, and Edwin fell to the ground. This was an unexpected turn of events. Edwin thought that the witty repartee that he was in the midst of establishing with his assailant would have prevented any random act of violence. He was wrong. Oh why did everyone have to be so violent and base in this country? Edwin went to rub his stomach but the mugger kicked his hand away.

“Get up,” he said. Edwin slowly rose until he was face to face with the black void that stood in for the mugger’s visage. “Where’s your phone?”

“I don’t carry one,” Edwin said.

“Bullshit. Show me your phone.”

“I told you that I do not carry a cellular phone.”

“Everyone carries a cell phone,” the mugger said. He pushed Edwin into the wall again, this time a little bit harder than the last. Edwin wanted to clasp the back of his head, for he feared eventual brain damage from this prolonged assault, but the mugger made him put his hands above his head while he frisked Edwin once again. “Shit.”

“I told you I don’t have a cell phone,” Edwin said., for the third time.

“Why not?”

“I don’t like them.”

“What’s not to like?” the mugger asked.

“I don’t see the need to be in constant contact with the world like most of these thumb typing philistines do.”

“Have you seen what some of these phones can do?”

“Yes. And I don’t care.”

The mugger slapped Edwin across the face. Edwin screamed like a woman, although he didn’t mean to. “Fucking Luddite.”

“What did you call me?” Edwin said, recovering his masculine composure.

“I called you a fucking Luddite, bitch,” the mugger said. “How can you not have a cell phone?”

“I…I just don’t.”

“What if there’s an emergency?”

“Like this?”

“Yeah,” the mugger said. “Or something else.”

“Then I guess I lose,” Edwin said.

“What if something happened to your boyfriend or your parents?”

“First of all, I’m not gay. Second, I guess I’d find out in good time, the way we used to find out before the world was infested with those brain cancer causing devices.”

“That hasn’t been proven yet,” the mugger said. “The whole brain cancer thing.”

“Well, when you’re all talking gibberish and I’m your supreme ruler, you can come back and tell me I’m right. I’ll happily accept you apology. In fact, I won’t even say I told you so.”

The mugger raised his hand again but thought better of it. “You know the iPhone has like a way to talk to people so that they can see your face.”

“Why would I want that,” Edwin said. “What in anything that I’ve said bespeaks me wanting something as silly as that?”

“Because it’s cool,” the mugger said.

“So is walking home from the pub without being assaulted.”

“It’s like Star Trek.”

“And if I had one it would be yours now,” Edwin said. “And where would that leave me, Captain Kirk?"

“I already have a couple iPhones,” the mugger said. “What I’m really in the market for is an Android.”

“Well, I hope my seven dollars helps you out in getting one,” Edwin said. “Or I guess you could take my credit card for a one time purchase.”

“Yeah, right,” the mugger said. “You’ll have this card cancelled before I even get three blocks.”
“Like hell I will. Have you ever tried calling to get a credit card cancelled? Aside from the language barrier, those credit card reps ask you more questions than can be found on an SAT test.”

“Still,” the mugger said.

“You don’t want to take the risk,” Edwin said. “So can I have my wallet back?”

“Sure,” the mugger said. “If you can find it.”

He turned and tossed Edwin’s wallet down the dark alleyway. Then the mugger turned back and punched Edwin twice in the face. The first time he caught Edwin off guard, but with the second blow he was able to put up his hands and block the mugger’s punch. The second punch got Edwin on his wrist, and it hurt like hell. It must’ve hurt the mugger too, because he yelped and backed away in pain, shaking his right hand. The mugger looked as if he were doing one of Ivan’s dances. His movements made Edwin smile a little bit through the pain. But then the mugger righted himself, and came charging back. He kicked Edwin so hard in the stomach that he thought the scotch and Hot Pocket would come streaming out at any moment. Edwin hit the pavement and lay there on the cold concrete. It was as good as any bed to him.

“Get with the times, motherfucker,” the mugger said, leaning down to Edwin’s ear. Edwin could smell his breath. It was no picnic either.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Edwin Balder Vs. George Pollard Jr.

Edwin Balder tried to right himself in front of the urinal at Rooney’s Pub. How much had he drunk that evening? He wondered. Edwin unzipped and aimed as best as he could at a urinal full of ice cubes that were meant to quell the smell of stale urine, because the good people at Rooney’s had been lax in fixing the urinal for over two years now. Edwin held his breath and let her rip. He thought that if it didn’t smell so badly, he could stay in the bathroom the entire night. It would save him from the obnoxious ranting of George Pollard Jr., and the way Thomas Nickerson and Lawson Thomas sat there shaking their heads in agreement, laughing at everything that Pollard had to say, and agreeing with his every insufferable soliloquy. Edwin never laughed at him, or thought him brilliant. He never laughed and Pollard and company accused him of being sour or bitter because he did not have a woman. As if the two were even interrelated. Pollard simply was not funny, Edwin reasoned, or intelligent. Quoting raunchy comedies, David Sedaris, and late night talk show hosts didn’t make one a humorous or informed individual. It made them a crank, a con-artist, and a rip off. Edwin finished pissing and decided to hate George Pollard for the rest of the evening.

When he left the bathroom, someone grabbed him by the arm. Ivan.

“Wanna see my new dance?” Ivan asked.

“Are you kidding me right now?” Edwin said, his terror-based niceties toward these bar denizens deadening with each successive drink. “Dancing?”

“Yeah,” Ivan said. “I do dances. I’m a great dancer. You know, sometimes I watch that show on television, Dancin’ with the Stars. You ever watch that?”

“No. I believe I’m trying to commit Hari Kari at that time of night.”

“The old baseball announcer?”

“The very same,” Edwin said. “I believe you mentioned something about a dance.”

Ivan’s face lit up. “Oh, oh. Yeah so I do this dance.”

Ivan began moving his arms up and down as if doing the Chicken Dance. Then he started stomping his feet and clapping his hands, spinning in a circle as all of the guys playing darts began to hoot and holler, and Edwin stood there like a, to use a cliché, deer caught in the headlights. Edwin wondered why Ivan had picked him to dace for. Was it some kind of sick joke? A ritual for the newish patrons of the bar? A mating dance? Christ, perhaps this was a gay bar after all. Edwin didn’t like the idea, as his opinions on the homosexual community were very inchoate at this stage in his life. He had often been accused of being a homosexual as a child, and this may have added to his bias, made him slow to come around to the causes of the gay community. Sure, Edwin was liberal to a degree. But he wasn’t so sure that he wanted some big, red faced Russian shaking his ass for him in a local tavern, expecting some kind of quid pro quo once the joint had closed for the night. Edwin stood there for as long as he could, smiling, while Ivan danced and the men in the bar clapped and shouted. Then he gave up all pretense of enjoying this act, and went back to down the bar to join Lawson and the Captain and the Cabin Boy.

“Is this what you gentlemen do on an evening out together?” Edwin asked when he reached his friends. Each of his comrades were sitting there, silent, their drinks untouched, their faces buried in digital devices, and their faces lit by the horrid glow of the black lit screen.

“We were waiting for you to finish up dancing with your new friends,” Lawson said, not even lifting his head from his so-called “smart” phone.

“Oh, is that right?” Edwin ran a hand through his trendy, wavy gray hair. “I have the good mind to confiscate each and every one of those machines and hold them until our evening is done.”

“You’re just jealous because you don’t have one,” Pollard said.

“Right. I’m jealous.” Edwin went to reach for his drink but found it empty. He snapped for the bartender who came down without a moment’s hesitation and took his empty glass. “Yes, I’m so jealous of your wonder devices. So jealous that I can’t update my Facebook status every moment of the day. I can just picture yours now, Pollard: Chillin’ in the bar with my hommies. What wisdom! It amazes me that the whole world isn’t waiting on bated breath for your next haiku.”

George Pollard Jr. looked up from his device and rolled his eyes. “Because yours is so much better: Met the hottest chick in the world tonight. Did you mean that guy dancing back there, or someone else?”

“I refuse to discuss her with you,” Edwin said. “How can a man who does not understand refined modern literature, know anything about the foibles of modern love?”

“So you admit there is a woman?”

“I’ll admit nothing to you, you half-wit.”

“Edwin, back off,” Lawson said, just as the bartender had placed a new drink in front of Edwin.

“See, at least this nigga got my back,” Pollard said.

“Nigga?” Edwin said. He turned to Lawson. “How does it feel to be George Pollard Jr.’s….nigga?”

“It’s just a term of friendship now,” Pollard said. “Everyone uses it.”

“I’m sure Emmett Till would be happy to hear the news.”

“It’s not like that,” Thomas Nickerson added.

“Or Dr. King for that matter,” Edwin continued. “I’m sure that’s exactly what he meant by I have a dream. I’m sure it was his deep hope that one day in the future a mixed group of races could sit in a bar together, playing on mind-numbing devices, and calling each other a bunch of niggas.”

“You’re always so literal, Edwin,” Pollard said.

“Yeah? And you’re ugly.”

“What the fuck man?” Pollard slammed his drink down, stood up, and got in Edwin’s face. Edwin could smell the evening meal on him, spaghetti, most probably out of a can. It amazed him that George Pollard Jr. had an undergraduate degree let alone a Master’s degree. “Why are you always pushing my buttons? What in the hell did I ever do to you, Balder?”

“Balder?” Edwin said. “So we’ve resorted to last name calling?”

Pollard shook his head and pulled back. “You’re fucking unreal, man.” He sat back in his stool and had a pull on his bottle of Coors Light. “A guy just tries to talk to you, and he gets shit for it.”
“Conversation is over-rated,” Edwin said. He took a long drink on his scotch, feeling less and less like Dick Burton as the night moved on.

“Maybe you should chill with that stuff,” Lawson said.

“Chill? Maybe I should chill, my nigga.”


“Doesn’t sound so good, does it?” Edwin said.

“It just sounds stupid coming from you,” Lawson said.

“That’s me. Stupidity incarnate. At least I don’t type with my thumbs.” Edwin had more scotch.
“Do you know what I don’t like about you, Pollard?”

“Enlighten me,” Pollard said.

“You act all high and mighty, as if being a glorified public servant is a religious calling.”

“I like what I do. Is that so wrong?”

“It wouldn’t be if you weren’t such an absolute asshole about it,” Edwin said, blushing at using such profanity on a weeknight. “Oh, I’m a librarian. I do this. And I do that. And I help the public find James fucking Patterson novels. Just for the record, even subtle nuance of your job does not make for interesting conversation.”

“Yeah, I guess processing invoices is so much better,” Pollard said.

“You couldn’t do my job for an hour,” Edwin said. “I remember before you had your cushy little job. I remember you working at warehouses or in that grocery store. I remember you doing data entry and failing at it. In fact, you failed at all of those jobs. If you were the captain of a ship, you’d probably sink that as well.”

“Right, because you haven’t failed.” Pollard took a pull on his beer. “Should I even mention Natalie?”

Edwin finished the rest of his drink. “You do and I’ll strike you with this glass.”

“Gee, look at the time,” Lawson said, standing. He put his hand on Edwin’s shoulder and gave him a rub. “I got to get to work tomorrow, if you know what I mean.”

“Me too,” Nickerson said.

“And I don’t think I like the company tonight,” Pollard said.

“That makes two of us,” Edwin said. “Barbarian.”

“Sure, Edwin. I’m the Barbarian.”

Edwin Balder and his friends left Rooney’s Pub and stepped out into the cold night. Edwin went up to the corner of 3rd Avenue and 77th Street and waited alone while Lawson said goodbye to George Pollard Jr. and Thomas Nickerson. He tried not to think back to the time when he, Pollard, and Lawson had been nearly inseparable all those years ago. He tried not to think back to when they were just three students at NYU, hanging around the last vestiges of bohemia in the West and East Villages, trying to sneak into the Grassroots Tavern on St. Mark’s Place, and drinking more coffee than was humanly possible. He tried not to think about how time and circumstances could rip people apart, or make them mostly foreign to each other. Most of all, Edwin Balder tried not to think of Natalie.

“You want to tell me what all of that shit was about tonight?” Lawson said when he reached Edwin. “I thought we were just going out to have fun.”

“It’s impossible to have fun with George Pollard Jr.,” Edwin said.

“You used to be close.”

“Our friendship was a humbug.”

“Humbug?” Lawson said.

“Why’d he have to mention her?”

“You egged him on.”

“And what’s with this Thomas Nickerson? When did he enter the picture? Where does Thomas Nickerson fit in our timeline?”

“Are you even listening to me, Edwin?”

“Sho’ my nigga,” Edwin said.

“Stop that shit.”

“Sorry. Drunk.”

“You are a sorry drunk.” Lawson said. “But you’re my friend.”

“Care for a nightcap?’ Edwin motioned back down toward Rooney’s Pub.

“No. I think we’ve both had enough.” Lawson hunched his shoulders, and rubbed the sleeves on his thick, flannel coat. “Besides, man, I got to catch the R train before it turns into a pumpkin. I don’t want to get stuck in this neighborhood once the racial profiling begins.”

“We’re very tolerant here in Bay Ridge,” Edwin said. “We have a strong Muslim population which is a feat in and of itself in post-9/11 New York City.”

“Yeah, I think I’ll take my chances on the subway.” Lawson and Edwin were quiet for a moment. “You okay?”

“Aside from listening to you gush about my foul co-worker and having to drink with George Pollard all evening, I’d say I’m doing fine.”

“George is all right,” Lawson said. “He’s your friend.”

“No, Law. He’s your friend. He used to be my friend.”

“You have a skewed sense of history.”

“Perhaps,” Edwin said, simply, “that time and chance have ruined me.”

“Are you okay getting home?” Lawson asked.

“I’m the perfect specimen of soused manhood,” Edwin said. “Plus I only live a few blocks away.”

Lawson gave Edwin a man hug. “Drink some water before you go to bed. And eat something.”

“I was thinking water and a second Hot Pocket were the order of the night. But thank you for the advice and concern, mother.”

“You’re crazy, Edwin,” Lawson said.

“I know.”

Lawson Thomas began walking down 3rd Avenue, leaving Edwin Balder to stand alone in the electric white light of a bodega. “Tell Mary good things about me.”

“I’ll tell her that you’re hung like a horse,” Edwin shouted to a few stares of the remaining people on the street.

Lawson shrugged. “I’m black. She already knows that. Tell her something else.”

He crossed the street. Edwin watched his friend until he disappeared; the two of them waving like old lovers until Lawson passed behind a closed Middle Eastern restaurant. It was their ritual to wave as such. Then Edwin turned up the collar on his Pea Coat and began the short yet lonely walk home, hoping he’d hear Molly pound around upstairs before he fell into a thick, drunken slumber.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Captain and the Cabin Boy

Edwin Balder sat on his stool in Rooney’s Pub, drinking scotch and waters, and listening to his friend, Lawson Thomas, discuss the merits of one Mary Baldacci, Edwin’s semi-literate co-worker. The way Lawson continued to gush over Mary made Edwin sick. It made him drink. In the time that it took Lawson to discuss how the world would stop spinning on its pinprick access should Mary somehow fall off of it, Edwin had managed to drink two more scotch and waters and one short beer, which the bartender with the earring in the wrong ear had given him for free with a wink. He tried thinking about Molly Brown, his attractive, if somewhat plodding and uncouth, upstairs neighbor. Edwin tried not thinking about the bartender with the earring in one ear giving him a wink. He wondered what Molly was doing right then and there. Probably watching television as most American philistines did with their evening. But he remembered that Molly was a student, and this excited Edwin. Perhaps she was spending her evening studying. He looked at Lawson, who was still deep into his Mary-themed filibuster, and then he got up.

“Where are you going?” Lawson asked.

“To play some music,” Edwin said. “I’m inspired.”

“By Mary?”

Edwin gave Lawson a flabbergasted look. “If I had my stiletto on me, I’d stab you for saying what you just said, not to mention inviting Pollard and Nickerson into our winter of discontent this evening.”

“You knew that they were coming,” Lawson said.

“Oh, did I, Law? Did I?”

Edwin went over to the digital jukebox and put two dollars in. Two dollars would give him two songs. Edwin remembered when you could get six or eight songs out of the old jukeboxes. Songs weren’t worth a dollar each. Most music, unless it was Antonin Dvorak or Niccolo Paganini, wasn’t worth the time it took to record it. But something had to be done. The heathens in this joint had controlled the jukebox for too long. They had gone from mockingly playing rap music into seriously playing a litany of acid soaked music from their Baby Boomer heyday. Edwin couldn’t stand Baby Boomers. His parents were Baby Boomers, liberal Robert Kennedy and George McGovern people. His mother had actually cried when Bill Clinton and Barry Obama were elected. They lived for the hippie dreck currently coming out of the jukebox in this decaying old bar. Edwin didn’t want to spend the evening listening to music that reminded him of his parents, not when he was getting blotto on scotch and waters and thinking about the unsinkable Molly Brown. He found George Gershwin and put on Rhapsody and Blue. Then he went back to his stool, hoping that Lawson had gotten Mary completely out of his system, so that they could have a civilized conversation before Pollard and Nickerson showed up to urinate on the night.

The squealing clarinet of Rhapsody in Blue began just as Edwin sat down.

“Did you play this?” Lawson asked.

“Of course.”

“Oh man.”

A unified groan came from the men playing darts in the back of the bar.

“What in the hell is this?” Benny said. Benny was the ringleader of the men in the bar. He had beady eyes and a goatee, wore nothing but New York Giants clothing. Benny wore shorts and sandals year round, as if he were hoping to be called off to the beach at a moment’s notice. Edwin was scared of Benny. He had been scared of him for the three years that he’d been coming into this joint. “Who played this shit? Was it you?” Benny pointed up toward Lawson.

“I don’t listen to his shit, man,” Lawson said. Still, Benny began to walk up toward where Edwin and Lawson were sitting.

“I’m just bustin’ your balls,” Benny said. He smelled of processed meat and Jack Daniels. Edwin prayed for an oxygen mask to come falling from the sky. “I like this music. You see, we’re a bunch of ex-hippies in this joint. So I guess we play a lot of Grateful Dead.”

“Dead’s cool,” Lawson said. Edwin gave him a look. He wanted to tell Lawson to stop playing house Negro for these men.

“Yes, we love the Dead,” Edwin said. “In fact, I thought that I was playing a Dead song. I must’ve gotten it wrong.”

Benny looked at Edwin. His beady eyes were red. Benny looked severely intoxicated. He put a hand on Edwin’s shoulder. “The Dead are the best.”

“I believe they were called the only band that matters.” Edwin said.

“I thought that was The Clash,” Lawson said.

“Shut up, fool,” Edwin hissed.

“I’m not much for punk,” Benny said.

“Who is?”

Benny took his hand off of Edwin’s shoulder. Edwin checked it for grease of fop sweat. “What’s your names again? I see youse guys in here a lot.”

“I’m Edwin Balder,” Edwin said. “This is my friend, Tom Collins.”

“Hey, Tom,” Benny said to Lawson.

“You can call me Lawson,” Lawson said, eyeing Edwin.

“Hey, man, whatever.” Benny took a pull on his Jack Daniels. “I’m Benny. This is a great bar.”

“Sure is,” Edwin said.

“Well, you guys have a good night.”

Benny staggered back down to his group of cronies. Edwin and Lawson watched him leave. As soon as Benny returned to his group, Ivan took him by the hand and the two of them began dancing to the Gershwin.

“I’m half convinced this is a gay bar,” Edwin said.

Lawson turned to him. “Why do you always have to start with that Tom Collins shit?”

“Are you or are you not a fan of Rent? Do you or do you not cry every time we go and see the play? Watch the movie?”

Lawson had some vodka and cranberry. “That’s beside the point. Do you realize that half the people we know call me Tom Collins?”

“Half the people we know aren’t worth the oxygen they’ve been syphoning from the atmosphere since their birth.”


It was then that the bell shook on Rooney’s Pub’s front door and in walked George Pollard Jr., and Thomas Nickerson. Pollard wore his hair shaved down almost to the scalp and had an obnoxious goatee that he let grow to the point where he was able to braid it or put rubber bands in the thing. Edwin, of course, thought the goatee looked foolish, and couldn’t help but stare at any and every morsel of food, spittle, and whatever else that got caught in it. Pollard loved to talk about 1960s soul music, and whatever boring 19th century “page turner” was currently queued up on his E-reader, courtesy of Google Books. If Edwin tried to engage Pollard in a discussion of modern literature, David Foster Wallace for example, Pollard tended to curl up his nose as if disgusted. Edwin wanted to see George Pollard Jr. write a novel of over one-thousand pages with footnotes to boot.

Pollard was a public librarian. He was high and mighty about it, often referring to the job as a calling, even though he’d dropped out of the program twice before in the past. On the rare occasion that Edwin had nothing else to do in the world he visited Pollard at his local branch of public servitude, curious as to see what aspects of the job could be construed as “calling” worth, for Edwin was always in the market for a new career. But after hanging around the reference desk, watching Pollard as he served the public, helping them with tax forms or where the keys to bathrooms were locates, Edwin decided that public librarianship was not for him. Plus you needed a Master’s Degree for the job, and Edwin was already $200,000 dollars in debt (interest included) for the three undergraduate degrees that he had in Medieval Literature, Oceanography, and Theater.

Nobody had a clue what Thomas Nickerson did. The last time Edwin had wasted precious moment of his life inquiring about Nickerson’s employment status; Nickerson smiled and said that it wasn't polite to ask people what they did for a living. He said doing so was a very American thing to do. And Edwin would be damned if anyone accused him of being or doing something so typically American.

“Gentlemen,” Pollard said, as they came over to join Edwin and Lawson.

“What up, Junior,” Lawson said, taking Pollard’s hand and giving it a tug. What up? Edwin thought. He hated it when Lawson tried to get down verbally. “Nickerson.”

“What up, Law,” Nickerson said. Nickerson wore his hair close cropped as well, but at least his goatee was manageable. Edwin stared between him and George Pollard Jr. If only Lewis Carroll were here to make sense of those two, he thought. “Edwin.”

Edwin had a slug on his scotch and water, resigning himself to the utter boredom that was to be the rest of his night. Two white boys and an educated black man trying to be down by talking in street slang. He just hoped that this joint took credit cards. “Well, if it isn’t the Captain and the Cabin Boy.”

Friday, March 11, 2011

Lawson Thomas: An Edwin Balder story

Edwin Balder was late meeting his friend, Lawson Thomas, for a few drinks at the local bar. After he’d left the apartment of Ms. Molly Brown, Edwin had spent the next two hours sitting in silent revelry, thinking about Molly, the possible softness of her hair, her long nose, those green eyes, and whether or not she’d bought her nail polish in this part of Brooklyn. Edwin had lost track of time. He’d finally gotten hungry and decided to make a meal similar to the one he saw Molly eating out of that pot, like an inbred heathen. He remembered the ingredients as being something along the lines of elbow noodles, sauce, and meat. After tearing apart his kitchen, Edwin came up with the noodles from a box of macaroni and cheese, a small can of Hunt’s no salt sauce, and an old bag of TVP crumbles that had been in the back of his freezer since 2007. Just as he resolved to cook the meal using those ingredients, to be closer to Molly, Lawson called Edwin on his cell phone. He left a message. Lawson sounded scared and pissed off, and that’s when Edwin realized that he was late to meet him at the bar. The noodle and sauce dish would have to wait. Edwin tossed a ham and cheese Hot Pocket in the microwave, and then ate it walking up 75th street, washing it down with an old, flat can of Coke.

The bar had been Edwin’s idea. He’d called Lawson during the work day, just after the tile had fallen on Mary’s head, soaking her. He needed someone to laugh about this with, and since Lawson was his best friend, he was always Edwin’s first choice. But Lawson hadn’t found the tale of Mary’s woe too humorous. In fact, he’d gotten angry at Edwin for getting such a kick out of it. Lawson scolded him like a child, his voice angrily rising to Mary’s defense. Was he still nursing that ungodly crush for her? Edwin thought. How gross! Lawson’s attitude had angered Edwin and might have attributed, at least in some subconscious manner, to his arriving late at the bar.
The bar was on 3rd Avenue and was what many people told Edwin, an old man bar. At thirty-eight and thirty-seven, respectfully, Edwin Balder and Lawson Thomas were often the youngest men in the joint, for “joint” was the word that Edwin used to describe the place. Lawson called it a racist dump, a hotbed for the systematic dumbing down of America. Edwin had to agree that he was most probably right, as the men in the bar maintained a certain penchant for blaming the various minority races for the ills and woes of America. They held a special hatred for members of the Muslim race, often invoking the tired, clichéd invective of September 11, 2001 in order to get their point across. A tattered flag hung over the bar along with one from Ireland. Images of 9/11 were plastered on the greasy walls, along with a photo of former President George W. Bush, and a photo collages of many of the bar denizens participating in cookouts or birthday parties that had taken place at joint. When the television was on and the newish, black president came on, the words socialist and nigger were tossed around the old bar. Still, the beers were cheap. So was the scotch. And if one of the men in the bar used a racial epitaph in the presence of Lawson, they were sure to apologize and claim not a racist bone in their body.

There was nary a woman in sight in the joint, and if there was a woman, she was typically some hapless bar whore, content to plant her behind on one of the many old, ass-sweat-soaked stools, and slowly drink her gin and tonics all day, until one of the many soused losers offered to walk her home in exchange for a brief tryst in an alleyway or between a few sturdy garbage cans. Edwin wondered what it was like to watch two drunken, closed-minded idiots go at it in the cold night. It bothered him, at least somewhat, that this pack of cretins were seeing more action on a regular basis than he’d seen in two years, unless he counted his hand, which loneliness had forced him do to somewhere around Christmas the previous year.

Edwin looked in the window of the bar, peering between the Miller Light and Budweiser neon signs to get a better look. There was Lawson, alone, at the head of the bar, sipping his vodka and cranberry, anxiously watching the television, as the rest of the men in the bar huddled toward the back playing darts, or drunkenly dancing to what was most probably a Grateful Dead song playing on the jukebox. For even though the joint was filled with the worst kind of hack conservative minds, many of the bar regulars proudly maintained that they were once proud hippies, charter members of the Tune-in, Turn-on, Drop-out generation. Until Reagan arrived on the scene, that is. Now the only way their freak flag was flown was if one of the guys had forgotten to get his monthly, standard issue, right-wing dullard haircut, or if someone discussed the possibility of same-sex marriage without one of the guys getting off of his stool, staggering about the bar, and claiming that he was going to be sick. Again, the drinks were cheap in this joint.

“What in the hell took you so long?” Lawson hissed, when Edwin got over to him. Before he answered, Edwin took a listen. It was not the Grateful Dead playing on the digital jukebox, but Marcy Project’s own Jay-Z.

“Cherchez la femme,” Edwin said, sitting down. The bartender, who had an earring in the wrong ear, although it was never questioned, came half way down the bar and began fixing Edwin his scotch and water on the rocks. “Great musical selection. Did you play it?”

“Yeah, right. Because I have a death wish.” Lawson sucked down the rest of his vodka and cranberry and then looked back toward the assortment of men in the bar, middle-aged white men wearing the hats and jerseys of their favorite sports teams, and watched them pump their fists and dance to the rap music. “Ivan played it.”

“The big Russian with the bulbous red nose?” Edwin asked.

“The very one,” Lawson said, turning back around. He took off his thick, black framed glasses and rubbed his face. “He put the Jay-Z on, came over to me, and said, this one’s for you, buddy.”
“So shines a good deed in a weary world.”

“Don’t quote Shakespeare at me.” Lawson looked down at the bartender, shook his glass, and with a sullen resignation the bartender set about fixing his drink as well. “Good deed, my ass.”

“I thought I was quoting Willy Wonka,” Edwin said. “Maybe it was a friendly gesture. You’re always so angry. You typify the angry black man.”

“Don’t start, Edwin. I’m already pissed about you being late.”

“I have a good reason.”

“Yeah?” The bartender set the drinks in front of Lawson and Edwin, made small talk about the size of the evening newscasters breasts, and then grabbed a short stack of money in front of the pile Lawson had sitting there. “Start talking.”

“Remember how I told you about my new neighbor?”

“I think I recall you mentioning something about a whore with the cadence of a Neanderthal moving about above you.”

“Don’t remind me of that,” Edwin said. “I’ve put her footsteps out of my mind.”

“So you met her?” Lawson asked, taking more of his drink. He put his glasses back on and stroked his goatee.

“I did. I went up to complain about the noise, and when she opened up the door I was confronted with such a vision of beauty that I could barely speak for a moment. Were she not slurping her food out of a pot, I would’ve been completely smitten.”

“What’s she look like?” Lawson asked, as the Jay-Z song ended. “Thank God.”

“How to describe perfect beauty,” Edwin wondered aloud. “I’ll be base. She had long brown hair parted in the middle, green eyes, and a wonderfully elongated and full nose.”

“Did Barbra Streisand move in above you?”

“Are you accusing her of being a Jew?” Edwin rose and pointed angrily into his friend’s chest. “Because if you are, I’ll have you know that my mother was one-fourth Jew.”

“I wasn’t accusing her of anything,” Lawson said. “I don’t care if she’s Jewish.”

“We were all Jews in Hitler’s eyes.” Edwin sat down and had a sip on his drink, feeling like Dick Burton. “Now do you want to hear about her or not?”

“Yes. What does she do?”

“She’s a student.”


“I don’t know.”

“How old is she?”

“Does age really matter?”

“So you didn’t ask.”


“Does she have a job?”

“I don’t remember. I think she works several, like a Jamaican.”

“Is she from here?”

“Beats me,” Edwin said. “Although she had the queerest t-shirt on. It said Brooklyn Girls Do It, or some kind of braggadocio nonsense.”

“Sounds like you two have the world in common,” Lawson said.

“Are you being sarcastic?” Edwin asked. He had more of his scotch. “Because it sounds like you are. I’ll have you know that Molly and I had a wonderful conversation about life, about where we’d come from and where we were going, and I don’t need to sit here and have you belittle it, you third-rate Proust scholar and music snob.”

“How am I a music snob?” Lawson asked.

Edwin pointed toward the men in the back of the bar, singling out Ivan, a large Russian with a tuft of white hair, a red face with that previously mentioned bulbous nose, and a belly the size and shape of a beer barrel. “That man was kind enough to play you a tune, one written and performed by a valuable member of your community, and all you did was sit here, sulking, calling him a racist.”

“I didn’t call him a racist.”

“Not today.”


“What can I say? “ Edwin said. “I’m insulted and mad.”

“I don’t understand why,” Lawson said. “I didn’t say anything to the contrary.”

“You berated me about Mary.”

“You were being mean.”

“Well, she’s ugly.”

“No she’s not,” Lawson said.

“You’re just saying that because you have a horrible bout of jungle fever.”

“Jungle fever? What year are you still living in?”

“I live in a world where I don’t want my best black friend dating some insolent, half-retarded secretary in a faceless invoice processing plant.”

“Did you know Mary studies French Literature?” Lawson said.

“I doubt it,” Edwin said.

“We talk about Proust whenever I come by to meet you.”

Edwin had another long drink on his scotch. “How does a black man become a Proust scholar anyway? What? While all of your hommies were out pimping and thugging, you sat alone in your public housing bedroom dreaming of madelines?”’

“I’ve never had a madeline.”

“Madelines, Oreo cookies, whatever,” Edwin said. “Same thing. Why don’t you just bone Mary and get this horrible fixation over with so that we can move on, and I can deal with the awkward repercussions of that.”

“Now who’s being mean?” Lawson took a sip on his vodka and cranberry and got up from his stool. “She’s a nice person.”

“She’s ugly and dumb. And where are you going?”

“I have to piss.”

“I’m not being mean, just so you know.”

Lawson looked back at the pack of men in the bar. The bathrooms were across from the dart board, where everyone seemed to be huddled. “If I make it back here alive, how about you and I start over?”

“Agreed,” Edwin said.

“And you can tell me more about this chick. We’ll hash her out before Pollard and Nickerson get here.”

“They’re coming tonight?”

“Don’t act like you didn’t know,” Lawson said.

“I guess with all of the tragedy and joy mixed into today, I simply forgot that those two wunderkinds would be joining us.”

“They’re good guys.”

“I’m sure people said the same thing about Mussolini and Gandhi,” Edwin said.

“Gandhi was a man of peace,” Lawson said.

“Well, sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace.”

“That’s Bob Dylan.”

Lawson walked toward the back of the bar, as Edwin watched. Before he got to the bathroom, he was accosted by Ivan, who put a hand on Lawson’s thick, flannel shirt, and held him there. Oh, Christ, Edwin thought. A bar fight. But nothing happened. Ivan held Lawson there for only a moment then smiled, and tapped him on the back. Lawson disappeared into the bathroom, and Ivan looked up at Edwin and gave him a wave. Edwin had a final pull on his scotch and water, and waited for Lawson to come back to order another one. He looked around the bar at the photos of Ireland, America, and everything else, thinking that it was such a bad place after all. Maybe he’d take Molly here and brighten up the joint.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Unsinkable: Edwin Balder Part III

Edwin was slow to walk up to the second floor. In fact, he hated the second floor. It often smelled of boxed meals and desperation. Plus Gerhardt lived on the second floor. He lived in the apartment right next to the rap playing hussy whom Edwin was hell bent on confronting. Gerhardt had problems. He’d lived in the apartment building since the dawn of mankind, alone, of course, and was on heavy medication most of the time. At least that’s what Edwin thought. Why else would the man pound on the ceiling or ring the doorbell, accusing Edwin of flushing his toilet several times in a row, on purpose, in order to get back at his old upstairs neighbor. It made no sense. Edwin had tons of others ways to get back at his old upstairs neighbor. Of course, the old neighbor had moved out before any of his plans had time to reach fruition, but Edwin thought, walking slowly up the steps, that many of the plans could now be used on this new urban harlot whose music was currently causing small fissures in his bedroom walls.

He reached the offending apartment. Edwin reached three offending apartments at once. They were all there, clustered together: Trixie’s studio apartment to the left with the ricocheting noise of rap music pouring out into the hallway, set right above Edwin’s bedroom; Gerhardt’s hole of a studio apartment in the middle, quiet, ready to strike at any moment, and set ominously above Edwin’s living room; Guitarzan’s apartment was on the right, like an dormant enemy lying in wait. Edwin had no real problem with Guitarzan. His apartment was mostly above the Chinese woman’s apartment situated to next door to Edwin’s. Occasionally faint guitar noises came through the ceiling, just above the couch where Edwin usually read his latest issue of McSweeny’s, or some tome by the next writer anointed genius by the New York Times. Edwin didn’t mind the guitar music. It was no match for the Chinese woman’s television. However, since he left that note on Guitarzan’s door, the one mentioning several places in the southern Brooklyn area where one could receive adequate guitar lessons, the playing from above had taken an indefinite hiatus.

Edwin sneaked passed Gerhardt’s door and placed himself in front of the new neighbor’s glossy red one. He listened to the noise of the music, something about getting out there and getting money. He listened to her pacing around her overpriced cage. Edwin looked through the peephole but could not see inside, always forgetting that peepholes only worked one way. He took a deep breath and raised his left hand. There was no turning back now, Edwin thought. He lifted his hand up higher and knocked with thunderous verve.

The pacing stopped but the rap music did not. Edwin waited for what felt like an eternity as his new nemesis shuffled across her domicile to answer the door. He heard the small, metal cover on the peephole move one way and then swing the other way. Edwin ran a hand through his wavy, trendy gray hair and coughed, as his neighbor began unlatching locks. He counted them: one, two, three, four locks. Where did this chick think she lived? He thought. Libya? And how did she get three locks? Edwin had one lock. He had one lock and one deadbolt that Nazi Sheppard had screwed in crookedly. He made a mental note to add a few locks to the litany of apartment repairs that he was set to present to the Sheppards any day now. But then the door opened and before Edwin stood the prettiest woman he’d ever seen: a brown haired goddess with a long nose and bright green eyes, dressed in low riding jeans, her belly poking out between the denim and a tight black t-shirt that read “Brooklyn Girls Do it Better.” She had purple painted toenails, and in her hand was a pot holding some ethnic sludge that Edwin took to be a kind of vulgar pasta dish popular with college students and lonely single trolls like Gerhardt.

“Yes?” the girl said

Edwin tried to look into her apartment but she moved closer between him and the door. “Good evening,” he said.


“I’m your neighbor. From downstairs.”

“Do you have a name?” the girl asked. Then she took a wooden spoon from the pot. It had a small mound of food on it, beef, elbow noodles, and tomato sauce, from what Edwin could gather in the second before she put the offending mixture in her mouth.


She finished chewing. “Molly. I’m Molly Brown.”

“Ah. I don’t believe we have another Molly living in this building.”

“It’s a big building, Edwin. How would you know?” Molly asked.


Molly put a hand on her hip and gave a sly smile. “What can I do for you tonight?”
“Well,” Edwin began. “It’s actually just a small thing. In fact, I’m a bit embarrassed even coming up here. You see I was at work today and there was a terrible nautical accident that happened to one of my co-workers. She nearly drowned.”

“Oh my God! That’s terrible,” Molly said. “What do you do for a living?”

“I process invoices,” Edwin said.

“I thought the accident was nautical.”

“It was. In nature. A ceiling tile fell on my co-worker’s head this afternoon. It was full of briny water and it soaked the poor girl.”

“Is she okay?’ Molly asked, before taking another spoonful of the goop. The rap music blared stronger in the background with the door open. Edwin eyed Gerhardt’s door just waiting for that bastard to come out.

“We don’t know,” Edwin said. “I mean it certainly won’t improve her looks or her luck with men. Perhaps the tragedy will give her a stronger constitution.”

“Yeah. I hate work.”

“What do you do?”

“Bartend. Waitress. Sell pot,” Molly said.

“Hmmm, I once had to work two jobs.”

Molly smiled again. “Now, what did you say you needed?”

Edwin blushed. “It’s quite silly actually. See, after the tragedy at work I came home to my apartment, traumatized of course, and decided to go right to bed, skipping dinner and all sundry evening activities. I figured I’d rest, maybe read a novel, and try to shake off the heartbreak of seeing poor Mary humiliated at work.”

“Is Mary her name?” Molly asked. She had more of her Italian goop. It was beginning to make Edwin hungry. Or maybe sick. He couldn’t tell as hunger and sickness were the same thing to Edwin Balder.

“Yes,” he said. “It’s some ritualistic Catholic name.” He leaned in and Molly did not move back, which was a promising opening to their relationship. “But if you ask me, Mary doesn’t take the Catholic thing too seriously, especially after a lonely night at one of those singles clubs she frequents. Let’s just say she’s not too choosy of a woman.”

“I have a friend who’s a ho,” Molly said.

“So we understand each other,” Edwin said. “But let me get to the point. Distraught, I laid down in my bed prepared to read, drift off to sleep, and otherwise fast, when, and I don’t mean this as a criticism, your music began to rain down on me.”

“Rain?” Molly said.

“Or pour,” Edwin added, “volley, shower, fall, hail, torrent, or deluge if you will.”

“Christ I’m sorry.” Molly left her doorway and went off into the distance. Edwin tried to peek into her apartment but when the music shut off he got spooked and backed out into the hallway. Then Molly came back to the door without her food. Edwin missed it. “You never realize how loud things are.”

“It’s an old building,” Edwin said, relieved that the music was gone. He could feel his heart rate return to normal, hear birds begin to sing, and the world basically spin back on its axis. “Truthfully I thought you were a black person.”


“The music.”

“Everyone listens to rap these days,” Molly said.

“True.” Edwin thought for a moment. “Of course, I have a black friend who distains rap music.”

“That’s cool.”

“His name is Lawson Thomas. He’s a philosopher, a budding Proust scholar, and a classical music aficionado when not affixing a hipster persona and listening to Jazz.”

“That’s a tall order,” Molly said.

“When I thought you were black, I was going to try and fix the two of you up,” Edwin said. “I thought maybe you’d help get Lawson out of the malaise of Asian and Puerto Rican woman he seems caught in these days.”

“So your friend gets around?” Molly asked.

“Like a vacuum salesman.”

“Anyway, I’m really sorry about the music,” she said. “I put it on to unwind and I just didn’t realize how loud it was.”

“You listen to that to unwind?” Edwin asked.

“Yeah. What do you listen to?”

“Usually the Chinese woman’s television murmuring through my living room walls, but occasionally I enjoy the classical music station.”

“Very classy,” Molly said.

“It’s Lawson’s influence,” Edwin said. “Perhaps I should still introduce the two of you.”

“That would be cool, but I kind of have a boyfriend.”

“Kind of?”

“We’re having problems right now,” Molly said. “Maybe we’re not even together anymore. That’s why I moved here.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Yeah.” Both Edwin and Molly were quiet for a moment. “Anyway I should get back to making dinner.”

“Yes,” Edwin said. “I believe I’m getting hungry myself.”

“No more fast for Marry?”


“Your co-worker? The one who almost drowned?”

“Oh,” Edwin said. “Her. The hell with her.” He extended a hand and Molly took it. Her hand were soft. “It was nice meeting you.”

“Likewise,” she said. “I’ll try to keep the music down.”

“Thank you,” Edwin said. “Perhaps I can buy you a drink some time, or invite you down to listen to Rhapsody in Blue.”

“I’d like that.”



“Goodnight,” Edwin said.

“Goodnight,” Molly said. And then she closed the door.

Edwin Balder stood in the hallway for a few seconds more. It wasn’t exactly love that he was feeling for Molly Brown, or even a craving. But he felt something warm and peaceful inside of himself for having met her. I like this pounding Neanderthal of a girl, Edwin said to himself, as he moved away from her door. He backed away smiling like a man smitten with the sunset or his bank statement. But then he heard the knob turn on Gerhardt’s door and it all turned to darkness.

“Yes,” Edwin said, once Gerhardt’s boney old face poked out into the hallway.

Gerhardt pointed a finger. “I heard yeahs. I heard yeahs talking and playing that music.”


“And I don’t want youse starting nothing”

“Nothing is starting, Gerhardt,” Edwin said.

“I heard yeahs flushing your toilets!”

“Whatever.” Edwin turned and walked away. He descended to the first floor with a spring in his step, thinking that no ancient, toilet obsessed lunatic was going to ruin such a serendipitous evening as this one. Edwin resolved to flush his toilet at least four times once safely back in his apartment, before returning to his bedroom for a little self-love. For he had found his muse, and her name was Molly Brown.

“I swear I heard yeahs!” Gerhardt shouted one last time, before he slammed his door,
and Edwin opened his.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Opening Salvo

Edwin Balder had trouble getting his key into the lock of his building. This was a common problem. Someone, Edwin had his suspicions as to the culprit, always turned the keyhole downward, making it hard for people to simply stick their key into the lock, turn, and enter the building. In truth, this was a minor inconvenience, one that took maybe an extra ten seconds out of Edwin’s day. But, not being currently involved with anyone, Edwin had plenty of time to sit in his bedroom, listening as his new upstairs neighbor pounded her Neanderthal feet across the floor and rap music rained down on him, contemplating just how much actual time he’d wasted on that lock. It had to be years at this point. Edwin thought about confronting the superintendent about it, but the super still hadn’t come by to fix his window, toilet, bathroom door, kitchen floor tile, leaky sink pipe, and the stains developing on his living room ceiling. Edwin was beginning to think his concerns were falling on deaf ears.

“I’m…I’m the boss,” Edwin said to himself, mocking the words of his boss, as he got the key in the door. He couldn’t stop thinking about the traumatized look on Mr. Owen Chase’s face when it was even remotely suggested that he give up his office so that poor Mary wouldn’t be threatened by sitting underneath that pregnant tile ceiling. Well, we all knew how that one turned out. Edwin snickered. Then he made his way down to his apartment.

“Meester Balder,” a voice said, just as Edwin was set to unlock his door. He recognized it as the super’s wife, a squat raven-haired Slavic, Ukrainian, Hungarian, Turkish whatever women who seemed to do all of the grunt work that the super was supposed to do. The super was good at smoking cigarettes in undesignated places, and shoveling snow at obscene hours. He smoked cigarettes in the small latch elevator, and talked Edwin’s ear off about how everyone kept breaking the front door lock. Edwin almost had a heart attack that day. Plus he felt that the super was singling him out. He smelled of generic cigarettes for hours the encounter. “Meester Balder! Edween!”

Edwin sighed, hating the eastern European cadence of her voice. “Yes, Mrs. Sheppard?”

“Deed you make sure to turn back de lock?”

“I always make sure to turn back the lock.”

“Very good,” Mrs. Sheppard said. “De lock is very tricky.”

“So is getting something fixed in this place, Edwin said, quietly.


He turned to Mrs. Sheppard and she shuffled toward him. The woman was barely five feet tall, and looked like she’d be more at home waiting in a Russian bread line. “Actually I do have a question for you.”


“What’s the story with the new neighbor living above my bedroom?”

Mrs. Sheppard’s face dropped. “Why? Is problem.”

Edwin smiled, thought about growing a beard and how bored he was with this conversation already. “No problem. I mean I love the sound of dead bodies being dragged across the floor.”

The super’s wife gave a confused look. Note to self, Edwin thought, cut the sarcasm. “She is student.”

“Ah.” Edwin’s disposition brightened. “A student? We have a scholar amongst our ragtag tribe.” Immediately he took the new neighbor for some kind of philosophy major, pouring over the works of Kant or Schopenhauer, or another one of those sunny types. But then gloom set in. Edwin recalled rap music blaring down on him, and quickly assumed that the new neighbor was most probably a psychology major or a business major, or attending one of the various trade schools advertised on late night television.

“She goes to university,” Mrs. Sheppard said.

“Good,” Edwin said. He stared down at the super’s wife, broom forever in her hand, and tried to smile. But something about her glaring peasant-ness stopped him dead. “Well, that’ll be all.” He opened his apartment door. “Please remind your husband to come and see me about the escalating tally of repairs I’ve been keeping in regards to my apartment.”

“Yes,” Mrs. Sheppard said. “But he is very very busy. He…”

But Edwin had already shut the door and was safely inside his apartment should a band of Cossacks arrive and haul Mrs. Sheppard away.

The heat in the apartment was overwhelming, like a blast furnace from some steel mill located in one of those whiny rust belt cities. Edwin couldn’t understand it. He kept no heating vents open. He did not court the heat. Yet he had to open the windows wide in the dead of winter, or wear shorts as he navigated around the apartment. Forget about reading for prolonged periods of time in the bathroom with how hot it was in there. Edwin even slept with three fans on him. They were initially bought as year-round white noise machines to block out the neighbors and the neighborhood dogs, but Edwin found that he needed the fans just to keep him from sweating in the middle of January on the east coast.

As a safety measure he immediately took his coat and suit coat off, and set his copy of McSweeny’s on the table. Edwin stormed into the living room to open the two big windows. It would be a two window day, which meant that he had to retrieve his Webster’s Dictionary to prop open the other window. The book had been given to Edwin years ago by his long-dead grandmother. It was a high school graduation gift. Edwin had wanted fifty dollars but he got a dictionary. He’d had no use for it in almost twenty years, that is, until he moved in under the Superintendent Sheppard regime. Now a book, a fork, a spoon, or a bucket could make all the difference in a single, working man’s home repair life.

Edwin thought about getting the mail. But what would be in the mail, he thought. Bills? Student loan balances? What a drag. Besides he could still hear Mrs. Sheppard out there, talking to herself, or singing some old Bolshevik song, and he didn’t want to go through the uncomfortable processes of having to communicate with her again. What to do? He thought. Edwin always hated the moments where his work life transferred into his home life. The short time span always made him feel bad, unproductive, and entirely un-American. He never knew what to do. Usually he masturbated.

Edwin fixed a drink, a scotch and water. Drinking scotch always made him feel like he was in an Edward Albee play or a Douglas Coupland novel. Edwin had a good drink on the scotch. He thought about Mary at work, ugly and soaked from the water from the tile that split open on her. When he came into the office after his break, she was just standing there all tight, shivering, while that big baboon Chase was red-faced and yelling into the soaking wet phone on her desk. Mary looked like Sissy Spacek in Carrie after they’d doused her with pig’s blood. Edwin had made it like he was going back into the bathroom to get paper towels to help clean Mary off, but really he went back in there to laugh.

He went into the bedroom. The neighbor upstairs was pounding along. She must do nothing all day but pace the room, Edwin thought. He went over to his bed and set his drink on the nightstand and then lay down. He unzipped his pants and put a hand down there. Edwin was going to masturbate for sure. He just needed someone good to think about. He thought about famous actresses, but they never really worked for him. Edwin liked their bodies and loved their nude scenes, but in the end realized that he simply wasn’t in the same tax bracket as most (ha! any) of those starlets, and how could you masturbate to someone that you couldn’t keep up with financially? His parents had the same problem. Edwin’s mom came from money but his dad came from eastern European working class stock, ala the Sheppards. They divorced when Edwin was five.

It would have to be Mary again. Edwin sighed. If only he could masturbate to Michael Chabon’s words. Mary. She was so ugly and now he pictured her looking like a drowned rat. Still, there was no one else. Edwin had tried masturbating to Mrs. Sheppard but he couldn’t finish. He just kept picturing her sweeping his floor nude and that made him think about all of the stuff in the apartment that Mr. Sheppard hadn’t fixed, and instead of masturbating Edwin had spent that night in his bed drinking scotch, shouting “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” until his old upstairs neighbor pounded on his ceiling. He didn’t want to have to go through that again. So it would be Mary. It would be poor, ugly emaciated Mary riding Edwin as if the two of them were in some melodramatic indie film, filmed in black and white, where their pathetic sex act was being played for a morose symbolism.

But before Edwin could begin, the pounding upstairs stopped for a moment. Then the rap music came on. It came on loudly. Bass and garbled vocals vibrated through the ceiling. Edwin took his hand out of his pants and just laid there on the bed. He had some more of his scotch and water, and seethed. A working man deserved more than this! He shouted out to no one. A working man deserved more than some community college whore shaking her ass to ghetto anthems in the apartment above him. She probably dates black men. Christ! What if she is black? Perhaps Edwin could fix her up with his black friend, Lawson Thomas.

Oh why had the old neighbor moved out? Had he really been that bad? Edwin thought. He finished off his scotch and water, as the bass and vocals worked to give him a minor seizure. Edwin zipped up his pants and sprung up off of his bed. He knew what he had to do if ever this was to end. He looked up at the ceiling where the offending noise kept charging at him like an advancing army. Edwin was going to have to go up there and mix it up with this broad. He was going to have to confront this student, his assailant, this woman, face to face.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Deluge: An Edwin Balder Story


Edwin Balder heard Mr. Chase shout his name but tried to ignore it. Edwin was hiding in the bathroom again, reading his copy of McSweeny’s, and imagining that he was best friends with Dave Eggers and Michael Chabon, instead of processing invoices for Mr. Chase in some hole deep in the southern end of Brooklyn. There’s just no civilization down here, Edwin was thinking, before Chase called his name. Why couldn’t I live up in northern Brooklyn where all of the artists lived? Edwin had been up to northern Brooklyn only a few weeks before. He’d been to a poetry reading in bar down on Grand Street, and fell in love with the grittiness of the place. Edwin fell in love with all of the thin artist types, their wispy scarves and tight jeans. He loved the way they seemed to flit from one bar to another, blowing cash on crafted beers, as if money grew on trees. They never got drunk. They never ran out of cash and had to hit the ATM hoping to make it until payday. No one in northern Brooklyn worked processing invoices for a fat slob like Thomas Chase, and went to bed to the sound of old Chinese ladies picking through garbage for recyclable cans and bottles.

“Balder!” Chase called again.

Edwin sighed and took his Strand bookmark out of shirt pocket. He placed it in the McSweeny’s and closed the magazine. Michael Chabon, you’re just going to have to wait, he thought. Then Edwin left the stall to check out his reflection in the mirror: lime green shirt, tight black pants, and a tight suit coat to match. Edwin adjusted his thick glasses and tousled his hair. Not too gray, he thought. My hair is a trendy kind of gray. He left the bathroom.

“There you are, Balder!” Mr. Chase said, waddling over to where Edwin came to a stop. Everything about Thomas Chase disgusted him, from his bald head with those pathetic patches of hair on the side, to Chase’s short little moustache, to the yellow pockets of ancient sweat underneath his arms. Edwin felt that Thomas Chase typified the anti-intellectual, Cro-Magnon, right wing, racist philosophy of everyone living down in this end of Brooklyn. Chase certainly never read a single issue of McSweeny’s. “Where were you?”

Edwin coughed into his hand. “Bathroom.”

“That’s what you always say,” Chase said.

“That’s where I usually am,” Edwin said. Where else would he go? There was nowhere to go to escape the single room with the four long rows of fluorescent lights, the two warped, wooden desks, the box-like private office, and the patchwork ceiling full of Thomas Chase-like armpit stained ceiling tiles.

“We got a major problem,” Chase said.

Yes, I’m sure the world hangs in the balance, Edwin thought. “We do?”

“Come here.” Chase led Edwin away from the small hallway near the bathroom, and into the office. He still had that piece of toilet paper sticking out of the back of his pants. Edwin and Mary, Chase’s assistant, spent hours laughing over that hanging toilet paper. Sadly, the bathroom still smelt faintly of Chase’s time in there, and made Edwin’s reading of McSweeny’s a less than pleasurable experience.

“Do you see this?” Chase said

“I’m still adjusting my eyes to these horrid lights,” Edwin said, squinting. But when he came to and was able to see in total again, Edwin saw that one of the old ceiling tiles had crumbled and fallen to the floor near Mary’s desk. There was water everywhere, and the pieces of tile looked like crackers that had floated too long in a cup of soup. Edwin’s belly growled and he thought about that great bowl of Gazpacho he got up in northern Brooklyn a few weeks ago.

“Well?” Chase said.

“A ceiling tile fell,” Edwin said.

“I see that. How did it happen?”

“It filled with water from the leak we have, and it finally burst.”

“Why do we still have a leak?”

“Because corporate won’t send anyone to fix it?”

Chase nodded his head. He stared at the wreckage of the ceiling tile for what seemed an eternity. Edwin looked at the top of Thomas Chase’s head, at the way the reflecting fluorescent light seemed to bounce on his scalp. Edwin had at least six inches on Mr. Chase.

“That’s right,” Chase said. “And do you know why?”

“Because you didn’t call and ask them to come down here?”

Chase gave Edwin a hard look. “No, Balder. I called. I called dozens of times. They won’t send anyone down here because they are trying to push us out.”

“Oh,” Edwin said.

“Oh.” Chase’s eyes bulged out of his head. Edwin looked at his boss and wondered how miserable sex was for Mrs. Chase having to look up into the eyes of that balding beast as he pumped away at her. Of course this was contingent upon the Chases still having sex. “Is that all you can say, Balder?”

“Oh crap?”

“Don’t be funny.”

Edwin looked around. “Hey, where’s Mary?” He wished that Mary was in the office so that the two of them could make secret faces about the toilet paper stuck in Mr. Chase’s pants while Chase worked himself up about leaky ceiling tiles.

“She’s hiding in the bathroom.”


“Because of the goddamned ceiling tile, Balder,” Chase said. “It almost hit her.”

“Not even,” Edwin said, walking over to the mess on the floor. He looked up at the ceiling, felt the fluorescent lights sucking his will to live. “That tile right above her desk is much worse.”
“What?” Chase came over to where Edwin was standing. The two of them looked up at a pregnant ceiling tile that was nearly ready to burst.

“Maybe we should move Mary’s desk?” Edwin said.

“Move it where, Balder?” Chase said. They looked around their small space. There was nowhere to go. There was practically no room to move. You had to walk sideways in certain areas of the office.

“Well, we can’t just have Mary sit underneath that tile. I mean it’s going to break.” It was Edwin’s turn to give Mr. Chase a hard stare. He felt good, chivalrous. Edwin thought that Mary would like it, him standing up for her. Too bad she was a brunette and not Edwin’s type at all.

“Why don’t you switch desks with her, Balder?” Chase said. “At least until I can get this fixed.”

“Me?” Edwin thought about sitting under that pregnant ceiling tile, and how it could burst at any moment, soaking him and all of the knickknacks on his desk. Edwin imagined that dirty water raining down on his vintage Hulk action figure, and him suing the pants off of Thomas Chase and the corporation. Could Edwin sue Chase? He wondered.

“Well, I can’t move,” Edwin said. “I have all of those invoices to process. What about you?”

“Me?” Chase’s face grew red with anger. “I can’t move. I’m…I’m the boss. I have an office.” Chase pointed to his little enclosed glass cage of an office, no bigger than a supply closet. And I also have all of those invoices to process. What does Mary have?” They both peered over at the contents of her desk. “She has a rolodex and some scribbles. It’s all replaceable stuff, Balder.”

“I agree,” Edwin said, letting chivalry fly out of the window. “I’m sure corporate will have someone down here to fix the tiles in no time.”

“Oh, you bet they will,” Chase said. He pointed a finger into Edwin’s chest. “Just wait until I get done with them.” With that, Chase waddled off toward his office. “Balder, be sure you and Mary clean up that tile. No, no leave it! Let’s let those corporate schmucks see what we have to deal with.” Chase shut his door.

“Whatever,” Edwin said. He sat at his desk and looked at his vintage Hulk action figure. Then he reopened his copy of McSweeny’s and started reading, as Chase’s voice echoed from his tiny office.

“Is everything okay?”

Edwin looked up and Mary was standing in the little hallway between the bathrooms and the office. Her face was white as a ghost, and it made her look unattractive up against the winning combo of black dress and black hair.

“Coast is clear,” Edwin said, taking a quick glance at the tile above Mary’s desk. “Chase is on the phone with corporate.”

“It was disgusting,” Mary said, looking down at the broken tile and puddle of water. “The water was brown.”

“I’ll bet,” Edwin said. “It was probably trapped in there for months.”

Mary sat at her desk and began fiddling with her rolodex.

“Chase still has that tp stuck in his pants,” Edwin said. Mary smiled but didn’t say anything else. Guess the joke is over, Edwin thought. “Anyway, I’m going to go on my break now.”

Edwin got up from his desk, his nose buried in his copy of McSweeny’s, and headed toward the bathroom. He found his stall, went in, locked the door, sat on the cold porcelain of the toilet, and began to read. Michael Chabon had an article in there this month about an old failed novel of his. They published excerpts of the novel along with Chabon’s comments. Edwin wished that he could write something nearly as good as this literary giant’s failed masterpiece.

He sat there and imagined himself a famous poet and novelist. Edwin fantasized about living in northern Brooklyn and doing poetry readings on Grand Street every weekend. He’d get himself a scarf and drink crafted beer, and never have to worry about hitting the ATM. Edwin imagined associating with all of the new literary greats. He’d call them all by their first names: Dave, Michael, Colson, Jhumpa, Jonathan, and even the other Jonathan. They’d call him Edwin, Ed, or Eddie, and they’d love every word that he wrote. McSweeny’s would do monthly features on Edwin’s art. He’d never have to process another invoice for a baboon like Thomas Chase ever again.

Edwin felt good thinking this way. He closed his copy of McSweeny’s and rested his head against the cool tile of the bathroom wall. He was content, if only for a moment, in the calculated hell that was his work day. But then there was a noise and crash, something that sounded like the fierce rush of water. Mary screamed and Chase started calling “Balder! Balder! It broke over her head! Great Christ, the tile broke all over Mary’s head! But Edwin just opened his eyes, checked his watch, and told himself that there was still ten minutes left on his break.