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.”
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.
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.
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.”