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.”
“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.
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.