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.

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