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.