Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Edwin Balder staggered down 75th Street with the wind from the estuary blowing in his sore, swelling face. When he reached the Salmon awning of the CrestSeal, there were people outside smoking; an elderly woman and a middle-aged man. Edwin hated them. He hated listening to their inane conversations as they blew smoke into his living room or bedroom window. He referred to the couple as May/December because of their awkward age difference. But what in the hell were they doing out at this hour? How late was it? Edwin wondered. He removed a hand from his face and checked his watch. It was only nine o’clock at night. Good Lord that mugger sure worked the early shift, Edwin thought. He must be high up in the union. How does one get a gig like that? Edwin laughed. He had no choice but to laugh. What else could one do when the private contents of their life had been put on display publically, and they’d been mugged twice in just over a month?

“Good evening,” May said. Edwin looked at the man’s red checkered hat, and his dirty, brown Member’s Only jacket, and wondered how many years he’d get for manslaughter. Of course it would be involuntary manslaughter. After all, Edwin would be doing a service to all and sundry at the CrestSeal and most probably society as a whole.

“May I ask you a question?” Edwin said.

“Sure,” May said, taking a drag on his cigarette.

“Can you tell time?”

May looked at December. He looked confused. “Sure.”

“What time is it?”

He looked at his watch. “Around nine-fifteen.”

“Precisely,” Edwin said. “A tad bit too late for good evenings, isn’t it?”

“He was being nice, young man,” December said.

“Oh really? Do you know what nice would be? At least my definition of the word this fine evening?”


“Judging by that ancient blank look on your face, you don’t. So I’ll tell you.” Edwin walked closer to the couple but not too close. He was certain that December would smell of rusted canisters of Ensure, and May already reeked of desperation and loneliness, and Edwin had enough of that scent on him already. “Nice, to me at least, would be you two tobacco conglomerate sycophants finishing up you cancerous pow-wow and removing yourselves from outside my bedroom window. I’ve had a long and arduous day, which I’m sure neither of you could possibly understand, what, with the unemployment checks and Social Security money rolling in at a steady rate.”

“Hey,” May said.

“Correct me if I am wrong.”

They both fell silent.

“I’ll bid you a good night then,” Edwin said, before opening the first set of glass doors and walking into the foyer which smelled of dog shit and more cigarette smoke.

“What happened to his face?” Edwin heard May ask December.

“Probably alcohol related,” December said. “Did you smell his breath?”

Edwin shuttered and walked slowly down the hall to his apartment, as his face and leg were both hurting him quite considerably. He just had the key in the door when the superintendent’s wife came around the corner with a push broom and a bucket of gray, soapy water hooked into her elbow.

“Good evening, Meester Balder,” she said.

“Great,” Edwin said to himself. “More of the time challenged. Good night, Mrs. Sheppard.” He made to go inside of his apartment.

“Edween, did you see the letter from the management?”

“The one that so eloquently addressed the pideon problem that we’ve been having?” Mrs. Sheppard gave him a confused look. “I’ve not perused my own copy yet, but the new light-footed upstairs neighbor, Molly Brown, was kind enough to bring me down her copy to look over.”

“They are looking for the marijuana,” Mrs. Sheppard said. Then she was quiet, staring at Edwin.

“Well, surely they don’t think that I have any of it.”

“Meester Sheppard saw you on the steps last night. And he heard music coming from the girl’s apartment,” Mrs. Sheppard said. She set her bucket down and moved the push broom back and forth as a matter of course. “And Meester Gerhardt came by this morning.”

“As if you should believe that sociopath,” Edwin said. “The man has a scatological obsession.”

“He said that he saw you in front of the girl’s apartment early in the morning.”

Edwin sighed and took the key out of the door. He smiled at Mrs. Sheppard, even though it hurt his face to do so. Poor, lowly immigrant Mrs. Sheppard, Edwin thought. So simple in her tasks, and in her station in life. She really had no business playing detective. “Mrs. Sheppard, let me assure you that I was not upstairs smoking marijuana with Ms. Brown and her houseboy last night. To be quite frank, they were making noise, and I went up there to register a complaint. I knocked on the door and there was no answer, so I went about my business, determining that it was more a matter for the police to handle. That was when Mr. Gerhardt came out and saw me. He began making a ruckus, shouting about toilets and the like, and in an effort to get away from him I descended down the steps, tripping on the last few.”

“You fell?” Mrs. Sheppard asked.

“I fell quite hard,” Edwin said. He rubbed his left thigh. “In fact, I’ve just returned from consulting with my lawyer about this matter.”

“Oh, Meester Balder!”

“Oh, is right, Mrs. Sheppard. I pay too high a rent to be worrying about my safety on those steps.”

‘I didn’t know,” Mrs. Sheppard said.

“Well, of course not,” Edwin said. “You Roma can’t be expected to read into everything, not with all of the housework and begging to do.” Edwin turned and placed his key back into the lock on his door. “Now, if you’ll excuse me.” He held up his Strand bag. “I have intellectual pursuits to attend to.”

Edwin stepped inside his apartment, slamming the door just as Mrs. Sheppard had begun assaulting his sensibilities with another sentence structured in broken, immigrant English. He put his Strand bag on the table and looked around the place. It was sad and empty, just as he liked it. There was his couch, his radio, a lamp, three near empty bookshelves, and one picture hanging on the wall. Nails still hung in the spots were old pictures had hung, the ones that Natalie had taken with her when she left. The bookshelves were empty from Edwin selling off most of what he and Natalie had owned. She never took a book when she left, and he no longer wanted them around as reminders of their old life together. The apartment was better with less clutter anyway.

Edwin walked down the hall and into the bedroom. It too was empty and sad, as befit the last two years of his life. There was a bed. There were navy blue curtains to keep out the streetlights. There was an unused desk, the top of which was covered in liquor store and Food City receipts. Nails hung crookedly in the sea green painted walls.

Edwin sighed and sat on the bed. These were the times when he felt as if he were seeing his apartment and his current life for the first time. It was as if Edwin expected to walk in and find Natalie reading a book, a glass of red wine at her side. Or he imagined she’d be in the kitchen with one of her R&B singers in the iPod dock, singing away to some song from the 1990s, making an elaborate meal for them to linger over. His stomach growled at the thought. Edwin didn’t even want to think about the goings on in the bedroom because the idea depressed him too much, because now Charles Ramsdell, that old hack, was enjoying a lost Sunday with his Natalie, post-coitous, caught in the afterglow, listening to the classical station as they sipped wine and let the day go to waste, before rising to make something deliciously devoid of preservatives.

He needed a drink. Edwin rose off of the bed and stormed into the kitchen. He grabbed the Pimm’s bottle and poured the rest of it into a semi-clean pint glass. It crested the top. Edwin sipped until his could fit an ice cube in the pint. Then he grabbed the Strand bag from off of the table, and went back into the bedroom. There was noise from upstairs. Voices. Faint music. Edwin was thankful that Molly was taking him into consideration today. Perhaps she pitied him. But then the sex started. Molly’s bedsprings began squeaking. Bounce, bounce, hunka-bounce. Bounce, bounce, hunka-bounce. Molly screamed. Matthew Joy moaned. In two minutes it ended, and everything was silent once again.

Edwin put his drink on his nightstand. He sat on the bed and took of his shoes and coat, tossing them against the wall underneath his window. He lay on the bed, stretched out and sighed. He leaned over and picked up the pint, having a tall pull on the Pimm’s. Edwin took The Life and Times of Edward Beddor in the Real World by Natalie Chappel Presley out of his Strand bag. He looked at the red and white cover for a moment. And then he began to read.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Mugging : the Sequel

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 Lawson, Edwin thought. If only Lawson had leveled with him about Natalie Chappel Presley then they could have a peaceful evening at the joint; and if Lawson knew nothing, as he’d claimed, the least he could’ve done was join Edwin at his low level instead of espousing such tawdry optimism. At least Ivan and Benny were there to soften the blow of strained friendships and deceitful ex-lovers. Ivan and Benny couldn’t care less about Natalie Chappel Presley and The Life and Times of Edward Beddor in the Real World. Edward Beddor, my ass! Edwin shouted, shaking his Strand bag into the cool night. He tried emulating Ivan’s new dance, knee slaps, arm rolls and all. Edwin stopped dancing. He sighed, looked at dark, milky Gotham sky (it had, in fact, drizzled a little bit), and started walking back to his apartment.

It was at Ridge Avenue that someone crudely took ahold of Edwin’s arm. Then he felt a knife in his back. “Is that you again, Mr. Mugger?”

“Don’t look back at me, don’t say a word,” the mugger said. In that moment, Edwin knew that he was in the presence of his old, brutal friend. To say nothing else of the moment, he was excited to have such a drama bestowed on him twice. “Just move.”

The mugger lead Edwin half way down the block and then turned him left into that familiar, 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 still not make out the mugger’s face. He wondered if anyone had found his wallet from the previous mugging.

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

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

“A little of this and a little of that.”

“A ham and cheese Hot Pocket again?”

Edwin chuckled. “I do believe I’ve forgotten to eat a proper meal today. It’s a good thing Ivan bought all of that beef jerky from the corner bodega.”

“Veganism is the way to go, nigga,” the mugger said.

“Oh please,” Edwin said. “As if your precious soy-based cuisine wasn’t responsible for killing field mice and crows."

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. “At least I’m not roasting them.”

“A death is a death,” Edwin said.

“Are you calling me a murderer?”

“Well, you started it with all of that veganism business. Honestly, you vegans are like Democrats. Why can’t you be quiet about your causes and let us regular people get on with the business of living?”

“Because the world is an imperfect place, motherfucker,” the mugger said. “And if we don’t change it then who will? You know, we didn’t inherit the world from our parents. We’re borrowing it from our children."

“Fantastic soliloquy,” Edwin said. He shook his Strand bag. “Now could we get on with the mugging because I have important legal business to attend to.”

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 if I’d been drinking again.”

The mugger was quiet a moment. “Yeah, but you said is that you, Mr. Mugger.”

“That was a salutation and does not count in terms of conversation.”

“You spoke first.”

“Agree to disagree.”

“Fine, but 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 new wallet and took it out. Then the mugger backed away into the darkness of the alley to check the wallet’s contents.

“Dag,” he said, coming back into the shadows and light. “You have like two hundred dollars in here.”

“I just got paid,” Edwin said. “Sorry it’s all in twenties, but you know how those ATM machines are”

“You know it’s not safe to carry around this kind of cash,” the mugger said. “Especially in this city.”

“Obviously. But I’m old fashioned. I refuse to be a slave to the debit card.”

The mugger hit Edwin in his stomach twice, and Edwin fell to the ground. This sort of brutality was expected from such a heathen as this mugger. Sure, he wouldn’t eat a lousy cow but he’d beat a man to a pulp two blocks away from his apartment. Humans had such skewed logic. Oh why did everyone have to be so pompous in their ignorance in this country? Perhaps Europe was better. Edwin wondered if they had invoice processors in Madrid. Then he 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. “I suppose I shouldn’t even ask you about a cell phone?”

“I think you know the answer to that one,” Edwin said. “By the way did you ever get your Android?”

“Last week. I took it from some Chinese kid who was walking down 86th with his head buried in it.”

“Don’t you just hate that? The ignorance.”

“The little fucker almost knocked into me. Don’t get me wrong, I love my cell phones,” the mugger said. “But people just don’t know how to act sometimes.” 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 these continued assaults, but the mugger made him put his hands above his head while he frisked Edwin once again. “What’s in the bag?”

“A legal matter not worth discussing with you,” Edwin said.

“Why not?”

“Because you don’t know the parties involved. Also, it’s embarrassing.”

“It looks like a Strand bag” the mugger asked.

“I’m impressed,” Edwin said.

“Why? I know how to fucking read. Plus Strand is the bomb. It has like eight…”

“….miles of books. Yes, I know. But I don’t quite care for the place myself.”

The mugger slapped Edwin across the face. Edwin squealed like an excited child, although he didn’t mean to. “That was for dissin’ Strand.”

“Pardon me,” Edwin said, struggling to recover his masculine composure.

“Anyway, so what’s the book about,” the mugger said.

“If you must know it’s about me.”


“Yes. My former paramour has written a tell-all in the guise of a work of fiction.”

“Your girl wrote a book about you,” the mugger said. “That’s harsh, bro.”

“Harsher than you think,” Edwin said.

“Is it any good?”

“First of all, I don’t know. I was on my way home to read it until this pleasant encounter took place.

“What’s it called?”

Edwin sighed. “The Life and Times of Edward Beddor in the Real World.” The mugger was silent a moment, as if ingesting the title for future reference. “I suppose you’ll be taking it along with the contents of my wallet?”

“Nah,” the mugger said. “I’ll wait and see what the New York Times Book Review has to say about it.”

“You’re supposing that whore will get a review in the Times.”

The mugger raised his hand again but thought better of it. “Just because the woman sold you out doesn’t mean you have to call her a whore.”

“Why not?” Edwin said. “Perhaps you’d feel differently if someone wrote a book about you.”

“Damn right,” the mugger said. “Come to think of it, I’m changing my opinion. I think it might be cool.”

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

“I’d be like a celebrity.”

“I’m sure all of your hommies would get a kick out of it,” Edwin said. “Now can we end this transaction?”

“What’s the author’s name,” the mugger said. “I like to read new authors.”

“Natalie Chappel Presley,” Edwin said. “Tell you what, as soon as I get an angle on her address I’ll give it to you and you can go and mug her for her royalty money. In the meantime, I hope the entirety of my spending cash helps you out in all of your other endeavors.”

“I might actually go and visit my parents,” the mugger said, stuffing the cash in his pocket.

“At least yours don’t live on separate hippy communes.”


“Ever been to Slab City, Mr. Mugger?”

“No. But even if my folks did live on hippy communes I’d visit them,” the mugger said. “A man has to visit his folks.”

“I suppose,” Edwin said. “So can I at least have my wallet back? It’s new.”

“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 and this time knocked his glasses off, 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 again, and it hurt like hell. He dropped the Strand bag. The punch must’ve hurt the mugger too, because he yelped and backed away in pain, shaking his right hand. Then he righted himself, and kicked Edwin so hard in the stomach that he thought the scotch and beef jerky 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.

“Happy reading, motherfucker,” the mugger said, leaning down to Edwin’s ear, before taking off.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

It’s the Joint

Edwin Balder sat slumped over his stool in Rooney’s, his glass of scotch untouched in front of him. After seeing Natalie Chapple Presley making out with Charles Ramsdell at the intersection of Broadway and Lafayette Street, Edwin had wanted to do little else but go home and sulk in what was becoming the only place on Earth where he could find any comfort or solace. Clearly, he was not over Natalie, despite her heinous act of betrayal. Seeing her making out with Charles Ramsdell had only made matters worse.

Ramsdell of all people, Edwin thought, as his drink sat there. Natalie could’ve taken up with anyone. Why did it have to be their old literary mentor? Edwin slammed his fist onto the bar. Molly Brown, who’d given up trying to communicate with Edwin about an hour ago, sat still with her vodka and soda, texting Matthew Joy on her smart phone device. Earlier, when she’d asked Edwin if he wanted to talk, he waved her off, and said he’d be damned if he told his tale of woe to a woman. He said that if she wanted to be a credit to her inferior, malicious species, the least she could do was do him a favor and call a certain Lawson Thomas. Molly, feeling pity rather than anger toward Edwin Balder, took the number and did as requested. They had been silent ever since.

The thick, humid door on Rooney’s pulled open, and Lawson Thomas walked in with his usual look of caution. Of course, heads turned. Many of the denizens were of the beefy, racist persuasion but hardly ever saw an honest to goodness African-American in the flesh. They had to rely on the news blotters and their singular, condescend hatred of the current President of the United States in order to keep the fires of prejudice burning in their loins.

“Are you the friend?” Molly Brown asked Lawson, barely lifting her eyes from the illuminated screen on her phone.

“Depends on the day,” Lawson said. “Lawson Thomas.” He extended his hand which Molly took limply.


Lawson gave Edwin a look. Edwin shrugged and then waved him off when he smiled. It was his second chance to wave someone off, yet with the circumstances at hand, Edwin was unable to enjoy either of them.

“So are you guys cool?” Molly asked. Before Lawson or Edwin could answer, she downed the rest of her drink and got off of her stool to put on her plastic hot pink coat. “Take it easy, Edwin.”

The entirety of Rooney’s watched as Molly Brown exited the bar, allowing a small sliver of gray light to enter their dim, orange gloom, before they all fell into quiet conversations about the value and loss of a young “piece of ass,” as Edwin had hear her being referred to during Molly’s short time at the joint. A better man would’ve defended her. But Edwin Balder was less than a man at that time than he’d ever been before.

Lawson Thomas sat down and the bartender, some hobbling drunkard who worked the day shift, came down and took his drink order. “So Ramsdell, huh?”

“Must you say his name?” Edwin said, before slumping back toward the bar.

“It could be worse.”

“Natalie Chapple Presley has written a tell-all novel about me, and is dating my former literary mentor. How could it be worse?”

“I don’t know,” Lawson said. “Mary has me on this optimism kick and I thought that I’d test it out on you.”

“Consider it a failure,” Edwin said, as the bartender slammed down Lawson’s cranberry and vodka. He had a pull on his own scotch and water. “If you and Dr. Sour Bear plan on working on any other social experiments please leave yours truly out of them.”

“Duly noted.” Lawson had some of his drink. It was more cranberry than vodka. He looked down the bar at the bartender, in order to express his disproval, but Lawson’s eyes were met with several others starting back at him. “Lousy crackers,” he muttered, before turning back to Edwin.

“How did this happen?”

“They both teach at NYU now.”

“So? I get on the bus every day with the same toothless, old Russian hag,” Edwin said. “You don’t see me squiring her about Brooklyn, do you?”

“That’s different,” Lawson said. “Ramsdell and Natalie have a past. They’re colleagues now. Peers.”

“Don’t give me that hooey about peers,” Edwin said. He had more scotch. “Natalie Presley is a first, and most probably only time, novelist, and Charles Ramsdell is a washed up third-rate pugilist with the word. His plots are Mailer-light. His characters are fifth-rate Hemingway, and his prose is on par with Bukowski on a bender.”

“Yet he’s your literary mentor,” Lawson said.

“Was,” Edwin said. “Pardon my misuse of tense.”

Lawson had a pull on his drink. “Man, I don’t ever remember you liking Charles Ramsdell. In fact, if I think back on it, I get a sense of déjà vu in what you just said about him.”

“He was a teacher and I was a student. Is that not enough for mentorship? His services were there if I wanted them to be.”

“Didn’t you once say that reading Charles Ramsdell was like reading a bar drunk’s grocery list.”

“Yes,” Edwin said. “I believe that issue of the Washington Square News won awards.”

“It almost got you suspended,” Lawson said.

“Truth tellers always bear the burden of censorship in this backward thinking nation.” Edwin had more scotch. Then he laughed. “Of course, who’s the drunkard now?”

“I heard Ramsdell’s clean.”

“Of course,” Edwin said. “I’m sure that he’s found God as well. They all do in the end. The worst become the most moral. In fact, I’m willing to bet that Natalie and Ramsdell’s little dalliance on Lafayette was just a brief moment of religious revelry before they both headed off toward Saturday evening services.”

“Didn’t he give you a C,” Lawson asked.

“Are you here to help or hinder me?”

“He gave me a B minus.”

“Good for you, teacher’s pet,” Edwin said. He finished off his scotch, raised his glass, and shook it. “Barkeep! Another round over here!”

The bartender glared at Edwin but hobbled down the length of the bar. On the television the evening sporting events were getting started. Basketball. Hockey. It was hard for Edwin to tell which one was which. “Around here, we say please and thank you,” he said.

“To the roaches or the mice?”

The bartender pointed. “Don’t be a smart ass, or I’ll have you and your…friend…put out of here for the evening.”

“He’s sorry, sir,” Lawson said to the bartender. “It’s been a bad day.”

“Bad day, bad year, bad decade,” Edwin said. The bartender shuffled off to fix a new round of drinks. Edwin turned to Lawson. “Did you know about this?”

“What? Am I Natalie’s publicist? I’m your friend, dickhead. I haven’t talked to Natalie in almost two years.”

“Surely you know people.”

“I know the same people as you do,” Lawson said. “And I see them almost as regularly.”

“Oh, what am I to do?” Edwin put his head in his hands.

“Did you even get the book yet?” Edwin reached down and picked his bag up off the floor. “Strand. Cool.”

“Yes, too cool.”

“Have you read any yet?”

“I’d planned to tonight,” Edwin said. “If you hadn’t noticed, I was in the presence of a lady when you came in this joint. We were all set to have a fine afternoon in Manhattan when I came across that lustful scene on the street and it ruined everything.”

“So that was Molly Brown?”

“The very same.”

“What’s she like?” Lawson asked.

“She’s a little tart. But she was good company today,” Edwin said, as the bartender slammed down his new drink. Edwin took a good pull on it. “We’ll probably never speak again.”

Lawson had some more of his drink. “So what’s the game plan, man? You just going to go home and read the book, and let this go, like you should?”

“That’s exactly what I’m not going to do,” Edwin said. “I plan on reading the book, yes. I plan on reading the book so closely that Natalie Chapple Presley’s lawyers won’t know what hit them when I come a-barreling down the old street.”

“I don’t think you have a lawsuit,” Lawson said.

“Why not, Patrick Henry?”

“Because she’s changed it up enough. It doesn’t even take place in New York City.”

“Edward Beddor?”

Lawson chuckled. “She doesn’t treat you that badly. In fact, I’d say she gives it to you both pretty evenly.”

“And you’ve read the entire book then?” Edwin asked.

“Enough of it.”


“And it’s a decent first novel, Edwin,” Lawson said. “It won’t win any prizes, but Natalie’s got talent.”

“Well, it’ll certainly have the lion’s share of litigation attached to it.”

“Why don’t you just let it go?” Lawson said.

“What!” Edwin shouted, attracting the attention of several bar denizens.

“Have you even called Arlene?”

“Do I look like a man who has the time to make house calls right now? My sanity hangs in the balance of destroying this book.”

“To what end?” Lawson asked. “The book is already out there. You and Natalie are the past. She’s with Ramsdell now. Shouldn’t you be trying to do you, brother?”

“Don’t swirl your ebonical sayings at me, brother,” Edwin said.

It was then that the door to Rooney’s swung open and Benny and Ivan stepped inside. Both were dressed in their New York Rangers hats and jackets. Ivan’s face was as redder than usual, and Benny’s eyes were slits. The two looked as if they’d already spent half of their Saturday drinking in one of the other drab public houses that lined 3rd Avenue.

“Hey, Eddie,” Ivan said. He staggered onto a stool to the left of Edwin. Ivan looked down at Lawson. “Was’up, bro?”

Edwin turned to Lawson. “Look, bro. A fellow traveler where dialogue is concerned. Should I leave and let you two converse in your native tongue?

“Shut up, Edwin,” Lawson said. “I’m not hanging around if you’re going to get belligerent.”

“Belligerent? I’m just tryin’ta be down, bro,” Edwin said. “What’s wrong with that?”

“Hey, guys,” Benny said, coming over. He slapped Edwin on the shoulder then staggered back and pulled a few dollars out of his wallet. “Anyone want to hear some jukebox music?” Benny tapped Lawson on the shoulder. “What about you, bro?”

“I’m cool,” Lawson said, sinking down into his drink.

“I’ll play you something anyway.” Benny staggered over to the jukebox and began feeding dollar bills into the machine.

“This place creeps me out,” Lawson said to Edwin. “Let’s go get a couple of tallboys and go back to your apartment.”

“For what purpose?” Edwin asked. “So that we can stare at Natalie’s book? Take in my sparse surroundings? Or perhaps we could listen to Molly Brown ride her little boyfriend like a show horse, all to a hippity-hop symphony?” Edwin finished off his scotch and raised his glass toward the bartender for another. “I’d rather stay here and rot.”

Music came from the jukebox. Rap. 2Pac. “Yeah, bro!” Benny shouted to Lawson as he continued pumping dollars into the machine.

Lawson shot down the rest of his drink and got up from his stool. “I’m leaving. This scene is tired, man.”

“I’m staying,” Edwin said. “I have a new drink coming and my friends have arrived.”

“Suit yourself.” Lawson put his coat on. “You can’t let it get this way, man. The past is the past. Live now. Call Arlene.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” The bartender slammed Edwin’s new drink down and he took a long pull. “Give my regards to Sour Bear.”

Lawson left the bar, as Benny staggered back over. Voices murmured and subtle slurs were thrown around. “What’s that dude’s problem?” Ivan said. “We like everyone in here.”

“Yeah,” Benny said, taking Lawson’s seat. “We’re open minded.”

“That’s what I keep trying to tell him,” Edwin said.

Then they all had a drink.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Seeing The Real You At Last

Edwin Balder and Molly Brown got off of the R Train at Union Square. As a rule Edwin did not like people very much, and Union Square was filled with people. But there was something about the hustle and bustle (yes, Edwin occasionally used hustle and bustle to describe action) of the place that made him feel somewhat decent inside, as if he would not drown in one of the dirty rivers or backed up sewers in the city. Edwin liked walking amongst the street performers and the artists selling their hackneyed works of art to unsuspecting, simple tourists who managed to make their way down Broadway from the glowing hell lights of Midtown and Times Square. He liked walking through the farmer’s market even though it was full of aging hipsters such as himself, buying arugula and freshly packed tofu for whatever ungodly vegan dinner they were concocting. Edwin liked stopping at street corners around the edges of the Square to listen to the Jews and Arabs argue about Israel and Palestine as if they were real places, or he liked to watch the Falun Gong practitioners do dances and exercises that he didn’t understand, as they held signs railing against the Chinese Government. Molly seemed to like them too because she got choked up at the pictures of people seemingly beaten to a pulp by that repressive regime. Edwin wondered if he could buy her a cup of Wonton soup to soothe her soul.

He was in Manhattan. Being in Manhattan made Edwin feel as though he were really in New York City, wherein living in Brooklyn just made him think that he’d made some bad financial choices throughout his life. And wasn’t that the truth? Edwin thought, laughing as Molly stopped to look at a kiosk full of cheap jewelry. Edwin thought about Arlene and how he had yet to give her a call. After all, she was back in the picture now that Natalie had become anathema to his very being. Of course, there was, again, the possibility of Molly Brown. It was not quite a May/December relationship, so he didn’t feel like a silly old man chasing a young girl. But Molly seemed prone to outbursts of tears. Plus there was the ghost of Matthew Joy to consider. And Arlene, despite her penchant for early 1990s fashion, had been kind to him that evening of the party. It had been a long time since a woman had been kind to Edwin Balder.

But it didn’t matter. Arlene was out of Edwin’s reach. He’d forgotten where it was that she actually lived in the city, or perhaps she’d never told him. No, she had. Edwin was just never good at remembering anything women told him. Natalie Presley, that opportunist shrew, had, close to the end of their relationship, accused Edwin of being a misogynist. She said that she was surprised it had taken her this long to realize it. She said that Edwin valued the opinion of the dumbest male over the smartest woman, something that he vehemently disagreed with. Edwin had plenty of smart female friends, he told Natalie. When she reminded him that most of them were, in actuality, her friends, Edwin accused Natalie of being on “the rag” as the lower classes were so fond of saying. Edwin Balder ate dinner alone for the next three nights after that.

“Where do you want to go and look for the book?” Molly asked Edwin, as she purchased a cheap Jade knockoff of a Buddha from one of the artists in the Square.

“What book?” Edwin asked, looking around, and then settling on a group of break dancers surrounded by throngs of tourists in New York City hats, carrying New York City bags.

“The one your ex wrote about you.”

“Of course!”

“We could either go to Strand or to the Barnes and Noble.”

“Which do you prefer?” Edwin asked.

“I like Strand,” Molly said. “I like to shop locally and act globally.”

“I like to leave people to their own foolish and reckless devices,” Edwin said. “But Strand is as good as anywhere else.”

They walked toward 14th street. Memory after memory shot at Edwin Balder so quickly that he barely had time to duck. He saw himself and Lawson as college students, hanging around the area, trying to figure out where it was that Warhol had his Factory. Edwin remembered drinking at Cedar Tavern with their gang, thinking that they were big shots for hanging around a place of such literary significance, until a wiser old timer told them that the original artists’ hangout had been demolished and that this one was new. Edwin remembered the many Saturdays that he and Natalie had spent going through the long aisles at the Virgin Megastore as loud music rained down on them, giving them a headache, and how they never bought anything that they intended to buy because they could not think straight. It seemed fitting that the store closed the same year that he and Natalie split up. It was a bank now. And a Duane Reade drugstore.

“Are you all right?” Molly asked Edwin, as they made their way toward the big Red signs of Strand.

“I’m fine,” Edwin said. “I was just admiring your jacket. How does one find that shade of hot pink?”

“Shut up.”

“I’m serious,” he said.

“I could ask you the same thing about your tight pants and thick glasses,” Molly said. She smiled at Edwin. “Hipster chic was so 2010.”

“So I’ve been told,” Edwin said, thinking of Arlene.

Edwin Balder and Molly Brown entered Strand. Edwin realized how much he didn’t like the store. It was always packed and hot, even in the dead of winter, no matter the time of day. Plus the place was too big for its own good. It wasn’t that he got lost in Strand’s so-called eighteen miles of books so much as he could not stand the store’s layout. Philosophy belonged with literature, he always thought, for one always lead to the other. Edwin hated the clientele and its snotty staff. Yes, yes, you work in a world famous bookstore, but you make seven dollars an hour hocking the work of has-beens and never-weres to tourists and denizens with nowhere better to shop. True, the occasional celebrity came in, some cable television hack most likely looking to get recognized instead of being just out and about getting the new Lethem novel. Plus Edwin was still mad that Strand had not hired him when he was in college. You confuse George Elliot and George Bernard Shaw in an interview, and that suddenly makes you ineligible to shelve Anne Rice and Danielle Steele books? Perhaps he would try again now that the old invoice shop was closing its doors.

“What’s her name?” Molly asked.

“Who?” Edwin said.

“Your ex. What’s with you today, Edwin?”

“I’m sorry. I’m having acid flashbacks. Or the mid nineteen-nineties, early two thousands version of an acid flashback.”


“These are my old stomping grounds, you see. I went to college at NYU.”


“Is it?”

“It’s only like one of the best schools in the country,” Molly said. “I wish that I went to NYU.”

“Where do you go?” Edwin asked, to be kind. He could already feel the sweat on his brown form the heat of Strand.

“Stupid Brooklyn College.”

“I’m sure it perfectly suits your needs.”

“Whatever,” Molly said. Edwin followed her over to a table full of new books. “What’s her name? And I swear if you say ‘who’ this time, I’m going to knee you in the nuts.”

“Ah, that would be Natalie Presley,” Edwin said, making sure that his testicles were protected.

Molly scanned the books on the table while Edwin watched a female Strand clerk bend over to pick up a pile of books. Her khaki pants fell low in the back exposing the top of her thong. It was called a Whales’ Tale, as George Pollard Jr. had told them all one night. “Here it is!”

“Let me see that,” Edwin said, grabbing the book from Molly’s hands.

The cover was a pale red with the title The Life and Times of Edward Beddor in the Real World scrawled in a ghastly white and black with the name of the author, Natalie Chappel Presley, in the bottom right hand corner. Edwin opened up the back flap to see the author picture, and suddenly there was Natalie’s image looking back at him. It was a color photo. How tacky, Edwin thought. The hard-up publishing house was probably playing up Natalie’s looks, as her youth had been taken by time. And she did look good. She still had those rich brown eyes that glowed, and that angular, tan face with a chin that came to a definite point at the end. Natalie’s hair hung to her shoulders with brand new (at least to Edwin) bangs that edged toward the left side of her face. She looked professional and happy, and Edwin was sure that he hated her for real.

“She’s very pretty,” Molly said, looking at the author photo over Edwin’s shoulder.”

“She’s a dog,” Edwin said. He snapped the book shut. “And she’s going to be paying me a lot of money when I’m through with her.”

“So the book is really about you?”

Edwin looked at the cover again. “Supposedly. I guess I’m this Edward Beddor character. What a stupid, unoriginal name. I could come up with a better name in my sleep.”

“She didn’t seem to stray too far from the source,” Molly said.

“She stayed too close to the source,” Edwin said. “A bad move as now I can get her on libel or slander, or whatever it is that lets the world know that Edwin Balder will not stand for this kind of treatment! And to think that she assaulted me with a book! One of my favorite tangible articles in this cruel world!” He held the book up and shook it. “This is a blood purchase! A blood purchase!”

“Edwin, calm down,” Molly said. She tried to take the book away from him but he snatched it away. “People are beginning to look.”

“Let them! Let them see what true violation looks like! Let these cows, the walking blobs of flesh and blood and bone see what true pain and agony looks like! Edwin lowered the book and glared around the bookstore. No one was looking except for the old security guard, and even he appeared bored. Still, the sight of a uniformed protector of the law calmed Edwin down.

“Why don’t we buy the book, and then we can look at it over a few drinks,” Molly said, taking the novel from Edwin.

“Edward Beddor!” Edwin started again, but quickly quieted down. “Why not Evan Spelndor? Or Eden Tender? Or some other trite name?”

“I don’t know, Edwin,” Molly said, heading toward the long, ubiquitous line toward the cash register. “The world is a strange place.”

“Its slop,” Edwin said, falling in behind her. He looked at the people in line. Most of them were carrying boring run-of-the-mill best sellers at discount prices. A few were trying to look smart with their history books. Some were holding classics that they’d never read; that dusty copy of Moby Dick that would be acting as a coaster in under a month. Edwin hated everyone, and he felt as if he were going to be sick. At least none of them were carrying a copy of The Life and Times of Edward Beddor in the Real World by Natalie Chappel Presley. Chappel? Where did she come up with that one? “I need to step outside.”

Molly touched his sleeve. “Okay. I’ll take care of this.”

Edwin stepped outside of Strand, but not before the security guard gave him a steely-eyed glare. It was cool outside, but a bit warm for late March. Spring was coming, Edwin observed, although thanks to Natalie Presley it would be the winter of his discontent. But why not spring? Edwin hated spring anyway. He hated seeing people going back outside, skateboarding, jogging, or just loafing on the corner. Edwin hated the dog walkers and all of their dog shit on the concrete. He hated kids eating ice cream cones, and big, dumb Italian men walking down the street with flopping slices of pizza on stained paper plates. Edwin hated the people in his building, lingering in front of the apartment, smoking, and telling the stupidest stories about their boring little lives. If nothing else, none of the denizens at the CrestSeal apartments had a book written about them.

“Here you go,” Molly said, handing Edwin a red and white Strand bag. He hated those two colors for sure now.

“What do I owe you?” he asked.

“Nothing. Consider it a gift.”

“But you hardly know me.”

Molly smiled. “Then consider it a thank you for making me feel better this afternoon.”

“Okay,” Edwin said.

“And just think you didn’t have to actually buy the book.”

“That’s true,” Edwin said. They were silent a moment. “May I buy you a drink or two?”

“Sure,” Molly said. She took out her cell phone, checked it quickly, and frowned. “It’s not as though I have anyone to go home to.”

“I’ll try not to take that the wrong way.”

“Please don’t.”

Edwin Balder and Molly Brown began walking down Broadway toward Astor Place. Edwin decided that he would take Molly to one of his favorite taverns, The Grassroots. Sure, it was another place full of old memories, but he reasoned maybe today he could make a few new ones. And Edwin needed some good nostalgia for a change.

He looked at Molly, dressed in her plastic pink coat, and smiled. May/December, perhaps. She looked back at him and smiled too. Then Molly put her arm in Edwin’s and the two of them strolled down Broadway like young lovers. Well, youngish in Edwin’s case. Soon they were turning down 8th. It would become St. Marks Place and Edwin decided to tell Molly everything that he knew about the musical and artistic history of the area. Maybe she would like it, he thought. But then they passed a diner where two people were outside kissing. It was a raven haired woman and bulky man with sparkling, silver hair. Normally Edwin couldn’t care less about such brazen displays of PDA, but this time he stopped short and clutched his stomach. It was as if the wind had been knocked out of him.

“Edwin, are you okay?” Molly asked.

Edwin pointed at the couple, who had now separated and were walking hand and hand down Lafayette Street. “Natalie.”


“Natalie. With Charles Ramsdell,” was all he could say.

Monday, April 18, 2011


Edwin Balder heard the pounding on his front door but did not go to it immediately. He turned to his right side and looked at the alarm clock. It read two in the afternoon. It couldn’t be, Edwin thought. He raised his head and it still hurt a little bit. How much had he drunk the night before? Judging by what welcomed him in the kitchen earlier in the day, a lot. The Plastic jug of scotch that Edwin had bought only lasted two days where it typically lasted a week, and there were two or three beer cans strewn about, random cans found in the back of the refrigerator after crawling back into his apartment from that fall. Edwin felt the side of his left leg. It was tender. The bruise was shaped like Australia and was black with a yellow-orange center. When Edwin saw it in the mirror he vomited and then went back to bed.

Someone pounded on the door again. Edwin put his pillow over his puffy, alcohol soaked face to drown out the sound, but he knew that he could not hide forever. Edwin had to get up and get himself directly to a bookstore, to find out what it was exactly that Natalie Presley had written about their life together. That conniving tramp! Edwin thought, tossing the pillow away and slowly rising from his mattress. How could she? Had he really been that bad to her? That deceitful? That untruthful? Enough to write an entire novel about him? Plus she’d beaten Edwin to the punch. True, he’d had his notes and character sketches done up for his own “break-up” novel, and Lord knows he entertained his fantasies of writing some massive Proustian or David Foster Wallace tome to the full extent. Edwin had his delusions of grandeur of setting the literary world ablaze, and making enough money to get out of his work situation (pre-corporate asset liquidation, of course). But it had come to nothing.

The knock on the door came again, urgent. Edwin assumed that it was some faceless, soulless representative of the building management come to serve him an eviction notice for the shenanigans that had taken place during the early morning hours, so he took his time dragging his wounded leg down the hallway. Edwin reasoned that if the building management was intent on tossing him to the streets, so be it. But he would not go down without taking Molly Brown and Gerhardt with him.

Edwin opened his door and Molly Brown was standing there holding a letter. Her hair was pulled back and tied with one of those retro “scrunchies.” She had hardly a stitch of make-up on and looked as though she’d been crying. Seeing Molly’s appearance this bare and pale, Edwin noticed just how pronounced her nose was on her face. Still, he felt a rumbling in his loins. Once again, Molly was wearing that “Brooklyn Girls Do It Better,” t-shirt and a pair of jeans that did not cover her mid-drift. Obviously the outfit was a popular one with Ms. Brown, Edwin thought. Or Matthew Joyless liked seeing her dress up like a 3rd Avenue hussy with an open invitation to free and proper fornication plastered across her small chest.

“Yes,” Edwin said, formally, of course.

“Edwin can I come in?”

“Now is not the time for me to be entertaining guests.”

“Please,” Molly said. And then she began to cry.

Edwin let her into his apartment and guided her toward his couch. He had Molly sit on the end the cockroaches typically stayed away from, and went into the kitchen to get her a drink while she sobbed. Edwin looked around and noticed a bottle of Pimm’s that he hadn't gotten to in his drunken state. He’d bought it over at Astor Wines in the city when on a New Orleans kick last summer. Edwin was going to learn how to make the world’s best Pimm’s Cup, but had never gotten around to buying the other drink components. He usually ended up taking a nip on the Pimm’s when he ran out of scotch. Two Pimm’s it would be, Edwin said to himself. He opened the refrigerator and there was not an ice cube to be found. Two Pimm’s neat, Edwin re-stated, throwing a shot into two glasses that may or may not have been entirely clean.

Edwin came back into the living room. He put the drinks on the coffee table and then sat on the other end of the couch while Molly continued to cry. He had no clue what to do. Edwin hated when women cried. Their tears made him nervous. Whenever Natalie cried Edwin had to leave the room. Sometimes he had to leave the apartment. If he was the one responsible for Natalie’s tears, Edwin often got on the R Train for a couple of days of male bonding with Lawson, never fully shaking the sight of his beloved’s crying, hoping she’d get over whatever he’d done and wouldn’t tear up anew when he returned home. And now this virtual stranger, this aching sex kitten, was sobbing in his apartment, on his side of the couch, where issues of McSweeny’s were read in comfort and Hot Pockets were consumed with the careless glee of a bachelor on the prowl.

“Molly, what is it?” Edwin asked, while trying to maintain his distance. The Chinese woman’s television blared through the walls, so he had something else to focus on. Thank goodness, Edwin said to himself, while pounding on the walls. Still, once the old hag turned down the television Edwin would still be left with the crying strumpet on his couch.

She held out the letter. “Did you get one of these?”

“I haven’t gotten my mail yet,” Edwin said.


Edwin took the letter and read it:

Dear Residents of the CrestSeal Apartments,

There have been some on-going issues with occupants in the building. We would like to address this issues and make sure everyone is aware of the policies and the consequences for violating these policies.

First off, we have received notice from the NYC Health Department about a complaint made regarding allege an unsanitary condition and pubic nuisance caused by pideon waste existing at the building. Residents must not allow pideons to create nuisance condition on private or pubic property. There violations can result in fines ranging from $300 to $3,500 per violation. We ask that you please DO NOT FEED PIDEONS.

A major concern we have is drugs. Their have been reports of residents smoking marijuana from specific apartments. No DRUGS of any kind will be tolerated. If it continues, the police will be notified and you WILL BE EVICTED. This is a final warning regarding this matter.

Edwin folded up the letter and handed it back to Molly.

“What do you think of it?” she said.

“I think that letter was written by an absolute illiterate,” Edwin said, sipping his Pimm’s. The alcohol turned his stomach a bit. “Not only should this person not have a job, they should be paraded around the city and beaten with thick, bamboo sticks.”

“I don’t even know what a pideon is,” Molly said. Then she began crying again.

“I’m sure it’s another word for homeless or vagrant. They seem to mill about more in the later winter, early spring.” Edwin had more Pimm’s. “Nevertheless, be careful whom you share your Egg McMuffins with would be my advice.”

“But what about the drugs, Edwin?” Molly said. through tears.

“Shhhh,” Edwin said. “Do you want them to raid us right now?”

“Matt and I were smoking marijuana last night.”

“Surely I don’t want to know anything about that,” Edwin said, rubbing his thigh.

Molly shook the letter. “Someone does!”

“Do you honestly believe that someone from the building management smelled your marijuana smoke, raced home and composed this letter last night?”

“They could have.”

“True. And judging by the prose it’s quite likely that they did. But I highly doubt that some corporate shill was lurking outside your door at four in the morning.”

“How did you know that we were smoking at four in the morning?” Molly asked.

Edwin took a long pull on his Pimm’s. Molly hadn’t touched hers. “I picked a random hour.” He was silent a moment. “Plus….well…I heard you.”

“You heard us?”



Edwin nodded and Molly began to cry again. He moved closer and tried his best to be comforting. Edwin patted Molly on the knee but all it did was give him a slight erection. “There, there, it’s not so bad.”

“I’m so embarrassed.” Molly looked up at Edwin. Her face was red and tear-stained. She had snot coming out of her nose, and Edwin thought that he was going to be sick again. To try and quell his shaky stomach, he got up and went back into the kitchen. Edwin got a paper towel for Molly, and a generous refill on the Pimm’s for himself.

“Really, you have to allow for these small embarrassments in apartments,” Edwin said, thinking back to the old upstairs neighbor who used to pound a broom handle on Edwin’s ceiling whenever he and Natalie made love, or, later, when Edwin was drunk, alone, and loud.

“I had a fight with Matt today as soon as I saw this letter,” Molly said.

“What was it over? His PS3?”

“No.” She gave Edwin an irritated look. “It was over the pot, Edwin.”

“Of course!” Edwin had more Pimm’s. “And did you send Mr. Joyle…Joy packing as was your right?”

“Matt doesn’t smoke pot,” Molly said. “I do.”

“I’m sure we can frame him,” Edwin said. “Make it look as though he took advantage of you.”

“I don’t want to frame him. He’s mad at me because I won’t stop. I lit up a J after we….and he started yelling at me.”

“Hence the rap music on full tilt?”

“I’m so sorry about that,” Molly said.

“Well, as they say in the game, life ain’t nothin’ but bitches and money.”

Molly smiled a little and then turned sad. “He left like right after the fight. It was still dark out. That creep, Gerhardt, was in the hallway. He started yelling at Matt about the scent of marijuana and about flushing toilets. It took forever for him to go back inside his place.”

“Talk about a man I’d like to frame and send up the river,” Edwin said.

“And I haven’t heard from Matt since he left,” Molly said. She started crying again. “I don’t know if he got home safe or what.”

Edwin looked at his watch. It was nearly three in the afternoon and he hadn’t even showered or ranted in his journal. “Dear, what you must do is go back to your apartment and call this Matthew Joy.”


“Yes…Matt. You need to call him and straighten this business out right now.”

“You sound like you’re trying to get rid of me,” Molly said. She stood up from Edwin’s couch.

“I’m not,” Edwin said. “After all, we have a standing date to listen to Gershwin. It’s just….it’s just that this cruel woman has written a book about me, and I must get to a bookstore and get a copy so that I can begin building my legal defense.”

“Someone wrote a book about you?” Molly said. Her face brightened. Edwin was not surprised. The young these days were easily tempted by the slightest bit of celebrity. He thought perhaps to use this to his gain, but decided against it in Molly Brown’s delicate shape.

“My ex-girlfriend.”


“I highly doubt that,” Edwin said.

Molly was quiet a moment. “Can I come to the bookstore with you?”


“Please. I’m having such a bad day, and I really could use the company.”

“I…I guess so,” Edwin said. He motioned for Molly to sit back down on the couch. She did. “You stay here. Take in the ambiance while I shower and get myself ready.”

“I have to say, you look terrible today, Edwin,” Molly said. She finally picked up her Pimm’s and had a drink.

Edwin smiled. “And I don’t see much chance for improving as the hours wane.”

“I hope you know that I was kidding.”

Edwin went over and looked at himself in the mirror. “No you weren’t dear.”

They were silent a moment and then Molly Brown leaped up off the couch. “Pigeons!”


“That’s what they meant in the letter,” Molly said. “Pideons are Pigeons!”

“Obviously,” Edwin said. And then he went into the bathroom, closed the door, and began running the hottest shower that he could stand.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Mr. Telephone Man

Edwin Balder staggered into his bedroom, turned on the light, and fell onto the bed. What a night, he thought, before he was able to take in the cacophony of sound that surrounded him at such an ungodly hour as this. It wasn’t rap that Molly Brown had playing this time, but some kind of screeching metal music with wailing guitars and the kind of bass that might as well make it your standard hip-hop song. To make matters worse, Molly’s bedsprings began vibrating and pounding down on Edwin’s ceiling in a torrent of sound. Bounce, bounce, bounce-wacka-bounce. Bounce, bounce, bounce-wacka-bounce. He heard Molly scream and Matt Joyless moan as if someone were beating him instead of copulating with him. Edwin had no choice but to put his pillow over his head and wait for it to stop, which it did, in less than two minutes. Then the music stopped and he heard voices, the muted, banal conversation of the unsatisfied. Edwin heard Molly get out of bed and pound across her room as was her fashion. There was a brief silence and then her toilet flushed. Edwin felt as though he were going to be sick.

He managed to get back out of bed and stumble into the living room. The Chinese woman’s television was on low, so it only hummed. Edwin heard bedsprings above him again and felt as though he were being taunted by some cruel spirit, but it was only Gerhardt turning in his lonely, sexless bed. Edwin sighed. It had been quite a night, he thought a second time, as he picked his ancient, cordless phone up off its stand. He dialed Lawson Thomas’ number as he walked into the kitchen, intent on fixing himself one last scotch before it was time to retire from the horror show that had been this day.

“Hello?’ Lawson said in a muffled, exhausted voice.

“Don’t hello me, Benedict Arnold!” Edwin spat into the phone. He took a sip on his scotch and water, and hoped that he had been loud enough.


“Don’t mom me. You know damned well who this is, you lousy Tory.”

“Edwin, what in the hell do you want? It’s…” Lawson was silent a moment. “It’s almost four in the morning.”

“As good as any a time to call my back stabbing ex-best friend.”

“I have to get up in an hour to jog.”

“Not my concern,” Edwin said, taking his phone and his drink into the living room. “At least you slept this evening. I just got home and I was forced to listen to wild kingdom raining down on me in my bedroom.”


“Never you mind, Benedict. It was a pathetic display of underdeveloped machismo anyway. I hope the harlot was left unsatisfied and embarrassed in her musical choice.”


“Rap would’ve been so much more preferable,” Edwin said.

“Look, man, I have no clue what you’re talking about. If you don’t get to the point I’m hanging the fuck up,” Lawson said.

Edwin stopped short. Lawson rarely swore at him. He usually kept his invective reserved for The Man. “You know exactly what I mean.”

“I assure you that I don’t.”

Edwin has more scotch. “When were you going to tell me that Natalie was back in town and working at Hunter College? The next time I stopped by for one of those cafeteria lunches that you’re always bragging about?”

Lawson sighed. Edwin could almost picture him on the other end of the phone, hunched over the side of his bed, head in his hands, and acting the role of martyr. “You’re assuming that I knew that Natalie was back.”

“She works with you, does she not? You two are colleagues.”

“Where did you come up with that?”

“I had a deep and fruitful discussion with my two new friends, Benny and Ivan, and we came to the conclusion that you’ve been holding out on me, Benedict Arnold. You’ve kept this vital information stored in that head of yours all this time.”

“You discussed this with two bar drunks,” Lawson said.

“They’ve been hurt, all right. And don’t you slander my friends that way,” Edwin said. “Explain yourself, man!”

“Can’t we talk about this tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow I’ll have forgotten your small existence.”



“Stop calling me that,” Lawson said. He was awake and probably pacing around his bedroom now, Edwin thought. Good.

“I’ll stop calling you that when you begin flapping your gums, and start spilling those beans of yours.

“I told you that I didn’t know Natalie was back.”

Edwin finished off his scotch. “But you know now.”

“Can we talk about this tomorrow, please, Edwin,” Lawson said.

“Now,” Edwin said.

“Who is that?” Edwin heard a voice say.

“It’s Edwin,” Lawson said to the voice.

“Is that Sour Bear?” Edwin asked.

“Mary’s here,” Lawson said. “You woke her up too.”

“It’s just as well. You artsy Brooklyn animals just can’t wait to get into the sack with the next so and so.”

“We’re dating. Exclusively.”

“Tell the little strumpet that playtime is over for the night.”

“That’s it I’m hanging up,” Lawson said.

“You do and it’ll be the last time we talk, sir!”

“Hold on.”

The other line went dead for a moment or so. Edwin thought that Lawson had hung up on him, and got up off his couch and began pacing his living room. Cars drove by. Buses roared up the street. Edwin looked out of his cracked, wooden blind, at the bright streetlights on 75th Street, and seriously considered moving out of New York City for the first time. There’s simply no peace here, Edwin said. To live in New York was to live with the dregs of society. Maybe it was just Brooklyn. It had to be better in Manhattan, he thought. Then Arlene came to him; beautiful Arlene with her black hair and blue eyes. Edwin suppressed the very idea of her, for it was Natalie that he still wanted. Still, it was a pity that nothing would ever happen between he and Arlene.

“Are you there, asshole?” Lawson asked.

“Well, haven’t we developed the keenest of vocabulary,” Edwin said. “Is that Sour Bear’s influence, or are you watching some urban crime thriller?”

“I was sleeping. But you want to talk, so let’s talk.”

“Fine,” Edwin said. “It’s always right down to business with you, isn’t it, Mr. Teacher?”

“You called me,” Lawson said.

“Oh did I?”


Edwin was silent a moment. “If you say so. Now tell me what you know about Natalie.”

“All I know is that she moved back at the end of the summer, and that she started teaching creative writing at NYU in the fall.”

“Ah Ha! So you do work together!” Edwin shouted. But then he remembered that Lawson taught at Hunter College.

“There’s more,” Lawson said. He was silent a moment. So silent for such a moment that Edwin’s heart began to beat faster.

“Spit it out,” he demanded.

“Natalie’s written a book.”

“So? I’ve written ten books in my head.”

“Yeah, but this one’s been published. On paper,” Lawson said. “Or you can download it on an E-reader.” Edwin said nothing. He took the phone back into the kitchen and poured himself another scotch and water. He opened the fridge but there were no ice cubes left. “Edwin?”

“Well, I’m not surprised,” he finally said. “Natalie was always creative and she had quite an intellect when she wasn’t so bogged down in being a woman. If anyone other than myself was to do anything on a creative level, I expected it to be Natalie.”

“I have four books out there,” Lawson said.

“Theory books,” Edwin laughed. “On college presses.”


“So where can I get her book? The campus bookstore?”

“Mary and I downloaded it from the Sony Reader Store,” Lawson said.

“How twenty-first century of you,” Edwin said. “And was it worth it? What did she write about? The trappings of being a modern woman with infinite choices?”

“That’s the thing, Edwin.” Lawson paused. “The book is about you.”

“All flattering I assume.”

“It’s about your relationship with Natalie.”

“That’s…” Edwin stopped himself. “She wrote about that?”

“All of it,” Lawson said.


“Look, man, I didn’t want to tell you this over the phone, not at this hour. I was going to call you tomorrow, or I was going to stop by.”

“How much of me is in there?”

“Enough, Edwin,” Lawson said.

Edwin downed his scotch and water in one gulp. Then he staggered into his bedroom and fell upon his bed a second time. He could hear the television from up in Molly Brown’s apartment, and she and Matthew Joy laughing at some stoner comedy that the networks only had the gall to play after the witching hour.

“Edwin,” Lawson said.

“Well, I’m sure I don’t know what to say right now,” Edwin said.

“Are you all right?”

“I…I just don’t know how I missed this. I mean I keep close attention to new authors. I have a standing subscription to McSweeny’s. I’m on the up and up with this sort of thing. I make it my hobby, if you will. Not only am I offended that Natalie Presley, for that’s how I’m forever refereeing to her, in the formal only, has taken to writing a tome about me, but I’m angry as an avid watcher of new literary talent, for not being first out the box in discovering her.” Edwin slumped into his pillow. “This is quite a load to carry, Lawson.”

“I know, Edwin,” Lawson said. “I’m going to come over tomorrow and we’ll talk or something. I’ll bring the E-reader if you want.”

“Don’t bother,” Edwin said. “And I mean that in the kindest of ways. You and your devil device, please spend the day with Sour Bear. I plan on being at the Barnes and Noble quite early tomorrow to pick up this slanderous piece of fiction. And then we’ll see whether or not I have a lawsuit.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes,” Edwin said. “You are free to go about your business.”

“All right, man.”

“And to think I was going to give her a second chance.”

Lawson hung up and Edwin lay back in his bed, feeling repulsed by the very idea that Natalie Presley had written a book about their relationship. True, Edwin had often had flights of fancy where fame was concerned. He’d imagined writing a popular yet edgy novel numerous times, and seeing his name in all of the journals. In his head, Edwin has been interviewed dozens of times, and had squired and bedded so many young starlets that it would make the common man’s head spin. He’d even once imagined himself the lead singer in a famous rock and roll band or two. But these delusions, for as Edwin got older he knew that’s what they were, were always on his terms. They were not dictated by someone else. But now with this book people would know. They’d know all about him. Old friends would know more than they should. Acquaintances would be able to make assumptions. Of course strangers wouldn’t know a thing, but that wouldn’t stop Edwin from thinking that they were looking at him as he passed them on the street.

Oh how he both hated and loved Natalie Presley in that moment. Oh how he wanted to cry. But there was no time for that. From Molly Brown’s apartment the music started again. It was rap for real this time. What sort of callous little hussy played rap at four o’clock in the morning? Then the bedsprings started squeaking. Bounce, bounce, bounce-wacka-bounce. And Edwin got out of his bed determined to kill someone.

By some miracle, or by sheer alcoholic adrenaline alone, he reached the second floor of the apartment and Molly Brown’s hellish red door. The hallway smelt of marijuana smoke and you could hear the gross, sweating animalistic moans and grunts going on inside. The rap music thumped with power, and Edwin was truly surprised that he was the only neighbor in the building poised to knock on the door and create a scene. Had everyone else given up? Did no on care for the sanctity of peace and quiet? Edwin always had to go it alone with these community saving endeavors. He should just give up and let it all go to hell, he thought. He was just about ready to knock on the door when the panting, moaning, bouncing, and rap music stopped. Quickly he backed away.

“I heard youse!” Gerhardt shouted from his doorway. The old curmudgeon was already fully dressed. Gerhardt pointed at Edwin and sniffed. “Is that dope? I smelled youse smoking dope!”

“Surely, you don’t think that was me in there with that hooker?” Edwin said to his only other known enemy. “I was merely coming up here to complain.”

“You’re a drunk!” Gerhardt shouted. “A drunk and I heard youse having sex, and smelled youse smoking dope. I heard youse flushing your toilets and listening to Gershwin, and I’m going to call the landlord about all of youse!”

Edwin had no recourse but to run before someone heard Gerhardt shouting. He made it around the bend and down half a flight of stairs, before he realized that if no one heard the racket that Molly Brown was making, then no one would hear Gerhardt shouting. Unless it was reality television or some smoker’s dull soliloquy on the front stoop of the building, the denizens of this apartment were deaf to their surroundings. Edwin tried to stop running, but in his inebriated state he could not. So he tripped and rolled down the other half of a flight of stairs, landing on the very last step. For a moment he laid there. Edwin’s hip and thigh were burning. His knee on his left leg was throbbing. He wondered if this night would ever end. Then the super, Mr. Isaiah Sheppard, came by pushing a broom. He sniffed. Edwin knew that he could smell the marijuana.

“What are you doing on them steps at this hour?” Sheppard asked. “Meditating?”

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Benny and Ivan Explain it All Part: 2

Edwin Balder had more of his scotch and watched the men playing darts, as Benny navigated his way around the jukebox. He wondered which one of them had slept with Benny’s lady friend. Was it the drunken mailman who always played game show theme songs, and bought everyone a round until he was dead broke? The racist carpenter who always stared down Lawson? The bus driver with either drank before or after his shift? Edwin wondered how Benny could come to this bar night after night and sit with that group of men having known what went on between them and his woman. Edwin could barely be in George Pollard Jr.’s apartment. He could hardly sit and talk with him without the blood rising in his veins. Edwin wondered if it were different for the lower classes. Maybe these men were more like dogs, and it didn’t matter whose bitch you slept with at any given time. Perhaps all you had to do was smell each other’s ass and buy the wounded party a drink to make amends. In that moment, Edwin wanted to call his parents and thank them for his Catholic education, even though the religion part never stuck.

“I don’t know, Benny,” Ivan suddenly said, when Benny returned. “I think you can still be hard up for someone after years go by.”

“No you can’t.”

“Tell me you don’t miss Mona.”

“She’s a bitch,” Benny said. “I hate her…but yeah, I miss her sometimes.”

“Just like me and Rachel,” Ivan said.

“Ah, not her again,” Benny said, sitting down carefully on his stool. He turned away from Ivan and sulked into his drink.

Ivan grabbed Edwin’s arm. “I was a hurricane of a man,” he said. “I used to work sanitation for the city, and I slept with so many broads that I can’t even remember how many.”

“Hmmmm…,” Edwin said. He signaled for another drink.

“But then I met her. Rachel. She was so smart and pretty.” Ivan gazed off toward the jukebox and then turned back. “She was goin’ta college, too. Science major or something. We had a good thing going for a coupla years.”

“And then he messed it all up,” Benny said, taking Edwin’s other arm. “Tell him how you messed it up, big boy.”

“Yeah, I did,” Ivan said. “I had the best woman in the world and I ruined it. I cheated on Rachel with some woman on my route. The woman got pregnant and before I knew it I was on my ass, and Rachel was leaving town with her bachelor’s degree.”

Edwin clasped Ivan’s arm. “Unbelievable. Who knew that you people lived actual lives outside of fop sweat, pratfalls, and beer hangovers?”

“No kiddin’,” Ivan said. “We were gonna get married and everything.”

“Hell,” Benny said, letting go of Edwin’s arm to wave Ivan off. Edwin liked how the men in the joint always waved each other off. He decided then and there to go home and practice waving people off. Once he got proficient enough he would try it with Mr. Owen Chase, for there was nothing to lose on the job now. “She wasn’t gonna marry you.”

“She was too.”

“You never would’ve been faithful to her.”

Ivan nodded. I guess not. And I don’t really have no regrets, right? I mean I love my kids, you know? Even the one in jail.”

“He should,” Benny said, taking Edwin’s shoulder again. “He has five of them with four different women.”

“So he’s a virile man?” Edwin said. He looked at Ivan. “I believe the children are our future. I was just expressing the same thing to an old friend this very night.”

Ivan shrugged. “I love my kids. But I loved Rachel.”

Edwin had more of his drink. By now he determined that he was drunk. But the great part was that he no longer felt self-conscious alone in Rooney’s. He felt as though he were part of a pack now. Sure, Benny and Ivan would probably get loaded and forget Edwin and this conversation the next day, as they often had. Edwin likened talking to them to meeting an infant, and each and every time was like the first time. If he came into Rooney’s tomorrow there would be Benny staggering at the jukebox, and there would be Ivan dancing, and neither of them would remember a moment of this conversation. They’d vaguely remember Edwin, tipping a beer toward him at best if he came in the bar. Still, Edwin was thankful for the companionship and talk on such a foreboding night as this one.

“I was a hurricane of a man back in the day,” Ivan said into his drink. “It’s funny we talk about this now, you know. I have a question for you, Eddie.”

“Fire away, chum,” Edwin said.

“You see, one of my kids has this Internets thing. He was showing me how I can look up people and whatever, so I put in her name. I put in Rachel Howard and all of this stuff came up on her.”

“Like F.B.I. files and a police record?”

“No. Like she teaches science at Hunter College right here in the city.”

“Interesting,” Edwin said. “On two accounts. One that you could get an educated woman to sleep with you, let alone be around you for successive years. And two that she teaches in that dump.” Edwin said this knowing full well that was where Lawson taught his philosophy of literature class.

Ivan had more beer. “It’s kinda like you, and your broad coming back to New York.”

“If apples and oranges were the same thing. But, okay, I’ll bite.”

“So I was thinking of maybe going down to the college and seeing her,” Ivan said. “You know, like surprise her or something.”

“Stalk her,” Edwin said nodding, and then having more scotch.

“Yeah, just go down and see how the years have been.”

Benny slammed down his scotch and leaned over Edwin, pointing at Ivan. He smelled of Chinese food from weeks gone by. “This dope thinks he’s got a chance with her. What’s it?” Benny began snapping his fingers in Edwin’s face. “You can’t repeat this past.”

“What do you mean you can’t repeat the past?” Ivan said. “Of course you can.”

That was a Bob Dylan lyric, Edwin thought to himself. If Lawson were here, he would’ve pointed it out. But to hell with Lawson Thomas; Edwin had new friends now.

“Oh sure,” Benny said. “You’re just going to waddle over to Hunter College and them guards are going to let you in because you’re nursing some ancient crush.”

“They got guards?”

“Big ones,” Edwin said, remembering a particular red-faced, thick-necked one who tried to kick him off campus for inciting a near riot while waiting for Lawson for lunch. Edwin couldn’t stand that modern college students had no gusto, that they walked around all day with their noses buried in devices, and he had told a few of them so.

“Well, maybe I can talk to them,” Ivan said. He had some beer, finishing his bottle off. He waved for the bartender who counted the number of drinks and began pouring a new round for their small group.

“Sure, ‘cause you can reason with cops these days,” Benny said. “Don’t you remember 9/11?”

“Oh, yeah.” Ivan took a pull on his new beer. “Still, I gotta do something.”

“Why not send flowers?” Edwin asked.

Ivan’s face lit up. “Yeah! Flowers!” He smacked Edwin in the back so hard that his stomach hit the gold rail of the bar, almost knocking the wind out of him. “I’ll go and buy some flowers at the Food City and bring them to Rachel.”

“That wasn’t what I had in mind, but…”

“And I won’t mess with no security guards. I’ll just stand outside her building and wait. I’ll stand there all day if I have to.”

“There’s like ten buildings on that campus,” Benny said. “What? Are you gonna stand outside of each one until you get it right?”

“You could look her up on the Internets,” Edwin said.

“Don’t encourage him, Eddie,” Benny said. “Besides, can you even find your way out of Brooklyn?”

“Maybe,” Ivan said. “For her I could.”

“Bah,” Benny said.

And then it hit Edwin what he had to do in regards to Natalie. He had to see her and explain himself in a way that he hadn’t two years ago. It didn’t matter what that cow Shannon Shorter had said about her not wanting to see him. Shannon Shorter had raised a juvenile delinquent, Edwin reasoned. What did she know? There could still be a chance for them, despite his past transgressions, numerous as they were, and what kind of a man would he be if he did not at least give it the old college try? Hell, even Ivan was willing to leave the safety of his darkened concave to give love a shot, provided he could find the R train station. And Edwin was certainly a much more advanced creature that Ivan. Edwin still believed in adding the “ing” at the end of the appropriate words, after all.

He had a good pull on his scotch as Benny and Ivan argued about this Rachel, and tried to figure out what to do. First, he had to find out where Natalie was working. Or where she was living. Brooklyn? Queens? Blessed Manhattan? He doubted that it was The Bronx or Staten Island. Natalie was a woman of principle and style, and wouldn’t be caught dead in either of those boroughs. Edwin tried to imagine Natalie on Staten Island, living amongst the Italians. The thought of that made his body shake. No, he knew that her home address would be harder to come by, so Edwin focused on the job. She had to be teaching as well but where? NYU? Their old stomping grounds. Brooklyn College? Could Natalie be having lunches with Seth Weeks and his special “someone?” She couldn’t be at Hunter. Lawson would’ve told him that Natalie was back at Hunter College. Unless….Edwin slammed down his drink and rose from his stool.

“Why that Benedict Arnold!” he shouted.

“Eddie, what’s tha matter?” Ivan asked.

“How much would it cost to get you boys to go and kill a man?” Edwin asked Benny and Ivan.


“Or at least shake him down.”

“Eddie, you’re talkin’ crazy talk,” Benny said. “Sit down and finish your drink.”

“Benny, I can’t,” Edwin said, putting on his coat. “The night is still young.”

Benny tried to focus on his watch. “It’s like three in the morning.”

“Did Einstein sleep when genius struck him? I think not. Plus Ivan here has given me an idea.”

“What did I do?” Ivan asked.

Edwin patted him on the shoulder. “Ivan, I’m going to go after my old love. I’m going to win her back. Essentially, I’m going to succeed where you’re going to fail miserably with this poor, unfortunate Rachel. I’m going to triumph where you’ll probably be served with a temporary restraining order.”

“That’s great, Eddie,” Ivan said. He held up his beer bottle. Edwin lifted his scotch glass off the bar, and Benny hoisted his Jack. The three of them clinked glasses, and it was just as magical as Edwin thought it would be.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Benny and Ivan Explain it All: Part 1

Edwin Balder walked up the steps of the 77th Street station. He felt good. He shouldn’t be feeling so good, he reasoned. In one evening, Edwin had his dreams of a romance with Molly Brown shot down in flames, had argued with two ignorant little harlots on the train, had been forced to suffer his memories of Carroll Gardens and George Pollard Jr.’s apartment, had been forced to suffer the dull, sluggish faces from his past, found out that he’d been demoted or had never been second in command of the Insert-Big-Named-Corporate-Conglomerate-Invoicing-Company-Here, and that was going to lose his job come June. Plus, worst of all, Natalie was back.

Edwin felt in his left pocket. He stopped at 78th street and 4th Avenue, and took out Arlene’s cellular phone number to look at it under a streetlight. Her penmanship was impossible, Edwin thought. She wrote like a third grader. But, of course, Arlene was a Pollard. And while having her number was a brand new joy to him, a beacon, if you will, of better things to come; having Arlene Pollard’s phone number was akin to walking around the with digits of a Capulet. Edwin didn’t foresee her as a reality, not with the way her brother had most likely bounced Natalie around on his lap like she had hydraulics placed inside of her. Edwin crushed Arlene’s phone number in his hand, but instead of tossing it onto the cracked pavement he put it back in his pocket for safekeeping. Who knew? Perhaps with Natalie back in town this whole business could get straightened out. Maybe Pollard was the innocent that he and all of his useless friends claimed that he has been all along. Edwin doubted it. He began walking down 78th but he stopped again. Perhaps there was still a chance for him and Natalie to get back together. The past was the past. Correct?

Edwin went into Rooney’s Pub, despite his better judgment and the whole Pizza Night business that he’d used as a social guideline where the joint was concerned. The place was in rare form for so late. Many of the regulars were in the back of the bar playing darts as was their call and station in life to do so after a day of selling their souls to the company store. Benny, the group’s de fact leader, was stationed in front of the jukebox, clad, as always, in his Bermuda shorts and beach bar t-shirt with his Giants cap pulled down firmly, nearly covering his beady eyes. Benny was swaying and touching his old man’s goatee, trying to figure out which blast from the past to play next. Ivan, the barrel-chested, red-faced Russian, was dancing with himself as always. The Grateful Dead sounded throughout the bar. Truckin. Edwin listened and sat down alone at the other end of the bar. He realized that he needed to call his parents to see how they were doing. Had it been seven months already since his last call?

The bartender with his earring in the wrong ear set down Edwin’s scotch and water on the rocks. “How are we tonight?”

Edwin looked around. It was a little joke that he like to play whenever someone referred to an individual in the plural. “We are fine tonight.”

“That’s good.”

“Perhaps we’re a little less than fine.”


“Girl trouble.”

The bartender laughed. “You should’ve seen the tits on the one that was just in here.”

“Tits,” Edwin said. “Yes.”

“Do you like tits?” the bartender asked.

Edwin took a pull on his drink, shoved his money closer so that the bartender would take it and go away. “Sure. What red-blooded male doesn’t like tits?”

“No kidding.”

“By the way, nice earring.”

The bartender winked at Edwin, took his money, and walked back down toward the men playing darts. Edwin scanned the bar. Benny was still at the jukebox but Ivan was nowhere to be found.

“Hey there, buddy,” Ivan said, sitting down next to Edwin. He smelled of meat and vodka, had a sweating bottle of Budweiser in his meaty grip. “How’s it goin’ tonight?”

“Swimmingly,” Edwin said, taking a strong pull on his drink. It was more like scotch water than a scotch and water. He wondered if he could have the bartender hanged for making that drink.

“Where’s your friend?” Ivan asked.

“Which one?’ Edwin said

Ivan squinted, most probably trying to recall Edwin with anyone other than Lawson Thomas. “The black one.”

“The black one?”


“Who knows? He’s most probably out stealing hubcaps or soiling some storefront with graffiti.”

“Nah,” Ivan said. He hoisted his beer and had a good pull on it. “He don’t seem the type.”

“Don’t let his trickery fool you,” Edwin said.

“Anyway you look sad,” Ivan said. “What’s the matter? We got booze, we got good music and darts. This ain’t the work day.” Ivan shook his arms. “This is dancing time.”

“Charlie don’t dance,” Edwin said.

“You really should, Chuck. It releases the tension.”

“My name is Edwin.”

“Okay, Eddie.”

Edwin sighed, finished his drink. He motioned toward the bartender for another. “If you must know, I’m conflicted.”

“Why?” Ivan asked.

“Girl trouble.”

“Oh. I feel you man.” Ivan finished his beer just as the bartender was setting Edwin’s new drink down. Ivan shook his beer and the bartender grabbed the empty from his hand, replacing it a second later with a fresh bottle of Budweiser. If nothing else, Edwin thought, this bartender was proficient with his lot in life. “You should talk to Benny."

“I don’t think…” Edwin started.

“Hey, Benny!” Ivan shouted.

Benny turned from the incredible task of trying to put one simple dollar in the jukebox. “What?”

“We need you over here!”


“Eddie’s havin’ girl troubles!”

Benny squinted and staggered forward a few steps. “Who in the hell is, Eddie?”

“You know,” Ivan said. “The clean looking kid who comes in here!”

“The one who brings the black with him?"


Benny staggered over to where Edwin and Ivan were sitting. He sat on the other side of Edwin, and there was no chance for an easy escape. The bartender came over and set Benny’s Jack on the bar. Then the three new friends, Benny, Eddie, and Ivan sat there for a moment. They were devoid of words until Benny burped and Ivan laughed.

“Now, what did youse want?” Benny asked.

“Tell him about your lady troubles,” Ivan said.

Benny had some Jack, waved his old pal off. “Nah, that’s old news. No one wants to hear it.”

“Sure they would. You wanna hear Benny’s story, right, Eddie?”

“More than I want to hear Gershwin right now,” Edwin said.

Benny had more Jack. “Basically there’s nothing to tell,” he said. “I’m fifty-five years old. I met this thirty-two year old, and we shacked up for a while. End of story.”

“Ah, the old shack-job,” Edwin said.

“It was nice,” Benny said. “You know me, I’m easy going. And me and her were good for a while. You know we’d come to the bar, play some music, and have a few drinks. Life was good.”

“Tell him what happened,” Ivan said.

Benny had more Jack and then stared forward for a moment. He looked down toward the group of guys playing darts. “Basically she fucked pretty much everyone in this bar behind my back.”

“Really?” Edwin said, taking a drink. Finally something good was happening, he thought.

“Yeah. Bitch lost her job and started hanging around here all day, drinking up the rent money. Pretty soon she was drunk and broke and going home with nearly anyone who would buy her a drink.”

“Why that harlot,” Edwin said. “That whore.”

“I never touched her,” Ivan said. He and Benny leaned over Edwin and clinked glasses. They smelled of desperation and Edwin wondered if he would smell that way once he was on the dole.

“Then what happened?” Edwin asked.

Benny shrugged. “I went nuts. I came in here out for blood. I tore this joint up, threw chairs and tore down pictures of her.” He pointed to Ivan. “I woulda killed someone if Ivan hadn’t stopped me.”

“He really woulda,” Ivan added.

“How exciting,” Edwin said. “And then what?”

Benny was quiet a moment. “And then I left her. I moved out to Jersey and stayed with my brother for a while. But I couldn’t let the bitch go, you know. So I came back. I begged her to let me stay in our old place, thinking that we could work it out. She let me sleep in the spare room. I slept on the floor while she brought a different guy home each and every night. Finally she met someone, and she moved out.”

“And what did you do?” Edwin asked.

“What could I do, Eddie?” Benny said. “I took her name off the lease and got on with the livin’.”

“Well, Benny, I didn’t realize we had so much in common. I thought that you were just a typical bar hoodlum, but now I’m beginning to think that you might just be somewhat human. You see, I too was made a cuckold of by my old friend.”

“A what?” Ivan said.

Edwin turned to him. “Ah, how to say this so you’ll understand? My boy banged my woman.”

“Shit. How long ago?”

“Two years.”

Benny nearly choked on his scotch. “That was two years ago? And you’re still hung up on her? My shit happened to me last month.” Edwin thought for a moment, remember a small period of time where no Grateful Dead played in the bar and Ivan had stopped dancing. “Come on, Eddie. Find a new bitch and move on.”

Edwin had some scotch. “I just found out tonight that she’s back in New York, and I don’t know how I feel about this. Do I contact her? Let bygones be bygones and the like?” He reached in his pants and pulled out Arlene’s number. “Plus I’ve met someone new.”

Benny took the number and looked at it. “Who’s Albert?”

“That’s Arlene,” Edwin said, taking back the paper. “She’s the sister of the man who ruined my life.”

“I say you forget the old girlfriend and bang this new chick.”

“That’s your advice?”

“Yeah. The past is the past, ain’t it?”

“I guess so, Benny,” Edwin said.

Then the three new friends got quiet. They all had a drink at the same time.

"Shit, now I'm depressed," Benny said. He finished off his drink and got up. "I'm going to play some fucking music."

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Party: Part 3

Edwin Balder followed his friend, Lawson Thomas, into George Pollard Jr.’s living room, a living room which used to belong to him and Natalie nearly a thousand years ago. Or it felt like a thousand years ago to Edwin. And maybe it felt as old to the other people in the room, judging by the way some of them looked; most of the people sitting on or around Pollard’s still-collegiate furniture, their faces and bodies horrendously gray and battered by life before the age of forty. Perhaps that was just Edwin’s take on them, as he'd known most when they were young and lithe, full of life and ideas, and when they hadn’t yet settled for life’s typical, daily banalities. America was such a mendacious place for having people believe that they would be forever young, Edwin thought, casting a glance around the room. But then Henry De Witt handed his drink to his wife, Mallory, another of Natalie’s friends who now hated Edwin for whatever reason that she had, and came up to shake his hand. Henry was drinking vodka and soda with a sliver of lemon. He had been doing so for at least twelve years.

“Hello, Balder,” De Witt said as he shook Edwin’s hand.

“It’s Edwin,” Edwin said, shaking De Witt’s hand back. “What is with everyone using each other’s last names at this party tonight? Have we suddenly joined a beer league?” He nodded toward Mallory who smirked and held out Henry’s drink to Edwin in a pleasant yet formal manner. It was much better than their last meeting where Mallory had told Edwin to get fucked while taking a sobbing Natalie up the stairs to the guest bedroom in their New Jersey home.

“I see you haven’t lost any of your wit,” Henry De Witt said.

“My humor spills forth like a broken nuclear reactor into the green sea.”

No one laughed at this timely yet inappropriate joke. Edwin should’ve known having been around this crowd off and on for nearly two decades. People at parties such as this did not mock world tragedies so much as sit and contemplate what they could’ve collectively done to have stopped them, as if a bunch of artsy vegans could’ve stopped the genocide in Rwanda back in 1994 with nothing but pluck, determination, and falling packages of extra-firm tofu. Ugh, Edwin hated being amongst this crowd. They made him feel old and tired. And Edwin wasn’t old, just oldish.
All the same, he didn’t like his late thirties. They were an odd kind of old. Edwin felt as though he still connected to the Molly Brown’s and Matt Joy’s of the world, when, in fact, he was becoming more and more invisible to them and their ilk by the day. Yet he certainly wasn’t ready for mahjong at the retirement home. Edwin certainly felt no connection to his peer group, this collection of has-been’s still trying to get their film projects off the ground, their music just right for popular consumption; he didn’t jell with the types who went to bars in the middle of the afternoon for mommy and baby happy hour. These people were deluding themselves, Edwin thought. He was currently standing the bastion of the deluded.

“Is that a Japan joke?” Henry asked.

“More of a dig at Three Mile Island,” Edwin said, knowing full well that there was no sea near Three Mile Island. “What can I say? It has already been confirmed this evening that I’m retro.”

“I said old,” Arlene said, coming in with Edwin’s bourbon on the rocks.

“Ah, sweet sustenance,” he said, taking the drink and having a mighty pull on it.

“Let me guess,” Henry said, “scotch and water on the rocks.”

Edwin squinted and then smiled, took his drink from his lips. He hated the informality between himself and Henry De Witt. “Actually I gave it up tonight.”

“Just tonight?”

“I am a man of whimsy, De Witt,” Edwin said. “If you cannot keep up with me, you best step aside with the other oldies in the room.”

“We didn’t have scotch,” Arlene said to Henry De Witt.

“Yes, thank you for reminding me of my unwelcome state,” Edwin said. “I’ll be sure to send my thank you card, posthaste.”

“You know I always thought that you and Natalie were going to settle down and have kids like Mallory and I did,” Henry said. Edwin cringed. Arlene cringed. Lawson Thomas cringed from where he was sitting, bookended by Mary Baldacci and Thomas Nickerson. Even Mallory cringed from her place on George Pollard Jr.’s offending couch.

“And why in God’s name would you think that?” Edwin said.

“I don’t know. You two were good together.” Edwin wondered where in the hell Henry De Witt had been for the last two years. Did he not remember that night of terror in his bland New Jersey Home?”

“We broke up….like two years ago.”

“I know.” De Witt put his hand on Edwin’s shoulder. “I was just saying.”

“Well, say something different, you soused fiend,” Edwin said, brushing De Witt’s hand off of his shoulder. “At the very least don’t wish children on me.”

“Why not? Kids are great.”

“Sure, if you have a farm to plow or a coal mine that needs to be…well…mined,” Edwin said. “Other than that, I don’t see the use for them.”

“I love my kids,” Henry said. “They fulfill me.”

“More than your paintings used to?”

“My kids are my art.”

“Good, Christ, you hoodwinked fool!” Edwin shouted. “You could put two retarded monkeys in a room together, and the chances are pretty good that they’ll conceive. But you were a painter, a damned fine painter if I say so myself.”

Arlene turned to an increasingly agitated Henry De Witt. “I’ve never seen him complement anyone.”

“Are you calling me and my wife retarded monkeys, Balder?” De Witt asked.

“There you go with the beer league speak again. Call me Edwin,” Edwin said. “And no, I was not calling you and Mallory monkeys.” He paused, took a drink on his bourbon. Oh, why not? Edwin said to himself. “I would never insult retarded monkeys in such a vile fashion.”

Henry De Witt pushed Edwin and his drink fell to the floor, just as people rose to break them up. After stumbling a little and, sadly, smacking into poor, innocent Arlene, Edwin regained his footing and laughed. Henry De Witt was so thick. He should’ve seen that joke coming from a mile away.

“Same old Edwin,” Mallory said, as she pulled her fuming husband away.

“I was joking,” Edwin said. He looked at Henry, who was now sitting on that couch, vodka and soda place firmly back in his hand. “You left yourself wide open for that one.”

“My kids are my art,” was all that Henry De Witt would say.

“I’m sure they’re a couple of Picasso paintings,” Edwin said, before Lawson Thomas grabbed his arm and pulled him over to his small cluster of friends. Arlene picked up Edwin’s drink off of the carpet but left the small bourbon stain where it was. She came over to join Edwin and company.

“You certainly have a way with people,” Arlene said.

“De Witt is a dolt,” Edwin said. “He’s been a dolt for over fifteen years. Back in the day we used to all go out for coffee, and whenever De Witt went to the restroom we would put the worst kind of things in his coffee, condiments, articles of food, chewed napkins. We did this each and every time, and each and every time poor, foolish De Witt would come back to the table and have a sip on his coffee expecting it to not be contaminated.”

“That’s gross.”

“It was funny back then. Wasn’t it, Lawson?”

Lawson laughed. “Yeah.”

Mary slapped Lawson’s arm. “I can’t believe you did that to him.”

Edwin looked at his old friend. “The old ball and chain already giving it to you, I see?”
“Shut up, Edwin,” Lawson said. He turned to Mary. “That was years ago, Sour Bear.”

“Now you’re using that as a term of affection?”

“It worked for us,” Mary said.

“Well, you have me to thank for it,” Edwin said. He turned back to Arlene. “All the same, De Witt rubs me the wrong way. All of these aging hipsters do.”

“And what are you, my man?” Lawson asked.

“Adrift. Actually I’m the assistant manager of the Insert-Massive-Conglomerate-Here invoice processing plant.”

“I’m the assistant manager, Edwin,” Mary said.

“What?” Edwin thought about it for a moment. “I thought that you were the secretary.”

“You’re the secretary.”

“Hmmm, that must be why old Chase keeps asking me if the coffee is on in the morning, and why he scours my desk for the daily mail. Who makes the coffee?"

“I do,” Mary said.

“Well, who gets the mail?”

“Yours truly.”

Edwin patted Mary on her knee without cringing or feeling sick. “You need a raise my dear.” He turned back to Arlene. “Perhaps when Ms. Baldacci here becomes manager then I can move up in the chain of command.”

“They’re closing us,” Mary said.

Edwin turned to her, aghast. “They are? Why wasn’t I told?”

“There was a memo, Edwin. A couple of people from corporate came down.”

“Where was I?” he asked.

“In the bathroom,” Mary said, “reading McSweeny’s.”

“You told her about that?” Edwin said to Lawson.

“It was obvious,” Mary said. “You keep it on your desk, and it’s always rolled up in the back of your pants.” She laughed. “I used to think it was a Playboy.”

“Now I’m offended,” Edwin said. “But are they really closing us?”

“This summer.”

“Have they no clue what the economy is like?”

“Yes,” Mary said. “That’s why they're closing us.”

“My kids are my art!” Henry De Witt screamed from across the room.

“Paint away, De Witt!” Edwin shouted back. He turned to Mary. “What ever will we do?”

“Collect unemployment?”

"I can't go on the dole," Edwin said.

“You could go back to teaching,” Lawson said.

Edwin rose. “How dare you even suggested that, you beast! How dare you even assume that I’d go back into that citadel of failure, and try to impart my knowledge upon those slobbering Philistines!”

“It was a suggestion,” Lawson said.

“Teachers disgust me.”

“I’m a teacher.”

“Consider myself disgusted with you,” Edwin said.

“Teaching is a rewarding profession,” Mary said.

“This from the assistant manager in a failing invoice processing plant,” Edwin said to Arlene. Then he looked at Thomas Nickerson, who hadn’t said a word since he’d sat down. “What do you do for a living, Cabin boy?”

“I’m a chef,” Nickerson said.

“I don’t think they call them chefs at McDonald’s,” Edwin said.

“Very funny. But, seriously, I’m a real chef.”


“At Hunter’s Steak and Ale house.”

“I don’t think frying up a t-bone makes one a chef.”

“We serve other things,” Nickerson said.

“Salad. Do you enjoy your work?” Edwin asked.

“Most of the time.”

“I want to kill myself when I get home,” Edwin said, which was the most honest thing he’d said to someone in a long time. It was a pity, he thought, that it had to be Thomas Nickerson of all people.

“That’s why you should listen to your friend and get back into teaching,” Arlene said, tugging on Edwin’s pants to get him to sit back down.

“Et tu, Eddie Vedder?”

“My kids are my art!” Henry De Witt shouted again. Edwin and company looked over toward the De Witt’s and saw that they were putting on their coats.

“Leaving so soon?” Edwin asked. "Or just stepping out for some coffee?"

“They’re better than any Picasso! They beat any Van Gogh!”

“I’m sure they’re regular El Grecos.”

“They’re better!” De Witt said, continuing to shout. Some of the other guests from the party crowded into the living room to watch. Edwin made special notice of the way that Charles and Shannon Shorter looked at him with contempt. Oh well, what were two more aging failures removed from his life? “My kids are like gold.”

“Your kids should be following canaries out of mines,” Edwin said. “At the very least they should be sweeping floors of a slaughterhouse.”

Henry De Witt, an ardent vegan, went for Edwin Balder a second time, but was restrained by the aging, black militant poet, Barzaillai Ray and the host and birthday boy, himself, George Pollard Jr.

“You just couldn’t behave, could you, Balder.” Pollard said.

“I yam what I yam,” Edwin said.

“Why don’t you leave, dude.”

“With pleasure.” Edwin began walking toward his hateful mob. He pictured them all with torches, for he felt like a Frankenstein monster in that moment. He felt like the only person who had any conception of the dark reality that was this long and arduous life. “Far be it from me to be anywhere that doesn’t serve scotch. Many happy returns, Pollard.”

“Go home, Edwin.”

“Nice couch,” Edwin said, as he moved through the small crowd.

“Thank you, Edwin,” Mallory shouted. “Thanks a lot for doing this to us tonight. You know the trouble we’ve had with the kids, especially Jamie.”

Edwin stopped in the archway between the living room and the bedroom of sin. A clock had once fallen on Natalie’s head in that very same spot. She had raced into the living room to tell Edwin something, something which he no longer remembered, and the pounding of her feet had unhinged the clock from the wall and it came right down on her head. “I’m sorry, Mallory. I forgot that one of your children was a juvenile delinquent.”

“She’s developmentally challenged, you asshole,” Shannon Shorter said to him.

“Whatever,” Edwin said, using the parlance of our times.

“No wonder Natalie left you.”

“Oh beat me with a dead horse why don’t you”

Shannon Shorter grew and evil smile on her face. “I'll be I know something that you don't know."

"What? That your video art is crap?"

"She’s back,” Shannon said.

“Natalie?” Edwin said, although whom else could she mean. “Back in New York?”

"There's more."


Shannon Shorter smiled. "It's too good to tell you."

"Well, I'll just have to ask her myself."

“She doesn’t want to see you.”

“Oh.” Edwin stared once again at his collection of old friends and enemies, trying his best not to process the knowledge that Natalie Presley was back in New York, living somewhere just beyond his reach. Then he left the room.

Seth Weeks was sitting alone in the kitchen when Edwin went in there to retrieve his coat. Seth was a dumpy sort. He wore outdated glasses with thick frames and bulbous lenses. They were a good match for his receding hairline and patchy beard. Seth had always been a non-entity amongst their crowd, a silent hanger on with a high-pitched voice who never offered a comment, criticism, or judgment. He had no artistic inclinations, except a vague precludtivity toward Woody Allen films, which Edwin chalked up to Seth’s homosexual attraction toward nebbish Jews. Edwin used to like him for those very reasons but, in the moment at hand, hated Seth Weeks for his moderate disposition, and love of witty films without carrying an ounce of wit on his own person.

“Hello, Seth,” Edwin said, putting on his coat. “Seems I’m the belle of the ball once again.”

Seth did not laugh. Edwin had never seen Seth Weeks' laugh in all of the years of their forced acknowledgement of one another. “Hello, Edwin.”

“And what have you been up to?”


“Working, I presume?”

“I manage a bookstore down by Brooklyn College,” Seth Weeks said.

“Anyone special in your life?”

“I have a certain someone.”

Edwin smiled. “You know, Seth. It’s even okay to be gay in the military now.”

Seth Weeks had no reaction to this. “Natalie’s back.”

“Yes,” Edwin said. “And if you weren’t who you were, I’d be thinking that someone grew a set and was trying to get my goat.”

Edwin Balder left George Pollard Jr.’s apartment and made his way down the rickety stairs. He passed the cabbage and ass sweat smell of Isaac Cole’s apartment and made it safely outside on to the street. Edwin looked at the spot where the dog had been murdered and he started panting. He thought that he was going to pass out. Then Arlene came outside.

“Edwin,” she said. “Edwin, are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” Edwin said. He composed himself and turned to face her. “Tonight was par for the course for me.”

“I’m sorry about Natalie.”

“It was bound to happen. She’s like the rest of them in there,” he said, pointing up to Arlene’s brother’s apartment, “foolishly devoted to a city that has eaten her up but has yet to spit her out.”

Arlene pulled a piece of paper out of her baggy pants. “Here’s my number.”


“Because I like you,” she said. “I mean, I think underneath all of this mouthy business, you’re a pretty decent guy.”

“There are mounds of opinions to the contrary in that apartment behind you,” Edwin said.

“Well, Lawson likes you. And as for the rest of them…I guess I feel the way you do about them.”

“And that is?”

“Tired and old when I’m around them,” Arlene said.

Edwin smiled and took the number. “It seems you've read my mind. And I’ll be sure to call, despite your family line. Perhaps you can come by and we can have a drink and listen to Rhapsody in Blue.”

“Do you say that to all of the girls?”

“I do,” Edwin said. “I really do.”