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.”
“Perhaps we’re a little less than fine.”
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?”
“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.”
Edwin sighed, finished his drink. He motioned toward the bartender for another. “If you must know, I’m conflicted.”
“Why?” Ivan asked.
“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?”
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."