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.