Edwin Balder rode the subway up to George Pollard’s apartment. It was a terrible subway ride. All Edwin wanted was to be alone with his anger and his thoughts, but the two Hispanic girls who got on the R train at 69th Street had made it nearly impossible for him to do so. Edwin had made the mistake of sitting in the middle seat of a three seat bench, as he hated sitting on the corner seats, getting crushed into the metal pole when one of the many and varied obese denizens of New York City got on the train and sat next to him. If Edwin was going to be crushed by American girth, it was going to be on his own terms, he reasoned. That said, he didn’t expect two Hispanic girls to get on the subway, sit on either side of him, and begin a loud and boisterous debate about which one of them was going “get their’s” tonight by a man named Guillermo.
Edwin put up with the girls for as long as he could. He put up with their shouting and cackling, the potato chip scent of their breath, their sweat and perfume plastered flesh, and their inane conversation in the spirit of diversity. Edwin tried to focus on Molly Brown and Matthew Joy doing “whatever,” to use the parlance of our times, in her apartment. They were mostly probably fixing that God awful Italian meal, he thought, blasting rap music and dancing around the apartment, stopping only to kiss and grope in the way that young idiots had learned to do by watching their club videos and assorted PG-13 party films. Edwin couldn’t stand the thought of it. Still, the idea of kissing and groping Molly Brown made him break out in a slight sweat. Edwin closed his eyes amidst the babble of the Hispanic girls and imagined himself in Matthew Joy’s shoes. He felt his loins rise at the thought, and he grew embarrassed. Then one of the girls cackled and burped. The smell was vile, a mixture of potato chip, breath, and some kind of flavored soda. Edwin was all for diversity but this was too much. He stood up.
“You don’t even say excuse me,” he said to the offending girl.
“What?” she said, her lips pursed, her face belligerent. Edwin wanted to grab one of the girl’s large, golden earrings and rip it out of her ear. “What did you say?”
“You have no respect.”
‘Why I gotta respect you, nigga?”
“I’m not…” Edwin started. “You’re not…”
The girls laughed at him.
“Animals,” Edwin said.
“You heard me, you deaf little minx.” Edwin decided to take a portion of his anger out on these she-beasts. “Who do you think you are, sitting on an evening train, burping and farting, and talking about ‘getting yours’ from someone named Guillermo.”
“Who am I?” the girl said. “Who are you, nigga?”
“Stop using that word,” Edwin said. “Let’s all make a conscious effort to stop using that word.”
“Much better,” Edwin said. “I’m willing to bet that you’re tops in your class.”
“Look at you, faggot,” the girl said.
“At least I respect my elders, young lady.”
“You ain’t respectin’ her,” the other girl said.
Edwin looked at her. She was dressed head to toe in a pink velvet jumpsuit. Edwin knew that you couldn’t argue with someone dressed to the nines in pink velvet. You just couldn’t argue with those types, he thought. Of course, Edwin felt guilty for thinking that. Teasing Lawson was one thing, but entertaining a wholly stereotypical and, let’s face it, racist point of view, even for a moment, was not a road that he wanted to go down. Edwin Balder refused to be associated with discrimination in any form, even if he was in the right. So he turned and walked to the other end of the subway car, as the girls laughed at him and then forgot all about his existence, going back to Guillermo and who was going to “get it” harder that night.
Edwin transferred to the F train at 9th Street, walking the seemingly endless flight of stairs that led up to the train platform. He was happy that he was in such fitful shape. Edwin passed several people on their way up the steps, and simply assumed that many of them would die before they reached the top. One old man looked at Edwin and held out his hand, as if they were both fleeing refugees in an old war movie. Edwin didn’t know whether to help the old man, or to scold him for not keeping himself in decent enough shape to tackle this monster of a subway station. What was he? Seventy? Life Expectancy was now up to eighty-one, he thought. This old man had no excuse to reach out to a stranger for help. Shame on him! The older generation was getting to be just as bad as the younger one. No wonder young girls found it commonplace to discuss their sex lives on the subway, to burp into someone’s face, and then demand respect. Edwin shook his head. This certainly wasn’t the country our Founding Fathers had created.
He got off at the Carroll Street station. Edwin always got an eerie feeling getting off the F train at this stop, and he was glad that he and Pollard weren’t close anymore so that he didn’t have to make the trip too frequently or at all for that matter. Edwin had once lived in this neighborhood with Natalie. They lived in Carroll Gardens when it wasn’t trendy to do so. Edwin and Natalie had lived in a red-bricked railroad apartment on Luquer Street, and to really think back to those two years of hell should’ve been enough to send him running back to the F train. But Edwin was in a mood already, so he figured why not. As he walked to Pollard’s he thought about the cockroaches that used to scale the walls and cover the doors. Edwin remembered the sound of bass, from the upstairs neighbor, pounding down on him and Natalie as they tried to read or watch a movie. He thought about the super, a Mr. Isaac Cole, who was over three hundred pounds and smelled of cabbage and ass sweat. Edwin remembered the gang members on the street, this group of Hispanic kids that all dressed in red. Natalie called them the Flaming Red Dragons, so as to make them seem less scary. It worked sometimes, Edwin thought.
He thought about that last winter they’d spent in the apartment before fleeing to Bay Ridge, and a better peace of mind. Edwin remembered President’s Day weekend almost a decade ago. He remembered killing an unseasonably warm Sunday eating bagels and reading the Times, and making love in the bedroom barely big enough to hold the bed. Edwin remembered opening the first of two bottles of Muscadet, and telling Natalie how the grapes grew near the sea on the Loire Valley, which paired the wine really well with seafood. Natalie laughed and told Edwin too bad that he didn’t like seafood. He’d put on some Tom Waits, agreeing with her through smile. It was turning out to be the best day they’d ever spent in that apartment. There was nary a cockroach in sight. There was no bass raining down on them. Then the barking and squealing started.
It was deathly, Edwin thought, as he walked Court Street, passing their old bars and restaurants, a favorite pizza joint, reminding himself of the old times. It was enough of a racket that he and Natalie stopped their little game of paring wines up with cuisine. Edwin turned down the Tom Waits and looked out the window. He expected an injured child at best, the barking from an anxious and concerned dog. What he saw would stay with him for the rest of his existence, and would be the final tainted memory that ruined the apartment for good.
There was a German Sheppard, owned by this old codger, chained up across the street. The dog was a minor bother. It often barked but not enough to send Edwin and Natalie into a tizzy, as the Flaming Red Dragons playing dominoes and blasting rap music into the night were much worse. The German Sheppard was howling and crying because a Pit Bull had attached its jaws to the dog’s neck, and was pulling and tugging on the old beast. Blood was everywhere. The old codger was doing his best to beat away the Pit Bull but it was to no avail. The dog simply would not budge, its white coat pink colored from the blood pouring out of the German Sheppard. Neighbors were screaming. Street kids were crying. The Flaming Red Dragons came out of their den to see what the fuss was all about. The German Sheppard wailed and cried until it had nothing left. It fell limp and the Pit Bull tugged and pulled on the animal until it was no more. Then it simply let go of the Sheppard’s neck, and trotted off down Luquer Street as if it were nothing but another passing moment in his dog day.
Edwin and Natalie subletted that apartment to George Pollard, and were living in Bay Ridge by the middle of March. Pollard was moving back to Brooklyn after losing his librarian job in Philadelphia, and was intrigued by the idea of living on a gritty street where dogs were murdered by other dogs, and gang members played dominoes by the light of the moon. But that was George Pollard in a nutshell, Edwin thought, making the familiar right turn off of Court Street and down Luquer. Pollard was an overeducated wannabe thug. He grew up a wealthy suburban, New Jersey clam-head moron with an overactive imagination brought on by too many gangster rap albums from the early 1990s. He was a white home boy with a master’s degree and a cushy city job to boot.
Still, Edwin had to give Pollard credit for sticking it out in this neighborhood, putting up with Pit Bulls and gang members until fleets of posh hipsters came to the rescue and gentrified the living hell out of the street, out of the whole of Carroll Gardens. Now Luquer Street was brand new condos and refurbished red-bricked buildings with price tags beyond human reach. Carroll Gardens was Thai restaurants, Tapas bars, and gourmet markets with enough aristocratic cheese to clog the arteries of a whole French fleet. It was wine bars and import beer emporiums for everyone in this little corner of the world. Edwin stood in front of George Pollard’s apartment building, his and Natalie’s old apartment building, the building where they’d conspired and made a cuckold out of him, and he listened to the noise coming from that familiar second floor apartment. He was drunkish and he wanted to leave. But Edwin recognized Lawson’s voice above the cacophony of human sound, and he felt somewhat at ease. It was a beacon of friendship in an otherwise cruel and foreign land. Plus he’d come all of this way, and really needed a scotch and water on the rocks.