My evening with Ed is a true story, the mists of time have obscured some details, but the core is seared into memory. There are certain touchstones from my youth, usually involving the curtain being pulled back on the darker corners of human nature, that served as the cautionary tales I used to shape who I wanted to be. And my evening with Ed was one of the most powerful.
Note: One of the drawbacks to true stories is they don’t have the clean resolutions of fiction, and this story, like the night itself just sort of ends. But it changed me, oh god, how it changed me.
I was either 18 or 19, when I was home from school I’d work at a gym in Arlington VA, an association that would soon enough take me to Indiana and a whole other nightmare. The manager, Mike, was ten years older than me, and oddly my best friend (our friendship has always baffled me, still does). Mike loved the whole gym geist, he loved establishing relationships with the members, and really wanted me to get sucked in too. At the time I still clung to my dark art-boy identity, but that identity was always split with my profound physicality, I loved the demimonde gym vibe too. Being surrounded by beautiful women didn’t hurt. Bottom line, I met a lot of people and had a lot of adventures – mostly thanks to Mike.
This particular evening began with innocence written all over it, I recall it was a Saturday, we closed early (at 7:00) on weekends. I didn’t have any plans, but really had no desire to join Mike, our office manager Cheryl and Ed for Putt-Putt. Ed was a guy who had experienced a tremendous body transformation, lost like a hundred and twenty pounds, and was one of Mike’s pet projects. To me he was just a random redneck, not a bad guy, just not somebody my youthful judgmental self wanted to hang with. Mike had a way of weaseling me into things, and this was no exception – somehow he convinced me it would make Cheryl feel better if I came along, plus I’d get beer.
Free beer was a powerful draw (to a poor college student), but in retrospect, this evening was a perfect example of why alcohol is evil. I can’t think of another drug fuel that would have created the disgusting shenanigans to come – we would have been better off smoking dope with a street gang.
While alcohol (and savage human need) was the cause of these terrible events, Cheryl was the catalyst. Not through any intent or action by her, mind you, she just committed the crime of being pretty and nice. The four of us left the gym a little after 7:00, Cheryl took her car, the three of us headed over in Ed’s car. The Putt-Putt course was a mile away, with a 7-11 on the way. Mike decided tonight would be a good night to try malt liquor. Olde English 800 tall boys I believe, it was purchased because it proudly proclaimed that it was charcoal filtered, which we found hilarious and felt demanded purchase.
Meeting Cheryl at the course, we sneaked the heinous brew in, and began our round of golf. It was actually a lot of fun, I loved Mike and Cheryl, and Ed wasn’t the horrendous embarrassment I thought he’d be. But he did spend an inappropriate amount of time staring at Cheryl’s ass, she had a spectacular posterior, but he was being uncool. The saving grace being it would be over soon enough, so a creepy old guy (he was between 35 and 40 – which at the time seemed Methuselah-esqe) could be put up with.
The Olde English was ripping the back of my head off by the time we ended our game, a stronger buzz than I’d anticipated, and I was looking forward to getting home. But Mike and Ed thought we were having too good a time to let it end, and convinced us to join them for more beer at Whitey’s (a redneck bar in Arlington I seriously didn’t want to be seen in). After the first pitcher arrived, Cheryl started feeling the vibe Ed was putting off, and knowing a dangerous predator (at least a poorly trained animal) when she saw one bailed as quickly and gracefully as she could.
This left the three of us, and the mood grew progressively darker. This was thanks to Ed pulling a Jekyll and Hyde act – switching between down in the dumps sad-sack and country bumpkin sex maniac. One minute he’s lamenting “oh you guys are so smart, Cheryl’s so purty, you don’t know what it’s like for a guy like me”, the next it was all “goddamn the chicks are hot in here, did you see the ass on that waitress?”. And he was physically leering at women in a way I had never seen before, and I was a teenage boy pumped full of testosterone, I knew all about being horny – this was something different. Ed was emitting a hunger-force stoked by self-loathing. It was fucking creepy. Mike was trying to talk him off the ledge, telling him he was great and should be proud of his weight-loss accomplishment, and all he had to do was get out there and he’d meet a girl – anything to get him out of this spiral. After the third pitcher I couldn’t take it anymore and convinced them to get me back to my car.
If I had the sense god gave a marmoset, this night would have ended here. They dropped me off in front of the gym, refusing to go the extra two blocks to my car, so petulant were they that I was leaving them. It was a cool fall evening, and the walk back to my car (which was in a lot up the hill) gave me time to reflect on how lucky I was put some air between me and whatever bad juju Ed was putting off.
I was fumbling with my keys when the headlights blinded me, those two knuckleheads were barreling right at me. They blocked me in and Mike got out to sell me on the idea of joining them again. He was worried about Ed, felt he needed some friends, why was I being such a dick? Mike was a hell of a salesman, he said Ed just wanted to go downtown and party, no big deal. I relented when more free beer was offered, I climbed into the back of Ed’s Oldsmobile, and into the abyss.
Another 7-11 netted me a six-pack to keep me company, it was at this point that Ed made his intentions clear. With the car heading across the Roosevelt Bridge he announced “I’ve got to get my nut!” I’d never heard this term before (not often since), evidently it means “I need to ejaculate with the help of another”. To this end, he was going to engage a prostitute. Neither Mike or I were on-board with this strategy, there’s the kind of guys who engage in prostitution, and then there were normal people. Mike and Ed engaged in a lively debate in the front seat as I sullenly guzzled my beer in the back, Ed kept saying “I’ve got to get my nut” like it made everything clear. Slowly the beauty of the capital city (Washington DC that is) faded, becoming more dreary and beaten, we were on 14th street which at the time was the danger zone of strip joints, drugs and hookers.
Ed clearly knew his way around, this wasn’t his first rodeo, and soon we were on a very dark street. His window was down, and vendors approached. One particularly haggard woman of the evening in a fetching halter top seemed to spark Ed’s interest – however they were not able to agree on a fee. Ed was interested in procuring oral sex, but he was firm on his price point, and the helpful prostitute told him to drive around the block and she’d have her girlfriend meet us on our return. As you can imagine, Mike and I were vocal in our displeasure, and demanded an end be brought to these proceedings. Ed simply said, in a low, eerie, animal tone “I’ve got to get my nut”.
Resigned to my fate, I idly wondered, if that first lady (who really wasn’t much of a looker) was too expensive what would the next one look like? The answer was “like the creature from the black lagoon in an orange fright wig”. Her first order of business was to lean in the car and say “show me your dicks” (I learned later this was to prove we weren’t cops), an odd request I thought, both Mike and I demurred. Ed demanded we “get the fuck out then”, so that he could continue his negotiation. We got out, she got in, the car roared off.
That left us standing in the middle of an urban war zone, which for some reason didn’t bother me as much as what brought us there. Mike and I bickered like a couple 50’s TV housewives as we made our way to a streetlight, the dark alley seeming like a poor choice of location. Once there, I sat down on the curb and lit up a Camel, tired of our pointless conversation. We had a common enemy, and he was currently occupied so all our talk meant nothing. About this time, a very young and pretty prostitute approached us, and seeing we clearly weren’t prospects, instead bummed a smoke off me and started to chat. It was all fairly surreal, but I was rolling with it. We were actually having a fairly pleasant conversation, and didn’t notice the beefy African American gentleman approaching. He objected to the tableau, much like a shift manager at McDonald’s, and loudly asked us to move along.
Mike choose this moment to argue about how public spaces were used, and as a taxpayer, he didn’t have to go anywhere. That the pimp was clearly armed (it was in his waistband, he made no attempt to conceal it) didn’t deter my friend. I wanted no part of it, so I dragged Patrick Henry away, and I’ll never forget the sad little wave the girl gave – broke my heart. Now across the street, I found I needed to relive myself, and I had few options. I climbed a little hill, went behind some bushes (with no leaves, it was a pointless gesture to modesty) next to a banged-up townhouse. It was from here I saw Ed drive up, and the woman scamper off into the darkness, it looked like a surveillance tape.
Back in the car, Mike and I peppered Ed with profanity-laced invective for about two blocks till we ran out of steam. To which Ed replied “I got my nut.” as if this healed all wounds. Mike continued to rail, Ed remained indifferent, that is until Mike spoke of the irritated pimp. This got Ed riled up, and he told Mike to pop open the glove compartment. When he did, Ed reached over and pulled out a .357 Magnum, informing us we were going back to get the guy. This was a bridge too far, and Ed must have heard it in our voices, because he pointed his Olds out of town – gun still in his lap. We entered a tunnel, which seemed to brighten Ed’s mood, he rolled down his window and said “listen to this”. And from our moving car, he fired off two rounds, which to his credit did sound impressive in the confined space. I was beyond caring, I was now party to so many crimes one more just seemed like gravy.
By now we were driving on 395, I had no idea where the hell we were, and Ed began to nod off at the wheel. Apparently he was all tuckered out from all the excitement. We drove past a traffic stop, the flashing red police lights seemed like a preview of the hell I was bound for. Ed pulled over not a quarter mile past the cop, and somehow I wound up in the drivers seat. But not before Ed, who wanted to put the gun in the trunk (for safety – and we couldn’t figure out how to get it back in the glove box), fired off two more rounds into the woods. Which added some spicy paranoia for me as I sought out the cop in the rear view.
Somehow we wound up back at my car, I got out, holding my hand up to both Mike and Ed as a warning not to say anything. I wasn’t in the mood.
Beyond the sensationalist aspects of this tale, the thing that stuck with me, that haunted me, was Ed’s self-loathing and desperation. He’d somehow decided that losing a lot of weight entitled him to the company of women. I’d seen this before, in less intense forms, guys doing things (cars, haircuts, jobs, dancing, whatever) that would “get them girls”. It never worked. Being unattractive isn’t a physical thing, it’s a spirit thing. I’m not saying I haven’t been desperate, or exhibited projectile neediness, but I always liked myself. My evening with Ed taught me that means everything.