Condo Chronicles: We See Your Every Move

With bated breath, I waited for Miguel’s answer. Even if these recordings go back far enough, what if there’s nothing that appears on the video? What if it’s actually a ghost? Or what if you’re just fucking crazy? I didn’t know if I’d like the answer to any of those questions, but the state of not knowing was far worse.

“How far back do these recordings go?” Miguel repeated. “Not far…just a few weeks. Anything older than that gets erased. Why do you ask?”

Shit…well, there goes that possible avenue. I guess that the case of the naked trainwreck stays a mystery. “Eh, it’s not a big deal. Never mind…”

Miguel, obviously intrigued by the expression on my face, was not about to relinquish this subject. “Wait, wait, not so fast. What’s this ghost that you’re chasing? Where’s the last place that you saw it?”

“Naw, it’s late, and we both should get going. And I don’t want to waste your time…though…okay, fuck it, show me the tape for my hallway during the last week.” Now I’m using the phrase ‘tape’ too…just two old fogies in a basement.

“Sure thing, boss,” drawled Miguel, as the monitor on the far right depicted the scene of my apartment’s hallway. With a quick selection, he began to play the footage backwards, rapidly showing the pedestrian traffic of this human hive. After one entire week passed within the span of a couple of minutes, I let out an exasperated sigh of disappointment as nothing of import was seen by either of us.

I turned to Miguel in one last gesture of desperation. “So, are there any cameras in these stairwells?”

“I’m afraid not, boss,” he replied, shaking his head. “Just the hallways, I think. But, we can check real quick if you want…”

Possessing the dexterous hands of a piano virtuoso, the adept super earned his title of excellence as his fingers quickly flew across the board and started to utilize each monitor, all in order to cycle through the roster of cameras positioned throughout the building. After perusing the perspective of every lens installed along our walls, the monitor on the far right showed the final available perspective: the narrow alley on the north side of the building. The one with the spooky hand in the wall. Man…that thing still creeps me out.

I shrugged. “Oh, well…we tried. Guess that it’s time to punch out. We’ll call it a day.”

“Okay. Well, if you ever see this ghost again, be sure to tell me. When you say ‘ghost’, are you serious? For real?”

“I don’t know what I saw,” I admitted. “But if I see it again, I’ll let you know.”

“Okay, boss. I’ll just turn this thing off for now…”

Attempting to select a menu option on the screen with a label “Log Off”, his usually deft digits failed him, and he instead clicked the Reverse option instead. With a quiet murmur that sounded something akin to whoops, he tried to access the menu once again while the footage of the alley traversed the chronology of the eerie, narrow passage. Raconte-moi une histoire, camera…don’t let the past hour be a waste. Unfortunately, the camera ignored my plea; the video seemed to be a boring one of nothing. Miguel was just about to log off when I noticed some blurred movement of figures in the alley. If I had taken my eyes away from the camera for only a second, I never would have seen it.

“Woah, woah! Hold on, Miguel! Replay the footage for the alley…did you see that? It looked like there were people in there. Play it again so we can see it. Yeah…right around there…there you go. Thanks…”

As if seeking redemption from his previous minor error, Miguel worked with precision in order to concisely bring the recording back to the point of interest.

“Can you play it slow, please?” I asked. “Yep, like that…thanks…”

Following my direction acutely, the recording showed two figures entering the alley in slow motion. One appeared to be a policeman, and the other one seemed to be in some kind of worker’s uniform. The policeman carried nothing, but the worker carried a large bag that was full and slung over one of his shoulders. Even though there was no sound available, the obviously loquacious lawman seemed to be instructing the worker. They made their way to the door for the boiler rooms and the electrical closet, and using a key possessed by the worker, they quickly looked over their shoulders like thieves and then absconded by forcing themselves into the cave’s exclusive possession. Without any needed prompt by me, Miguel increased the rate of the footage until the two men had finally tired of their sojourn and departed the gate to Hades. Unlike Orpheus, though, they didn’t look back with any ounce of doubt. Notably, the bag of the worker was slung over the shoulder once again, but it now appeared to be empty of any contents.

I turned to Miguel. “Hey, so what was that about? Is there something wrong with our boilers or our circuits?”

“I don’t think so. I haven’t heard anything…but, that’s normal. Usually, Raymond takes care of that kind of stuff on his own. I don’t have the keys to that room for this building or any of the other ones.”

“The other ones?” I questioned with waning curiosity. Hunger and the longing for tacos were beginning to gain the ground that was currently held by my love for subterranean environments.

“Yeah, the other buildings where I’m the super,” explained Miguel. “You’re not the first building that Richie and Raymond put up.”

I nodded. “Oh…I see. Well, when you see Raymond next time, can you get the story on what’s happening down there? I think that the board deserves to know if there’s something wrong in the building.”

Miguel made an ‘O’ with the thumb and forefinger of his right hand. “No problem, boss. Next time that I see him, I’ll pass on the message.” And with a quick flick of those two same fingers, he logged off the machine.

“Thanks…Okay then,” I concluded, “Let’s call it a night. I’ve got some tacos de lengua y chorizo with my name on them.”

I couldn’t quite say why, but there was something about that pair in the hallway that left me with an unsettled feeling. Unfortunately, in the future, I would eventually learn the full extent as to how perceptive my gut hunch can be.

Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.

Condo Chronicles: The Jail on Sesame Street

Most of the time, an interesting event can elicit a coherent (and sometimes clever) remark from me. In this case, though, I’ll admit that I had met my match. I stared in silent wonder at the monochrome images that were flashing on the far-left monitor.

“Wow…how old do you think he is?” I asked.

Miguel chuckled. “Old enough to know better.”

Wishing that I had a fresh tub of popcorn to further enjoy this voyeuristic version of entertainment, I continued to watch the screen. When the recording had started only a minute ago, the screen had displayed the empty lobby of our building, with a lone package sitting on the top of a wooden table. Likely, it had been delivered by a lazy courier service who knew the panel code for the building’s door but who didn’t possess the stamina to bring it to someone’s front door. For some unknown reason, there seemed to be a correlation between apathy and the ascension of floors, even with the option of using an elevator. A few seconds later, Helga could be seen leaving the elevator with her two behemoth dogs, and after inspecting the package and determining it as unintended for her, she and her loyal steeds exited through the lobby door. The door would have slammed shut, but at the apex of its swing, the tip of something flat and thick lodged itself between the door and its frame. Prevented from closing, the door stood ajar as a miniature figure dashed inside, quickly scanning the area for any possible onlookers. Unfortunate for him, his wily plan to be covert was ruined by his soft childish brain, which hadn’t considered the chance of camera surveillance. Believing that the coast was clear, he sprinted towards the thin table, slamming the momentum of his body into the table’s feeble legs. (It would have been the perfect hockey check if he had only been wearing ice skates and shoulder pads.) Not having a chance, the table toppled over, and the package fell onto the floor.

“Hmm…that wedge in the door frame looks like a skateboard…and he’s got to be around six,” I remarked. “He’s seven, tops.”

Undaunted by the fact that the package’s dimensions nearly matched his own, the baby burglar used the few muscles he possessed to lift the small package and run out of the lobby with his prize above his head. It would have been a glorious exit if he hadn’t tripped over his own flailing feet and fallen onto the sidewalk. Wiping away some tears, he gathered himself (along with his new bounty and his skateboard), and he fled the scene in a run that resembled more of a drunken stupor. It was only at that moment when I realized the raucous laughter in the room was coming from me.

“Does Sesame Street have a jail?” I asked Miguel. “If I were our little friend, I’d be especially nervous about getting shanked by Oscar. Or worse.”

“No Bimbo cakes in the future for that guy.” Miguel whistled. “I know someone who is going to get a nasty pow-pow when his dad finds out. And, bad news for him, I know his dad.” After only living in Little Peru for a few months, I had become all too aware of the Hispanic love for onomatopoeia. Dogs were known as wow-wows, since supposedly they made a wow sound. (I’ve never experienced that myself, and I’m standing by woof instead.) A pow-pow, on the other hand, was supposed to be the sound of a spanking, though I’d probably vote for thump-thump or smack-smack as a more accurate depiction. Then again, I had never experienced the Latino version of a spanking, and I had no desire to verify my theory to that degree.

I turned to Miguel. “Really? You know this kid’s family?”

Miguel nodded. “Yeah…I think that the kid’s name is Pablo. His dad is a pretty good guy, but his grandpa is a mean son of a bitch and a thief. Well, he was a thief, before he got the…cómo se dice…” Miguel pointed at his knuckles and then slowly flexed his fingers.

I understood his intent. “Arthritis.”

“That’s it,” Miguel said, snapping his fingers. “I forgot. Sorry about that.”

“No worries. I wish that I spoke a fraction in Spanish what you know in English.”

“Thanks, amigo,” replied Miguel. “Anyways, yeah, I’m pretty sure the grandpa had a part in all this. The niño wouldn’t have done it on his own. I’ll talk to his dad…unless you want me to call the cops?”

I shook my head. “No, that’s not necessary. I trust you…if you vouch for the dad, then I’m sure that he’ll give the kid a good scare and maybe a good pow-pow. And I know that we’re not getting any of that stolen stuff back. To be honest, I’m more inclined to call the cops on this grandpa…”

It was Miguel’s turn to shake his head. “He’s too smart. He’ll deny everything and pretend to be old and crazy. Too slippery to be caught.”

“Aw, shit,” I grumbled regretfully. “Well…forget that, then. I guess that we’ll just need to send out a notice to all the other owners about getting their packages. By the way…why did you just approach me with this? Why not Brian and Babbu?”

“Well, as I watched the crowd, I thought to myself,” mused Miguel, “That the only sane person speaking was you. So I left them out of it.”

My shoulders shrugged under the weight of such a compliment. “Well…thanks. I appreciate the vote of confidence.”

Well, now that we’ve handled that, I guess that it’s time to get back upstairs and meet Rhonda at the taqueria blocks away. Since my body had a natural affinity for the cooler temperatures of this dungeon, it was dreading a return to the oppressive surface, and it encouraged me to further cheat summer of all its unpleasant weariness and warmth. My mind worked quickly to assist the machinations of my body, and in a moment’s time, it was able to excavate a tangential topic worthy of discussion (and, therefore, a delay to our departure from this chilly sanctuary). Oddly enough, despite being found with paltry intentions, I realized that my question was actually a good one; I could be moments away from resolving an issue that had haunted me (almost literally) for months.

“So, Miguel, tell me…you’ve looked through these video feeds, right? Seen anything interesting at all?”

He squinted as he brushed through the cobwebs of his mind. “Not really…a couple fighting in the hallway…I think that it was the fat man in the garage today…”

I nodded. “Yeah, that would be Mike and Lisa. Anything else?”

“No…nothing else.” Now his eyes squinted with suspicion. “Why do you ask?”

“You could say that I’m hunting down some ghosts. Tell me…how far do these recordings go back?”

Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.

Condo Chronicles: Private Eyes Are Watching You

After conversing briefly and then consenting to Miguel’s request, we departed the grim setting of our garage and shuffled into the more sanitized northwest stairwell. It was strange how some stairwells were so strikingly different than others; like the occupants of the building, the stairwells had distinct personalities as well. The southeast stairwell suffered from the constant problem of leaks, and consequently, it had become a petri dish of sorts: small white mold had begun to grow along its walls. Our property manager Raymond insisted that it was already tested and identified as harmless, but there was always the chance that he was trying to prevent any sense of panic. (At this point, I suspected that his constant smiling was just one way of hiding the forked tongue behind his pearly white teeth.) The southwest stairwell, which had a door exposed to the street, was used frequently as a way of exiting the building; with such a volume of pedestrians, it already had enough scratches and scuffs to resemble a fighting pit for bears. The northeast stairwell was the smoker’s paradise. The notable aspect of the northwest stairwell, though, was its pristine condition. Unlike the other ones, its appearance had hardly changed from the day of the building’s completion. I had used it only a scant few times, but walking with Miguel, I noticed something now that I had never been aware of: this stairwell went down further than the ground level.

“Woah, wait a second,” I requested, tapping Miguel on the shoulder. “We have a basement in this building?”

“Yes,” replied Miguel, as he proceeded down the stairs. “Don’t worry, the only devils down here are the little ones on four feet.”

Since gravity was doing most of the work, I decided to spend my breath on the luxury of satisfying my curiosity. “So, Miguel…I couldn’t help but wonder something. Pretend that you and me are just strangers at that bar down the street, and we were just having a chat. In that case, what do you think of the new types of people moving into Little Peru?”

Without missing a beat, Miguel gave me his unmitigated opinion. “I don’t think about it. Nor do most of the people here…and if you want it to stay that way, make sure not to talk about it. It only stays dead as long as you don’t pay it any mind.” He paused. “Oh, and I don’t drink…but if you buy me a cold avena, I’ll take you up on it.”

Oftentimes, I can get a certain sense of a person in the nuances of a small conversation. Miguel gave me the impression that he was a tough character who had crawled at times in his life and who had the scars on his belly to prove it. Even though I couldn’t explain how, he reminded me of those allegiant, colorful characters in older stories, the ones who were the lively friends of protagonists that appealed to the better half of all of us. He reminded me of the forever gentle Patroclus, Achilles’ comrade at Troy; of the sardonic Mercutio, who tried to counsel Romeo with jokes; and of Gurney Halleck, who would cajole Paul and his allies in the House Atreides of Dune. For inexplicable reasons, he reminded me of all of them. When we finally reached the bottom of the stairwell, we encountered a thick, heavy door that appeared to be made of iron. I was about to speak the Sindarin word for friend when I noticed the panel that proclaimed “Authorized Personnel Only”.

“So, this is the maintenance room, huh? Any secrets down here behind that closed door?” I inquired, as my eyes adjusted to the dimmer lighting of these subterranean depths.

“Yeah,” answered Miguel. “After we’re done, I’ll show you the porno stash and love dolls that I keep down here.”

“As long as you keep them clean,” I jested in reply.

Using one of the many keys on a chain, he opened the janitorial vault, and feeling like argonauts, I followed him into the maintenance room. It was much larger than I had expected, with oddly stained pieces of furniture scattered around its space. In one corner of the room, a large wash basin was situated in the ground, still containing a small pool of dirty water. Along the far wall, there were pieces of equipment resting against it, like brooms and mops. It could have been described as a starkly bare room if not for the corner near to the door and on our left. In that cranny of this suite, there was an elaborate setup of electronics that were stacked somewhat precariously on top of a rickety desk. Being a software developer and a general fan of hardware, I was inclined to walk towards it, but I couldn’t shake the suspicion that it would crush me at the first attempt of touching it.

I pointed at the behemoth of computer cases that was crowned with four monitors. “So…is that the CCTV control unit that you were talking about? The one that’s connected to the security cameras in our hallways?”

Miguel nodded, bravely approaching the dangerous game of Jenga. “Yep. Come over, and I’ll show you the footage.”

Since the console sat at a chest-level height, there was no use for a chair. Miguel stood before the console, and he pressed a few buttons in order to control one of the four monitors. With a few clicks, the monitor to the far left switched from a hallway to a view in our lobby. “Okay, Peter…as you can see, that’s the lobby. So, like I said before, you know about people complaining that they’re missing packages, right?”

“Yeah,” I replied, “I’ve already gotten a bunch of emails about it. I wish that we had the budget to hire a concierge, so they could take care of all this shit.”

“Well, your friend Miguel isn’t a concierge, but I think that I might have figured out your problem. These CCTV units record everything and store it on this DVR…” Miguel pointed at one of the cases in the pile. “And I’ve been able to watch some of the tape from a few days ago.”

Tape…man, I haven’t heard anyone use that phrase in a while now. The finger of Curiosity lifted one of my eyebrows. “Oh really? And what’s that?”

With a sly grin, Miguel proceeded to quickly rewind the lobby’s footage so that dozens of hours passed by in a matter of seconds, stopping precisely at 3:13 P.M. of the previous day. Keeping that mischievous smirk on his face, he looked at me as he hit the button to start playing the video. As I watched the events unfolding through the eye of the camera’s lens, my mouth dropped open in slight shock. A hearty chuckle began to percolate from my depths, and in response, Miguel’s smirk bloomed into a wide smile.

“Well, now,” I remarked, “You don’t see something like that everyday.”

Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.

Condo Chronicles: It Takes a Village to Properly Riot

“…Und zat is vay we need to have a biometric panel for ze stairwell doors to ze hallway for ze penthouse units.”

Brian emphatically rolled his eyes. “On top of the special button with a keylock in the elevator? What else do you want for the penthouses’ protection, Helga? Turrets? Maybe some sharks with laser beams attached to their heads? How about some beautiful fountains for the sharks to swim in?!?”

Several weeks later, I had discovered Yanis was more right about being a board member than he even knew. As recommended by our property manager Raymond, we had scheduled this condo meeting in the same garage where the previous debacle had occurred months ago. Luckily, summer was nearly here, and at least the garage floor wasn’t sapping every drop of warmth from my body. The main intention of this rendezvous was to simply introduce the owners to the new board: me, Babbu, and Brian. The majority of the building was present (along with Raymond), but we were missing the presence of a few owners. More than likely, they were frightened from the previous counter, and as it turned out, their concerns of a repeated event were well founded. There had been the general expectation of a few questions or proposals popping up, but in the immediate aftermath of Raymond’s introduction to our new building super Miguel, things immediately began to take a turn for the worse. If there was any question as to the mental instability and/or lack of common sense in our miniscule community, it was dispelled as it became evident that yet another catastrophe in the garage was heartbeats away. I would have turned to Rhonda for support, but she was helping with a charity event in the city. Consequently, I had to endure this chaos alone.

“Fuck that noise about panels,” shouted Mike in his XXL sports jersey, that performed a double duty of harnessing his belly. His girlfriend/mistress Lisa was notably absent. “What about my broken dishwasher? I’m not gonna pay my maintenance fee until that shit gets fixed.”

“Listen, shit for brains,” began Babbu, “the maintenance fee goes to the common parts of the building: the hallways lights, the garage door, the elevator repairs. You’re responsible for your own dishwasher. The building isn’t responsible for it. This isn’t an hotel, moron!” Following the last encounter, I had heard that the relationship between Babbu and the capricious cop Vinny had thawed somewhat…but clearly Babbu and Mike were destined to never be friends.

“Fuck you, Guju! I’m sick of hearing your voice. Don’t make me cover over there and give you a wedgie in your wizard panties!”

“I’m Punjabi, you idiot! Why don’t you just pull out your gat and cap me, wigga?!?”

“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” interjected Raymond. “Let’s stop this nonsense please. God only helps those who help themselves, and we are certainly not doing so right now. Helga, I would recommend that you put down your proposal in an email, and the board and I will look at it later. For now, though, let’s get to the important matter at hand. Now, a number of you have encountered some issues with leaks, yes?” Along with those of us on the board, a smattering of other affirmations could be heard from the crowd that surrounded us. “Now, Captain Richie apologizes for not being here, but as you would suspect, he’s also very curious about the matter. Being a good Christian, he wants to help you just as much as I do. In order for us to help you folks, we need to start digging into the walls so that we can figure out the root of the problem. Now, how does that sound to the board?”

All of the board members nodded in response, and Brian verbally proclaimed our collective assessment. “Sounds fine to us.”

In the same manner that a judge would hit his gavel, Raymond clapped his hands in conclusion. “Well, then! At least we’ve taken care of the important part. Moving on…”

“No! That is certainly not fine with me,” commented a small, fragile voice that struggled to reach a decibel level high enough for human consumption.

Along with the others, I was struggling to find the origin of this dissenting remark when I noticed an older couple engaged in debate and the wife attempting some kind of retreat. Finally, the older gentlemen nudged his miniature wife, and finally accepting the situation that her mouth had instigated, she stepped forward halfheartedly. She looked dainty and fragile as much as she looked formally dapper, but her eyes reflected something a little more fierce. “I said,” she spoke, raising her voice incrementally, “That it’s not fair. My name is Bertha, and we should have a say in this. We should put it to a vote!”

Raymond, who probably envisioned himself as Otto von Bismarck in another lifetime, attempted to keep the peace. “Madam, I appreciate your sentiment, but these gentlemen are your board. And according to your condo bylaws, they can make such decisions. God bless you if you have a different opinion, and you’re welcome to it…but I’m afraid that’s the way of things. Okay?”

“No, I don’t like dis eizer! Dis is not right!” Helga raised her fist above her head like a Black Power salute of the ‘68 Olympics, except without any melanin or muscle. Her older Arab husband copied her every action, so closely that I could have sworn that it was done in mockery.

“Listen, guys,” offered Brian, getting more irritated at the rising volume, “I’m not clear what you’re mad about. What exactly is the problem here? Do you want to fix the building or not?!?”

“It’s not that,” explained Bertha, with her taciturn husband looking into space. He clearly made up in apathy for what she lacked. “We just don’t like that we can’t have a say in the matter.”

“So what exactly are you asking for, ma’am?” I asked.

Caught off guard, the elderly Norma Rae paused as she tried to put together a more coherent request. After a few heartbeats, she collected herself and offered her terms. “We want a new set of bylaws, and then we want to have a new vote for a new board!”

Mike also raised a closed fist, bobbing his head up and down to some sort of beat. Maybe it was the beat of his favorite McDonald’s commercial. I couldn’t tell. “Props to you, Grandma! Hell yeah! I’m with her! Down with the system!”

“And we should have quotas that mandate at least one woman should be on the board, and…” continued Bertha.

“This is all ridiculous!” interrupted Babbu. “You’re all idiots! We’re not going to get another set of bylaws. If you don’t like it, move out of the building!”

Growing more confident by the minute, Bertha waved a gnarled, liver-spotted finger at Babbu. “This is injustice, sir! I strongly protest against such fascism. And if you don’t respond to our demands, we’ll seek justice!” Along with approving shouts from Helga and Mike, a small contingency from others echoed the same sentiments in chorus. It appeared that Bertha had quickly won over some in the crowd. As she looked around, her broad smile evinced her pleasure in so suddenly acquiring a small army.

“And with that, I say that this meeting is adjourned!” proclaimed Raymond with another intense clap. “It’s getting late, and obviously everyone is getting a bit cranky. I, for one, am starving since 8:00 P.M. is well past my normal dinner time. So, we’ll continue this argument soon enough. Okay? For now, Richie and I will look into your issue with leaks, and I’ll see all of you in a few weeks. Good night, and get home safely!”

How in the hell would we not get home safely? We’re in the condo building…are we going to die by falling into the elevator shaft? I wondered sometimes if Raymond realized half of the words that poured forth from his mouth, but I supposed that all property managers were part salesman. Nonetheless, he did know how to adroitly defuse an impending bomb, and even though people were pondering manslaughter only moments before, Raymond’s influence diffused through the crowd and converted all the wolves into sheep. It was an arcane touch that I had actually come to envy to some degree. I had planned to consort with my new board members in the aftermath of our rally, but observing that my comrades had already fled the battlefield, I decided to engage in my own rout. I had only taken a few steps when I noticed our new super Miguel approaching me. He was a small, wiry man in his fifties with blotched skin. He had the look of someone who had endured a rough life, but his benevolent countenance showed that it had never altered his kind disposition.

“Peter? That is your name, right?”

“Yes, Miguel, that’s right. Glad to meet you. Raymond speaks highly of you. So, what’s up? Need anything from me?”

Miguel nodded while scratching the back of his neck. “Yes. I need you to come with me. I need to show you something.”

Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.

Condo Chronicles: The Soothsayer with Shears

I jumped into the relic of a seat, and the white-coated proprietor fitted the barber cloth around my neck and shoulders. Aside from an even older gentleman sweeping in the back, we were the sole inhabitants of the shop. He took a quick look at the tufts of hair on my head, taking note that the sweat had made them curl. As he adjusted the back of the chair by pushing the pedals underneath, he gave me an inquisitive glance via our reflection in the mirror.

“Well, I can see that you ran over here. Must be hot outside…So, how’s it going in that third-world place that you call New Jersey? But I guess that it’s more civilized than where you grew up. Where was that again? Kentucky?” It was always amusing to listen to Yanis while he pronounced polysyllabic American names. Even though his English was nearly perfect, he always became more cautious in such cases, slowly enunciating each part in order to not make a mistake.

“West Virginia. But you never remember that…it’s okay, though: Yankees never distinguish one Southern state from the other. As for my current home…you’re talking trash about the sixth borough, I’ll have you know,” I answered. “One of these days, Yanis, you and all of your elitist peers in this town are gonna recognize that fact. In fact, you should trade us for Staten Island.”

“Eh, so you say…you want the usual?” asked Yanis, patting the top and sides of my hair. As I nodded, he picked up his water spray bottle and some nearby scissors, and he started to soak my already damp head. “You said something about advice? You sure that you don’t want to hear a good story instead?”

I chuckled at the suggestion. “I’ve heard all of your stories, Yanis. From the Merv Griffith Show to your most recent bowel movement…I’ve heard them all.”

Yanis had been a professional stylist within this section of New York City for almost five decades, and he had cut the hair of everyone, from construction workers to celebrities. He had a million stories notched onto his belt, and I was familiar with each and every one of them. In the mirror’s reflection, I could see him bristle at my suggestion, just like the many combs laid out on the counter before us. “Well, you’ve probably heard some of them…but I highly doubt all of them. How about the one with the network executive?”

“Come on, Yanis. You’ve told that one at least a dozen times. An old guy died in your chair, the morgue couldn’t pick him up, you put shades and a hat on him, and the network executive watched as you fooled customers into believing that he was still alive,” I recalled with a smile. “And the network executive took the idea and made Weekend at Bernie’s, but he didn’t give you a cent of it.”

Yanis’ brow furrowed at the precision of my recollection as he started to shear my curls. “Okay, smart guy with pubes for hair…what about the rock band manager who asked me to give him a cut in his office?”

I nodded slightly, so as not to disturb his work of cutting near my ears. “You showed up at his office with your gear in a suitcase, and he made you wait in a nearby chair. After a few minutes of watching him make funny faces, a hot blonde came out from under his desk and asked him if you were next in line.”

After another few moments that were silent except for the snipping of scissors, he paused long enough to squint at me in the mirror. “So…you’ve heard a few. How about this one…in the mid 70s, a guy in a leather hat and leather pants showed up in my shop. And then, he pulls out a gun and starts waving it around. Heard that one before…asshole?”

“Hmmm…I can’t remember,” I audibly pondered, as Yanis broadly smiled in expectant victory. “Hmmm…so when the plug in the handle of the fake gun fell out, what dripped out? Was it water or Tabasco sauce?”

As his radiant visage turned into a scowl, he gave his response as a deflated grumble. “It was Tabasco, wiseass. Okay, okay…I give up. You’ve heard them all.”

Much like an executioner orders prisoners to line up against a wall, he pressed and cut some strands against my forehead. I spoke next with closed eyes, in an effort to protect them from any falling wisps. “So, instead of a story, how about some advice instead?”

With much less enthusiasm than before, Yanis begrudgingly acknowledged my request. “About what?”

“About condominiums.”

“Don’t buy one,” answered Yanis curtly.

I grimaced at advice that came too late. “Well, too late for that…and I’ve made it worse: I’m now on the board for my building.” In response, Yanis laughed. “What’s so funny, old man?”

“Well, for a guy who hates dealing with people,” began Yanis, “you’ve picked to do the one job that’s the worst version of it. You deal with assholes all day, nothing is ever good enough, and you don’t get paid for any of it.”

The sad truth behind his assessment added yet more weight onto me, and I could already feel its burden grind into my shoulderblades. I groaned. “Uhhgghhh…when you put it that way…well, have any words of wisdom for me?”

“Sure. If anyone bitches about anything, avoid catching any lip by throwing your property manager under the bus. That’s what he’s there for. Where’d you buy a condo, anyway?”

“Little Peru. Ever heard of it?”

Yanis stopped working. “Really?” he asked, raising the caterpillars above his eyes that supposedly were eyebrows.

I didn’t like the particular way that he posed the question. I could discern it as an awful combination of both schadenfreude and genuine concern. “What? What about it?”

“Lots of people come into my shop,” began Yanis, starting his work on my locks once again. “Wall Street guys, advertising guys, and sometimes, big real estate guys. They talk about lots of places to do business. What’s a hot spot, what’s not so hot anymore…sometimes it’s in the city, sometimes it’s in your ‘sixth borough’. But they always laugh about Little Peru. I can’t remember exactly what they say, but it’s something like ‘…you might as well ask me to break some ground in Little Peru’. It’s like they know something bad is happening there, and they wouldn’t go near it if you begged them.” He shrugged. “They never say anything out loud…but their tone makes it seem like the place is jinxed. My cousin in Cyprus talks about this abandoned town Varosha in the same way…like it’s haunted or something. Does that make any sense to you?”

I nodded slightly. “Actually, yeah, I get it. I can’t explain it…but, yeah, I got the same feeling.”

“I’ll say this,” spoke Yanis emphatically, “Be careful, my friend. There’s something in Little Peru that scares away the big dogs, and whatever it is, you should be wary of it, too.”

“Thanks, Yanis. And, yeah, I’ll try to stay frosty.” I paused for a moment. “What if I told you that I saw a naked girl in my building and that she might be a ghost?”

Yanis looked back at me inquisitively. “I don’t know…is she hot or not?”

“Are you telling me that you’d be interested in fucking a crying, naked ghost?”

Yanis shrugged again. “At my age, I’ll take what I can get.”

“Thanks, Yanis. You’re always a big help.”

Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.

Signs of Your Startup’s Imminent Demise

  1. Your company is relocating from that “stuffy” office in the business park to a “bohemian” section of the parking lot.
  2. When you ask senior leaders about the next target platform for your product, they reply that it doesn’t matter and that you’re welcome to pick whichever one you want.
  3. After a steady stream of departures from your team, you are now your own boss since you’re the only one left.
  4. When you tell your developer friends about your latest stories from work, they politely respond “Oh, I thought that you guys closed down already. You’re still around?”
  5. If you’re the new hire, your new equipment includes a blood-covered monitor and a partially-smashed keyboard.
  6. Even though you weren’t hired as such, you’ve become a full stack developer out of necessity. (When people ask how things are going, you reply that you feel like you’re running a marathon through a mine field.)
  7. Your coworkers don’t even hide the fact that they’re using your main competitor’s product in the office. Worse yet, it’s used at company meetings.
  8. Turnover is so high that the most senior programmer has a grizzled employment record of three months and works inside a padded room.
  9. Management has repeatedly asked you whether you would like to buy them out.
  10. Every other commit message in the code repository ends with a variation of “…Please, somebody kill me.”

Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.

Condo Chronicles: Hidden in Plain Sight

Even though I wasn’t born to the tristate area around New York City, I had lived there long enough to not be considered a prolonged tourist (which is essentially anyone who lives in the vicinity shorter than a few years). I had earned my stripes, and I had the memories to prove it. I could recall when Times Square had been a thieves’ paradise and when the heroin den of Hoboken was just beginning to molt its skin. I had seen the best and worst of this place during those passing decades, and I had resided for all of it on the western side of the Hudson River. Traverse the river, and you’ll find the elitists who paint with a broad brush and who would label anyone from Jersey as “bridge and tunnel”…but the term is a misnomer for all of us who happen to inhabit the Hudson Waterfront (or Gold Coast, if you wish), a thin strip of New Jersey that runs parallel to Manhattan. (Despite what Connecticut may tell you, there is only one Gold Coast, and its borders are demarcated by the George Washington and Bayonne bridges.) Even though its towering skyline casts its shadow across our landscape just as any of its sibling boroughs, this narrow peninsula and its shores are the black sheep of this geographic family, forgotten and unobserved by our islander counterparts. No matter, though; there’s some satisfaction to be had with being a secret, for anonymity can be a protective blanket from ruinous exploitation.

As I inhabited this place over the decades, it seemed that this place now inhabited me in turn, passing on its desire for fostering the clandestine. I was always eager to find a new path to the same destination, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to intentionally take a turn too early, in order to explore new possibilities. Especially within Manhattan, it was the best way to find those “lilies of the alley” that yearned to find solace in shade, far from the garish, flashing cameras of tourist crowds that could swallow one whole. After leaving work one day and making my way uptown, such a biomass found me as I walked along 48th Street, and their collective presence engulfed me as I waited on a corner to cross the street. Apparently they have yet to learn that both sidewalks and streets are not places to simply stand still, I thought as the crosswalk sign fervently beckoned the stationary horde to move.

With a few quick pushes, I escaped from their stationary clutches and darted quickly across the street, running down the next block. Jogging past small kitsch shops and fast food joints, I escaped my captors by darting into an innocuous entrance, absconding myself through its rotating door. No flashing lights, no street performers dressed as Smurfette…they’ll never consider following me into here. As my eyes adjusted to its dim lighting, I smiled in satisfaction. With its Art Deco interior, I looked upon a classical arcade that remained ignorant of the changing city outside its doors. Outside of the Diamond District (which retained its atmosphere of an Arabic bazaar with its various kiosks hidden among nestled passageways – it’s tough to know if was constructed in such a way or whether the vendors simply brought it with them from the Middle East), such arcades were now on the decline and sliding into the abyss of obscurity. Small stores lined its walls that surely had existed for decades (or perhaps centuries); it was a parading menagerie of tall windows, adorned with golden letters that proudly proclaimed the business conducted within. As I slowly strolled past the windows and observed the elderly patrons inside, it was obvious from their animated faces that these septuagenarians and octogenarians had a profound connection with this place. Passing a cobbler’s keep, I descried a party of white-haired friends who were laughing and trading jokes with the silver-headed attendants shining their shoes. A few steps further, I passed a jewelry vendor and overheard a friendly yet lively debate between an older Hassidic Jew and a middle-aged man, adorned with a gold cross necklace and other gold jewelry that complemented his olive complexion and dark hair.

“I tell you, this Obama idiot, he doesn’t know what he’s doing,” proclaimed the middle-aged man. “Supporting these rebels…and for what? I know Assad, and he’s a decent Christian. Don’t believe what these stupid American papers are saying.”

“Oh, like you broke bread with him and you know him…”

“At least I’ve been to Syria and the Middle East! Unlike some people who just sit in their Williamsburg apartment all day and complain about the hipsters outside!”

I walked further on, absorbing each modicum of dialogue that my ears could catch momentarily. Not everyone who reaches the winter of their lives has anything of merit to impart, but there are some who have worthy lessons and legends to offer to posterity. If you’re lucky, the latter also happen to be great raconteurs who never knew how to monetize such a skill…and if you’re truly blessed, they’ll convey a tale that can change your life. In those rare moments, they give you a wink, and for the span of an heartbeat, they transform before you and become the vivacious youth they once were. Such places like this one had the power to attract such fantastic storytellers and congregate them in one place…or did it help to create them instead? I suppose that’s just another mystery for the ages.

Walking past the small stall for reading tarot cards, I finally reached a barber shop at the very end of the arcade. Unlike its more trendy competitors of late in SoHo that offered billiards and served cocktails by moustached, suspendered bartenders, there was nothing elaborate about this establishment. Other than a modest usage of chrome, the barber shop felt and looked like a relic from an episode of Mad Men. A magazine shelf in the corner was covered with various issues from subscriptions, ranging from sports to decades-old issues of Playboy. The smell of leathery aftershave permeated the space, and from their aged use, the cracked seats had probably supported generations of the same family. Leaning next to the chair nearest to the front door, a lean bald man with a pencil moustache was looking down pensively; he looked up as I crossed the threshold and stepped onto his hirsute domain.

As I stood there quietly for a few moments, he gave me a warm smile as he crossed his arms in front of his ivory barber’s coat. “You’re not lost, are you?”

“I don’t think so. I came here looking for a cut. Maybe some advice.”

“Who said that I could help you?”

I nodded. “Yeah…you’re probably right. I mean, what the hell would a Greek know about doing anything right?”

The barber retained his smile while he shook his head. “You fuckin’ smartass…always the same with you. Now hop in the chair. You’re late.”

Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.

More Tricks of the Trade

More helpful tips for anyone stuck in a cubicle (especially if you happen to be a developer).

  1. If your building conducts repeated yet pointless fire drills, find a ‘white lie’ buddy and take turns ignoring the alarm. If you don’t attend and anyone questions whether you were there, your ‘white lie’ buddy can vouch for you.
  2. When mentoring a junior developer, it’s beneficial to all if you can prepare the junior for the onslaught of insanity when dealing with management. Simulate code review sessions with them and play the role of a manager, asking why the code isn’t in a mauve font and demanding that it can run on an Apple watch (even though it’s a Windows Service). When the junior breaks down and cries, you will then know that your job is done.
  3. If you keep dry food snacks at your desk, save any lockable drawers for the coveted goods (Doritos, Starburst, etc.) Generally, it’s safe to keep your healthy food (almonds, dry fruit, etc.) in your unprotected ones. If someone does violate your space and takes something from your desk, you have every right to execute them ‘hitman-style’ with a Nerf gun.
  4. If you’re unsatisfied with your yearly review, send a subtle message to your superiors. Visit the lobbies of several competitors in your area and tweet pictures of them with the hashtag #VisitingSomeFriends.
  5. Trust has to be earned from any new developer, even one that comes with a highly regarded CV. In order to vet a recent hire, introduce your new addition to a common library and encourage the newcomer to share any useful code for posterity. If the volunteered code resembles the random typing of a thousand monkeys, encourage the nascent member to upload the project to GitHub. In that way, you can warn the entire world of the monster that you’re about to unleash on it.

Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.

Condo Chronicles: Something Amiss

For some odd reason, the mayor of our town had decided that a few given streets needed a particular makeover. Luckily, ours had been one of them. Some additional trees had been planted (whose species was selected to withstand harsh winters, little soil, and the constant deluge of dog urine), the sidewalks were cleaned and repaired, and the streetlights had been replaced with contemporary models. These miniature lighthouses shone so brightly that some nights were better illuminated than some days. Those stellar beams proved their magnificence as they glinted off the polished belt buckle and snap of the gunslinger’s holster. He waved his arm and shouted Spanish curses at the fawning trio, who had been boldly staring us down only moments ago.

“I’m thinking that I should call the cops now,” assessed Brian, with a confused and somewhat wet Canal standing by his side. The poor pooch shook the rainfall off of his coat, tilting his head up and sideways toward his towering master. It was obvious that he was patiently waiting for his master to start moving towards the dry, warm interior behind the lobby door.

Copying Canal, I tilted my own head as I scrutinized our supposed vigilante. “Hmmm…you’re too late,” I interjected. “They’re already here.”

Taking a second look for herself, Rhonda looked down the street and recognized the same person in those dark clothes. “Well, look at that…it’s Captain Richie.”

As if he could detect the announcement of his own name (but likely following the gaze of his intimidated audience), Captain Richie turned around and spotted us under the weeping night sky. Subtlely, he adjusted his frame into something less menacing, and he flashed a broad smile in our direction as he waved amiably at us. We waved back, and just as I considered walking down the street towards him, he turned quickly and ushered the trio through the open door, giving the one woman a not-so-friendly push through its frame. Just as well, I thought. I’m not certain that I should be talking to any cop in my pajamas. He briefly turned to us in order to issue one last wave, and then he escaped into the embracing shadows himself. The whole encounter couldn’t have taken more than 30 seconds.

“Well, that was weird,” commented Rhonda, while she simultaneously patted Canal’s head and looked at him adoringly. Oh, I know that look, I thought. There’s a puppy in our future for sure.

“Yeah,” I agreed. “Must have been some sort of domestic disturbance issue. Maybe this has happened before and he knows them? More importantly, I didn’t even know that Richie was fluent in Spanish.” I paused. “Speaking of weird…Brian, you didn’t happen to see a naked white chick running around out here, did you?”

Brian, still focused on the other end of our block, finally became aware of my seemingly random question. “Wait…what…naked chick? Huh?”

I shook my head. “Never mind. Forget that I asked. You got leaks in your place too, right? Oh, and I forgot to ask before: you planning on being on the board?”

“Yeah, I got leaks worse than yours,” he said through gritted teeth. “And am I gonna run for the board?” He shrugged. “Maybe…I heard that Babbu wants to be on the board.”

I laughed. “But where’s he gonna find the time? Isn’t he still running that social media campaign? What’s the name of his site…”

“Oh, trust me, he’ll find the time,” answered Brian. “That guy’s an insomniac. I see him going in and out of the building in the dead of night. Along with that Chinese lawyer/escort…”

“Chinese lawyer/escort?” Rhonda asked with fascination.

“Hmmm,” I pondered. “Lawyer/escort? That sounds like my version of a superhero.”

Brian nodded. “Yep. I talked to her once in the elevator, and Babbu knows her law firm. She’s definitely a lawyer…but about half the time that I’m out here with Canal, I’ve seen her being picked up by a different guy in a different car on that corner.” He pointed down the street.

I raised an eyebrow questioningly. “Well, I’m not sure if that makes her an escort…but from what my Chinese friends tell me, that isn’t outside the realm of possibility.”

“What about you?” Brian asked. When I raised the either eyebrow as well to clearly emphasize my confusion, he clarified his question. “What about you being on the board? You seem pretty sensible.”

I grimaced. “I don’t know…to be in charge of this loony bin? There’s no reward in being the mayor of Crazy Town. I know, I know…that’s even more of a reason to be on the board. Man…this place has got bad juju. There’s just something wrong with this building…”

Embracing its frontier spirit, the people of Little Peru had stumbled upon a symbiotic way of dealing with some of their smaller pest issues. Instead of practicing cleaner habits (which, aside from a strict regimen for laundry, were not employed), they had invoked better sanitation by fostering feral cat colonies throughout the neighborhood. We had learned the colony nearest to our building had been proclaimed los bastardos by the locals, and at this point, one calico bastardo nonchalantly wandered out of the alley that was a few steps from our entrance. Unfortunately, the normally placid Canal took notice before any of us, and likely suffering from the delusion that mangy feral cats must taste like filet mignon, he bolted with fervor towards the bastardo, dragging his unhandled leash behind him.

“Canal!” roared Brian. “Get back here now!”

With Brian in the lead, all three of us pursued the barking chaser, following him into the alley on the northern side of our building. Having only the width of two people, the dim alley really served no purpose other than to provide an access door on its side for our electrical closets and boiler rooms; the only likely people who had explored this dingy concrete corridor were plumbers and electricians. At its end, there was a wooden fence that marked the border of a neighboring building’s yard, and as Canal began to close the distance between himself and his intended meal, the agile bastardo writhed and escaped through a miniscule gap under the fence’s bottom. Sitting at the fence and robbed of his trophy, we caught up to the whining Canal, and Brian reclaimed the leash once more.

“Bad dog!” reprimanded Brian, with an aggressive yank at the harness around the thick trunk of Canal’s body. “Goddamnit, Canal, I swear…”

“Holy shit…”

I had heard that particular whispering tone in Rhonda’s voice before. By nature, it was easy to startle her. Sometimes, she would need to put the wee in the wee hours of the morning, and waiting patiently outside the bathroom door for my turn, my mere unexpected presence upon her exit was enough to make her shriek and undergo palpitations. However, you couldn’t really regard such amusing fits as actual fear. This tone, however, carried a palpable dread to it. Somewhat concerned myself now, I followed her line of sight to its end and immediately felt a slight shiver crawl up my spine. “Woah…now that’s fucked up.”

Years ago, while touring an ancient cave in southwest France, a guide had pointed us to the handpainted Paleolithic images on a nearby wall, and he explained the theory that our ancestors might have used the flickering of a torch in order to animate them. Using their latest technology of fire, they might have been able to convert these smeared drawings into the primitive version of a flip book. So it seems that the classical elements can bestow life in more than one way, and in this soaked alley, water took the place of fire as it ran along the wall and performed a similar form of dark arcane magic. In a spot at almost eye-level to our small group, we stared at the faint yet clear shape in the concrete wall of a human hand with fingers spread. This outline, though, was not the analogous signature of a Hollywood star or a proud mason; in this case, it was convex rather than concave. As the rivulets ran vertically through its fingers in the dim light, tricks were played on the eyes, and one could swear that those fingers were desperately waving for attention, for help that could wrest its owner from this hulking condensed prison. My imagination couldn’t decide whether its intentions were benevolent or hopeful of pulling some company into its lonely cell.

Shuffling next to us, Brian followed my finger and nodded gravely as I pointed to the specific patch of concrete that was sure to provide a year’s worth of nightmares. “Well…that is definitely not Han Solo. But you were right…there’s definitely something wrong with this building.”

Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.

Condo Chronicles: We’re Not in Jersey Anymore

Accompanying what can only be described as a lupine snarl, a gruff voice prodded at our backs.

“What are you two doing here?”

After you’ve chased a naked apparition in your pajamas and find yourself interrogated on a rainy street in the wee hours of the morning, I can testify that you will start to question the surreal nature of the last few minutes…in fact, you will begin to place serious consideration on the theory that you’re still in your bed and that you’re having dreams triggered by the twilight consumption of greasy pupusas. However, just as it was addressed in the movie Total Recall, nobody sweats in a dream…and my sweaty butt clipped those supposed wings that belong to Morpheus. As the voice repeated its question, I immediately became sober under the expansive awning, shaking off the sort of inebriation that comes from late-night fatigue.

“You hear me? What are you two doing here?!?”

If I was going to face death or injury, I’d rather surrender my mortality knowing the face of my demise. Not knowing what to expect, Rhonda and I turned to confront our questioner, and I was pleasantly relieved to recognize the volatile yet friendly company before us.

“Brian! Hey, how’s it going?” I asked, relieved that I would live to see another day. “We came out to see what the yelling is all about. And I see that you’re taking Canal for a late night walk. What’s up, pups? Did you have another late night emergency with your bladder?”

Facing us, Brian and his large yellow mastiff were standing under the wide expense of a black Apartment 5 umbrella. The Steelkilts’ dog Canal had been given his eponymous name due to being found near the Erie Canal in upstate New York, tied to a tree with numerous cigarette burns on his little puppy body. After several years of healthy eating, that wounded little puppy was long gone. Canal, which had entertained the thought of shredding us only moments ago, was now all smiles and eagerly came forward to lick our hands. Much like his towering owner, Canal had an immense size to him…but unlike Brian, he was more inclined to show affection.

“Yep,” Brian commented, looking down at his beloved pet. “He kept whining until I got my fat ass out of bed. And he would have done it all night, too!” Looking up, he nodded his head in the direction of the boisterous bunch down the street. “So, you heard them too, huh?”

“Who can’t hear them?” joked Rhonda, crossing her arms tightly in front of her for warmth.

“Do they have to carry on like that?!?” Brian paused. “I hate yelling…” Cocking his head to one side, Brian pointed with the hand that held the leash. “Well, look at that…looks like they finally stopped fighting. Now they’re looking at us.”

We all turned to look down the street, observing that the feisty love triangle had called a temporary truce. The ensemble stoically pointed themselves toward us, ignoring the light spatter of precipitation falling on their heads. Now that isn’t creepy at all, I thought.

Here, though, I should probably tell a little more about the inhabitants of Little Peru. Little Peru actually wasn’t a town full of Peruvians. For hundreds of years, Little Peru had actually been a neighborhood of Irish and Italian immigrants across the Hudson river from New York City, but several decades ago, a municipal agreement with the state and the feds had led to a wave of incoming Peruvian refugees. In accordance with precedence found in other nearby real estate, the Europeans fled the town, and the Peruvians had set up shop…but not for long. As the Peruvians prospered, poor Caribbean immigrants had arrived, and the blue-collar Peruvians had left in order to upgrade their lives in the Jersey suburbs. Almost every decade, the cycle repeated itself, where one Hispanic demographic took the place left by another’s exodus. Of course, some of each outgoing mass stayed behind, ensuring that another layer remained in this Latino melting pot. In the end, though, Little Peru wasn’t so much a town as it was a staging area, bereft of any sense of community. Eurocentric allotments like cathedrals and gardens became neglected and abandoned; they became architectural husks among the urban landscape of empty Tecate cans, chicken bones, and tainted rice.

Unlike other towns along the Jersey banks of the Hudson River, Little Peru had not become another affluent area that housed the upper class, with raised balconies facing the towering skyline of Manhattan. In numerous ways (some of which were charming), it was a piece of America that had reverted back to a frontier, recolonized by native Central and South Americans instead of indigenous North Americans. You could find possums and racoons wandering the backyard lots, and live chickens darted from the pollerias and down crowded streets as they fled for their lives. Living within the isolated bubble of this town, many locals had never set foot outside its borders to visit the rest of their host country; they were more than happy to stay within a comfort zone that offered ubiquitous Spanish and a copious number of barber shops, all with televisions that blared Univision and dubbed Chuck Norris movies. Though the people of Little Peru may not have heard of the word gentrification (probably since most of them knew only a little English), they looked at any white person as any Comanche warrior would back in the 19th century. They saw us as potential harbingers of unwanted change, and I had heard the disgruntled mutters of more whites (in both English and Spanish) while passing sidewalk fiesteros. In order to embrace our new home, Rhonda and I had started to make purchases in the local shops and to speak a little Spanish, and some of the local population had warmed to such gestures…but like they say, you can’t win over everybody. Consequently, there were some who stayed cold to the touch. The three stoic folks on this drenched street had those cool unwelcome eyes, and they used them to stare us down. You can give me the evil eye all you want, I thought. This is my home now just as much as yours. And if you don’t like it, you can go fuck yourselves with a can of Goya beans.

“They’re a regular bunch of friendlies, aren’t they?” joked Brian.

The Mexican standoff (or polyethnic standoff, to be politically correct) was broken when the stoic three whipped their heads towards the swinging front door of the adjacent apartment building. Through the frame and down the street, we heard a booming voice command them from somewhere inside.

Mira! Deja de gritar!

The stoic three lost their composure, and with limp shoulders and vapid smiles, their voices turned to a sickening saccharine as they obviously apologized to the silhouette in the door’s frame. An outstretched hand silenced their incessant whining, and the rest of its accompanying body walked out into the street. Rhonda gasped at the figure in dark waterproof clothing, probably also taking note of what I had already noticed: the rather large handgun in a holster on his hip.

Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.