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.

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