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.