Condo Chronicles: Walked Right into that One

Under strict observation, human behavior can be just as fascinating an example of complex model systems as any software design or any chemical interaction. Read works by John E. Douglas, and you’ll learn of the more bizarre machinations that can be conjured by the human mind. Like the dutiful meticulous work of a spider that weaves its web, the prolific investigator describes how these shattered souls can entrap and enshroud themselves within the complex constructs of their own imagination, curtailed to fit their particular fetishes and foibles. Yet still, these intricate tapestries somehow still aren’t incongruous with the necessary rituals of mundane life; they somehow still mesh with reality. As with other examples of eccentric psychology, it’s possible to conduct investigative therapy and find an artifact from this mental dig, something that helps to explain where it all went wrong…but physiologically, it’s usually a complete mystery.

For centuries, chefs have known that brass serves as better cookware when preparing various egg dishes, but they could never tell you why. Eventually, the enigma was solved in the late 20th century, only after a group of physicists was curious enough to seek its explanation. So, how many more years are left before we finally understand the human mind, down to the firing of every neural synapse? Take a fight between two romantic partners, for example. Sure, we can understand when an alexithymiac couple evades a painful topic, lets it fester beneath the thin surface like trapped methane, and then ignites it suddenly in a bright display of fireworks and a frightful brandishing of razor-sharp Wüsthof knives. That and the occasional subsequent trip to the emergency room are normal, of course…but on a neurological level, what exactly leads to such a dilemma? After putting down our sharpest cleaver and consenting to a truce with Rhonda, I was in the midst of wrapping my head around this enduring puzzle during a stroll intended to calm my nerves. I had made some progress with my walk (but little with my biological homework) when I felt the familiar buzz from my pocket. Hoping that the peace accord had not been rescinded, I saw with relief that the incoming call was not from Rhonda. Thankfully, I wouldn’t have to contact the United Nations to warn them about any impending violence in the near future.

Octavio…hmmm…I wonder what he wants…

“Hey, kid,” I said in greeting to the young lad on the line. “Long time, no see. I haven’t seen you at the gym for the last few weeks. Where’ve you been?”

The voice on the other end was Octavio…but he didn’t sound like his normal effervescent self. “Hey, Pete…uhhh…can you meet up with me at White Mana? I got something to tell you.”

“Sure,” I answered, curious about the tone of his voice. “Which one?”

“There’s more than one?” questioned Octavio incredulously.

Even though he wasn’t physically present, I shook my head disapprovingly. Though it wasn’t completely necessary to be aware of local trivia, you would think that anyone with roots in this area would be aware of an indigenous restaurant feud that had lasted for almost a century. (Or, at the very least, be aware of one that’s lasted for several decades, like the muzz feud between Vito’s and Fiore’s in Hoboken.) These townies on the Palisades… As a young lad in West Virginia, I appreciated the ethereal serenity that beset me in those lofty peaks, offering its bounty of crisp mountain air…but I and other natives of my age couldn’t help but always yearn to simply glimpse at the menu offered by the world, for to even hope at tasting its offerings was beyond the feeble limits of our jejune imagination. These spawn of the Palisades, though, could observe the entire world from their vantage point. From their apartment windows, they could watch the Empire State Building change its colors every night. They could hear the loud cruise ships docking in the Hudson from the east, and from the west, they could hear the whistle of trains blowing through the North Bergen Rail Yard. On a summer wind that would have inspired Sinatra to sing from his grave, you could taste the salt from the sea in the air during the day’s summer swells. Then, that very night and from below, you could smell the brine and decay of the mysterious, swampy Meadowlands (including its now permanent residents dropped off by mobsters of earlier decades). So much, including New York City, surrounded them, and it was all at their fingertips…yet for most of them, it was simply a background to their existence, as real as a mile-high projection screen for 360 degrees.

Don’t get me wrong…it’s common for the young to be unaware of their surroundings as they frolick, rolling in their new morning clover and feeling the cool dew of life immortal on them. Everything has a tendency to fall into the background when narcissism runs hot in a teenager’s veins…but, these rapscallions, though, seemed to suffer from a hotter fever. Was it just another odd trait in those born to the Palisades? Was it yet another tiresome aspect of an immature Millennial Generation, who seemed to seek reclusion from “adulting” and reality like the Swiss during wartime? Or maybe it was just my perspective as a curmudgeon (a.k.a., an old bastard), as another example where the grass is greener on the other side (or, in this case of a bucolic upbringing, where the buildings are taller)? I had to admit it: there was a good chance it was an amalgamation of them all.

“Yes,” I answered with emphasized exasperation, “There’s another one. But I’ll be down there on Tonnele in a few minutes. Okay?” And after quickly affirming our arrangement, Octavio disconnected from the line.

I could have arrived early by riding the local jitney buses (otherwise known to some locals as “the chicken trucks”), but keeping with my elitist attitudes, I tended to abide by a standard of cleanliness that has been adopted by North America. So, I chose public transportation as the more faithful option. Switching between a couple of NJTransit buses, I finally rode the Route 125 until I arrived on the doorstep of my eventual destination. Looking upon the White Mana Diner once more, I couldn’t help but smile at it with the fond appreciation for anything that has the ability to elicit nostalgia, even when there are little to no experiences involving yourself. For that’s not the important point for such a place to earn respect: it held the key that could unlock memories for so many others. As with any woman who wields subtle power, there is nothing of extravagance worn on its septuagenarian outside to invoke any maudlin feelings of the observer. (The same could be said about the plain-looking Ringside Lounge across the street, though its Siren call has wooed many famous boxers into its midsts. Even Mike Tyson has entrusted it with his beloved pigeons.) However, when one enters the White Mana’s miniscule intimate space and takes a seat at its circular counter, one can easily envision the many generations who have sat and conversed with each other and with those behind the counter, whether during a day’s sober lunch or while having a drunken snack during the wild hours of the night, whether talking about the weather or while arguing about the Yankees’ roster. On this day, I found two policemen arguing about the very same roster on one side of the counter’s circular ring, and spotting Octavio on the other side, I waved and then sat down beside him.

“Man, it’s been too long since I’ve been here,” I admitted to Octavio, feeling sudden pangs of hunger at smelling the grill in the donut’s center. “They do make a damn good burger…I might even have two or three…Hey, why the long face? You hungry?”

Octavio turned to me with downcast eyes. “I’m…I’m sorry, Pete…I wanted to tell you…but he said that it was better this way…”

“Hello, Mr. Bolton,” said a voice cheerfully from my other side, as I detected someone sitting down alongside me at the counter. Did this kid just set me up? Am I about to be blackmailed or arrested for smoking pot with a minor? I suspiciously glanced at the cops on the other side of the diner, who now looked back at me in much the same way.

I turned to face the voice’s owner: a polished handsome man in a sharp Armani suit, obviously tailored to fit his frame. Definitely Giorgio and not Emporio…only the best with this guy. He flashed an easy smile, with the confidence of one who knew his ability to charm came effortlessly. Much like his overall presentation, it came naturally to him. An ambivalent jealousy arose in me, where one side resented him out of a hateful envy while the other wished to emulate such an aesthetic superiority. Though both sides of me continued to debate that subject, they did agree on one thing: this guy was not to be trusted. At least…not yet.

Well, there’s only one way to find out. One, two, three, allons-y.

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: No Kind Deed Goes Without Harsh Sodomy

I read the letter aloud in order to further concretize what I held in my hand, since my mind was thoroughly rejecting the reality being presented to it. “…and Mike Gigliano, and Helga and Amir Shah, and Bertha and Ira Wolfwitz, by means of their Verified Complaint say as Statement of Facts: 1.) Casa de Perros adopted a Public Offering statement, which includes, among other things, the Master Deed and the by-laws 2.) Currently, Casa de Perros is governed by a board known as the Casa de Perros Board of Trustees (i.e., CPBT) allegedly elected by the owners, without any substantial proof…blah, blah, blah…”

Allegedly? With the insinuation that I had conducted some sort of clandestine coup for this position? Truthfully, in the place of attending the affairs of this building, I would have rather engineered the execution of my own death via being hanged, drawn, and quartered. And how the hell could Mike legally be on this…he had disowned his place, for fuck’s sake…

“20.) At the July owners’ meeting of this year, Plaintiff Bertha and Plaintiff Helga politely inquired about changing the current bylaws, and without any legal basis, the CPBT emphatically dismissed the request and consequently threatened a number of plaintiffs in response…blah, blah, blah…46.) Instead of abiding by the governing documents of the building, the CPBT has made several executive decisions without putting the motion to a vote, including the opinion of making ‘necessary repairs’ without the guidance or witness of fellow owners…”

I had read some of these bylaws before committing myself to the real estate version of a martyr. Essentially, I had found them to be a paragon of ambiguity, only rivaled by perhaps The Bible. I could see them being used as the basis for a number of claims, up to and including the legal argument that condo owners should be considered possible heirs to the Hapsburg line of monarchy. Maybe I’ll use Lisa’s clothes in that abandoned closet and proclaim myself Queen of the realm…

“…blah, blah, blah…55.) Even though this CPBT body (of ‘supposed’ legitimacy) has not yet proven any of its claims, the Plaintiffs have and will continue to suffer from their brash and cavalier decisions if nothing is done to stop them…blah, blah, blah…71.) The Plaintiffs demand a thorough investigation of the board’s current activities, paid out-of-pocket by the current CPBT members , in order to determine if any immoral or illegal activities have been performed under their governance…”

I had heard of some bold requests in my time…but asking someone to willingly pay for their own incarceration was a new one. Even if I had been as guilty as Robert Durst, I would have been stunned and shocked at such audacity.

“…and against the Defendants…Count One, Ultre Vires…Count Two, Temporary Injunctive Relief…Count Three, Breach of Fiduciary Duties…Prayer for Relief, where we ask for the temporary cease of all building fees, under suspicion of malfeasance…for the restraining of any repairs…and for the CPBT to be temporarily relieved of duty.”

Looking up from the paper, I was too stunned to truly articulate anything poignant. That, and I was equally amused as well as outraged. “Well…that sucks. But that doesn’t mean anything until a court date, right?”

The color of Brian’s forehead turned a bit darker and formed into drupelets, transforming his large smooth head into an overripe raspberry. “That would be true…if Raymond’s lawyer had attended the court date to defend us. Those papers were emailed a couple of weeks ago, and he missed his appearance. So the judge ruled in favor of the defendants.” Brian gritted his teeth. “The lawyer said that he’s sorry.”

“So, in summary,” I articulated, “We’re not the condo board for the time being…nobody is going to pay their maintenance fees…and Bertha’s bitches are trying to send us to jail? And only after being in charge of this abso-fucking-lutely ridiculous place for a few months?”

Babbu nodded violently, as if chopping something (or someone) with his tomahawk of a chin. “Yep. You’ve got it, chief!”

“Well,” I said, “Tell you what…nothing against you guys, but I think that I’ve had enough for one day. So, I’m gonna punch out by going home and getting drunk. And if I’m still alive tomorrow, I’ll give you guys a call and try to work something out. That, or we can talk about how we can just burn down the building with everyone it. Either plan sounds fine to me.” I handed the email back to Brian. “Adios, muchachos.

And after wiping my feet on the ugly floormat outside the door, I left them. I walked up the remaining floors to the safety and sanity of my own abode, where I hoped to enjoy the scant tendrils left of my high. As I walked through the door, Rhonda called out to me from the bedroom; she had the uncanny ability to recognize me from just the sound of my footsteps. Her olfactory and auditory senses were so keen that I was always slightly frightened to be around her during a full moon. “Dinner’s almost ready! So, how was your workout with Octavio? Did you get another black eye?”

“Nope,” I called out. “But Mike and Lisa destroyed their apartment and are gone forever, and I got kicked out from being on the condo board. Good news is that I know a place where you can get all the free shoes and clothes that you want.” I noticed a filled trash bag standing by the door. “I’m gonna take this trash down. See ya in a bit.”

A brief pause from the bedroom was then followed by a wavering note of confusion, as the door closed behind me. “Wait…what?”

Slinging the garbage bag over my shoulder, I plodded down the stairwell humming “Until It Sleeps” by Metallica (as I’m prone to do when attempting to barricade myself from depression). I yanked open the door to the garage on the ground floor (at just the moment when the lyrics say …open, but beware!), and as I lazily dragged the garbage bag on the floor (much like a neanderthal would drag his wife in politically incorrect cartoons about cavemen), something had enough presence to distract me from my currently intoxicated malaise. I dropped the bag where I stood, and I walked over to the wall of the garage. There, clearly now much larger than it had been, was the crack in the wall that I had observed from our first meeting in the garage so many months ago. Instead of being a few scant millimeters as before, it was now slowly approaching the width of a centimeter. I could now clearly distinguish figures and shapes on the other side of the wall, and much like a poisonous vine with malicious intentions, the fracture was now beginning to creep upwards towards its lackadaisical inhabitants. So…what will kill us first? The building…or each other? I didn’t know…and as long as Rhonda and I weren’t here when the shit eventually went down, I didn’t really care one way or another.

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: But Wait, There’s More

Babbu and Brian looked at each other and then stared at me in silence. For a brief moment, I thought that my jest about corpses might actually have some merit, and then the joke would be on me. Instead, they both started to chuckle at the insinuation.

I let out a sigh of relief. “You guys had me going there for a second…I thought that we had a murder-suicide here. Or that maybe one of you had decided enough was enough, and you made the executive decision to get rid of them…permanently.”

“No, man,” replied Babbu, still laughing. “No, nobody’s hurt…but that racist piece of shit deserves something like that! People are always messing with Sikhs, but one day, we’ll rise up to assholes like him! And then he’ll be sorry!”

I have always been amused how each banner-waving minority activist, no matter the particular circumstance, deems their own particular suffering as paramount over those of another demographic…and, in doing so, have actually practiced some form of softball bigotry, where the belittlement of another group’s problems are implied rather than explicitly stated. However, if I even dared to chuckle at that moment, I’d have to explain myself, and it’s safe to say that such an explanation would probably go over my compatriot’s turban. So, I bit my lip.

“…He’s lucky that me and my bros weren’t around when he was leaving…because there’s a good chance that we would have fucked him up!” Babbu spat on the floor in vile hatred. My immediate, normal reaction was to dissuade him from spitting in someone’s home…but considering the state of it, he probably had just helped to clean it a little. Again, I bit my lip. “But he’s gone now…whatever. Brian and I met Lisa leaving the building. We talked to her while she put some furniture and shit in her friend’s truck about an hour ago…”

“…And I talked to Mike on the phone just a few minutes ago,” Brian interjected excitedly. “He said that they had one last big fight, and then that was that. It looks like the show’s over.” He looked around somberly. “And it looks like it was one hell of a final act.”

You didn’t need to be here to know what happened: you could sense it. It was written in the gouged walls and scrawls on the floor. It told of the desperation that’s kept in reserve in most of us, but in this case, the walls of the crucible couldn’t possibly prevent the molten maelstrom from breaking its prison. It echoed the spiral of every romantic argument ever witnessed, as one divulged pain of the speaker begat another pain felt by the listener…And then they would switch places and repeat, until there was nothing left but the lonely, aching want of an embrace. Words that are spoken with immediate regret are then reconsidered as valid only a few moments later, and then one tortuously waffles between those stances for then and forever. At that point, though, it’s never possible to reconcile: the hurt and the longing both fill the room like a million inflated balloons. The two people are lost to each other…no matter how hard they cry with profuse apologies, no matter how frantic they stumble, no matter how much they claw the walls and reach out to find that familiar hand they know so well from a million walks together, no matter how much they would give to put things as they were…Their hopeful future and all its wonderful possibilities fall away with their tears, now mixed with a fresh coating of paint that was chosen together only a short time before. These events, it seems, have a way of finding their way to many of us…Or so I’ve been told.

“Well,” I began, “I can’t say that I’m all that surprised…”

Brian held up his hand. “Well, hold on a moment: there’s more. They both left this place…but they left for good.” He waved his hand emphatically for effect. “Like…they’re gone. They both said that they wanted nothing more to do with this place. Bon voyage. Adios. They both wash their hands of it.”

I looked around in confusion. “So…who owns this place now, then?”

“Nobody!” answered Babbu. “Not until the bank forecloses on it…”

I already knew where this was going. “…And that won’t happen for years, if whenever. And when it’s all added up, that’ll be quite a few fee dollars that then never makes it into the building’s coffers.” Though, truth be told, we hadn’t seen Mike’s fees for some time; he had stiffed us ever since the building’s butler (as he had still insisted on calling our super) hadn’t fixed his toilet for him. Despite the repeated explanation that Miguel wasn’t responsible for fixing toilets, it never quite penetrated the buffalo sauce that coated his brain. “Shit…this is a sad story all around.”

Brian let out a deep sigh. “Yeah…it sure is.”

I tilted my head towards the broken windows. “Well…the least we can do is call some guys to repairs those windows or board them up since fall is just around the corner…” I stopped midway through my sentence as I noticed the eccentric twitches of my partners’ faces. “What now?”

“Remember that there was really bad news?” Babbu inquired.

I nodded gravely. “Yeah…and?”

“Well,” Brian lamented, “We can’t exactly repair those windows…or repair the building leaks…or make any decisions that might help the building for now. In fact, you could say that we’re not exactly in charge anymore.” In the midst of speaking, he had reached inside a coat pocket and handed me a folded sheet of paper.

It turned out to be a printed email that had been sent to our property manager Raymond, who had then forwarded it to the three of us. It began simply “Dear Raymond and the Board of Casa de Perros”, and even before reading the letter’s closing by ‘Mr. Squidichi, Esquire’, I could tell from the first few words that it was written by the modest secretary of a novice lawyer.

At the end of the letter, I looked at them in disbelief. “Those motherfuckers.”

Babbu raised his hand to the sky as if summoning the power of Ik Onkar, in order to smite his enemies with his flaming kirpan. “Exactly!”

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: One Made a Mess of the Cuckoo’s Nest

Much like a dapper gentleman of a rustic setting who enjoys a postprandial walk though his beautiful estate, I have always enjoyed a pleasant stroll through a more urban setting after the consumption of a mild, mind-altering substance. Even with the ominous thunder lapping at my heels, my smoke-heightened mood was bolstered by the rushing endorphins from my workout with Octavio, and for a short while, I was able to roll back the hands of time and feel slightly invincible once again. After living amongst the constant sights and sounds of such an area, one has the tendency to develop a certain callous that numbs the sensations from such a constant stream of stimuli. However, with some slight “assistance” that alters the perception of passing time, one can regain the ability to notice the once ignored and to appreciate the subtle notes of benevolence that surround us. Depending on the person, it can even lead to bold reflection, and you may even arrive on your own doorstep to ask, “Did I let the world get to me…and allow me to forget how much there is to enjoy? Am I so lost?”

Or maybe it’s just because you’re hhhhiiiiiggghhhh, motherfuckaaaa.

I told my mature yet patronizing voice of reason to crawl beneath the rocks and to stay there for a little while longer…long enough to enjoy the rest of my journey back home through my quaint neighborhood. People might make jokes about this town…but it’s a gem in the rough. And when the ice caps melt and the island of Manhattan is under fathoms of water, the Palisades will be the new metropolitan stretch that everyone will covet. Yep…and then we’ll see who’ll be laughing… Of course, I wasn’t just high for my own sake. I was participating in a study; I was being the first-hand witness to science, observing the effects both cannabis and a runner’s high have on the endocannabinoid system of the brain. Those scientists didn’t need to study that. Shit, I could have told them that for free. However, my peaceful saunter and experiment wasn’t long before it was interrupted once more, by something other than my subconscious. Pulling out the vibrating phone from my pocket, I could see that the incoming call was from Steelkilt. Which meant only one thing…that it was something about the condo building.

Hmmm…should I relinquish this fleeting moment of joy? Because there’s no fucking way that I can enjoy the rest of this goddamn high if I… Too late, I was already pissed off now at merely thinking about it. My brief romantic fling with the universe had been terminated due to the Heisenberg effect of evaluating my own happiness. Goddamn it…this better be important…

Discarding the immediate thought of throwing the phone into a sewer grate on the corner, I took a deep breath and reluctantly answered my phone. “Hello?”

Brian sounded more exasperated than ever (which was saying something). “Peter? I checked your place, and Rhonda said that you had gone out. Listen, we’ve got some real problems now. When are you going to be back in the building?”

As if the overhead storm had been listening and waiting for such a cue, the first spatters of rain began to fall as I rounded the corner that led to my block. I quickened the pace in order to beat the heavier reinforcements, likely bearing down towards me at terminal velocity. “I’m only a few steps away from the front door. What’s up?”

“It’s too much to say over the phone,” blustered Brian. “We’ll give you all the details once you get here. Just meet me and Babbu in front of Mike’s door.” And with that cryptic note, he promptly hung up the phone.

After being on the condo board for only a few months, I had ascertained the essence of such a role: it was a thankless shit job that paid shit. (Actually, it paid nothing, which I suppose is better than actual shit.) Uncertain if it was simply a trait of all generations born after the Great Depression, I could bear witness to the general disposition of my spatial siblings that lived alongside me: they nearly all had the expectation that problems would be fixed without their participance or involvement. Between addressing impatient whining and putting out the small fires of neighborly squabbles, my duties resembled more of a kindergarten teacher than anything council. However, I had conscripted myself into this sisyphean endeavor, and unfortunately, I wasn’t about to abandon my post. If only I had the lack of any conscience. I need to look into purging such a parasitical nuisance. Maybe Octavio’s grandmother knows some kind of voodoo ritual involving a sacrificed chicken…

After walking into the lobby, I quickly ascended up the stairwell to the floor of Mike and Lisa, and after turning the corner, I found myself in the company of a flustered Babbu and a flushed Brian. Brian’s normal shade of angry pink was slowly darkening to a raging autumn. In our previous meetings over the past few months, I had served as the voice of reason against the howling mob that was my combustible compatriots. It looked as if I would need to repeat such a performance even now. Taking a deep breath, I composed myself for the conflagration that was about to consume me.

“Sooo,” I began, “What seems to be the problem?”

Babbu was the first to ignite. “These motherfuckers!”

Placing one of the massive mitts which were his hands on my shoulder, Brian looked at me gravely. “Well, do you want the bad news…or the really bad news?”

“Being in a good mood, let’s put me down gently. Give me the bad news,” I stated flatly.

With my answer to a choice of two evils now given, Brian stepped towards Mike’s door, and without even knocking, he turned the knob and opened the door. When I looked at Brian for some kind of guidance, he said nothing; instead, much like the last ghost that visited Ebenezer, he simply and silently pointed a finger in the direction of my looming fate. Following his direction, I stepped across the threshold of the doorway, and I looked upon the inside quarters of our community’s rotund rapscallion.

My mouth dropped open. “Holy shit…” I muttered.

Not only was the apartment now devoid of Mike and Lisa, it was now devoid of nearly anything. Upon immediate entry, I found myself in their bare living room and kitchen. Though all furniture had been removed, the kitchen cabinets were obviously stocked with plates, and the living room closet was full of odd items, like tools and an old laptop. From this particular vantage point in the living room, I could see into their bedroom, and it was oddly similar to the situation in the living room: no furniture but a stocked closet full of women’s clothing and shoes. More shocking, though, was the physical state of the entire space. Even though I had heard the violence of their past transgressions while eavesdropping, I had never actually seen the evidence of it. Several windows had been broken, and painful gouges that traversed for feet had been torn into the walls. The wooden floors, which displayed a beautiful glossy sheen when first installed, now looked as if shamans had carved deep elaborate runes onto its surface, in the hopes of summoning natural forces that slumbered in the Palisades’ rocks. Shards of broken glasses and dishes crunched beneath our collective feet, mixing with some sort of dark viscous fluid that clung to our shoes. Noticing more than several crimson streaks along the wall, I suddenly hoped that I was standing in dehydrated ketchup rather than congealed blood.

“So,” I managed to mutter, “Is the really bad news that you’re not sure where to put the dead bodies? Because if you’re asking me, I nominate the basement.”

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