Take it easy, Octavio…you’re practically gushing over this guy. But, truth be told, I couldn’t find that much fault with my naive friend. Even though he had grown up in Little Peru and had learned what a two-bit hustler looked like, he was still young and hadn’t met the ones that wore haute couture as their sheep’s clothing. Before I could respond to Octavio, a server behind the White Mana’s counter approached our loquacious trio. “Had enough time to think it over? You guys ready to order?”
Along with our respective fries, onion rings, and shakes, Octavio and I ordered The Big Web; Joe ordered only a single slider by itself. After the server turned back to his grill, I was about to recommence our conversation…but before continuing this line of inquiry, I had to ask one other important question.
“One slider?” I questioned. “Who does that?”
“In my line of work,” Joe explained, “Appearances play a big role. I keep an eye on what I eat…but since I’m here, I might as well cheat…just a little bit.”
I turned to Octavio. “I’m not sure if I can trust a man who orders only one slider…that’s just plain crazy if you ask me…” I turned back to Joe. “And if you order that burger without the roll, I’m not going to sit here and have this conversation. There’s only so much that I can tolerate.”
Even though my jests had some intention of taxing the patience and possibly invoking the fall of the smiling mask on this dapper gentleman, it also had the secondary purpose of being a distraction. I wanted to conceal any observable indications of insight on my part. Better to keep him guessing and off balance…hopefully, it’s working.
Joe placed one hand over his heart with the other raised, as if offering its palm to the nearest holy tome available. “I swear to consume everything on my plate. Now, if I may…back to what Octavio was talking about: the red jumpsuits. But before I do, let me ask one question. Tell me, Peter, why did you move to Little Peru?”
“Well,” I pondered, “I can tell you one reason why I didn’t move there: it wasn’t because I wanted to listen to fucking bachata music every day for the rest of my life…though apparently I’m not going to get around that one.” In West Virginia, it had been country music; in my new home, it was bachata music. As I had found in my world travels, salt-of-the-earth people had simple tastes. Or, as Mel Brooks had eloquently summarized in Blazing Saddles: they were morons. “Obviously, though, I bought my place because it was affordable, especially for the amount of space…but, being the real estate guy, you already knew that.”
Joe smiled. “That I did. I mean, it’s crazy everywhere else around the Palisades, right? It’s ridiculous to find anything affordable around here. All the towns along the Hudson River have experienced a rush of price increases on homes, and it’s starting to happen on top of the Palisades as well. All except for Little Peru…ever wonder why?”
I shrugged. “Because nobody wants to live in a neighborhood where a block party includes live cock fighting?”
“Really?” Joe asked, in a startled fashion.
“No, he’s messing with you, Mr. Vasgersian,” answered Octavio. “That’s not true…” He paused with a pensive expression on his face. “Well, for the most part. There was that one time, with those Dominican guys next to the bouncy castle…”
“In any case,” Joe continued, undeterred by our desultory remarks, “If you guys aren’t aware of it, there’s one certain thing about the Jersey market: it booms when certain people want it to happen. Take Hoboken, for example. It went from a heroin den to a valuable commodity that demands Manhattan prices almost overnight. How? Because the right people knew how to make it happen. And it keeps happening everywhere else…but not with Little Peru. Why? Because the people in charge of Little Peru don’t want it to happen.”
I nodded. “Uhhh…yeah, that makes total sense. I mean, that’s why the people of Little Peru voted for their mayor and such. So that she’d look out for them, and that includes trying to prevent yuppies from raising the prices and driving them out of town. You think that they voted for her just because of Free Tortillas Tuesday?”
“There’s a Free Torti…” began Joe, stopping when he noticed that both Octavio and I were smiling and shaking our heads. “Very funny, Peter. But you’re right…Mayor Dwek and her team have so much support because she’s promised to keep the broker and developer wolves at bay. Assuming, of course, that Little Peru’s city hall has only the best of intentions for its people…”
“Order’s ready. Make some room!”
As the order came to our stretch of the counter, the crepuscular horizon was losing its fight to the encroaching nightfall, and much like a flower that unfurls with the breaking dawn, the verdant neon ‘Hamburgers’ sign of the White Mana emerged with effulgent life at the twinkling of the vespers, broadcasting itself on the many television screens that were reflected windows of parked cars in the street. Blocks away, the will-o’-the-wisps of the city began to emerge with the lengthening shadows, as the glows of passed blunts rotated between teenagers on nearby stoops. Nocturnal creatures were awakening from their slumber to invade the darkness…but, here, bathed in fluorescent light and comforting smells, we were safe from it all. Relishing the moment to appreciate our shelter and sustenance, I grabbed the squeezable bottle (i.e., the same red plastic bottle that must exist in every diner in America) in order to dole out a copious amount of ketchup for myself.
“So, Joe,” I said, taking a quick bite of one burger, “You’re implying what about Mayor Dwek? That she’s not just into doing her job? That she’s a politician who uses her constituents as part of an angle to line some of her own pockets?” I grabbed an onion ring. “What’s next? Are you going to tell us that water is wet?”
Joe took another slow bite of his lone slider. “Not at all. But you have to understand that she doesn’t want to use them in some sort of metaphorical way. She wants them literally. She wants their hearts and minds literally. She wants them the same way that we want cows for our burgers.” He put down his slider and looked at Octavio. “Just like she wanted your aunt’s kidneys…and she took them.”
Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.