I stared at Raymond in disbelief, though the core of me chastised myself for being so surprised. Nothing should be so shocking when you’re a citizen of any county on the west side of the Hudson River. So my building was built by a police officer AND a top municipal official…no wonder this place has so many leaks. They probably got all their inspector friends to overlook every cut corner that took place during construction…Wasn’t this an episode on The Sopranos? Even though I had lived in this area for many years already, I had never actually been a witness to the notorious corruption indigenous to my newly adopted homeland. Truly, if every school or library dedicated to a convicted official had its eponym removed, nearly half of them would become nameless. Like a naive child who has only a faint inkling concerning the reality of imminent death, this pervasive nefariousness had only existed as a legend for me, and it was only now that it had taken a physical form, finally becoming real to me. To put it in more palpable terms, I felt like I had experienced my first true Jersey baptism…or briss…or hazing…I couldn’t decide on the right word at the moment.
“No, I don’t think that you ever mentioned it,” I replied calmly, doing my best to allay the tempest inside. “I think that me and the other owners would have liked to have known that. At the very least, we would have liked to have been aware…you know, me and Babbu and Brian.”
“Sometimes, I’m so disappointed with myself,” Raymond admitted, shaking his head in disappointment with the same somberness of a self-flagellating Shi’ite. “Between dutifully serving your building – among others – and helping the people of Little Peru and assisting my old mother and serving as the president of my church council, sometimes truly important matters slip my feeble mind. May the Good Lord forgive me for such major oversights. I am, indeed, an aide to Her Honor. I was able to do one good deed this evening, though: I remembered to extend an invite to Babbu and Brian. In any case, they should arrive shortly…and hopefully, I can also be of some service here today.”
Great…that’s just what I need here: an assembly of volatile personalities. Well, I know one thing…with Raymond and those guys here, we might as well start put up some camping tents, since this thing ain’t gonna end anytime soon. Especially with Raymond…once that mouth of his gets going, it’s hard to stop it…It’s going to be that much harder to ask my questions on behalf of Joe and Octavio with this chatterbox in the mix… I filtered such thoughts from my response. “Oh, well, to hell with it. We all have things slip our mind, right? In any case, it’s a good thing that you’re on the mayor’s team. We now have a better chance of getting her help, right?”
Raymond smiled. “Absolutely! You can start the show, but when you’re ready, I can take over and do the talking.” I nodded to Raymond, and he walked past me to find his seat for the evening.
As Rhonda walked towards me and passed Raymond with her best impression of a pleasant surprise, she kept her ivory veneer in plain view as she sidled up to me. “What the hell is Raymond doing here?” she asked, barely moving her lips through her planted smile.
“I could explain,” I spat through gritted teeth, “but why bother. Just know that it’s only going to get much worse later on. Let’s just sit down and try to get through this whole thing without tearing our eyes out.”
Proving that she was not only my wife but also my nakama, she trusted my directive without protest and walked alongside me as we took our seats among the circle. After a quick round of introductions and the obligatory compliments that are made about one’s home, a silence fell on the room as everyone waited patiently for the main event. Five bodyguards along the walls, four political aides, and Mayor Dwek all sat patiently in anticipation; even though there was no obvious cue, it was dreadfully apparent that my time had come to take the stage. If only this were a cocktail party instead of a ‘snack’ party…we’d all have a buzz, and I could lead with a toast. What the hell do I lead with now? A toast with a stale Cuban? For reasons unknown, I had the sudden inclination to stand when starting my address; my gut instinct demanded that any remonstration toward an authority figure requires two feet on the ground. I couldn’t tell you why such formality clouded my mind, but if you had handed me a top hat and a pair of suspenders, I probably would have donned them without a second thought. Maybe a fake beard, too…maybe not.
Standing directly across from Mayor Dwek, I stood and projected my voice so that the whole room could bear witness. “Your Honor, your aides and your protection are all certainly welcome in my home, and I thank all of you for donating your time to come here with the intent of helping this building. As you may have heard, our condo association has fallen on hard times, as a pending lawsuit now divides the people of this building. In addition, it has also become an obstacle to various activities underway that are aimed at helping to repair and improve the building. My hope for tonight is that you’ll appreciate the condo board’s position and that you’ll act as our benefactor in some way. By perhaps talking to this judge who made the ruling or maybe by helping us to defuse the situation with the plaintiffs. Again, thank you all for coming. And with that, I’ll start from the beginning and explain the series of events that have led up to now…”
During the last minute of my soliloquy, I had detected an exchange between voices in the hallway outside my door, one which had become increasingly louder with every passing second. Since we lived in the same hallway as a pair of twenty-something girls, it wasn’t uncommon to hear ostentatious conversations saturate the hallways; it seems to be an unfortunate universal for young women to be unaware of how their voices can pierce through walls, eardrums, and sanity. This conversation, though, was not an immature attempt to sublimate a lack of consideration as carpe diem. Some of these escalating voices were masculine, becoming increasingly hostile. At the same moment that I stopped talking to look towards my door, the rising volume had also attracted the attention of everyone else present. I was still at a loss until I heard a key phrase from someone outside:
“…I’m crazy? I’m crazy?!? I’ll show you crazy! I’ll shove my kirpan up your ass so far that I’ll pick your teeth with it!”
I shrugged my shoulders at my concerned guests in order to visibly shun the events close by, with the same disdain of an early 20th-century mother leaving her handicapped child on a doorstep of Letchworth Village. No. No, no, no…awww fuck…who the hell is Babbu arguing with? And does it have to be right fucking now?
Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.