Condo Chronicles: The Fire of Thine Eyes

Now, when it comes to physical appearance, by no means do I think of myself as a ghastly troglodyte; I believe that I have a few appealing features. For example, my face is symmetrical (for the most part), and my skin hasn’t molted in decades. However, I’ve always been aware of my limitations, and when it comes to purely physical appeal, I know that my qualifications fall short of the designation “desirable”. And, having spent a few observant years on this planet, I have become acutely aware that an intelligent woman with decent looks can open many doors and enchant suitors with the twirl of a skirt, wielding such power with the finesse of a magician. Hence, in those rare situations where I have received attention from a lovely creature of feminine wiles, I immediately sense the sort of danger that a prairie dog must feel at the scent of a badger, and I assume the worst of her intentions. So, finding myself in the web of this supposed predator and sensing the tug of its skein, my own spidey-sense found its way to the forefront and drove my sense of alertness into overdrive. Lady, you’re not the only one who has the cunning to weave schemes… Of course, such paranoia was a key factor why my lovelife had been a barren wasteland before Rhonda, but that was an unfortunate byproduct of steadfast vigilance. I will show you an abstinent loneliness in a handful of dust…

“Oh yeah?” I asked, following it with a quick swig of the Tsingtao. Even though I would never tatter the banner of my fidelity to Rhonda, I couldn’t help but wonder if Donna had the same penchant for squeaking that seemed to be ubiquitous in Asian porn. I never would have believed it to be nonfiction…until I was informed by galavanting rakes (and who, to my shame, I call friends) that such carnal eruptions are true to form for those born on the Ring of Fire’s western rim. Damn, though…that would have been fun to find out. “And what would that be?”

“I…”, Donna said, pointing the open end of the bottle towards her for emphasis, “might have some information that you would like to have. Wouldn’t you like to know more about your friend Joe Vasgersian?”

Now I was catapulted to DEFCON 5. For a moment, I thought about playing dumb…but I could tell from the look in her eyes that it would be pointless. “Huh…you know Joe, huh? So, what’s this all about, really? Who are you?”

She put her beer down on the counter and grabbed my hand. “Don’t worry…I’m on your side. I’m a friend of the mayor. Well…I’m a friend of her friends…And I like to look out for her, too. You’re worried about the hóng gwai, right? The red devils?”

I simply stared back at her, saying nothing but yet saying everything.

“I know…but Mayor Dwek isn’t the problem. Your friend Joe is lying to you, especially since he probably works for the people who are behind it.”

Again, I remained reticent. When you’re playing poker or in the midst of boxing or in any match where an opponent’s endurance needs to be gauged, it’s important to keep them guessing, especially if you’re feeling vulnerable…just as I was now. I didn’t know who to trust at this point, but I felt like I was being led around, much like Flukeman would be when obsessively chasing our laser pointer to no avail. Now I know how he feels.

She gripped my hand a bit tighter. “So, you don’t trust me…I can tell. But I am telling the truth when I say that I hate people who treat others like cattle.” She paused, looking for any sign of acknowledgment from me. I offered none. “Have you ever heard of Harry Wu?”

I shook my head.

“His family and ours are friends from Shanghai,” she explained. “He was a political dissident in China decades ago, and he was sent to the laogai camps. Awful places where people churned chemicals with their own bodies and where they were worked to death. When they died, the camps would harvest what they could from their bodies. When Harry escaped from the camps, he dedicated his life to making sure that everyone knew about it, with the hope that it would then end. I always looked up to him for doing something like that…how could you not? How could you not do something about it…just like what the red devils are doing here in Little Peru?”

Finally, I broke my silence. “So, how did you found out about them? And how do you know about Joe?”

“I’ve made friends in high places,” she confided. “And they wouldn’t want me talking about them. They let me know about the black market here in Little Peru…but not too much. Everyone knows about Joe and his past, though…”

“How he used to work in porn with Willow, right?” She looked somewhat befuddled, exhibiting a resemblance to her cousin when I had suggested to him the existence of law and morality. “Never mind…you had to be there. What about Joe’s past…?”

She let go of my hand and grabbed her beer again. “That he and Captain O’Bannon are friends.”

Captain O’Bannon…that name sounds familiar…wait a minute…

“Captain Richie?!? The same one who is one of our builders?” I blurted out, with the same ridiculous enthusiasm as a game show contestant. And, having guessed the correct answer, I rewarded myself by retaking my previous seat on her couch. That, and my mind was now swimming. Wouldn’t it be great if life were like a video game, where the simplest and most mundane victories would be disproportionately compensated with a crate full of treasure? Oh well…I suppose that this beer and couch will do.

She walked over, standing in front of me. “Yes, Captain Richie…what is it?”

“I saw a few things on the security camera months back, and now things are starting to make sense,” I said. I imbibed the last of my beverage with one last gulp. “Looks like Joe and I need to talk…’cause he’s got a whole lot of explaining to do.”

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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Condo Chronicles: Thy Fearful Symmetry

Okay…if what Brian says is true, I get it. I don’t dabble in that world of flesh for fantasy… but I recognize quality when I see it.

Though she was a pretty woman who probably came from somewhere around Beijing, she appeared to have a hint of Mongolian ancestry in her cheekbones. That’s also probably where some of those curves come from…Assuming that she had just changed out of her office clothes (since work clothes was somewhat ambiguous at this point), she chose to wore jeans and a blouse that accentuated her frame. I would have complimented her choice of clothing, but since the general consensus regards such remarks as creepy, I elected to keep those opinions to myself for the moment.

“Hi, Donna,” I said, now on my feet. “It’s good to finally meet you. I was just talking to…your friend…”

“My cousin, Huiwen,” she said, finishing my sentence for me. Even though there was a modicum of an accent, it was so slight to be almost completely gone. “He’s also my accountant, and he helps me with keeping my finances in order.” She turned to her bloodline, throwing a few choice words in Mandarin his way. Immediately, he closed his laptop and started to pack his bags. “But he’s leaving now, so that we can be alone.”

Well, she certainly acts like a girl from northern China…

My partner in crime abruptly threw me a quick nod as he left the apartment, leaving just Donna and myself. She smiled at me. “I heard him try to talk to you…what were you talking about?”

I shrugged. “Oh, just something about wanting to find a place to party with his friends…and then getting the evidence to blackmail them for favors…you know, guy talk.”

“Yes,” she affirmed without any hint of surprise, “That sounds like Huiwen. He has many ambitions, but he’s not as smart as he thinks. But still…he tries. Again, I apologize for not getting out here sooner, but I just got home: I was working late at my law firm. Can I get you anything to drink? Water?”

“Got any Tsingtao in the fridge?” I asked half-joking.

“Yes, I always keep some around for Huiwen. I’ll get one for you.”

“Thanks! I actually didn’t expect you to have any…” As she made her way to the kitchen, I couldn’t help but ask. “So, Donna…do you prefer that name? If you want to use your real name, that’s cool, too. My pronunciation is good enough, though you’ll probably still laugh…”

Even though I don’t mind being addressed as Peter, I have certainly envied the names of my Chinese friends. Stacked against my mine, a moniker like Jin Lung (i.e., Golden Dragon) wins without breaking a sweat, and I would have accepted an offered trade without a second thought. Of course, it’d be more appropriate if the name was ported to a more American version, like “Machine Gun Monster Truck” (with the implied yet optional bumper sticker that says “Nuke a gay whale for Jesus”)…but despite the element of honky attached to it, I would still don such a title with childlike zest. In the case of my current host, I was expecting something equally impressive, like Xiùlán (i.e., beautiful orchid) or Jin NǎiNǎi (i.e., golden boobies). It was probably something akin to the former, but I was hoping for the latter (which would probably be apropos in her case, based on the contours of her blouse).

“I prefer my American name,” she replied, surprising me with her candidness. When I asked for her Chinese name, she quickly said something that sounded like Mèng jiàn erzi, though I could have been wrong. “It basically means dream son. It’s common for grandfathers to name children, and my grandfather really wanted a grandson…And so, out of spite, he gave me the name of his lost hopes.”

Though I know that it’s usually for the best to not comment on family matters, I couldn’t resist the temptation in that moment. “Jesus…what a dick move…Well, I certainly understand why you would want to go with your new name instead,” I commented, graciously accepting the opened bottle of Tsingtao from her. “Thanks, Donna.”

As I took a generous gulp of the rice-laden lager, she opened one for herself. “So…”, she began, “Aren’t you curious why I asked you here?”

I nodded politely. “Well…yeah. And I figured that you would eventually get around to it. Does it have something to do with the pending case in the building? Are you now their legal counsel, since you’re a lawyer?”

She took a small sip from her opened bottle. “No, I’m not involved in that…I would not want to mix my professional life with building issues. There are plenty of other things to worry about…Instead, I have various business interests, and I’m hopeful that you can help me. Especially since you now seem to be good friends with the mayor.”

Hmmm…business interests…like opening up your own practice in Little Peru…or selling your used underwear on Reddit and/or opening a nearby “massage” parlor? Though it was true that I now exchanged emails with the mayor on an infrequent basis (especially to check on Flukeman’s health), I was a little startled how such a casual relationship had become the stuff of tabloids.

Apparently, the egg of my surprise now covered my face. “Do not be alarmed,” she commented, “I am not stalking you. But I do have friends around town, and they tell me about those things that are interesting…and someone who is a friend of Mayor Dwek is interesting. Maybe, then, you can help me.”

I didn’t like being in this position again, much as I had been at White Mana…but there was nothing to be done about it. “And why would I do that?”

She leaned closer towards me, with a seductive smile. “Because…I have something that you want me to give you.”

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: Into the Tiger’s Den

“So, you like to party, right?” he inquired with his heavy Chinese accent nearly encrypting his question, beyond even the reach of the NSA.

My entrancing session with Evernote was broken, forcing my concentration to be diverted from my smartphone. Trying to make sense of what was just asked and failing to do so, I could only blurt out a simple reply of confusion. “Huh?!?”

Shortly after my session with Yanis nearly a week ago, I had called our building super Miguel, consenting to meet with this lawyer who supposedly moonlit as an escort. (Though, since Brian was the sole witness to such activity and was outdone in paranoia by only Babbu, the accuracy of his testimony was obviously suspect.) According to Miguel, her name was Donna Wei, and after a few emails of correspondence between her and myself, we had agreed to meet at her apartment after work one weekday, which was only a few feet downstairs from mine. Apparently, she was only comfortable talking about something particular in person, and in anticipation of such a scenario, I expected our discreet conversation to be held in secrecy. So, upon our rendezvous at her residence a couple weeks later, I was somewhat surprised when a tall but chunky Chinese gentleman opened the door by only an inch, tersely greeting me through the chained narrow gap.

“What you want from here?” he demanded, waiting only for the wrong word to rescind his wonderfully charming demeanor.

I provided my share of a greeting, though it was clear that I would be the only hospitable party present. “Hey, good evening. I’m here to see Donna. She invited me over a little while back…is she home right now?”

Without any further indication, the door suddenly closed upon me. Through the fabricated layers of wood designed to appear as one, I heard a roaring conversation in Mandarin being exchanged between here and a feminine voice from afar, probably from one of the attached bedrooms. (It was definitely Mandarin, since it lacked those Cantonese tones that can make my skin crawl.) Finally, after a few more salvos that were hurtled at each other, my greeter (if you could call him that) opened the gate, and the animated version of a terracotta guardian motioned for me to come inside. Before even having the opportunity to ask any questions, he motioned towards a nearby couch and then walked straight to a nearby table with a laptop (which I assume was his original location before my rap upon their numbered portal). I realized that my taciturn companion was done with me, so I took up residence on the couch and waited patiently for my appointment. After a few minutes of biding my time with my phone, I became so engrossed in my virtual world that upon lifting my head, I briefly forgot where I was and how I had gotten here.

“You like to party, right?” he asked again.

“Uhh…yeah,” I said, slowly coming back to reality. “Sure. Why? Do you like to party?”

He ignored my returning salvo and instead probed further. “Errr…you have fun with drugs?”

“Well, sure, when I was younger,” I said, smiling at the reminiscence of warm memories and a desperation to postpone the night’s end indefinitely.

“Where’s good place to party?”

I shrugged, finding this surreal conversation oddly fascinating. “Uhhh…I don’t know…what kind of party are we talking about?”

“Ex-treme party…you know…girls, drugs…errr…top-shelf liquor. Where someplace like that?”

I didn’t know whether to feel honored or insulted at the insinuation that I would be the ideal person to ask such a question. In the end, I didn’t care. I had plunged down the rabbit hole, and I was too curious how deep it went. “Well, I knew of a few places that might fit the bill, but that was many years ago. Places like Filter 14 and The Tunnel are long gone now, since they eventually burn out on their own or by the powers that be…are you looking for a good time with some of your friends? Does one of them have a birthday? Bachelor party? ‘Cause you should just take him to Hustler’s…or just skip town and head to Montreal for a really wild time…”

“No,” retorted Sammo Jr., shaking his head. “I’m looking to take business friends somewhere. Somewhere where they can have fun and then be very drunk…” He paused pensively, searching for the right words. “So when they are busy having fun with girls and drugs, I can take pictures of them…errrr…so, later, when I need a favor from them, I can show them the pictures that I own. And then…errr…they feel like they have to help me.”

On more than one occasion, I have found that it’s necessary to recalibrate your mindset when conversing with natives from mainland China. As a way of adjusting oneself in such an event, it helps to imagine an alternate version of Europe where the Renaissance never took place (instead being enlightened only by Machiavelli) and where a good many mystical ideas from the Middle Ages have endured. Even though China’s zeitgeist does continually change by small increments, every longstanding culture has a momentum that prevents it from making quick turns, and the Chinese societal norm seems to be the paragon of this rule. Incidentally, when memes like joie de vivre are absent from the biomass of a country, things like morality and etiquette are considered more unnecessary than stinky tofu. If you ever have the chance to walk through the streets of Hong Kong, consider it an exercise in edutainment and ludology to discern those natives of Kowloon from those who have recently crossed the border in the north. Simple solecisms like unapologetic staring and cavalier spitting are dead giveaways, making for an quick but hollow victory. The best players, though, can detect them through a simple conversation with the help of a translator. I like to employ a Blade Runner technique by succinctly describing and then relaying the idea of an honor system; if my prospect stares back with the same puzzled look of a stunned Replicant, I just won with flying colors. I was about to do the same with my conniving confidant when he impatiently inquired yet again.

“You know club for all that?”

I held up a solitary finger to the living antithesis of discretion. “Woah, woah, woah, stop the clock. Let’s go back one moment to why you’re doing it…First, I appreciate that you’ve entrusted me with such sensitive information…” Which is a lie, since he doesn’t even regard his proposal as questionable in the least… “…Second, I think that what you’re describing is a federal crime called blackmail. Ever heard of it?”

The enterprising exploiter paused for a few moments, looking a tad flustered as he struggled to understand me. Finally, he said, “Errrr…I think that you are not understanding me. This has nothing to do with any sons of Obama…”

I did my best to suppress a smile, but more than likely, I failed miserably. Ah, the racist angle…it’s almost as much of a guarantee as the lack of manners. What other gems can I extract from this fine specimen… I was just about to ask him his personal ranking on the ugliest races when I was interrupted by a firm but feminine voice from across the room.

“I’m sorry to keep you waiting…Good to see you made it, Peter. I’m Donna.”

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 Recap

“…Well, that’s one hell of a story,” commented Yanis while trimming my sideburns. “If that’s not a lawsuit worth some money, then you can call me a monkey’s uncle. Shame about the cat, though…From what you told me, he seemed like a good one.”

“Oh, no, he’s still alive,” I spoke in correction. “Turns out that his blood clots like a champ, and he made it to the vet, where he got patched up. He’s getting better every day, but it’ll be a while before he cozies up to anyone’s leg…”

Yanis patted me on the back. “Hey, that’s good news, my friend! So, it all worked out. Flukeman lives, and with the help of a lawyer, you can still get a little piece of that mayor’s money in your pocket. Though, since she’s Jewish, you’re going to need a good one, since she’s bound to have a few talented ones as cousins…”

“You know, I wasn’t really looking for a pay day, you thieving Greek racist…” I began, wiggling my nose in order to purge a few irritating strands from my nostrils.

“Now you’re just repeating yourself. The word Greek means thief in Latin, because those damn Romans hated us! You didn’t know that, did you?”

“Hmmm…I’m not so sure about that. If anything, it probably means elderly compulsive liar…in any case, I’m not looking for any legal action. I think Mayor Dwek is a good person at heart…In fact, this entire mess produced some positive results. The mayor said that she owes me a big favor, and as it turns out, Bertha and Helga are both big animal people. When they saw me holding Flukeman, it flipped a switch in them, and now all the major players on the defendants’ side want to end the suit. I never would have guessed it, especially since Bertha seems as affectionate as a double-barreled shotgun. So, all in all, there was some good fallout from this whole ordeal…”

Yanis shrugged his shoulders. “That’s true…could’ve ended worse, right?”

I sighed. “Yeah, I suppose so…It’s funny, though. A few blocks down in Union City, there’s an Islamic school for kids. And only several blocks away, there’s a synagogue surrounded by the homes of several Jewish families. From what I know, it’s been that way for decades at least, and in that time, not one person has died from being stabbed or blown up by bombs. In my building, though, people haven’t lived together for more than a year, and already, someone’s been shot! You know there’s no hope when Muslims and Jews get along better than we do…”

“And now, all that’s left is the business with Octavio and the other fellow,” bombinated Yanis, instead spending his concentration on perfecting the symmetry of my remaining hair.

I nodded ever so slightly, not wanting to give Yanis an excuse to cut me. “You mean Joe…and yeah, I’m still not sure what to do about that one…who knows. On a side note, I did get an email from our building super Miguel the day before yesterday, saying that he had some new information for me.”

Yanis raised both his eyebrows and a few locks of my hair, with the intention of cutting the latter. “Oh yeah? About what?”

“I don’t know…maybe someone else is stealing packages from the lobby. Maybe it’s got something to do with the crying girl that I mentioned to him…you know, the ghost. Remember?”

“Ohhh, yes, I remember,” replied Yanis, with the enthusiasm of one who has placed that very scenario within the Favorites folder of his ‘spank tank’. “Did you get another chance lately to take a second look? How are her tits?”

“Sorry, my perverted friend. I haven’t seen her in quite a while. Anyway, he mentioned something about how a lawyer might have some important info to give me…but I don’t know who the hell he’s talking about…”

“Maybe he’s talking about that Chinese lawyer lady, who lives a double life as a prostitute?” posed Yanis, as he brushed away the cut hair from my shoulders and prepared the electric razor for edging the back of my head.

Slowly, faint twilight memories of Brian mentioning such a person began to percolate through the unctuous sludge that served as my brain. “Hmmm…you just might be right, Yanis…tell me, how the hell did you remember something so unimportant from so many moons ago? I couldn’t have said more than a sentence about that months ago, six at least.”

“Hey,” crooned Yanis, tapping the back of the electric razor against the white chest hair and gold chain that were protruding from his open shirt, “When it comes to pussy, I never forget a thing.”

“So maybe pussy is a cure for Alzheimer’s?” I suggested.

Yanis shook his head. “No, my friend, you’ve got it all wrong…pussy is a cure for everything.”

I attempted to laugh without moving my head too much. “Sometimes I forget who I’m talking to…Tell you what, I’ll pass along her number if I happen to get it.”

“That’s all I need,” bragged Yanis, finished with edging and now showing me the back of my head with a mirror. “And in the end, she’ll be paying me.”

“Oh, yeah…I bet.”

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