Condo Chronicles: Secrets beneath Our Feet

During the previous summer, in the first awful months of living in our new home, I had awoken early on a Sunday morning to the sound of heavy drops bursting on a window in our living room. Fearing yet again that rainfall was transforming our poor constructed windows into makeshift aqueducts, I investigated the living room and was relieved to see that the drops were on the outside of the frame, forming and then crashing from an air conditioner installed just above. Unfortunately, when one is stirred from their slumber with an induced shot of adrenaline and angsty despair, sleep becomes as distant as the closest galaxy, even as you lie still and impatiently wait for it to overtake you. If it’s late enough in the morning and the actual sun approaches the horizon, your circadian rhythm beats on your internal drum, and then a return to nocturnal visions becomes nearly impossible. Knowing that to be the case here, I decided to make the most out of the beautiful morning unfolding beyond the glass encasing, and without making too much of a stir, I left Rhonda and Flukeman to savor their fantasies of sneaking and pouncing. I went on a quiet stroll in order to explore my peaceful neighborhood, when it is even more quiet than usual and before the temperature climbs to the level of sweaty underwear. After grabbing a cup of coffee and having a few moments of walking by myself, my thoughts turned contemplative, as I’ve found they often do when you’re approaching the fall season of your life. (Even though one could debate the age ranges that constitute such an autumn, I would say that it’s fair to designate 55 as its end and the beginning of one’s winter, when death declares you fair game. That will probably change in the centuries to come, and you, reader of the distant future, might scoff at such an age or even at death. But I’d say that it fits for now.)

Simple yet honest considerations dug their way out of my subconsciousness as I walked under the buzzing Frigidaires hovering from windows above and passed the occasional dog-walker, one of the rare breeds of people who greet the sunrise. I wondered about the number of promises that the current Me had fulfilled at the request of my younger self, and I wondered if either would even recognize the other. My immigrant friends who had become naturalized citizens told me how they had changed as people in their new home country, how they could even mark such a transition when their dreams were no longer spoken in their native tongue. I had no clearly indicated marker, but in my bones, I knew it to be true. The past was now stirred in my immediate atmosphere, to the point where its smell coated the inside of my nose. As I passed by the dog park that clung to the cliff’s edge, I recalled faint memories of the family hound, long since dead like the rest. Much like the movie A Field of Dreams, I yearned to play with her one last time…and then, serendipitously, two playful faces had appeared in the fence next to me at that moment, barking their welcome to come inside and frolic alongside them. I accepted their canine invitation, and in the process, I met their two owners: sisters Ulva and Adela. Even though they were almost octogenarians, you would not expect such vitality from two women who had seen the passing of so many moons. Having lived through World War II in Austria and then migrating to New York City in the turbulent 1960s and 1970s, they had seen and experienced much over their lifetimes before eventually settling into Little Peru a couple decades ago. Ulva, the owner of the adorably feisty and small Herbert, had turned a bit bitter through suffering unrewarded risks and numerous failed marriages; her sister Adela was much like her Fünf, in that very little actually bothered them. For better and worse, against the opinions of their children who suggested a move to Florida, they had retired and then remained as steadfast citizens of Little Peru, through its various demographic transitions. And so, for a few hours every Sunday, I had the honor of being a temporary member of their family; I was bestowed with the gift of their company and regaled with epic tales from bygone eras. (For some reason, all history tends to sound so dramatically profound when compared to the present.) Through them, I had slowly accumulated a knowledge base about the history of my new neighborhood, learning about its politics and about its officials’ suspicious salaries that were double the incomes of their peers in New York City. And, though I would never have my original pup back, I also had the chance to play with my new ones, if only for a short while.

I examined the scribbled writings on the lids of the coffee before me. “Okay, so I think that this is the sweeter one, Ulva. And then that would mean the other has only cream and belongs to you, Adela.”

The elderly sisters graciously accepted their beverages and thanked me. As I opened mine and blew the bubble of steam away from its top, Adela looked at me with a sincerely affectionate concern. “So, Peter…how are you doing? Is that lawsuit in your building still happening?”

“Yes, how is that going?” interjected Ulva. “Is that German bitch still causing trouble?”

Contrary to all assumptions about the nature of central Europe, the two sisters had instructed me on the strained relationship between Germans and Austrians, how the latter considered the former to be pompously rigid and arrogant. So, when I had told them about the lawsuit and the German valkyrie Helga who helped to lead it, I found immediate sympathy from my audience. “Well, Hegla’s been pretty quiet lately, along with Bertha. Well…that’s not entirely true: they still complain about everything. But they do seem to be working on some sort of solution with their lawyer. It’ll probably involve some sort of compromise, like my public execution. If so, I’m inclined to oblige the request since I’d do anything not to suffer them. Plus, as Mark Twain said: ‘Never argue with a fool. Onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.’ And since I look foolish enough with my poor excuse of a beard, one that resembles more of my body’s attempt to grow a scarf around my neck…I think that I’ll do anything to look less stupid.”

As the two sisters chuckled, I took a sip of coffee. “Actually,” I began, “I’ve been spending more time lately on that pet project of mine.” Even though I hadn’t elaborated on the details of my amateur sleuthing about black market organs in Little Peru, I had confessed about dabbling with investigating some corrupt affairs of Captain O’Bannon. I wasn’t sure whether they believed me or not…but, in the case of such two charming commères, did it even matter to them? With no further need of details, I again found a receptive audience, and they were more than willing to listen and help when possible. “The plot definitely thickens…and much like a roux, you have to keep stirring in order to make sure that it turns out right. I’ve almost got the goods on O’Bannon…almost.”

“I can’t vait until you’re done with the story,” Adela pronounced, supportive as always. “I vant so to read your story in the Jersey Journal!”

I held up my coffee as a toast to her enthusiasm. “And I’ll make sure that you get the first copy when it gets in there! I’ve gotten some good leads…but I still have one big problem: no actual proof. Miguel and I were able to get into our boiler room of the building…but we didn’t find anything. I’ve looked around elsewhere, but for some reason, it’s nowhere to be found. He seems to conduct this clandestine business of his in some sort of secret lair…and I don’t have the faintest clue where it would be.”

Just as Ulva began to speak, a wrestling jumble of Fünf and Herbert tumbled into her lower leg, causing a string of guttural curses in German. “Herbert! Fünf! Get avay…I’ll throw you off the cliff if you do that again! Little shits…as I was about to say, you’ve said in the past that this funny business of O’Bannon involves something about medicine, right?” As I nodded, she continued. “Well…then if I vere him, I’d choose to go down to the retirement home. And, then, from there, I’d do this funny business in the abandoned subway tunnels under Little Peru.”

Slurping another injection of caffeine which hadn’t yet quite made its way into my bloodstream, it took me another few moments before the point of her words actually pierced my consciousness. “Which retirement home are you…wait a second…tunnels? No subway tunnels have ever run along the Hudson waterfront in Jersey. They’ve only existed across the river in NYC…!” I paused as I stared at them. “Right?”

Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion. For those who wish to read previous chapters of The Condo Chronicles, the Table of Contents is available.

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Condo Chronicles: Une Affaire de Dimanche

After a night of restless sleep with the nefarious demon Anxiety and wiping away somaticized sweat, I awoke groggily and bleary-eyed on an early Saturday morning, to a familiar sensation and subsequent conundrum. Arrrgggg…is that just some gas…or is that something more? On most occasions, as an amateur methane meteorologist, I’m fairly adept at predicting the strength of such storms, and my natural barometer (among other sensors) can give me an accurate picture in most situations. Unfortunately, on a dawn like this one, the waters were a bit murky so to speak, if such a phrase isn’t too gauche despite its relevance. Comfortable in my current position and trapped between the two sleeping bodies of Rhonda and my furry friend Flukeman, I now had to weigh the potential risks and rewards of my options. Hmmm…it definitely feels like gas…but there seems to be a bit of something else going on there. I could have momentarily played with the dials and tweaked a release valve, just to study the reaction and obtain a little more data…but as I had learned from past occurrences, such a simple measure could lead to disastrous results. Yeah, I’ve lost that bet before. And it’s not pretty. So, erring on the side of caution, I conducted a set of agile gymnastics in order to both leave the bed and not disturb its present occupants, and I made my way to the bathroom. After my successful sojourn, I was on my way back to peaceful slumber when I noticed the clock on the wall (which has ironically become a bit of an anachronism with each generation that follows). It took a second or two for my crusty brain to fully decipher the message being relayed by those two hands, which at that moment seemed to be as complex as a semaphore tower. The time was now 8:15 A.M., it appeared to say…

I finally opened my eyes at the realization of being tardy, experiencing a moment of panic not unlike when a college student suddenly becomes aware of a forgotten exam. “Awww, shit! I’m going to be late! She’s probably already there and waiting!”

Skipping the morning shower, I rushed back into the bedroom and surreptitiously dressed myself, not wanting to awaken Rhonda. With a quick pat on the slumbering Flukeman and with keys in hand, I quietly made my way out of our home, and with a need for haste, I ran down the stairs of the northwest stairwell in order to promptly exit the building. Per the weekly ritual that had been established, I grabbed three coffees on the way from Dunkin Donuts, stacking them into a large paper bag. Even though Little Peru doesn’t have a taste for most fast fare of the American diet, it still resides in the northeast corner of New Jersey, where a law dictates the installment of a DD every 1000 feet. One can claim that Puerto Rico is the home of Burger King and rum, and upon a similar observation, it can also be said that New Jersey is the home of the tomato and Dunkin Donuts (or White Castle, depending on who you ask). Their coffee and stations’ gasoline are the two types of fuel that drive all traffic on the turnpike. Rejecting the chain’s experimental failures labelled as pastries and with my hot beverages in hand, I briskly walked down the empty streets of quiet Little Peru, heading towards my rendezvous near the cliff’s edge. For the most part, I didn’t encounter a soul except for the odd Hispanic hipster on a skateboard (who wears a Goya shirt instead of the standard Wonderbread one) and the ubiquitous Hispanic mothers who bear the Sisyphean task of pushing their family’s laundry cart to the local laundromat. After a few quick turns, I finally came within sight of the small dog park that was my destination. Snugly inserted between the driveways of two adjacent homes, it was a small rectangular plot that hugged the edge of the cliff, only a few dozen feet in length and less than that in width. Trees served as bookends on either side, with one half of the park being dirt for its canine visitors; the other half had benches and concrete for those who walked on two feet, with the seating turned towards the view of the Manhattan skyline and the Jersey riverfront one hundred feet below. When I got close enough, I recognized two fuzzy faces staring at me through the gate, letting out barks that beckoned and welcomed me to their version of a clubhouse. Ah, they’re both here this time. Spotting the second dog, I realized that I was wise in bringing the third coffee.

“Okay, guys,” I shouted at a moderate volume, so that I wouldn’t awaken those in nearby homes. “I hear you, Herbert and Fünf. I’m almost there.”

With rampant pawing and crowding of the entrance, I managed to push my way past wagging tails and closed the gate behind me. They were an interesting pair of pets, to be sure. The smaller one Herbert was an odd-looking dog; he was a mix of a weiner dog and some sort of hound, whose body and inherent kinematics seemed to be the result of some mad scientist’s assembly. Having an exuberant personality, he somehow remained lithe and springy, despite a compact body and toothpicks for legs. His companion Fünf, on the other hand, was a towering figure of a dog and a bit more subdued. Unlike his hopping playmate and being more like a drunken friend at the end of a long night, Fünf preferred to lean against the legs of his companions and communicate his brotherly love with a sloppy smile and kind eyes. With the bag containing coffees in one hand, I leaned down to pat their familiar heads.

“For a second zere, I didn’t think that you ver going to show up! We were just about to leave. Fünf, get over here and leave Peter alone. You too, Herbert! Get over here!”

Without looking up and still in the midst of showering affection on man’s best friends, I responded to the calling voice. “Nah, no need. It’s okay. They’re just trying to say hello! And good morning to both of you, ladies. I apologize for running a tad late.”

A second voice, softer than the first, offered a response. “Oh, don’t vorry, Peter. We veren’t going anywhere. She just likes to be dramatic.”

Standing up straight once again, I turned my attention to the two ladies sitting on the bench in front of me. They were bundled in large coats as defense against a rather cool December morning and the arctic winds that slithered like vines up the face of the cliff. (Unlike his European cousin Eurus, the east wind of the Hudson never brings warmth but does remain unlucky for everyone, since it seems to have a nasty habit of only pursuing its duty in the tormenting thrall of winter. When needed most in the sublimating heat of summer, it seems to follow the crowds and head out on vacation.) Almost engulfed by their wardrobe, only the top portion of their faces were framed and visible from the puffy hoods of their down jackets, through which I could spot the glimmer of their kind eyes. Placing my own coffee on the seat next to me, I pulled the two remaining ones from the bag and held them before me.

“Ladies, you should never worry about my potential absence. Trust me: I wouldn’t even dare to miss one of our meetings.”

Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion. For those who wish to read previous chapters of The Condo Chronicles, the Table of Contents is available.

Condo Chronicles: Catharsis

I unsheathed a smiling grimace that would surely put fear into the heart of all children, including the overgrown one in front of me. “Does it matter why I want to know?”

“I don’t know,” answered Lance, employing a coyness by rote that had probably worked on his older relatives and nannies. “Does it?”

“Is this a game of 20 questions? Or did you just learn about the Socratic method the other day in model school?” Though I do wish that you were fond of the other Socratic method: drinking hemlock. “How about this: why don’t you stop fucking around with me and go get the artist of this masterpiece?”

“You don’t have to be a dick about it,” muttered Lance, before returning to his apartment and audibly redirecting his frustration and ennui towards all nearby revelers. Amy, meanwhile, remained on the ground, enjoying some other dimension unavailable to the rest of us.

Rhonda chuckled in the man-child’s absence. “Man, you really do hate spoiled brats…”

“You will never really know just how much,” I responded, wondering if Lance would have the perseverance to complete his quest or, surrounded again by flashing lights and shiny things, if he would just return to the party. “So, Miguel…how’s it going in the building nowadays? Did all of those leaks disappear by an act of God, like I was praying for?”

Miguel shook his head, amused at the thought. “No, amigo…it’s getting worse. Two other units now have a problem where the water gets into the concrete, into the building’s…” He paused as he sought for the right word. “…structure…and then dries out under the wooden floors, making all of the boards…” He then gesticulated with his hands and formed the graphical form of a sine formula. “…wavy.”

“Yeah, that’s called warping the wood. Sometimes, you can let that dry out, and it’ll mostly go back to its original shape. But sometimes…sometimes it never goes back to normal. So good to know the building is still in good shape! It’s also good that this lawsuit still hasn’t been resolved, since we wouldn’t want to fix anything right away anyway. And Brian and Babbu still resent me for not including them when Mayor Dwek visited us?” To which Miguel nodded begrudgingly. “Well, that’s about to be expected…hey, it could be worse, right?”

“Well, you’re in an especially rotten mood,” commented Rhonda. “How did your meeting with Joe and Donna go?”

I lowered my index finger and aimed it at the floor beneath us, noting this metaphysical moment in time and space. “Something like this. It’s been one hell of a day…”

The music had turned off in unit A6, and in place of the electronic symphony, the chattering voices and various salutations served as the precursors of the eventual departing cavalcade. On top of the usual cries of whining disappointment and a lone shout of no quiero, I heard the last remnants of conversations that had just previously been enshrouded by the pumping speakers. There were a few voices that seemed to be incessantly repeating the word society as part of some pseudo-intellectual discourse, while an inebriated girl punctuated her assessment of a friend’s beauty with “She’s a sexy bitch! Go ahead and smack that ass!” Some part of me actually wanted to bear witness to this spectacle of an exodus, and in my snarky disposition, I envisioned a procession of hipsters walking in formation out the door, attempting irony yet again by marching with only shakos and nipple tassels as clothing and beating large marching drums in unison. I was lost in such visions of independent cinema when I saw Lance’s head pop back into the hallway and look in my general direction.

“I’m sorry, man,” shouted Lance, attempting to be heard from the roaring din pressing against his back. “I couldn’t find Neve.”

“Who?” I asked, caught off guard while still in the midst of my daytime reverie.

“The girl who drew that pair on the wall over there. We can’t find her. She’s…” Lance said, before being interrupted by a loud crash behind him. “What the hell was that? I gotta go, man.” And with that, Lance closed the door behind him, and he began to berate someone over something. I assumed that whatever had broken retained only sentimental value, since I couldn’t envision him in possession of something truly valuable or in taste.

Rhonda turned to me. “Well…what now? Now, if you don’t mind telling me, why did you and Miguel get all hot and bothered over those two figures on the wall? Did you want an autograph?”

“You don’t remember, do you? I told you about it before. Remember when Miguel and I were in the basement, when that little punk stole something from…” I abruptly halted my explanation, as my other senses screamed for their attention. “Wait…do you hear that? It sounds like…crying?”

We stood in silence, as our small band transformed into a listening outpost. Recognizing the realization upon each others’ faces in unison, we distinctly heard the faint sobbing of someone nearby. In the past, having been annoyed by fire alarms of absent neighbors that chirped yearningly for a battery like a hungry young chick, it had been difficult to pinpoint the offending home with the acoustics of the hallway, until I had developed a method of pressing my ear against each door and plugging my other ear with a finger. Out of habit, I started to do the same right then, and understanding the logic of my insanity, my comrades adopted my practice as their own as we now investigated the source of this muffled sadness. As we stepped over the roiling Amy and made our way further down the hall and towards the northwest stairwell, it suddenly became clear to all that the sobbing seemed to be coming from the hall’s end, in the stairwell itself. Not wanting to get too excited at my suspicions but unable to contain my excitement, I bolted towards the door with abandon, and I swung its door nearly out of its frame. There, in the stairwell, was the same young blonde woman from so many months back, sitting in almost the same way as when I had first saw her. Unlike our introductory session, though, she at least now wore bra and panties, and her squinting eyes now shed slow tears that curved in rivulets down her cheeks, dropping down onto her breasts. The lips, though, formed the same snarl of dissatisfaction at being disturbed in an obviously vulnerable moment that covets solace.

What the fuck do you want?” she hissed.

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: Red Rum

“That’s right, Lance,” I chided at the bipedal greyhound donning his official SantaCon hat (with little else), who had served as the bane for our building on more than one occasion. “Uh-oh seems to be a perfect fit for the situation. Do we need to call the police yet again?”

“Come on, dude,” whined the mid-twenties Zoolander, whose dilated pupils reminded me of how fun MDMA could be. “Don’t be such a buzzkill and ruin our Friendmas. We just crushed some beers and cocktails, and we’re playing a little strip poker….”

Rhonda let out a note of exasperation. “Friendmas?!? We just finished Thanksgiving. It’s not even December!”

Lance frumpled his body in an attempted simile of a shrug, taking the hallmark gesture of the lazy to a new benchmark in apathy. “Okay…so we’re just starting a little early this year…”

“Did you think that you might be annoying the living shit out of everyone else on the floor, especially the parents of the sleeping newborns next to you?” I inquired challengingly. “On top of fucking up the hallway?”

Lance rolled his eyes in obvious annoyance at being reminded of common courtesy, pouting his lips and blowing air through them in order to mimic a chatty horse. “I don’t know…it’s just some washable magic marker that’ll come off…”

I never could relate to such people, especially in my troubled youth. In some bizarre way, I had envied them…and still did, to a miniscule extent. While they had been able to experience carpe diem with a cavalier attitude, I couldn’t help tormenting my young self with the thought of my own mortality, involuntarily conjuring symbols of my limited time as an electronic clock counting backwards or an hourglass of sand that ran through my desperately grasping hands. (Contrary to being entirely the product of my imagination, I must confess that the latter was probably an amalgamation inspired by the movies Krull and The Neverending Story. I can’t take full credit.) Recognizing that aspect and other insecurities as my own foibles to overcome, though, I eventually accepted the idea of having a date with death and also learned to swim in a sea of me, no longer yearning for the shore. But other differences were not mine to correct. Then and now, I had taken note of how the notion of entitlement seemed to be spreading much like a wildfire across an intellectually arid landscape, doing just as much damage as those insidious notions known as duty and sacrifice. It increasingly permeated all spheres of society. You could find it in the belligerent shouts of the working class, who raved for an orange-haired Machiavellian and who demanded isolationism as protection for jobs which they apparently now owned. (Though, one could make the argument that by shopping at stores like Walmart for decades, they might have nourished the globalization engine and had reaped what they had sown…but that’s neither here nor there.) And that’s simply one genus of brat to chronicle, for there are many more. In the case of Lance, we had a specimen of the type proles indulgentia. Pampered from birth, they knew only narcissism by being raised in an environment void of criticism and consequences, and they would only grab for flowers that sprouted from sidewalks since they had no patience for thorns, much to the delight of me and Jean-Baptiste Karr.

I made the same sound as Lance, though with more mocking gusto. “Well, maybe you should have, dude. So, either we call the cops and your parents…or you go inside to kill the party and then get some of your crew to clean all of this shit.” I pointed at the writhing nude girl on the ground. “And get Amy inside, before the ecstasy jumpstarts her libido and makes her start humping doorknobs.”

Lance tilted his head back as he pondered my ultimatum, so far back that his Adam’s apple began to protrude through his skin like a gestating alien onboard the Nostromo. Eventually, though, he made his decision and signaled his capitulation with throwing his head forwards, letting it hang there in acquiescing defeat. It had been a mighty struggle of wills within…but with great effort, he had finally come to a decision.

“Okay, dude…you win. I’ll go in and deliver the bad news to my bros. Man, this sucks…” Lance paused as he noticed our stationary stance. “So…you guys are just gonna stand there…?”

I nodded. “Yep. Go ahead. We’ll just be out here. Waiting.”

He shook his head and turned for his door. “Whatever…”

I stood there fuming, hating his parents for leaving me with the responsibility that should have fallen on their shoulders, when Miguel tapped me lightly. Snapping my head in his direction, I spoke a bit too abruptly, not realizing it before it was too late. “Yeah? What?”

A physically rattled Miguel patiently and slowly pointed his finger to a specific spot on the wall, and I followed its given direction to one of the doodles near us. Upon recognition, it was then my turn to raise my eyebrows and feel a subsequent chill run down my spine. There on the wall was a rudimentary sketch of a man in a red suit with a bag over one shoulder. At a momentary glimpse, it could have just been easily mistaken for another sloppy image of Santa Claus, the disappointed patron of Friendmas and Santa Con who probably would have preferred being a martyr instead of bearing witness to later inspirations…but, in this case, his bag of toys appeared to have sprung a leak, dripping large crimson drops beside him. More importantly, the tall elf at his side wore an uniform of blue rather than green, with a toy gun missing the required orange tip.

“Like in the alley,” Miguel whispered, seemingly clairvoyant since he was now reading my thoughts. Yes, my friend, just like what we saw in the security cam.

“Wait!” Lance stopped before entering his unit and turned back to me. I pointed in the direction of the striking images of the diablito and his armed escort. “Tell me. Who drew that?”

“Don’t worry, dude. We’ll get rid of it…”

“Did you draw that?” I don’t know why I even bothered asking that. It’s not possible that such a dolt could be the key to unlocking some dark mystery. I apologize, Lance. That was my bad.

“Me? I don’t think so…”

“Is that person still here?” I inquired, not hesitating to interrupt him. Even though my temper had eventually dissipated, my falling temperature began to rise yet again with my accelerating pulse.

“Maybe…why do you want to know?”

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