Condo Chronicles: Cliche but True

And so, wearing her lucky pantsuit from the Angel Street Thrift Shop that rode the fine line between respectable and trendy (and which was her first adult purchase upon moving here), Catelyn played hooky from her normal part-time job on a Thursday and instead arrived at the city hall, waiting patiently in one of their lobbies decked in its fashionably retro (i.e., outdated) design of lightly-colored wood panels and brass fixtures. (One advantage of classic designs is that the money usually spent in updating them can best be put elsewhere…like in one’s pockets.) In those few minutes before her appointment (and instead of playing Candy Crush), she made the best use of it by quickly creating her first iteration of a LinkedIn page and by practicing her answers with online questionnaires. But after a quick, brusque interview with the secretary of the mayor, she hadn’t expected a response of any kind, and she honestly didn’t expect any sort of notification, having been on the receiving end of silence many times before. So, it was much to her surprise when the offer of employment finally came: her first day would be the Monday of next week, if she chose to accept it.

Nervously excited, she arrived at city hall, clad in a new ensemble that she had put together over the weekend using her modest wardrobe. With a modesty that was in no way insincere, she took her apprenticeship earnestly, and she took all of the secretary’s lessons (and all of their inherent, boring minutiae) to heart. The secretary, though far from inconsiderate, definitely fell short of amiable or helpful, doling out only small snippets for time to teach anything. Catelyn would have been in dire straits as a nascent civil servant, but as it turned out, several of the aides for Mayor Massaco were especially sympathetic men. That, or they were horny for a young girl…in the end, she didn’t care as long as she could get the paperwork done right. They would spend the time to teach her the proper protocol of handling civil issues and the various ways how one can steer clear of legal transgressions, much like a veteran captain knows how to navigate the dangerously shallow neck of a river. In time, they became her colleagues and friends. And so, when they invited her to attend a holiday party thrown by Mayor Massaco, she obliged their invitation, spent all of her meager savings on an acceptable outfit, and came without any preconceived notions to the doorstep of Rumba Cubana, nearby in old Guttenberg.

Scenic with its eagle’s eye view of the Hudson River below, the restaurant with its rushing valets and its bustling crowd created an atmosphere that was still foreign to Catelyn’s small town sensibilities, even after her years of residence. Though it wasn’t immensely fancy, it was nonetheless impressive to her when the staff escorted her through the restaurant’s main dining area and into the back room for private parties. Her colleagues welcomed her into the fold, and with a Cuba Libre in one hand and a crispy empanada in the other, she quickly abandoned all pretenses while regaling her comrades with her best jokes, becoming more comfortable as the minutes sped by. And when she spotted Mayor Massaco across the room, she decided to take advantage of her liquid courage by crossing the room and formally introducing herself to her boss at large.

Like any inebriated young woman possessed with the benevolent spirits stored in bottles and invoked by music, Catelyn paid no attention to nuance or subtext, for a good mood abolishes the awareness of all negative potential. Even though His Honor was exchanging words with an encircled group of somber, older men, she was confident that they would welcome the company of a perky girl with a figure and a nice smile. And, strangely enough, she happened to be right. After a few pleasantries and polite anecdotes, the confidential circle dispersed extemporaneously, and much to her own surprise, she found herself in the exclusive company of her municipal superior. It was only then that her newfound confidence absconded away, and she realized how she might have just overstepped her bounds. She began profusely apologizing…but Mayor Massaco would have none of it. Instead, he complimented her candor, and after learning of her hometown, he relayed his earlier adventures as an enlisted man in central Pennsylvania and asked if the old Air Force office was still located around Mechanicsburg. “My first name is Ciro,” he explained, “But my friends call me C. And since I now count you among them, I expect the same.” And after nearly an hour of conversation, Catelyn felt that she had a new confidant in life.

In the weeks that followed, His Honor would usually talk with his secretary, but he always made sure to drop by Catelyn’s desk as well, just to spend the time for a small chat. It became custom for either he or an aide to extend her an invitation for various after-work activities. One week it would be karaoke at the local Irish pub, another week it would be to bravely descend the cliff’s steep staircase (since the Palisades spit on the cowardly proposal of a funicular) and dance in a supper club along the river. Each consecutive week, though, the numbers of their small band began to dwindle, with various members giving reasons for absence. And eventually, there came a time where it was just three of them: Catelyn, the mayor, and an aide. After several drinks and playing the part of a raconteuse, where she recalled the ribald stories of young women like herself and her hometown pals, it was when the tertiary member of their crew excused himself for the bathroom when Ciro finally made his confession: he had developed an affection for Cateyln and would like to see her exclusively.

Catelyn didn’t have much in the way of wisdom, but she knew the various cliches associated with this kind of situation and how people would react to it if she did indeed accept his offer. How they would say that she had daddy issues, how they would say that she’s probably a fan of Fifty Shades of Grey, how she was trying to sleep her way to the top, how Ciro might have done something like this before…she was aware of all the likely scenarios and consequences. She was young…but she wasn’t stupid. Despite all of that, though, she knew one thing with even more intimacy: she was lonely and without a great deal of options. Without knowing it, the exodus of her friends, her relocation to this strange neighborhood, and the quiet of her spacious apartment had finally made a dent in the armor that fit tightly around her. After the past year of solitude, she had finally started to reconsider her decision, thinking that maybe she was on the same fuse of her friends but with a delay. Confused, she found herself unable to grab a hold of any conviction born of introspection…but she came to a decision anyway. No young woman wants to admit a mistake, and she’ll run miles in shoes lined with broken glass before even entertaining the thought. And though he was the oldest man that she had dated (but not by much), he was still attractive to her, with his peppered hair that favored white and his large frame that only carried a little more weight than needed. And it didn’t hurt that he was an intelligent man with power at his fingertips. “This was fate,” she told herself, “And I was meant to be here, at this moment.” And with the forethought of expediting a response before the aide’s return, she whispered ‘Yes’ and gave him a quick, tender kiss.

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: Perpetual Destiny

There was a quick exchange in the brightly-lit hallway between Rhonda and our surprise guest, who seemed to be showing some last-minute reluctance, much as a child with self-doubt reconsiders stepping onto the stage of a talent show…but, finally, the younger female voice acquiesced in comments of yielding tones. Rhonda opened the door for her… and in walked the nefarious ghost, the nearly naked crying girl from the stairwell who had haunted my thoughts for the past few months.

Only a few weeks ago, after the disastrous introduction between Joe and Donna, I had just resolved my issue with Lance when I had found our lachrymose damsel in distress on the only clean steps in our building (though her acerbic tongue made her more of a siren than a distraught princess). My offers of assistance fell deaf on her heavily-pierced ears, but Rhonda’s matriarchal disposition seemed to have more a calming effect than my pleas. After what seemed only a few moments, my wife had somehow managed to herd her emotions into calm pastures, and unbelievably, our blonde valkyrie sans armor had been rendered a defenseless calf, crawling into my beloved’s arms for warmth and sustenance. Choosing not to call the police for the moment, we welcomed her into our home, where we could put some color into her cheeks and offer her some respite from whatever in the world seemed to torment her. And this is where she told her story.

Her name was Catelyn Gingrich, and having grown up in a small town outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, she and her friends had always talked about eventually moving to New York City someday. Like so many girls of her age, seemingly among every generation, certain cities morph into mystical places that offer untold riches in wisdom, romance, and personal enrichment. For some young women, Paris and London become an irresistible beacon; for some, it becomes a wild place like Montreal; and yet for others, it becomes NYC. They have no skills to further any chance of success, but plans are for those who lack an adventurous soul. They conspire to make their way together, with only a few scant funds and their friendship needed to keep their dreams afloat…and, then, one fateful day, they load their meager belongings onto their boat (i.e., a crowded sedan) and make their terrifying journey on asphalt rivers, to the city that might swallow their souls (according to their preachers and mothers). Before they left, you could have warned them with an analogy about the danger of meeting one’s heroes, how you might have created ridiculously high expectations for them, how you might eventually wish that you had never met them in the first place…but they wouldn’t have listened, instead laughing and cheering as they floored the accelerator and peeled out of the local grocery’s parking lot.

And such was the case for our dear Catelyn and her friends. They found an overpriced but still barely affordable apartment on the Lower East Side, and all four of them crowded into the small space that was originally meant for two. Working at menial jobs around the city, struggling to even becomes baristas, they enjoyed the excitement inherent to the daily struggle of life in a city that commands you to stay on your toes. They dated an assortment of men, and they even tried a few rounds of pansexual petting at places like The Cubbyhole. However, after a couple years, the novelty of such experiences began to wane, as it does with every nomadic coven of young women who pass through this town and occupy these winding streets that also rebel against grid-like structures. More importantly, they always find a surprise: that the city does not impart any riches or, contrary to all popular television, teach any wisdom from the mouths of its friendly denizens. Instead, its greatest gift comes in a different form: as the ultimate catalyst, forcing the seed within you to grow and to discover the self that has remained hidden from you for so long. Catelyn and her crew of childhood friends learned this lesson the hard way, as the late night conversations along the Highline and in the 24-hour diners led to those moments of catharsis and the metamorphosis of the soul. One or two learned how much they really valued their family and their sense of home, and they vowed to return to their native land. The others realized how much they valued space and piracy, and they forged a plan to live somewhere more green and spacious. As New York City never remains the same thing for very long, perpetually changing and making you vow to change as well, they kept their promises…and much like many others before them, they departed somberly through the very turnstiles of the city that they had so joyously spun through before, the same ones that generations have used to pass through this place. This place that for some, of the few who choose to stay, eventually will call home.

For like all the rest who stay, Catelyn knew one thing: there was nowhere else that she felt a sense of belonging. She had a strange allure to the dichotomy of this place, a place where one could feel profound isolation and claustrophobia simultaneously. It was a place where you could be inspired and decimated many times in one day, and you could laugh with a bloody chin and clenched fists. Catelyn wasn’t a poet of any kind, but despite not having the ability to provide any verbose explanation, she knew that the taste of this special place rolled across her tongue like an oenomel, like the fiery myriad of diverse flavors that one encounters with a sip of Calvados. Though she knew not the future, she knew that nothing was left for her but disappointment in Harrisburg. However, determined as she may have been in that act of commitment to new home, there was now one stark fact: she now had no means of living on her own in the city. It was only then that she had learned of the cheaper prices and more abundant space waiting in the sleepy towns that roosted among the cliffs of the Palisades, and looking for another new adventure, she had moved to the small, casual neighborhood of West Guttenberg.

Much like the other towns surrounding it and much like Little Peru, its constituents were mainly Hispanic, and she had to adjust with the little Spanish that she knew…but, in the end, she acclimated to her new environment with a speed that surprised even herself. She had left Manhattan as a girl, and learning to stand on her own two feet in this place, one which she hadn’t even known to exist only a few years before…she felt that she was finally a woman. (Who might still wear yoga pants with prints out of sheer laziness, but hey, all journeys start with baby steps.) After a few weeks of commuting into the city and back for an office job that barely exceeded minimum wage, it only made sense to look for employment somewhere closer, if possible…but in the sleepy residential towns of the Palisades, where business offices were as welcome as rehab clinics, that proved more difficult than expected. There were a few bars and restaurants looking for work, but a white girl who did not speak Spanish was at a great disadvantage. It was only when she went to the city hall of West Guttenberg to fight a parking ticket, that she finally caught a break with the discovery of a sign: Assistant Secretary Needed for the Office of Mayor Massaco. “What a great opportunity! To work nearby and in support of my new community!” she thought to herself. Suddenly, she imagined a future as a townie of this small hamlet, throwing off the coat of a wanderer and even becoming a community leader of this place that she could call home. And this Mayor Massaco sounded nice…finally, for once, everything was going to work out in her favor.

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: The Inside Advantage

“Wait a minute…are you telling me…you’re not actually going down into those tunnels? Are you out of your mind, Doctor Jones?” asked Joe, his voice rising to a higher octave and teetering on the edge of incredulity.

He not nuts. He crazy! My inner commentary in the voice of Short Round probably wasn’t that far from the truth…Organized quickly after my rendezvous with the Austrian sisters, our plenary meeting had full attendance in the living room of Donna’s place, with all invitees before me: Donna standing behind the kitchen partition, Rhonda and a lively Octavio on the couch, a visibly shaken and pacing Joe, and me. Much to my pleasant surprise, we had managed to convene without Huiwen’s presence. In my eyes, the meeting was already a success due to that fact alone. After listening to my plan, though, I could tell that Joe had to come to a much different opinion about the current forum.

I appeared to consider his question thoughtfully, in order to give my proposition more gravity than it probably deserved. “Yes…and, ummm…maybe.”

“I don’t think that it’s all that crazy,” Octavio commented, smiling much like anyone with youth would in the face of audacious schemes. “Actually, I think that it’s kinda dope.”

Joe closed his head and shook his eyes, much like a bucking maverick might attempt to rid itself of the annoying cowboy atop him. “You’re going down into those tunnels…to find what exactly? And how exactly would you find it, whatever that is?”

Donna cleared her throat. “Yes, I have to agree with Joe. It seems a bit crazy.”

“Listen, Pete, I get it, you want to find some sort of proof, but you don’t know if anything is down there,” said Joe boisterously. “Hell, even Donna agrees with me, and that should tell you something! We need real proof, not some urban spelunking. Let’s find that first before you get yourself arrested for something so stupid!”

“I know that it seems crazy,” I replied, “but I think that it’s a good lead to find the smoking handgun. As for actual proof, something we can stand on…we already got it.”

Both Joe and Octavio straightened their posture and bolted upright in response, while Donna, the model of sophrosyne, commented with the arch of one eyebrow. For her, it was the same as doing jumping jacks in place.

“You have proof?” blurted Joe. “Since when?”

Rhonda and I exchanged flashing glances, and with a quick nod, she rose from the couch and quickly exited Donna’s home.

“Where’s she going?” asked Joe. “Again…since when?!?”

“Just recently,” I answered quickly, knowing the ensuing maelstrom that was bound to envelop the room if I didn’t get my lips moving fast enough. “Now, listen, before everyone goes bananas, do me a favor…everyone is gonna stay cool, right? Because I need everyone to keep their cool before we go any further. Sooo…we’re good?” Though I received calm affirmations from both Donna and Octavio, I received only a reticent silence from our formerly-charismatic traitor to the enemy. “So, whaddya say, Joe?”

“I’ll try,” he responded dryly. “But like I was asking before, where did Rhonda go…”

On cue and on time, Rhonda opened the door just a crack, focusing her attention and whispers onto me. “So…are we ready?”

“One sec,” I said, holding up my index finger. “Okay, like everybody was thinking…we need proof, right? We need something substantial? So, that’s true. But we want something more substantial than simply something. What if we had more than that? What if we had someone, somebody who was on the inside of this whole thing?”

Now on his feet, Octavio pointed towards the door. “You got one of those twisted red suits to spill the beans? I’ll be honest, if you got one of those guys out there…”

“Shut up!” I yelled, preempting his outburst and keeping a finger locked onto his face. Preemptively cutting the wire leading to an impending explosion of threats, I could now easily spot his various tells. Despite all the maturity for his age, he was still his age. It couldn’t be helped. “You’re not doing shit…and, no, there’s no red suit who’s turned traitor. Sorry.”

Joe stared unwaveringly towards the door, waiting in suspense for the surprise guest that had become the belle of this ball. “If you got Richie behind that door, I’ll throw my shorts into Donna’s wok and cook ‘em up so that I can eat them right here.”

Detached and yet still unable to betray her annoyance, Donna spoke in a barely detectable tone of condescension. “I don’t own a wok…”

I shook my head. “Nope, I don’t got anybody like that. However, I know that this thing is a lot bigger than we all thought. Ever heard of Mayor Massaco?”

“Yo, I know that dude,” answered Octavio. “I’ve seen his campaign commercials on TV all the time, ever since I was a kid…he’s been around a long time, right?”

Even more acquainted and settled as a townie than even Octavio, Joe immediately smiled at the mere mention of the name. “El Douché? The mayor of West Guttenberg? The guy who has his hands in all the right pockets of the Palisades? You’re telling me that old bastard is mixed up in this, too? Not that it’s really a surprise…”

“Looks like it,” I began, “And, no, he didn’t have a lapse, suddenly developed a conscience and wants to spill his guts to us. So, no, he isn’t out there with Rhonda, either. However, there are people who work with him, some who know about the dirty details and who have access to some incriminating pieces of paperwork.” I couldn’t help smiling, once again basking in our good fortunes. “Now that kind of person, we do have.”

A silence ensued as our conspiring consortium held their tongues. Eager to turn the page, they remained transfixed and waited patiently, like a summer audience of Parisian children at the foot of a puppeteers’ stage.

“Okay,” I said to Rhonda. “I think that we’re all ready. Bring her in.”

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: The Dogs, the Austrians, and the Retirement Village

Leaning against the chain fence, with the skyline as a backgrop and the rising sun warming my back, I pondered Ulva’s question. “Do I consider myself a Jäger…hmmm…so, are you offering to buy me a drink? Because I’ll be honest: much like Dave Attell has said, I don’t think that anything good has come from a shot of Jäger…?” I laughed at the puzzled expression on their faces. “Get it? A shot of Jäger? Heh? Guess not…Anyway, I don’t speak German, but I know what Jäger means. So, like you were asking: am I a hunter?” I smiled at a few faint memories. “Sure, when I was a boy. I had a .22 Savage rifle for hunting that was a family heirloom and a .25 pistol to finish the job, both passed down to me…but after I left West Virginia behind along with everything else, I’m sure that my no-good old man probably pawned them for booze and hookers, and they’re lost to me forever. And that was decades ago, so I’d say my hunting days are long gone. Why do you ask?”

Adela, despite her age, drank her coffee in the most coquettish way possible. “Ulva is trying to be clever, in her own silly way,” commented Adela, ignoring the furrowed white eyebrows and accompanying scowl directed towards her. “She is trying to ask vhether you have heard of Jäger Park.” Shrugging my shoulders, she leapt at the opportunity to continue, much like the dogs who were jumping onto their hind legs and begging for a drop of her liquid treat. “Ever been a little southwest of here, where there is a huge graveyard on the vest side of the Palisades?”

Even though I wasn’t yet adept at all of the spatial relations concerning my territory, I had ventured out and create a small map of the area in my head. That graveyard, in particular, was a hard one to miss. “Yeah, I’ve walked by there during one weekend stroll with Rhonda. And I remember spotting a big complex nearby, a big sprawling building and campus not too far away from it…that’s Jäger Park?”

“Yes,” Ulva answered, regaining her foothold on the conversation. “Jäger Park is a private park, and many years ago, it vas much larger. It went all the vay to Secaucus, if you can imagine. But they sold the land over the years, and now that big patch is all that is left…”

“Huh…and that big sprawling building?”

Ulva nodded. “Und Altenheim. A home for old people, especially for old Germans. And I suppose us Austrians, if ve asked nicely…” Ulva laughed at the mere suggestion of such prostrating, which I knew was as likely as a bloodless Saint Patrick’s Day in Hoboken. (Though, Saint Patrick’s Day in Hoboken doesn’t actually take place on the actual holiday of its namesake, since it doesn’t want to compete with its larger peer across the water. That way, the revelers get to drink twice as much, and both towns get rich off the carnal events dedicated to a saint. Everybody wins except humanity and the unfortunate children conceived that night to lushes.) “To be honest, I vould not go there if they begged me.”

“So, those entire wings on the north and east sides of the park…they have windows that look on the graveyard? That isn’t where they get buried when they pass away, is it?” I inquired, feeling a great pang of apprehension about the answer.

“Sadly,” Adela whispered, “For some, that is true.”

I shook my head. “Jesus…that’s like building a McDonald’s across from the grazing pasture for some livestock. Even though I appreciate a good joke, even something like that goes a bit too far…So, what’s the relation between this park and the abandoned tunnels?”

Scouring the ground, Ulva picked up a stick and threw it towards the grassy patch nearby, in order to put a stop to the dogs’ incessant begging. Falling for the ruse, the competitive pair chased after it, and as always, they began a tug of war for its possession. “It is called Jäger Park because it vas a place to practice hunting. It had horses to ride, and underneath the park, there vas a shooting range. It vas a destination for miles around, so much that the New Jersey railroad created a small line and station, just for it. Vhen the subway tunnels vere being dug, one of their first goals vas to connect them to the popular park…”

I heard an audible click occur, much like a joint in one’s leg when you stand and shift your weight from one to the other. Except, in this case, I heard it between my ears. “Wait a minute…those tunnels connect to the park, to the station underneath it? And there’s a way to get into that station?”

“When Adela and I vere there during Oktoberfest years ago, during vhich they still have a big party, ve valked around, since one of the older Germans liked Adela and vanted to take her out on a date. Like alvays, she got the attention from the boys…And so, he showed us around, including the shooting range and a locked door that vent underground. Vhen ve asked him to vhat, he did not know…but I knew the railroad logo on the door from old pictures. I knew vhere it vent.”

Could it be true? It was certainly possible…For much like the trolley lines of Jersey City now covered with layers of asphalt (and, more than likely, a few civilizations beneath the shifting sands of the Sahara), history has a propensity for entombed secrets, and people are more than willing to bury the past…which was always strange to me, since I’m so inclined to dig it all back up. For the vast majority, history seems to carry a sort of pejorative connotation, and once certain things meet their end of immediate relevance, they find themselves in the same category as spoiled milk. People are no exception. The names of 9/11’s honored dead on the walls of Union Square station have become faded labels that fall into the background for passing commuters, and on a modest and sparse stretch of lawn in Sleep Hollow Cemetery, a great figure like Andrew Carnegie rests in the ground with only the raccoons and their shit for company. So quickly all is forgotten…so why not a few abandoned subway tunnels and railroad stations as well? Since there are a few in Manhattan that must tragically endure the trespass of urban explorers and partying hipsters, why couldn’t the same exist here? And why couldn’t I be the one to unearth them from their isolation? Finally, unlike my other juvenile aspirations, my boyhood dream of becoming Indiana Jones might actually come true.

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: The Forgotten Railroad

The wily raconteuse smiled at my obvious ignorance of local history and its more coveted secrets. “Of course, Peter, you vould think that. And I could not blame you. Even many of its locals born here vould probably think the same. Tell me, did you know that trolley trains used to run along the streets of Jersey City and such?” As I shook my head, she continued. “Vell, it is true…the trolley trains stopped long ago, but me and Adela, ve vere here when ve saw them pave over the roads, burying the past with layers of asphalt. After a vhile, everyone forgot about them…but I did not.”

“Wow,” I said, captivated by yet another history lesson. “Really? I had no idea. It’s a shame that it’s all gone. I mean, it’s not as bad as that NYC proposal of tearing down Grand Central decades ago, but still…they could have left some of the trolley tracks, at least. Like what they did with the Highline in the city.”

“Yes, I vish they had kept them as well. And the telephone booths, I miss those too…” started Adela, now caught in a trajectory of nostalgia.

Ulva rolled her eyes with the annoyance commonly found among older siblings, especially when they must spend more than a few minutes in each other’s company. “Yes, Adela, ve know. And you vant people to still use alarm clocks instead of their phones…Nobody cares! As I was saying before interruption, this side of the river vas being built up around one hundred years ago. They got the trolley running first. And then they got the tube tunnels to Manhattan going…And then, Boss Hague and some others on this side started building tunnels here to connect with the subway in Manhattan, so that you could ride a train up the far West Side…”

At this point, I felt some fabric of reality being torn from the mural of New Jersey inside my head. As any Palisades townie can relay to an outsider, the Hudson River is more than simply a physical divider between New York City and the array of towns that form its opposing line, resembling some sort of municipal scrimmage. It also marks the demarcating point between two different cultures of habit, where space is introduced between two different types of people who need breathing room. Sure, there’s a PATH train with distinct stations in Manhattan that connect to New Jersey, but it is more of an airline tram than an actual subway, small in size and reaching only a handful of stops on its way to Newark. The suggestion of an actual extension to a NYC subway line, one that would fully integrate these two communities and states even further, to the point where this corner of New Jersey actually became the sixth borough, creating a scenario where one could pick up some smoked fish from Russ & Daughters and then catch the train to Weehawken and even Little Peru…It was enough to stun me momentarily. Though far from being technologically impossible, it seemed so much like the stuff of science fiction. Strange, though, how far civilization has come since a hundred years ago, where we can now unlock the various mysterious of the universe…and yet how far we have regressed when building a tunnel seems impossible due to bureaucratic concerns, agency corruption, and union negotiations. At times, progress resembles a pair of bratty children on a seesaw, where both little shitheads are intent to knock the other off.

In any case, Ulva could see the thoughts rummaging around in my head, since my slack jaw had descended far enough to allow visibility into my cranium. “Yes, that vould have been something, right? Who knows…maybe they vill decide to do it again. I read something about how Senator Schumer wants to make it happen. Maybe after the Hudson Yards are built…”

“Wait, wait, wait,” I interrupted, knowing the risk inherent after witnessing Adela’s reprimand. “So, you’re saying that the Palisades’ cliffs have tunnels built into them, like some sort of anthill? That they’re even running under Little Peru…No joke?”

Ulva shook her head as she stroked Fünf’s neck and ears, as the dwarvish Herbert continued to annoy his larger companion by playfully nipping at his legs. “No joke. The deal fell apart, and the tunnels vere never connected to the city. And they’ve remained empty and forgotten for almost one hundred years.”

“Yes, they’re really quite something,” added Adela. “I had a boyfriend who claimed to have gone down into them long ago, using a secret entrance in the vall of the Edgewater Tunnel. He said that they are really quite something…”

“Yes…and he also claimed to have seen the Jersey Devil wrestling Bigfoot when he vent camping in the Barrens. And everybody knows somebody who has valked through the Edgewater Tunnel…but nobody has actually ever done it! Really, Adela, you vill believe everything anyone tells you…you need to find a new place to meet men.”

I wonder if there’s a place for German speakers to date online…like JDate, except that it would be called GDate. But naturally, GDate and JDate likely wouldn’t get along…

“But,” I began, attempting to distract the sisters from their lifelong rivalry and myself from tangential thoughts. “There is an entrance to these abandoned tunnels somewhere…”

Ulva placed her coffee beneath her nose, as she was often fond of doing. She seemed to love the smell of coffee even more than its taste, told in volumes by the calmly joyful expression on her face. If you hadn’t known of the beverage or its quality as commercial-grade at best, you would swear that she was savoring something sublime as expertly as any sommelier, and even Taiwanese tea masters might envy her keen ability to discern nuanced flavors. “You know, Peter, this town vas founded by Germans and Austrians almost two centuries ago. The Italians and Greeks vere here later, and then the many types of Hispanics came…but ve vere here first. Ve built its beautiful Lutheran churches and great cathedrals, before they later fell down. Ve built arenas and complexes to Germanic culture, long before any tunnels or trolley came around. Some of those buildings are still stand, and there are still a few German-speakers who live around here. And if you spoke German, you vould hear a secret or two about hidden doors that still exist…”

“And, let me guess…since you speak German, you might know a secret or two?” I asked, pleased once again at having the fortune of such acquaintances.

Ulva slowly and confidently drank a sip of her coffee before answering. “Ja…I might know a secret or two.”

“So, tell us, Peter,” interjected Adela, surprisingly and cryptically, “Since you grew up in the country, are you any good vith a rifle?”

“What she means to ask,” spoke Ulva, only adding to my confusion, “Is this: do you consider yourself a Jäger, Herr Bolton?”

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.