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.

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