Remember when I wrote about Google Poo? Ha ha ha…that was funny wasn’t it?
…What do you mean that this is no longer a joke? People are actually calling for that?!
After several years of grueling work…well…maybe grueling is a bit strong. But it was a good deal of work! In any case, I finally present the Condo Chronicles in its final form.
I bid you say welcome to Tales from the Sixth Borough! Read and enjoy!
Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.
However, it was one day in the office, in the midst of posting to Facebook about the various announcements and happenings of West Guttenberg, her favored world collided with the real one. In the last few minutes of the previous day, she had posted something about a local missing man and about a reward for any provided information…and per usual upon every morning, she always checked for comments to the the posts of the previous day. When it was warranted, she would engage with the citizens of West Guttenberg in the most professional way possible. (Though, it sometimes required the utmost patience, since trolls have a way of testing one’s resolve. For every acerbic comment that she would read, she would have to watch a benevolent cat clip in order to clear her palette. It was her way of balancing yin and yang.) After only a few sips of her iced coffee, she reviewed the post of the missing man, and as she reviewed the comments below, she found her temperature plummeting to a degree below her beverage.
Even though nearly half of them were in Spanish, she could always use Google Translate to grasp their meaning. It seemed that some of the commenters were making serious accusations about how the red-suited men had gotten a hold of this missing man, how it was a Satanic group of cannibals that ran around the town who acted with total impudence. Of course, others ridiculed these conspiracy theories and then made a mockery of it with jokes about these diablitos, who had come to munch on the chocha of each abuelita. And though the flame war ensued (as they do in each comments section, since it is less of a place of discourse and more of an opportunity to hurl pejoratives and to utilize one another as the metaphorical “emotional tampon”), her focus remained on the subtext of this pointless banter. Unlike them, she actually knew a group of men who wore such red suits and who made it a habit to lurk in the shadows. When she went home that night, she couldn’t shake the feeling of something being amiss, as much as she tried to drown it with poorly made cocktails that were ameliorated with the combination of a milkshake.
And for the next few days, her apprehensions and ambivalence continued to take their toll on her, as she constantly fended off these persistent suspicions. Unlike those of us with a few grey hairs, she hadn’t yet achieved that sort of disposition who gains from a history of walking away; with our callous skin that brandishes scars, we forget how the first time is such a scary proposition. Such an option was completely alien to her, and in that moment, it wasn’t even a possibility, not after placing so many of her chips on one square. Instead, she would rather watch the roulette wheel indulge its appetite by spinning off the gameboard and consume her like Katamari Damacy, all before she would dare to take one step away from the table. A cacophony grew louder around her; more devils and more angels crowded on her shoulders, shouting to be heard above one another. Paralyzed and frozen like an indecisive drunk before the display window of a liquor store, she would have remain transfixed to her metaphysical spot if it wasn’t for the more reasonable side of her, knowing the ultimate carrot for any young woman: curiosity. It prodded and teased, and in the end, the yearning to resolve a mystery overcame all.
So, she created a new Facebook account with a different alias, and with a minimal amount of effort, she befriended a wide circle of the citizens of West Guttenberg, including the friends of the missing man. Winning their confidence with sincere affection, these buddies informed her of his recent money troubles, though he oddly seemed upbeat and unworried despite his financial woes. And when messaging with her new Facebook friends with wild conjecture and gossip of her own fabrication, she worriedly learned how such a disapperance wasn’t a complete surprise to them: it seemed to fit a particular pattern. Even despite some of their more wild points, there seemed to be a consensus on those reported missing. Mostly, these poor souls who disappeared were in dire need of money, had no family in this country, were obsessed with amassing a small fortune, and (most importantly) had a questionable legal status. The more she learned, the greater her suspicions grew…
But Catelyn wasn’t stupid. Nothing was to be gained from confronting Ciro. At best, it could all be a coincidence and a complete fabrication, born of her imaginative paranoia…but her doubt would spurn his love and possibly end what they had. At worst, he could be the monster behind an expertly coiffed mask, and she could become the next one to be missing, joining those long-dead mobsters who had made the wetlands their permanent home. (Plus, if she did ask him, what answer would he give but a denial? Such an imposition would be utterly pointless and futile.) There was only one way to truly find out: she needed to catfish Ciro’s cabal as an inquisitive, prospective buyer. It was an obviously dangerous move, but at this point, she needed a definitive answer. Even in the beginning, she felt a certain moral ambiguity about it all, but her trust and love in Ciro had tipped the scales earlier. But now, in the face of these recent events…her moral compass may have spun wildly in the electromagnetic field that was Ciro, but it was not broken.
Using the various skills and knowledge attained within the last few months, she forged her social media masterpiece, something akin to a forged passport of the Cold War that was undetectable even by the KGB. It was skillfully layered, being connected and verified by other false accounts, all of which were hooked into accounts of the real world. Goddamn, she thought, Sometimes I amaze myself. And with her Hattori Hanzo in hand, she strode out into cyberspace and presented herself to one of Ciro’s people, unabashedly saying:
“Hey, I’m a friend of a friend, and I’m in need of some merchandise on ice. I heard that you had some problems with your last batch. I don’t deal where there’s risk. Tell me straight – everything’s good on your end?”
She didn’t know what the response would be, not expecting much – and that was when Pandora’s Box opened to reveal its horrors.
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.
And so began a passionately torrid affair between Catelyn and this modern-day Tiberius on his rocky cliffs of Capri. She had pledged herself completely to this new pursuit, throwing her soul and her body into this relationship, even if that meek inner voice continued to whine with its constant dubiosity. Though he was obviously an experienced, older man who had spent his time dabbling among ladies, she exposed him to some of the fun activities that didn’t so readily come to mind for those of his generation, like voyeurism and exhibitionism in particular. He showed some reluctance at first, but it doesn’t take long before he eventually acquiesced to the infectious enthusiasm of a persistent young woman. On several dates at dinner and with a tablecloth of decent size, she had guided his hand up her skirt, letting his fingers explore their way around her as others dined only a few feet away. One night, she went down on him in the back of a late night movie theater (though it almost didn’t count since it was yet another SNL movie that left the entire room empty). She convinced him to have sex in a number of bathrooms, including those of Jersey City bars on a late night during the work week. One time, when they had been in the city, it was the public restroom within the Museum of Sex. As she explained it to him beforehand and afterwards, it was a rite of passage for the sexually adventurous. (Though she decided to be tasteful and omit the fact that it wasn’t the first or second or even third time that she had inducted another member into that society.) Even though it took an even longer amount of time, she eventually persuaded him to move their titillating trists to outdoor spaces.
On one Saturday of spectacular weather so fine that it scorches itself into one’s memory, they took a trip down to the marina adjacent to Liberty State Park, where Ciro kept a 34-foot sailboat named Rubicon and joked about how he so often crossed it. (Since Catelyn wasn’t so much of a history buff, he had to explain the meaning of such a terrible joke to her.) Even though it would have been more convenient to keep such a boat in the marina of somewhere closer to West Guttenberg (like Edgewater or Englewood Cliffs), this marina in particular was a place where older men respected the privacy of fellow owners and, as Ciro described it, “knew how to keep secrets”. With deft hands and without her aid, he maneuvered the boat into the Hudson River, where he taught her the basics of sheeting in the sails and running the helm. They jibed and tacked the whole day amongst the busy traffic of the river, and she let out a slight scream with laughter as she took both of their lives into her hands, dodging both the mammoth ocean liners and the nimble, cavalier speedboats. (Like everyone else on the river, she found herself hoping that the former would accidentally squash the latter, since the DB factor of the speedboats seemed fairly high.) When the evening began to fall and with barely enough light to see, the Rubicon found itself near the craggy Jersey coast, just past the George Washington Bridge (or the GWB, as the locals like to say) and its famous miniature lighthouse. After dropping anchor, they brought out the food for a small picnic on the bow, and since Ciro was such a history buff, he explained to Catelyn the irony of the GWB and Fort Lee, given how Washington and Lee hated each other in life but now their respective bridge and town would be linked together for posterity. (She didn’t really care about history all that much, but she wasn’t about to admit such and appear less intellectual.) They ate and drank for a while on the polished deck, waxed on philosophically like drunken college freshmen whose arguments yearned to even ascend to something considered sophomoric, and then they fucked awkwardly (since balance is required on the bow) until the moon could be seen peeking out voyeuristically from behind the skyscrapers. Afterwards, while lying on their backs and staring up at the nocturnal canvas that could offer no stars to compare with the light from NYC, he admitted that it had been a longstanding dream to have sex on a boat, ever since he had seen one video with Traci Lords. She laughed and nodded as if she recognized the name, though she didn’t have a clue.
And in time, she exposed him to more than simply how to play outside the sheets. During one conversation about travel, she confessed that she had never left the country, and the only destination vacation was a booked trip with her friends on AirBnB to Fire Island. When he inquired as to the nature of AirBnB, she explained through an analogy, stating that it was like a ZipCar for apartments owned by people. When ZipCar failed, she patiently tried to iterate through an applicable list of consumer-facing technologies, until it eventually included all of them: Etsy, GroupOn, Kickstarter, Tumblr, MySpace, Twitter, Facebook. Ciro had heard people speak of them, but he knew nearly nothing about them.
As a millennial, it was beyond her comprehension. He smiled at her: she had yet to understand the nature of the Palisades, how time had stood still here despite the accelerating hands of the clocks on the eastern side of the river. “You’ve never been on Facebook? Even once?” When he shook his head, Catelyn had to pursue the line even farther. “You mean that you used no social media in your mayoral campaign last year? At all?!?” After shrugging his shoulders, she vociferously pointed out that he was ignoring younger voters, and she begged him to let her start the social media accounts for his administration. He consented, and over the next weeks, she worked tirelessly to establish his presence online. Learning as she went, Catelyn got his accounts verified in the case of both Facebook and Twitter, and she even took a stab at creating a subreddit for the mayor’s office of West Guttenberg.
After showing him the results and the positive feedback that she had cultivated from her more benevolent posts (like the announcement of a new dog run being built), His Honor was more than impressed. He promoted her as a full aide to his administration, and he granted her the honorary title of Social Media Manager, the first in the history of West Guttenberg. So overwhelmed with the opportunity and so gratified with its bestowment, she didn’t even mind the inevitable jealousy and lost friendships that would ensue with the other aides, how they would all complain and plot behind her back in grievance for having been overslaughed by the mayor’s new tart. Again, it was destiny that had brought her here, and she wasn’t going to look back over her shoulder. She was now both his professional and romantic companion, and they were unstoppable. And so, during one of their postcoital conversations, she thought nothing of it when she asked if he remembered the night of their first meeting and the group of men who had huddled quietly around him. At first, Ciro balked and tried to change the subject, but unlike the girl from only a few months ago, this new Catelyn felt empowered and wouldn’t accept ‘no’ for an answer.
After a few minutes of her cajoling, Ciro finally said, “There’s business that I do that…you may not like. But if I tell you this…you cannot repeat it. In fact, if I tell you about it, then I expect you to help me. When I tell you, you’re in, and then, we do it together. Understand? Are you sure that you want to be included? Because afterwards, there’s no going back.”
It’s destiny…and there was never any question. There was never any going back. And with that thought, Catelyn slowly nodded before giving the answer that would be the most influential decision made in her entire life. “Absolutely. Yes. Now…tell me everything.”
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.
After snippets of susurrous conversation at her desk, Catelyn and Ciro finally made the arrangements for a date in the city, away from the prying eyes of West Guttenberg. He reserved a table for them at the 21 Club on the night of the upcoming Saturday, and he and his driver would be at her apartment beforehand to pick her up. Immediately after accepting his offer and complimenting his choice in restaurants, she quickly did a search online in order to learn the story of this establishment (of which she hadn’t the slightest clue), going to Yelp first and then Wikipedia and then scouring any other link to be found. With every subsequent click that revealed a bit more about this staple of the Big Apple, another wave of intimidation crawled all over her, making her shift uncomfortably and eventually causing her to break out into a cold sweat. Even though she wasn’t some dumb honky girl like the others back home, she was far from sophisticated, and she had yet to step inside and confront the grandeur of such a place. (As a young girl who would sneak away to watch Sex and The City, though, she was fairly sure that she remembered the episode shot inside it…which made her panic that much more.) And once inside such a place and lost in its various expectations of protocol, she was bound to commit some form of gaucherie and make a fool of herself. She was just sure of it…and then what would her potential beau think of his new dulcinea? She was in the midst of an email requesting another restaurant from him, since her diet required a gluten-free, vegan fare (which was an unimaginative, bold-faced fabrication)…when she suddenly stopped herself short and took a stand against her fearful insecurities: she was going anyway, and she would not make a fool of herself. Now, she just needed a plan…
First and foremost, what to wear? Catelyn owned nothing that especially spoke of class, but she had always daydreamed of certain clothes, especially a certain cocktail dress and matching bag that came from Kate Spade (along with a few other accessories). But that ensemble (along with shoes) cost a small fortune, with money that she didn’t own. Or did she? She still owned the car that had brought her small crew of friends to New York City, and after they had left her behind, she had kept their eastbound wagon, sitting inside of it on a few occasions while drunk and having a few good cries that were nostalgic of times now past. “I’ll always keep it for the sake of those memories,” she always told herself. However, that was only half of the truth: Moheomga also served as her contingency, her lifeboat to go back home to Pennsylvania if times became too much to bear. (She had named it with the Korean word for ‘adventurer’, when she had asked for the translation from the Korean car dealer.) Whenever she found herself in the backseat of that car, in those lachrymose moments with the taste of gin in the back of her throat, she had often thought about getting into the driver’s seat, turning on the engine, and following I-78 all the way back home. But now, was it the time to decide the fate of poor Moheomga, once and for all? Should she run from this affair that seemed like a delusional fantasy and seek some other path, in the driver’s seat of her faithful iron horse…or should she sacrifice her loyal steed for the sake of furthering this one adventure? Once again, she found herself inebriated and sobbing in the backseat of her four-wheeled Artax, and after shedding a good many tears, she thanked her companion of everlasting loyalty for all the dependable company…and then she gave her kiss and her rolling tears to the back of the driver’s headrest as a final goodbye.
Having liquidated her prized possession and with cash in hand, she bought all of the necessary gear for her date with both Ciro and with destiny. With Saturday’s arrival (and having barely slept the night before), she awoke in sixth gear and raced around madly throughout the day, preparing for the night ahead. By the time that Ciro and his driver arrived in the classic Lincoln towncar, she felt somewhat secure in her choices of adornment, and though still nervous, she came downstairs and (probably for the first time ever) hopped into the car with some sense of actually being beautiful. Based on the reaction of Ciros’ face, she wasn’t the only one that thought so.
And apparently others shared the very same opinion. She turned a few heads at 21 Club upon the couple’s entry, and even though she had arrived with apprehension cawing from her shoulder, it slowly started to recede in volume with the quick glances from other men around the room and with the subsequent drinks that followed. At their table, the anxiety returned for a while with the attentive service that’s normal for any reputable dining but that was completely foreign to Catelyn. She almost died when Ciro gently laughed at her question about the necklace around one of the more bossy waiters…but it’s to be expected that a small town girl from Pennsylvania would be unable to identify the tastevin around a sommelier’s neck. We all suffer such misadventures when we wander away from our comfort zone; it’s an almost essential component of every memorable experience. If one journeys to Montreal and attempts to employ French by telling a native J’aimerais bien manger beaucoup des poutines (but mistakenly uses putains for the last word), one might become asphyxiated since all the adjacent air will be drawn for the ensuing laughter. (Not that this raconteur would be familiar with such a scenario.) These small things at the expense of oneself make the world a more entertaining place, for you and for everyone else. In those moments, we absolutely hate being in such a predicament, but we learn to love them upon reflection and replay them within our mind to reminisce the timeline of our short lives.
But aside from a few token embarrassments, she eventually shed her anxiety as the night went along exceedingly well, as she and Ciro drank and ate to their hearts’ delight. They talked and joked for hours on length, and at the end of their meal, they were taken on a tour of the restaurant’s secretive cellars from the Prohibition era and to the secret dining hall from that age past. With all of the wine in her head, the night swam past her so quickly; she momentarily thought that she would drown in it all. They returned to his car and driver, and with her lower leg now over his, they drove back to the Palisades via the Lincoln Tunnel. She felt in such an optimal mood that she confessed all of her paranoia preceding their date, laughing and joking about it with him the entire ride back. When they finally arrived back at her building, they briefly kissed along with giving each other a quick “Good Night”, and placing her hand upon the door handle, she let it rest for a few seconds before she turned back to him. Smiling, she said, “Why should it end here? I’ve always wanted to see the house of the mayor.”
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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?”