Hoboken – 2003
A rumor floats around the streets of Hoboken, more seedy than any of the “city’s” diviest bars. Years ago Manhattan was filled with vigilantes and mutants (or Superheros as your perspective might go), now the closest thing New York City has to the liking is a mayor who cleaned up the subways in a variety of ways. A new millennium, a new time – a time of change – a time where the only heroes wearing capes are those marked up in pricing at comic book shops. The stories of those who made a difference with their powers, skills, and influence regardless of whether or not that influence was for better or worse – bibles, being sold as fiction. The internet has changed society, and with that comes the change in history. Sure, maybe you only know these caped and tighted men and women from musky pages, but if you’re from Hoboken you might know better. Maybe you know one. As the rumor goes, Hoboken is where Manhattan’s discarded and fictionalized characters go, and who knows? Maybe the rumors are just that, whispers of made up stories to keep the streets a little nicer, to encourage the party animals to keep their drugs, their outfits, and their lifestyles in the bars – or better yet their homes. But what if they’re true? What if our little section of outer suburbia Manhattan is home to these chosen few? What do we do?
If you don’t believe the rumors, then you don’t do anything. You go about your business making your living, waiting for your grand return on investment. But if you believe, even if you just lack absolute certainty, what do you do?
Up until six or seven weeks ago I didn’t believe, and I sure as fuck wasn’t going to do anything about anything that didn’t directly affect my life. What happened those few weeks ago? Let me fill you in – March 28th I met up with an old friend. Every few months we catch up over cheap beer, a bad sports game, and eventually end up somewhere moments before closing time to grab the last few shitty slices of whatever pizza hadn’t met its fate with the dumpster yet. It’s incredible. Most are familiar with the old adage there’s no such thing as bad pizza – these nights are no exception. I made the mistake of soberly going back to one place a little closer to my apartment, and the pizza is awful. Be any poor bastard on the street listening to us sell you on Jo-Shmos pie, and you would think we were eating in one of New York City’s finest establishments. The last time we saw each other was no different. It was the Knicks versus the Nets, and while we laughed, cheered, and drank together, there was something off about Kris. He kept checking his Blackberry as if he was expecting it to explode.
“What gives man, new girl in the office? Waiting for a sexy email?”
Taken aback Kris fumbled his black phone back into the pocket of his recently pressed jeans and took a swig of his beer. Setting the glass bottle back on the waterlogged paper coaster, “no dude… just work.”
I hadn’t be entirely convinced, but before I could make anything of it Kris’ team lost the ball and ruined their chances of winning the game.
“Fuckin’ a, man”
“Sorry, dude. Plus side, I’ll buy you a victory shot since we’re taking this one home.”
We called over the bartender and ordered two shots of Jameson.
Time passed. We continued to bullshit, Kris continued to dick around with his phone, and the shots kept coming when Kris’ phone pinged. With nervous hesitation Kris opened his email.
“Kevin, have you ever heard of a failing bar owner on the brink of foreclosure who is magically able to pay off his bank loan, plus interest?”
“Yeah -” I started, polishing off the rest of my beer, “in movies about the mob.” My chuckle was stopped abruptly by the look on Kris’ face. “Kris man, what’s going on?”
Kris looked down at his mostly full beer, picking it up he motioned to the bartender for two more, plus two more shots.
“Not me, man,” he said mostly to himself, swallowing the last of his beer, “Not me, man.”
I waited for the rest of the story, and watched as Julia, the bartender, put down our drinks. Raising an eyebrow at Kris, “in for the long haul tonight boys?” Without waiting for an answer, Julia flipped her long blackish brown hair over her shoulder and strutted back to the other side of the bar. I’ve always felt that Kris and Julia should have been an item, but a few unconfirmed fucks was all it ever seemed to be.
“My client,” Kris’ voice cracked as he said it. “I think one of the bank’s – my client got involved in some shady shit.”
It had been two years since I left the bank to pursue sports writing, but before that I had only ever been a teller. Kris and I started about the same time, became friends, and before either one of us knew it I was offered a position at the paper and Kris was moved up to the higher side of banking. With his job being completely out of my pay grade, the best way I can describe his role was to set people up with business loans. I knew from personal experience one or two of them had been restaurant and bar owners – some of the bars we got soiled in were ones he knew the owners. Low bar tabs and excellent customer service added alcoholic fuel to our drinking fire.
“Lose your job shady? Or just ‘let’s not drink at that place’ shady?” I asked. Afterall, inquiring minds need to know – especially when they work for a newspaper.
“I don’t know yet,” Kris replied grim faced. At the time I thought it was the fear of losing his job that made him scared; looking back on it I think he knew more than he let on and was scared for his client, maybe even himself. Kris was always a good guy. Kept me out of more trouble than I should have ever been in. We grew up differently, and while I always helped him out, I definitely got the better end of the friendship.
“You know what they say, about the city’s vigilantes and shit from years ago coming over here and settling down?” Kris asked in barely a whisper, his brown eyes glazed over in a trance like state. His tan complexion washed pale, a crease forming across his taught forehead. Before I could answer, he continued, “you think maybe some of it’s true?” He blinked – his eyes searing mine with straight panic.
“No, dude. Why would anyone with superpowers move to Hoboken? They’re all probably living the life on some uncharted island us normal folk have no fucking clue about,” I said with absurdity ringing through my voice.
“Forget it man,” he said grimly, “You’re right. Why come to Jersey when there are islands,” Kris laughed. Whatever spell his nerves had put over him had washed away. He chuckled handing me a shot, “to better days ahead,” he said raising his glass.
“To superheros with better tans than even yours,” I added.
That was the last time Kris ever mentioned superheroes, vigilantes, or mutants to me again.
No less than a week later one of our top “feature” writers was put on assignment on a local bar fiasco. It wasn’t a fight or a brawl; it wasn’t an accident or a miracle. It was a bloodbath.
Kris was one of the injured. Now, I’ve always had an inquisitive mind – it was something that catered itself to the amount of trouble I got in as a kid – in some ways it taught me to stay focused in a peripheral way. Get the facts, write the story, don’t affect anything. Looking back, I would like to think that even if Kris hadn’t been injured my journalistic nose would have sought out the facts of this night, but I know I wouldn’t have. Injuries, points, plays, and trade rumors were what I enjoyed and was paid to write about. Not fist fights and bar brawls.
Maybe the only way to process everything that’s happened is to report on the injuries, display the points, describe the players and the plays, and ignore the rumors and the hype.