The following is from Paul Goldberg’s novel, The Château. Goldberg’s debut novel The Yid was published in 2016 to widespread acclaim and named a finalist for both the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature and the National Jewish Book Award’s Goldberg Prize for Debut Fiction.
Bill passes the security gate at 6:17 a.m.
He is not the first inhabitant of the Château to step out into darkness.
Three others — sad-faced men circa seventy-five, plus/minus ten — stand outside the building, waiting patiently as their little white dogs contemplate emptying their tiny bladders and bowels.
There is a joke about such men:
Why do Jewish men die before their wives? Because they want to.
It’s possible that these men are goyim, but the joke still stands. Goyim are people. This is about dogs. These dogs aren’t dogs. All three — no, wait, there are four … All four are well under the weight limit of fifteen pounds specified in the condo “dos and don’ts” Bill noticed on the Web site. He happened to click on “pets”; he has no idea why.
These dogs don’t apprehend tiny bad guys, they don’t sniff out little explosives or baby cadavers, but they do have a mission: they substitute for the grandchildren who don’t come to visit.
They aren’t especially good at breathing, which is why they sometimes ride in baby strollers. They spend their days listening to complaints, about “mommy,” about “daddy,” about the sadly deteriorating physical and (allegedly) mental health of both, about doctors who overcharge while failing to acknowledge the obvious signs of mini-strokes and myelodysplastic syndrome, about Obamacare, about unappreciative, rude family members, and, of course, about crooked condo boards. Svolochi …
The dogs listen and they wheeze. If they could kill themselves, they would. When you are smaller than a cat and lack opposable thumbs, it’s hard to pull the trigger.
Why do these dogs get Prozac? Because they need it.
Bill runs past the silent, scooper-wielding sentries at the Château’s gates and heads north on Ocean Drive.
It seems all the buildings around him are shedding their balconies. Steel rebar protrudes from their sides, awaiting encasement in concrete.
Imagine replacing all the balconies on one of these forty-year-old high-rises. You don’t do it through competitive bids. You do it pursuant to local customs. Deals are concluded on chartered boats 12.1 miles offshore, outside U.S. territorial waters.
Bill has done his homework. He has enhanced his considerable prior knowledge with assistance from Messrs. Google and Kozachok. He has read up on local business practices and, what do you know, Melsor’s stories check out. Out there, in open sea, with only Flipper as their witness, contractors harmonize to make a $2 million job into a $6 million job with another $3.7 million hiding in change orders. You can make a lot on the main job, but don’t neglect the change orders. You don’t bid out those; they are a layer of cream on the pasteurized dullness of milk.
New balconies that have replaced the old shine with chrome and glass — airborne aquaria. The logistics and, for that matter, economics — and let’s not forget political economy — of balcony replacement are transparency itself.
You knock down the old balcony, you jackhammer the floor inside the apartment to bury new rebar, you leave it up to the folks inside to refloor — if that’s a word. The windows get pitched. Time to refenestrate. The storm screens get shit-canned, too. Half of them don’t work anyway. With this simple maneuver, you have just spent $80,000 on the balcony and forced the poor bastards in every apartment to spend at least another $40,000 on floors and windows.
With the subprime credit line the condo board took out (without anyone’s approval) from a friend at a local bank, the out-of- pocket for each apartment is $150,000, depending on how long the board decides to keep the credit line gushing — and how much it wants to spew out.
With all the multipliers accounted for, with all the line items considered, Bill has just run past a couple billion dollars’ worth of economic activity spread over less than a linear mile of Ocean Drive.
Let’s say you devoted your life to screwing other people. You break no more laws than you have to. You avoid being disgorged. You build up a goodly stash. You move to Florida. You get fucked by your condo’s BOD. Your stash gets drawn down. You try a new fraud, but it fails. The world is changing; you are losing your touch. You move on to a lesser place, or you start whacking people across their backs with your crooked cane until Dzhuyka carts you away. You might die in the middle of it. You might want to.
You will make room for fresh, idealistic sixty-seven-year-olds to take their turn at the good life by the sea.
Sunrise this morning makes the ocean purple. It’s orderly, well-behaved, a good boy, waiting in its proper place, separated from the Broadwalk by one hundred feet of sand.
A tractor drags a sand plow to groom the beach much like one brushes the little white dogs Bill just saw ambulating, wheezing. The Broadwalk lies a foot above sea level, maybe two. One big wave and this Hollywood Health Spa, which happens to be a Russian bathhouse; this Hollywood Grill, an Armenian restaurant that actually looks intriguing; and this Italian joint called Sapore di Mare, will wash away into said mare.
Bill tries not to blame the glum-faced people around him for having triggered a host of political disasters, the most recent of which is the rise of King Donal’d I, who tomorrow will be crowned. Forget xenophobia, forget the wall, forget making fun of the handicapped, forget the FSB prostitutes, forget the golden showers, whether or not they flowed! Here is the biggest incongruence: Floridians voting for a climate change denier are akin to concentration camp inmates embracing the ideal of racial hygiene. At least that’s what Bill thinks, and his beliefs and his speech are protected by the First Amendment.
Massive towers are rising along the oceanfront, some bearing the Trump name. Twenty-story buildings like the Château were once thought to be tall; now, forty floors is about right. These towers contain apartments costing tens of millions, money that seems disposable to so many people. Do they recognize that they are building in the path of something far more ominous than the biblical flood?
That flood came and went. This one will come and stay.
There was a story Bill read in The New Yorker a bit more than a year earlier, in December 2015. The point: Florida is Ground Zero of global flooding. It sits as low as Kansas — about six feet above sea level. A drained swamp, it is cursed with a high water table. Its buildings, big and small, sit atop water-soaked limestone, and it takes pumps to keep this territory from drowning.
Bill read this piece in Washington. He read it the way most of his elitist friends read it, all of whom reached the same conclusion: let the fucker sink. With their chads hanging, they gave us George W. Bush, who gave us the invasion of Iraq in search of imaginary weapons of mass destruction. That was before this thing, this Donal’d F. Tramp. Let the waters come down, God, flood the place at your earliest. Maybe swimming with the fishes will make these kakers realize what they have done. Make sure you extract proper repentances before they drown. Oh Lord!
But now Bill is here, in Hollywood, running on this preposterously named Broadwalk. Should he hate the people who are starting to show up in this under-caffeinated darkness? Can he hate the red-haired grandmother who shouts in Russian into her cell phone? That word again: “Svolochi!” It’s omnipresent. Might as well make it English.
Can Bill hate this life-battered, middle-aged couple emerging from the place Melsor calls Margarita Will? They were born Caucasian, presumably, but their skin has acquired the texture of distressed cordovan leather. They stand silently, staring at the ocean, dragging on their Camels, getting their early-morning pick-me-up, saying nothing. They are a bit older than Bill, or at least they seem to be. Theirs was a one-night stand or a thirty-five-year marriage; either way, nothing to talk about. If they couldn’t drink, they would all go insane.
And here comes an overweight gentleman on a rusted, squeaking, folding bike with little wheels!
In the past, people came to Florida to die. They still do, but now they insist on stuffing the planet into the coffin with them. If death is boring, the end of the world is the most boring thing imaginable.
Bill is unable to blame these people for getting distracted by something else, anything else, even this Donal’d Tramp.
Paul Goldberg is the author of two previous novels: The Yid, a finalist for the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature and the National Jewish Book Award’s Goldberg Prize for Debut Fiction, and The Chateau. He has written two books about the Soviet human rights movement as well as an expose of the U.S. healthcare system. He lives in Washington, D.C.