“How in fuck did we go from a nice, quiet Thanksgiving dinner for just the two of us, to a dinner party for eight?” my boyfriend asked as we walked home from school on Tuesday afternoon, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.
“Well, we couldn’t exactly say no,” I pointed out. “No one put a gun to our heads either. But once we agreed, we couldn’t exactly back down when Roger asked. In for a penny, in for a pound, as they say, what ever that means.”
“Contrary to what most Americans think, ‘pound’ refers to a pound sterling… not to a pound of weight. So, penny and pound are units of British currency, in which case the expression makes perfect sense.”
“Wiseass,” I replied. “Why’d I hafta fall in love with a home-schooled genius?”
“I’m no more a genius than you are, Ash,” my boyfriend countered. “I just had the opportunity to learn at my own rate. I wasn’t held back by the slowest kid in the class the way you were. We were both smart enough to get into Stuyvesant. If we were geniuses, we’d be in college by now.”
“College?” I replied. “I don’t think so! There’s genius and then there’s genius. You might not think you’re a genius, but you sure as fuck talk like one.”
“Give me a break,” Seth replied. “I didn’t grow up around regular kids. The way I talk is just a part of my charm.”
“Doofus,” I responded.
“You can call me a doofus all you want, but I’m not the one who got us into this mess,” Seth countered, “so what are we gonna do?”
“Well for one thing, we’re gonna hafta do a lot more shopping,” I answered, “but on the plus side, we don’t need to prepare as many dishes.”
“Yeah we do,” Seth countered. “We weren’t even gonna make our own pumpkin and apple pies. We already have the pumpkin pie we picked up at Trader Joe’s, and we won’t even need it now. But instead, you’ve committed us not only to roasting a turkey and making stuffing, but you promised to make Cajun turkey and spicy pumpkin soup.”
“Yeah, but those are easy,” I countered. “The only things that’ll be new to me will be the roast turkey and stuffing, and for those I’ll have your help.”
“Such as it is,” Seth interjected.
“Joel is bringing green bean casserole, Clark is bringing the soft drinks, René is bringing homemade cranberry sauce, Jessie’s bringing candied yams and Roger’s baking homemade pumpkin and apple pies.”
“And how are we supposed to keep a kid entertained?” Seth asked.
“A nine-year-old is old enough to entertain himself,” I countered.
“Yeah, but it’s not like he can participate in the conversation or anything,” Seth challenged. “Hell, we won’t even be able to talk about sex, you know? We’ll have to watch our language.”
“You don’t know that, Seth,” I disagreed. “You can’t tell me you didn’t know or weren’t saying fuck when you were nine.”
“Not where my parents could hear me,” responded Seth.
“And Kyle’s parents aren’t gonna be there either,” I replied. “As far as I’m concerned, we should follow Roger’s lead. If Roger feels comfortable talking about sex or using foul language around his brother, we shouldn’t worry about it either.
“And as far as entertaining him, maybe like most boys he’s into sports. Maybe we can plop him in front of the TV and let him watch football all afternoon.”
“Maybe,” Seth agreed. “You do realize we’re gonna have to move dinner to my apartment, though, don’t you? Guess I’d better ask permission from my parents, but there’s no way you could fit a dinner party for eight around your dining room table.”
“Shit, I hadn’t thought about that,” I admitted. “Actually, I could, but it would be cramped for sure.”
“Cramped? Your dining room table barely accommodates six with the leaf and extra chairs. No way you could fit eight. Maybe if you put your dining and kitchen tables together in the living room, but then you’d hafta move all the furniture.”
“No, you’re right,” I agreed, “your place is much better suited to entertaining. The open layout is much better that way, but your kitchen!”
“What about my kitchen?” Seth asked.
“Only that it was designed for someone who usually eats out,” I answered. “I mean, it’s basically just tucked away in the corner. There’s virtually no counter or cabinet space, the fridge is one of the smallest I’ve seen outside of a dorm room, and you only have one oven. The microwave is suitable for heating a frozen dinner for lunch, but not for anything more than that. You don’t even have an island. Where am I supposed to prepare anything?
“No, we’re still gonna hafta cook dinner at my place. We’ll just have to carry all the food across the street to your place when it’s time.”
“I guess that’ll work,” Seth replied. “Call it a two-apartment dinner party.”
“So, getting back to making preparations, the turkey we ordered on Sunday that we thought we could stretch to serve four isn’t gonna be nearly enough for eight.”
“But didn’t the butcher say that a twelve-pound turkey could serve eight people?” Seth asked. “Didn’t he say we needed a pound-and-a-half per person?”
“There are two problems with that,” I replied. “Firstly, that ratio may work for adults, but we’re feeding seven teenagers and an active nine-year-old boy. I’d figure on two pounds per person, which means a sixteen-pound turkey. That’s still a smallish turkey, and we’ll have no problem eating the leftovers I’m sure.
“The second thing is that I’ve now promised to make Cajun turkey. That means we need a second bird, ’cause I can’t use the same bird for both. The preparation and presentation of the two are completely different. But maybe having the Cajun turkey means we don’t need as large a turkey to roast.” Getting out my phone, I said, “I’ll call the butcher and see if I can order two twelve-pound turkeys instead of just one.”
It was a good thing I called, as the butcher had accidentally sold my turkey to someone else and didn’t even have the one I’d ordered. I was livid and when I told him my parents would be taking their business elsewhere, he suddenly came up with a couple of turkeys for me. Of course, the only way he could have done that was if he sold me someone else’s turkeys that they’d ordered, so I told him thanks but no thanks, and that my parents would make the decision themselves as to whether or not they wished to continue doing business with him.
For expediency, we headed for the Chinatown supermarket of Manhattan, at the corner of East Broadway and Pike. It might not have the freshest selection or the best deals, but we could find everything there and, hopefully, a couple of turkeys. The turkeys they had out front were pathetic, however, and I started to worry that, if I couldn’t find something else at one of the many other butcher shops in Chinatown, or maybe even from one of the Kosher butcher shops on Grand Street, I might have no choice but to swallow my pride and take the two turkeys I’d already been offered. Fortunately, I recognized the butcher and asked him if he had anything better in back. He brought out a couple of beautiful sixteen-pound birds that were otherwise perfect for our needs, and so I bought them. Being able to speak Mandarin definitely had its advantages.
While we were at the supermarket, we picked up additional vegetables we would need to serve a larger group, and we picked up a couple of medium-sized pumpkins, suitable for making the soup. When we got home, we headed straight for my apartment and put everything away. It was a challenge fitting everything in the fridge, and I ended up stacking things that probably shouldn’t have been stacked, and we had yet to put away the turkeys. “I don’t know where I’m gonna fit thirty-two pounds of turkey in here,” I lamented aloud.
“We can keep the turkeys at my place until you need them,” Seth replied. The fridge might be small, but there’s almost nothing in it.”
“Yeah, I guess we’ll just hafta make do,” I replied, and so we headed over to his place. “Using fresh turkeys requires a lot more care. You can’t just leave the turkey out overnight to thaw out. My parents taught me never to use frozen anything. Nothing tastes better than fresh. Instead of being raised in a factory, loaded with chemicals, slaughtered, frozen and then shipped across the country, our birds were raised nearby in Jersey or Pennsylvania, in real cages with chemical-free feed. They’re sooo much healthier.”
“But aren’t you worried about salmonella?” Seth asked.
“The poultry sold in Chinatown is used in restaurants that serve tens of thousands of tourists every day,” I replied. “That’s how I know I can trust it. No one knows better how to handle poultry. When you see a chicken hanging in the window of a butcher shop in Chinatown, you know it’s clean, safe and fresh. When you see a chicken in the butcher case at the local Swine Fare,” Swine Fare was our nickname for the corner grocery in our neighborhood, “more than likely it’s contaminated with feces and has been sitting in the case for a week after being in transport for a week. The only thing keeping the salmonella in check is all the antibiotics they loaded the bird with before it was slaughtered.
“You can get an organic turkey at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, but it still won’t be as fresh as the ones we bought in Chinatown.”
“The ones you bought in Chinatown,” Seth countered. “You speak their language. Your parents buy their stuff too, and the markets can’t afford to lose their restaurant business. If I tried to buy a turkey in Chinatown, I’d probably end up with a bird that no one else wanted.”
“I think you’re right,” I agreed. “I guess you’ll just hafta keep me around.”
“Ash, I’m never letting you go. Not in a trillion years.” I was about to object that the universe wasn’t nearly that old, but then Seth covered my lips with his and it was a while before either of us was able to talk after that.
“The new stereo sounds good, boys,” my dad exclaimed as we listened to Bill Evans while eating a breakfast of grits and cheese. The two of us were still spending the night in my bed in my apartment, even though Seth’s parents had left town on Sunday. Yes, my parents were around at the usual times, but they gave us complete privacy so long as my door was closed.
The view notwithstanding, sleeping over at Seth’s just wasn’t as practical. We could have had the place to ourselves but sleeping separately in bunk beds wasn’t the same, and making out in a bunk bed had proven to be quite awkward. The first time we’d tried, I ended up bopping my head when I’d have rather been giving it. My bed might not be very big, but it was plenty big enough for two young adolescent boys even when they were horny.
“Seth, would you prefer cash, check, PayPal or ApplePay? Dad asked.
“I don’t think ApplePay allows transfers that large,” Seth replied.
“They do if it’s coming from a business,” Dad indicated.
“Probably still should make it a check,” Seth replied. “No point in letting Apple sit on my money.”
“Most kids your age wouldn’t even think of that,” Dad said as he got out his checkbook. “You’re absolutely right, though. You may only earn pennies on it, but those pennies should be yours. There’s no point in letting your money enrich someone else’s pockets, and certainly not those of anonymous shareholders.”
Seth got out his phone and photographed the check Dad gave him, front and back. “There, deposited and in my savings account.”
“But how?” I asked. “You didn’t even go to the bank.”
“Simple.” Seth answered. “I opened up my bank’s app and used it to take photos of the check. The app reads the data on the check and sends it to the bank, where it’s cleared with your bank. The whole process takes a few minutes, and I don’t even hafta send in the check. It’s a paperless world, Ash.”
“Wow,” was all I could say. I’d no idea such things were possible.
“And not all those Apple shareholders are anonymous,” Seth added. “At least I’m not.”
“You own Apple stock?” I asked incredulously.
Nodding his head, he replied, “My dad bought some Apple stock, shortly after the original iMac came out, and it did surprisingly well, especially after the iPod came out. He bought a pile of it in my name when I was born.”
“Holy shit, that was before the iPhone.” I commented.
“You got that right, and you know how successful the iPhone has been. Anyway, Dad has been investing in the stock market for years, and he’s very good at it. He has an eye for stocks that are about to take off, just as Apple’s did. You can’t make much money in politics unless you’re corrupt. Dad went into politics to clean up corruption… so he needed a day job… a way to make money that doesn’t rely on his political connections. When Dad bought me that bunch of Apple stock when I was born, he put it in my name for tax purposes, and he’s bought me stock every year on my birthday ever since.”
“How much is it all worth?” I asked.
“Let’s just say that it’s worth a lot more than your dad’s record collection, but it’s off limits until I go to college or start up a business, or whatever else I decide to do with my life. I really do get an allowance and I don’t even spend most of it. The rest goes into the bank, for the future.”
“Wow! I’m marrying a rich man! But with all that money, why were you home schooled?” I asked. “Why didn’t you go to private schools instead?”
“Two words,” Seth answered. “Bret Kavanagh. Regardless of what you think about his appointment to the Supreme Court, he’s a spoiled brat and part of that was from going to Georgetown Prep. Dad went to Harvard on a full ride scholarship and while there, he met a lot of kids who’d gone to private schools. To paraphrase what he says about them, they’re a bunch of obnoxious, stuck-up, condescending pricks who think the world is lucky to have them in it, and he didn’t want me to turn out like them. I could have gone to a Catholic school, but he didn’t want that kind of religious indoctrination forced down my throat either. My parents did the right thing.
“And it’s me who’s the one who’s marrying a rich man,” Seth went on. “Wealth has more to do with what we have than how much we have, and in that regard, I hit the jackpot.” What a sweet thing to say!
“Boys,” Dad interrupted, “You need to get to school.”
“Oh shit yes,” Seth responded as he checked his phone and checked on when the next bus was leaving.
School was only a half-day, with shortened classes and a program in the auditorium. Seth and I had already finished our papers that were due after the holiday and so our time was free. We headed first to my parents’ restaurant, where my mom had an early dinner waiting for us. It was a good thing, too, as there was absolutely no time to eat once we got started with our Thanksgiving preparations.
We stopped first at Seth’s apartment and picked up one of the turkeys from his refrigerator. We’d retrieve the other one in the morning. In the meantime, we headed up to my place and began our preparations for tomorrow’s meal. “The first thing we’re gonna do is make cornbread,” I began, “and a lot of it.”
“Cornbread?” my boyfriend asked in surprise.
“Of course, cornbread,” I answered. “Cornbread is a fundamental part of Cajun cuisine and it’s very likely that the Southerners actually got cornbread from the Creole, who came down from Canada with the French trappers long before there was an America. But when you think about it, the very first Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock very likely included cornbread and not wheat bread. Remember that the indigenous peoples of the Americas had what we call corn but they didn’t have wheat until European settlers introduced it to the New World. The so-called Indians had a flatbread they made with cornmeal, and that was very likely what they served for the very first Thanksgiving dinner.
“I’ve been playing around with my Dad’s best cornbread recipes and I’ve done some research on the Internet, and I’ve developed my own cornbread recipe that’s not only gluten-free, but frankly makes some of the best cornbread I’ve ever tasted. We need enough to serve eight people and to make the stuffing.”
“Cornbread? For the stuffing?” Seth asked in surprise.
“Of course, cornbread for the stuffing,” I answered. “Haven’t you ever heard of cornbread stuffing? Not only is it healthier than traditional stuffing, but it tastes sooo much better. It’s traditional in the South. We’re gonna use four cups of organic cornmeal, a cup of oatmeal, a cup of oat flour, a cup of rice flour and a half-cup of flax seed, to which we’re gonna add a little baking soda, some baking powder and a very small amount of raw brown sugar.
“I’m gonna need a half-dozen eggs, so while we pre-heat the oven, perhaps you could get those ready for me in that seven-quart mixing bowl over there,” I said as I pointed to the bowl I intended for Seth to use, but when he just stood there looking askance at me, I asked, “Is there a problem?”
“Well, other than that I don’t even know how to open an egg, not really,” Seth replied. This was gonna be even more of a teaching session than I’d anticipated. Yikes!
Taking an egg in my hand, I said, “Opening eggs, as you put it, is just a matter of cracking the shell so it breaks in two, and then letting the yolk and egg white drop into the bowl. You just bring the egg down swiftly onto the edge of the bowl, hold it over the bowl and use your hand to split it open so the contents land in it, like this.” I then demonstrated how to do it and threw the shell into the trash. “See, it’s really quite simple, but a lot of people get hung up on cracking the shell. Usually, they don’t bring it down fast enough or hard enough and all they end up doing is putting a dent in it without breaking through. Don’t be tentative… just do it.
“Now you try it,” I said as I handed an egg to my boyfriend.
What happened next was like something out of a comedy routine. Seth brought the egg down on the edge of the bowl swiftly and hard; he was far from tentative. The egg not only cracked, but it split open and as luck would have it, the yolk and most of the white slid down the outside of the bowl, landed on the counter, slid to the edge of the counter, off the counter and landed right on my bare foot before slipping between my toes and landing on the floor.
I couldn’t help but snicker. “Although my foot might add an interesting flavor to the cornbread, I don’t think our guests would appreciate it.” I used a moist paper towel to clean the egg white off my foot as best I could, and then I used a spatula and paper towel to scoop the rest of the egg white and the yolk off the floor, throwing them into the sink. I cleaned up the floor with a damp paper towel and dab of dishwashing liquid.
“OK, let’s try this again, but this time why don’t you put your hand over mine as I break the egg. Maybe that way you can get a feel for just how much force is involved.” I had Seth hold his hand over mine as I brought the egg down on the edge of the bowl and then split it open and dropped the contents into the bowl. “Let’s try that one more time,” I suggested, and then I broke another egg into the bowl. It seemed to be going well, so I suggested that Seth try it with the next egg.
Seth picked an egg out of the carton and swiftly brought it down on the edge of the bowl at an angle. This time the egg cracked, but in a spider pattern and when he brought it over the bowl and attempted to split it open, I knew immediately what was gonna happen, and it did. Instead of splitting, it fractured into a thousand tiny pieces of egg shell and those pieces along with the egg yolk and white then landed in the bowl. I now had to remove a thousand tiny pieces of egg shell from the bowl, as I was damned if I was gonna dispose of four perfectly good eggs.
“Perhaps you can practice that skill another time,” I suggested. After adding two more eggs, I blended them with canola oil, buttermilk, cornmeal, oatmeal, oat and rice flour and the other ingredients, poured the mixture into four round cake tins, slid them into my preheated oven and set the timer.
“Now while the cornbread’s baking, we need to get the turkey ready.” Getting the paper-wrapped bird out of the fridge, I unwrapped it and set it out on an area of clean countertop. “Something tells me that you’ve never been up close and personal with a raw turkey before.”
“I’ve never been up close and personal with any raw meat before, unless you count sushi, and even then, it was already rolled, cut and ready for a little wasabi and soy sauce,” he sheepishly admitted.
“Well, somehow I don’t think the Indians had any sushi at the first Thanksgiving dinner table, so we won’t be making sushi tonight. Sushi’s a bit of an advanced skill and we won’t get to making it until you’ve mastered everything else.”
“Like the art of making love?” Seth kidded me, and I swatted him with my spatula.
“The most important way to prevent food poisoning is to use separate dishes and utensils for handling the meat when it’s raw and when it’s cooked. We’ll start by removing the skin from the bird.” I then removed the skin from the turkey and disposed of it. “I’m going to remove the legs and thighs, and then the wings followed by the breast.” I then proceeded to remove each leg and thigh as a unit and repeated the procedure with each wing. I filleted the thighs and legs and cut the meat into thin strips, which went right into a plastic container and into the fridge. Then I separated each breast half from the underlying ribs, cut it into narrow strips and loaded them into another plastic container, which also went into the fridge. The carcass along with the meat from the back, neck and wings went into a large saucepan to be used for making the stuffing and the stock for the pumpkin soup. I filled the saucepan with water, set it on the stove and brought it to a slow boil.
It was at that point that the timer for the cornbread went off, and so I checked them in the oven. All four cake pans were brimming with golden brown cornbread, and so I set the cornbread on racks on the counter to cool down.
“Since I’ve already taught you how to cut up peppers, I’m gonna put you to work getting the pumpkin ready while I prepare the seasonings for the Cajun turkey and the soup. Just grab a sharp knife and quarter both of the pumpkins. Scoop the seeds out onto a baking sheet, and then cut the pumpkin flesh into narrow strips, and lay them on the same baking sheet.
While Seth dutifully did as he’d been told, I continued my cooking lesson, whether he wanted it or not. “There are many ways to make Cajun barbecue turkey, and none of them involve tomatoes or tomato sauce at all. It’s the process and the seasonings that make for a good barbecue and not the sauce.”
“I would’ve thought it had everything to do with the sauce… in Fried Green Tomatoes, the barbecue sauce played a central role…”
“Yes, I know,” I replied. “That was the first book I ever read that featured a lesbian main character.”
“I don’t remember anything about anyone being lesbian,” Seth countered. “Not in the movie.”
“I never saw the movie, but in the book, the abusive husband’s wife was a lesbian, and her story was told through a series of flashbacks. The mystery of what happened to the husband was revealed slowly, one flashback at a time, but that was Southern barbecue… not Cajun. Let’s just say that Cajun barbecue would not be a very effective way to dispose of a body…”
“Is that what happened?” Seth asked in astonishment.
“You didn’t realize that?” I replied. “The irony was that the sheriff himself ate some of the evidence. That was such a cool book. I read it for a book report in seventh grade.”
As I got out the ingredients, I explained, “There are two parts to the preparation of a Cajun turkey… the brine and the rub. The brine is a liquid made of seasonings and oil that’s injected into the meaty parts of the turkey, and the rub is a dry seasoning mix that’s rubbed into the surface. The turkey is then smoked or roasted over an open flame, or sometimes fried.”
“We’re gonna fry the turkey?” Seth asked in surprise.
“Turkey fries are a tradition in African American communities,” I replied, “but no, we’re gonna grill it. If I had a smoker, I might try making a traditional smoked Cajun turkey, but the co-op rules don’t allow for any outdoor cooking, which is why we have a grill insert on our stove.
“For our Cajun barbecue, we’re gonna skip the rub and marinate the turkey overnight in the Cajun brine and then grill it up in the morning.” I prepared the brine by mincing several garlic cloves and cutting up a couple of onions. After bringing some canola oil to a simmer in a skillet, I added the onions and garlic as well as a package of turkey bacon, and cut up some peppers and added them to the skillet along with my spices. Noticing that Seth had finished with the pumpkins, I loaded the baking sheet into the oven and set the pumpkin and the seeds to roast for twenty minutes.”
Seth watched and helped me with the prep work as I attended to the stuffing, the Cajun turkey and the pumpkin soup. Everything went into sealed containers and into the frig except the stuffing, which went into the oven to bake.
Turning to my boyfriend, I said, “That’s about it for what we can do tonight. The stuffing needs to bake for about another half-hour. In the meantime, we need to clean up this mess. Since I did all the cooking, it’s only fair that you do all the clean-up.” Rather than say anything, Seth answered by raising the middle fingers of both hands. We ended up sharing the clean-up duties, which was what I’d planned to do in the first place. Afterwards, we stripped and cuddled up together in my bed. Even though it was still early, sleep overtook me almost immediately.
It felt like I’d barely slept at all when the piercing sound of the smoke alarm woke me from my sleep. Looking over at my bedside clock, it was barely before midnight.
“What the fuck’s going on, Ash?” Seth asked as he rubbed his eyes. His hair was in complete disarray and he was cute as could be, but as I slowly woke up, I realized that something was very wrong.
Everyone knows that there are rules of safety that are critical in case of fire. One should always feel the doorknob first to make sure it isn’t hot and that there aren’t roaring flames on the other side. And so, the first thing I did was to grab the doorknob and yank the door right open. Had there really been a fire, I might well have been burned from head to toe. Instead, what I found was that the whole apartment was filled with smoke. Flipping on the lights – another mistake in case the smoke was from an electrical fire – I still couldn’t really see anything. As I made my way to the kitchen, it slowly dawned on me that we hadn’t put away the stuffing before we went to bed. In fact, I hadn’t even bothered to set the timer, assuming I would simply remember to remove the stuffing from the oven when it was time. Instead we’d gone to bed, leaving the it to burn up in a hot oven.
When I got to the ovens, I turned the gas off and opened the oven where the stuffing had been baking. Thick smoke immediately poured out and I couldn’t help but cough a hacking cough.
“What happened?” Seth asked with a cough of his own.
“We left the stuffing in the oven and went to bed,” I coughed in reply.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck!” Seth coughed in return.
Rushing to the windows, I threw them all open – in the kitchen, the living room, my bedroom and my parents’ bedroom. I even opened the door to the balcony. The last thing I wanted to do was to set off the smoke detectors in the elevator lobby, which would have woken all the neighbors and brought the fire department to our door.
Realizing that our smoke detector was still going off, I quickly climbed up on a chair and removed it from the ceiling, then removed the battery.
With the immediate crisis dealt with, I sat down on the chair I’d used to reach the smoke detector, dropped my head into my hands and began to cry.
Placing his arms around me, Seth hugged me close and said, “We knew there had to be at least one disaster with the meal. After all, Murphy’s Law works overtime on holidays. Maybe this’ll be it for us. We can always make more stuffing! You still have two corn breads and maybe you can use one of them for the stuffing, or we can just skip serving any cornbread at all, since the stuffing’s what’s important.”
“But I don’t have any turkey stock to use for the broth,” I pointed out.
“I’m sure your parents have plenty of turkey stock on hand at the restaurant. You can get some in the morning and just start over. It could be worse…”
Just then there was the unmistakable sound of a key turning in the lock and then the door opened to reveal my parents.
“What the Hell happened?” Dad asked as he entered the still-smoky apartment.
“We went to bed and forgot that we’d left the stuffing in the oven,” I answered. “I’ve yet to even take a look at it.”
Walking over to the oven and looking inside, Dad said, “Yup, it’s black as black can be. I think it’s maybe a bit overdone. I’ve heard of blackened catfish or blackened salmon… even blackened turkey, but blackened stuffing is probably not a good idea.”
I couldn’t help but laugh at my father’s antics. It wasn’t really funny, but sometimes there’s just no other response in the face of tragedy than a heartfelt laugh.
“I’ll tell you what, boys,” Dad went on, “there’s no point in doing anything about the burned stuffing now, as it’ll be easier to clean up in the morning, when the pot’s cooled down. And as far as the stuffing’s concerned, don’t worry about making any more. I know you have your pride, but I have all the raw materials and a whole restaurant at my disposal. Just worry about getting ready for the party and stop by the restaurant at one o’clock. I’ll have a large pot of cornbread stuffing, all ready for you.”
I threw my arms around my father in gratitude for all he was doing for us, but as I hugged him, I realized that my penis was in direct contact with his pants leg. No wonder Mom had left the room!
Deeply embarrassed, I pulled away from my dad and looked down at my naked form. I could feel myself blushing all over. Hearing a hearty laugh from my boyfriend, I looked over to see him just standing there, naked as I was and laughing.
“I realized we were naked when your parents walked through the door, but there wasn’t anything we could do about it, so why get embarrassed?” How could he be so relaxed about being naked in front of my parents?
Laughing, my dad said, “Don’t worry about it. You don’t have anything I haven’t seen before. I know you’re probably wide awake, so why don’t you go back to bed and make love.”
“You’re telling us you want us to have sex?” I asked Dad incredulously.
“Well it’s either that, or watch TV, or read. I can’t think of anything better than sex to take your mind off the burnt stuffing, and you can’t tell me it’s not something you’ve ever done before, so why not? It’ll help you get back to sleep too.” How could my dad be so casual about it when I was so hung-up on sex?
“C’mon, Ash,” Seth said as he grabbed my hand. “Let’s go have some wild, earth-shattering sex in your bedroom.”
In spite of Seth being so casual about it, the thought of what we might do was already having the intended effect, which meant I couldn’t exactly stay with my father. After pulling the door closed behind me, I noticed how cold it was in my room with the window wide open, and so I turned up the heat. Since the air had cleared, I closed the window before getting into bed with my boyfriend. Before I turned out the light, I couldn’t help but notice how utterly cute he was. The feel of his lips on mine, of his tongue in my mouth and of his hand on me drove any thought about the fiasco in the kitchen out of my mind.
“Are you sure that’s gonna hold?” Seth asked as he watched me tie the second turkey to our rotisserie using twine.
“Of course it’ll hold,” I replied as I verified that the turkey wouldn’t budge. It was Dad who’d suggested we grill rather than roast the turkey. We had a rotisserie attachment for the grill on our stove and I’d used it before to grill whole chickens, but never something so large as a turkey. I knew how juicy a chicken tasted when roasted on a spit, so I couldn’t wait to try it with a turkey. But making sure the turkey was secured to the spit was more difficult than I’d imagined. When grilling a chicken, the meat shrinks as it cooks, and the twine always loosens. If that happened with the turkey, it’d fall off the spit and that would be a fuckin’ disaster. Therefore, I’d used extra twine and made doubly sure it was tight.
Thank God Dad was taking care of the stuffing! He’d even agreed to make some gravy for us, since he was already making turkey broth for the stuffing. Otherwise we’d have had to get up extra early to start over from scratch. As it was, we’d had to get up pretty early and spend the morning vacuuming Seth’s apartment, cleaning the bathroom to the point it sparkled, and setting up the table with the extra leaves to accommodate eight of us. We’d put on his good tablecloth and set the table using his parent’s good china and stainless tableware. Only when we were sure that everything was right, did we grab the other turkey and head back to my apartment.
But now it was time to finish the meal prep, and there was still a lot to do. I was glad our guests would be taking care of things like the green bean casserole, the candied yams, the cranberry sauce and the pies. Speaking of which, having last eaten yesterday in the early afternoon, we were starved! Since we had an unneeded pumpkin pie from Trader Joe’s, we wasted little time in dividing it in half and devouring it.
With Dad taking care of the stuffing re-make, all Seth and I had to do was to focus on the two turkeys. Turning on the rotisserie, I fired up the grill and turned on the external exhaust, so we wouldn’t end up setting off any more smoke alarms. As the turkey turned over an open flame, I got out the first container of marinated turkey meat – the dark meat – and started laying the individual strips of meat directly onto the grill, where they would broil under the rotating turkey above it. After about five minutes, I turned each of the pieces of meat over and finished broiling them on the other side before forking them over into a shallow cake pan. I then repeated the procedure with batch after batch of dark meat until the plastic container was empty. I then did the same with the container of white meat until the cake pan was full, with one end being dark meat and the other white. I covered it with aluminum foil and set it in the oven to keep warm while the turkey on the spit continued to turn. It was already a nice golden brown, and oozing with juice.
Next, I got out the rice cooker and started making a batch of rice to serve with the Cajun turkey. With nothing else that needed doing for the time being, I headed for the bathroom to take my shower and get ready for the party. I started out by shaving, and then stepped into the shower and was just about finished when Seth cried out, “Help! It fell off. Come here now.”
Oh shit, now what? I quickly shut off the water and stepped out of the shower, wrapping my towel around me as I headed to the kitchen. What greeted me was not a pretty site. The twine holding the turkey together had come loose in spite of my efforts and the drumsticks and wings were hanging out from the turkey, close to falling off of it. Far worse, the turkey had come loose from the spit and was hanging down on the grill while the rotisserie continued to turn, threatening to tear the bird apart.
Dropping my towel, I immediately stopped the rotisserie, so It wouldn’t do any more damage. I turned off the gas to keep from burning the bird before I could get it back on the spit. On a hunch, however, I inserted my meat thermometer into the turkey. I expected it to need another hour, but this was my first time roasting a turkey and I wondered if broiling it on a rotisserie might not take less time. Upon reading the temperature, I exclaimed, “Holy shit, it’s done!” I quickly moved the turkey into a shallow roasting pan, removed the spit, extracted the twine and covered the whole thing in aluminum foil. I then shoved it into the oven to keep warm.
Once that was done, I grabbed my towel, dried myself off and wiped up the puddle that had formed on the kitchen floor from my dripping body. Returning to the bathroom, I applied deodorant, dried my hair, brushed my teeth and splashed on a little of the cologne that Seth liked. I got dressed in the rainbow shirt Seth had bought for me in the village, a pair of dark denim skin-tight jeans and sandals.
Noticing that it was nearly one o’clock and time to pick up the stuffing, I grabbed the folding cart we used to haul groceries and loaded it with the pan containing the Cajun turkey, the roaster with the rotisserie turkey and the two cake tins with the cornbread. The pumpkin soup went into the Instant Pot, which I gingerly placed on top. Grabbing my phone, my wallet and my keys… and my boyfriend, I made one final check to be sure everything was turned off, except it wasn’t. Shit, we still had rice in the rice cooker! It was done, so I quickly loaded the rice cooker, rice and all, locked up and we took the elevator down. Stopping at my family’s restaurant, I picked up a large pot of stuffing and a thermos filled with turkey gravy, and then we headed across the street to Seth’s place.
Then the real juggling act began. With only a single oven and a small one at that, there was no way we’d be able to fit everything in the oven to keep it warm, particularly once the guests arrived with their own items that needed heating. Setting the oven to 190 degrees, I set the top rack as high as I could make it and still fit the turkey on one side with the pot with the stuffing on the other side. By turning the lid from the pot upside down, I could set the cake tin with the Cajun turkey on top of it, leaving the bottom rack for the stuff everyone else brought. I placed the cornbread on the lower shelf, but it would keep if I needed the space for something else. It was best served warm, though, and so I would remove it from each cake tins and nuke it prior to serving if I needed to.
While I was getting the contents of our dinner squared away, I noticed out of the corner of my eyes that Seth was pouring a box of Trader Joe’s whole wheat crackers into a bowl and setting it on the coffee table in the living room. When he got out a couple tubs of what looked like some sort of dip and set them on the coffee table as well, I asked him, “What in hell are you doing?”
“I’m setting out some appetizers in case people want something to nosh on before the meal,” he answered.
“But I thought we agreed that there was no need for anything, ’cause we’d sit down to eat as soon as everyone got here.”
“Trust me, Ash, no one’s gonna be on time,” he replied. “OK, maybe one or two people will be a little early, but everyone else will be late, and there’ll be time to kill while we wait for the stragglers. You can’t sit down to dinner until everyone’s here, so this gives people something to eat while they’re waiting. I know what we said, but I thought about it while you were makin’ dinner and changed my mind. Besides which, I already had a box of these crackers and fresh organic hummus and spinach dip in the fridge, so why not?”
There wasn’t much I could say to that, so I just shrugged my shoulders, but then I saw my boyfriend get out a bottle of wine and set it on the table. What the fuck? I was so much in shock that at first I didn’t know what to say. Finally, I asked, “Did you just put a bottle of wine on the table?”
He answered, “You’re so observant, Ash.”
When he didn’t elaborate, I asked, “You do realize that none of us is remotely twenty-one.”
“I’m pretty sure you’re right about that,” Seth answered.
“Do you have any idea what my parents or yours will do to us if they find out we were drinking wine?”
“Who do you think gave me permission?” Seth responded. Noticing what was undoubtedly a shocked expression on my face, he elaborated, “When I asked my dad for permission to host a dinner party for eight, he made it clear that under no circumstances were any of us to drink alcohol, smoke weed or partake of any illegal substances. Of course, I agreed. He then asked me what I thought about drinking wine at a dinner party. I told him that lots of people have a glass or two with their meal and as long as they’re not driving, or flying an airplane or performing surgery or anything like that, I saw no problem with it.
“What he told me next really surprised me. He said that in a lot of countries, teenagers are often served wine or beer on special occasions… that early exposure to responsible drinking leads to lifelong responsible drinking. He said that he believes very strongly that one of the reasons American teens get in trouble with alcohol is that their first experiences are from binge drinking at parties. Same thing with pot, for that matter, although he doesn’t see much value in smoking pot compared to drinking a fine wine or beer.
“So, what he told me is that we could open a bottle of wine to have with dinner today… that’s enough for a half-glass for each of us.”
“But what about my parents?” I asked.
“My dad already spoke with Gary, and got his agreement,” Seth answered. Wow!
“What about the others?” I asked.
“We’ll tell them it’s up to them to decide if they want or need to get permission from their parents.”
“Surely you’re not planning to give wine to a nine-year-old kid?” I asked.
“Don’t you think that should be up to his own brother?” Seth asked in response. Personally, I wasn’t sure I agreed with that, but I’d defer to Roger in any case.
“What kind of wine are we having?” I asked.
“A California Riesling,” he answered. “It’s a semi-sweet white wine. Dad said it would go well with turkey.”
“No one gets more than a half-glass,” I added. “If anyone declines their share, it stays in the bottle. Your father doesn’t need reports of a drunken teenage party in his apartment.”
“It would take more than a glass of wine to get any of us drunk,” Seth replied, “but I’ll agree.”
Seth had barely finished setting wine glasses at each place on the table when we heard knocking on his front door. Seth went to answer it and returned with Roger and his little brother, Kyle. They were nearly twenty minutes early.
“Sorry we’re so early,” Roger apologized as he handed Seth a couple of covered pie tins. “I didn’t know how long it would take to get here with all the detours because of the parade, and didn’t want to take a chance on bein’ late.” Seth immediately handed the pie tins to me and I took them and placed them on the lower rack in the oven, so they’d be warm by the time we served them.
“Holy shit, this is a fuckin’ crazy view,” was the first thing to come from the mouth of Roger’s cute little brother, “It’s awesome.” Roger’s laugh told me that his little brother was going to be anything but a passive participant.
In spite of the ‘awesome view’, Kyle scarcely gave it a glance before he sat down on the living room sofa, grabbed a cracker, dipped it in the hummus and stuffed it in his mouth.
“Napkins,” Seth muttered. “I forgot napkins.” And then he disappeared into the kitchen and emerged carrying a package of cocktail napkins.
“Kyle, I haven’t even introduced you yet,” Roger admonished his little brother.
“Sorry,” Kyle said as he stood up. For a nine-year-old, he was actually pretty tall – maybe four-and-a-half feet. Extending his hand to shake mine, he said, “Hi, I’m Kyle, and I’m gay.” Well, that was an interesting introduction.
Shaking the boy’s hand, I asked, “You’re nine, and you’ve already decided you’re gay?
“Gees, why does everybody say that?” Kyle asked of no one in particular. “Even gay kids.” Then lookin’ me right in the eyes, he said, “Look, I’ve pretty much known I’m gay for more than a year now, but no one took me seriously. But when I started middle school…
“You’re in middle school?” I asked in surprise.
Rolling his eyes, “I could read and write by the time I was three. In New York, you can start kindergarten when you’re four as long as your fifth birthday’s before the end of the year, but there was little point in me starting with kindergarten when I was already reading at a second-grade level. My parents tried to get me into the second grade, but even though it was a so-called elite private school, the principal said I needed kindergarten to develop socialization. As if I didn’t already know how to get along with other kids! So, they compromised on first grade. I’m only a year ahead of my peers in the sixth grade, and I’ll be ten soon enough.”
“You sure don’t talk at a sixth-grade level,” I laughed as I finally released his hand.
“My test scores put me at a twelfth-grade level for reading and writing skills,” He replied, “and let’s not even talk about my math score. It’s hard to get excited about learning fractions when you can already do complex vector calculus. Still, the ‘experts’ think I need to work on my social skills,” he added with a grin.
“Bet you’d really rather be in high school?” I asked.
“I’d rather be in college,” he answered, “but at least I can start high school next year. I just took the entrance exam for the city specialty high schools, and the results’ll be out in the spring. They won’t be able to hold me back any longer if I pass it.”
“Do you think you want to go to Stuyvesant like your brother?” I asked.
Shaking his head, he replied, “Bronx Science, and I’ll get in for sure. Then with advanced placement, I’ll be a sophomore at MIT by the time I’m fourteen.”
“And you’re gay,” I reiterated.
“One hundred percent,” he responded, “just like you. Not that I’d ever want to take him away from you, but your boyfriend is cute as anything. You, on the other hand, are totally hot. I may not have hit puberty yet, but I don’t need raging hormones to know that I’d totally like to get naked with you.”
“Kyle, that’s not something you should say to someone,” his brother admonished him. “And you wonder why they say you need to work on your social skills.”
“Roger,” Seth asked, changing the subject, “I got the impression when you asked us about coming to dinner for Thanksgiving that maybe you were gay and your family didn’t want you around.”
“It’s me they didn’t want,” Kyle answered instead. “Roger’s got a girlfriend, poor guy. It’s our father that has the problem. He’s been the worst of anyone when it comes to claiming I couldn’t possibly know at my age. We were supposed to have Thanksgiving with Dad’s sister’s family in California, but he said he wouldn’t take me unless I agreed not to talk about being gay. Of course, I told him where he could stick Aunt Mora’s turkey, so he stuck Roger with babysitting me while the family’s out west. Dad didn’t want the rest of the family to know that his precocious son is also queer.”
“I didn’t get stuck with you, Kyle. I volunteered,” Roger countered. “I think Dad would have left you here alone if I hadn’t, but I didn’t think it was fair to you to spend a family holiday alone.”
“I can take care of myself,” Kyle responded, rolling his eyes.
“Well, we’re more than happy to have both of you here,” I replied.
“Woah, check out this home theater!” Kyle exclaimed as he started to notice Seth’s setup. “Is that Visio’s new OLED model?”
“It’s last year’s model,” Seth answered. “We bought it when we moved in.”
“Those are amplified speakers, right?” Kyle asked. “Is that a Class D amplifier?”
“Because the signal path’s all-digital, it makes sense to use a digital amplifier.” Seth answered.
“Stereophile won’t even rate Class D amps, but I think that’s short-sighted of them,” Kyle responded. “They claim a power amp can’t be any good, just because it amplifies the separate binaries within the DAC. As if music that’s digitally recorded, digitally processed, digitally mixed, digitally mastered and digitally copied, can’t also be digitally amplified. And a Class D amp is more efficient and uses way less power.” The kid’s understanding of stereo stuff was obviously way beyond mine.
“It’s probably because the early models and the cheap ones did it so poorly that they gave the whole category a bad name,” Seth responded.
“What kinds of music do you have, Seth,” Kyle asked.
“Mostly classical Jazz, but also a fair bit of classic rock, alternative rock and some classical.”
“No hip-hop, rap, techno, dance or electronic music, I take it?” Kyle asked.
“None whatsoever,” Seth replied.
“That’s too bad. Some stuff’s cool, like Dead Mau5e or Twenty-one Pilots.” Then Kyle started singing, “Wish we could turn back time… to the good old days… when the mamas sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out.
“And Hamilton,” he went on. “I loved seeing the musical, but I love listening to the cast recording too.”
“You saw Hamilton?” I asked. Truthfully, I’d never been to a Broadway musical and would have loved to see Hamilton, but not at a ticket price upwards of $1800. I guess there are some seats that only cost like $500, but they only have a partial view of the stage and they’re sold out for more than a year in advance.
“We all saw it,” Roger replied. “Kyle didn’t exactly give us a choice, but man for what the scalpers charged, we coulda all gone to Disney World, all expenses included.”
“I do have Hamilton in high-res,” Seth admitted. “The music’s cool for semi-hip-hop. I have a lot of musicals and soundtracks actually. I have all the Star Trek music in digital high-res.”
“Yuck! Star Trek is sooo bad,” Kyle replied. Those were fighting words.
“What do you mean, Star Trek is bad,” I responded angrily.
“Oh come on, Asher, you can’t seriously think it’s realistic.” Kyle replied. “I mean, 2001, maybe, Ender’s Game, possibly, but Star Trek is ridiculous. It’s absurd.
“For one thing, FTL is impossible. The speed of light is the defining property the Universe. It’s like infinity… you can never reach it. The idea of warp drive only violates about a billion physical principles, and transporters that convert matter to energy and back to matter again would generate so much energy that they’d vaporize everything in the signal path. Wormholes might work, but that would involve going outside of normal space-time, so I’m not sure how you could build one.
“But the most ridiculous thing is the concept that there are all of those aliens out there who speak perfect English and happen to be at the same stage of technological development that we are, and they happen to share enough of our DNA to make interbreeding possible. Come on now!”
“Actually, that was addressed in an episode called The Chase,” I countered.
“The Chase?” Kyle asked. I’m not familiar with that one.
So I explained the basic plot, in which there was a chase to find a secret that was buried in bits and pieces in the genome of every living species in the galaxy. “The Klingons of course thought it was the secret for building a great weapon, and Cardassians thought it was the key to unlimited power. In the end, it turned out to be a message from a long-vanished species – the very first one and at the time, the only one, the progenitor of all the others. Finding themselves to be alone, they took it upon themselves to seed the galaxy with their DNA, which became the basis for all life in the galaxy today.”
“That sounds really cool,” Kyle admitted. “Finally, something in Trek that makes sense. I’ll have to stream it and watch it. That kind of reminds me of a story I once read at AwesomeDude on mental time travel.”
“Yes, I remember that story,” I exclaimed. “About how you couldn’t change reality but could only create a new branch of time, and how the Universe was really still a singularity and that the probability of life was similar to that of a pile of iron and sand spontaneously forming an iPhone.”
“Actually, it was an iPod,” Seth chimed in.
“Yeah, it was an iPod,” Kyle agreed. “But since I’m obviously in hostile territory regarding Star Trek, I’d better change the subject. Just don’t tell me you like Star Wars.”
“I like the tech and the special effects,” Seth replied, “but the underlying science is pathetic.”
“Something on which we can agree.” Kyle replied, and then asked. “So by any chance do you have a copy of Tommy, by The Who?”
“Of course, I do,” Seth replied. “It’s a classic.”
“The original or the 2013 re-master?” Kyle asked.
“Both actually,” Seth answered. “I bought the original 1996 hi-res version when I first got interested in music, and then bought the re-master when it came out a year later.”
“You bought your own music when you were, what, seven?” I asked in astonishment.
“Well yeah, Ash,” Seth responded. “Mom and Dad got me an iPod when I was six, but as cool as it was, it didn’t take long to realize it sounded like crap. I saw an ad for the first AudioQuest Dragonfly in 2012 and talked Dad into buying one along with a good set of headphones. The Dragonfly plugged right into our iMac and was way better than the built-in DAC. It came with a coupon for HDtracks, and that was the start of my high-res music collection.”
“Have you ever compared the two?” Kyle asked.
“I don’t think I’ve even played the original since I bought the re-master,” Seth answered.
“How about checking it out?” Kyle suggested.
“OK, let’s do it,” Seth agreed. I was certainly curious to say the least.
Seth cued up both albums and first played the overture from the original version, and then from the re-master. Even I had to admit that the re-master sounded way better. It sounded much more natural – much more like a live performance.
We repeated the procedure with Pinball Wizard with the same result – the re-master was so much better – there wasn’t any comparison.
“And there are people who question the advantages of digital music,” Kyle stated. “There are actually people who prefer vinyl!”
Raising my hand, I said, “That would be me.”
“Oh, how I would love to compare the re-mastered version to an original vinyl LP,” Kyle said.
“I have an original vinyl LP in my apartment,” I replied. “And I really mean original… from 1969.”
“It’s too bad there’s no way to play it on Seth’s stereo, so we could compare the versions on the same system.”
“Actually, we can,” I replied. “Seth just added a turntable to his system. A good one.”
“But how is that possible?” Kyle asked. “You have an all-digital system. I mean, I’ve seen turntables with USB outputs, but that’s like putting the motor from a Chevy in a Cadillac. What’s the point?”
“I have a phono preamp with a DSD transcoder,” Seth explained.
“Analog over digital. Very clever,” Kyle noted.
“Why don’t I go and get my vinyl LP, and we can make this a real contest,” I suggested.
“Do it,” my boyfriend said, and Kyle agreed.
It took me a while to actually run across the street, not to mention dealing with elevators in two buildings on a holiday. It was twenty minutes by the time I returned, by which time everyone but Joel and Clark had arrived.
I proceeded to put the vinyl record on Seth’s turntable and played the overture, and then Pinball Wizard in succession.
“I have to admit, the vinyl record sounds a lot better than the original digital recording. There’s no comparison,” Kyle stated after I’d finished. “Let’s hear the remastered versions again.
Seth cued the remaster up on his system and we listened to both tracks again.
This time it was my turn to admit, “The remaster’s better. I hate to admit it, but as good as the vinyl record was, the digital remaster sounds a lot better. There are sounds in the music that I never heard before, even the sense of ambience is much improved.”
“Vinyl is far superior for recording two tracks of audio, but the original masters had a lot more than two tracks!” Kyle explained. “Vinyl irreversibly flattens the music to stereo. With the jazz classics, you may never know the difference… not unless the original masters are still around, but you can clearly hear the difference with music recorded in the sixties and seventies, before digital recording fucked it up. Even then, however, digital signal processing makes it possible to recover details from the original recording that would otherwise be lost forever.”
There was no doubt that Kyle was a wiseass, but he was intelligent and insightful, and already he had more breadth of knowledge than most adults ever would. In that instant I realized that in spite of the age difference, I’d made a lifelong friend.
Walking up to him, I said, “Don’t let it go to your head, but you’re an amazing guy, Kyle,”
With a broad grin, he hugged me tightly, and then he approached Seth and hugged him too.
A half-hour later, we were still waiting for Joel and Clark. They were more than forty minutes late. The crackers, including a second box of them along with both dips were now long-gone and we were all starving.
“Does anyone have another phone number for either of them?” I asked for about the fifteenth time. We’d already tried each of their phones, but they’d both gone to voice mail. They were coming from Murray Hill in Flushing and if there were a problem with their rail line or the LIRR in general, they might have been forced to take a number seven subway train, in which case they’d have been without cell service for long stretches of time.
Finally, there was knocking at the door. I was closest at the moment, so I opened it to find the two boys standing there, looking like they’d walked through a tornado.
“You wouldn’t believe what happened, “Joel began immediately as he walked in the door with Clark in tow. “First, we got on the LIRR at the Murray Hill station. The train left on time, but before we even pulled into the station at Willits Point, we stopped because of signaling problems. We were, stuck in the middle of Flushing Meadows like forever, when finally, the train started to move, but then it stopped again. I was really starting to get nervous but Clark, as usual, reassured me that I was just being a worry wart.”
By now we were all gathered in the living room as Joel continued his story. “Even after it got going again, the train crawled along. When we got to Woodside, I wanted to get off and take a seven train, but Clark reminded me that it was only one more stop to Penn Station which took forever, and that was just the beginning. What we forgot about was a little thing called Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. Taking the subway was out of the question.
“When we got to Penn Station there were taxis lined up, but the traffic was so gridlocked that the taxis weren’t moving. We walked down to 23rd hoping to take an F or an M train from there, but the platforms were packed six deep and the trains passing through were full. We walked down Broadway to Union Square, but the bus never came and so we just kept on walking down Fourth Avenue to Bowery and then to Grand Street. We did try to call,” he added as an afterthought, “but neither of us could get a signal.”
Laughing, I replied, “We couldn’t reach you either. We had no idea what had happened to you. But at least you’re here. I don’t know what we would’ve done without you. No soft drinks. No green bean casserole. It would have wrecked Thanksgiving dinner.”
“And I thought that maybe you’d have missed us,” Joel pouted. “Anyway, even though green beans should keep, I didn’t want to take a chance on it spoiling in route, so I brought the ingredients for the casserole and will cook it here. All I need is a stove and a wok and it’ll be done in five minutes. Green bean casserole, Asian style.”
“And here’s the soft drinks,” Clark added as Seth took them from him and stuck them in the fridge.
“There’s just one problem,” I told Joel. “This is Seth’s apartment and in case you didn’t notice, he’s not Asian. Perhaps you’d consider making the casserole in a skillet instead?” I suggested.
“I’m sure it’ll work just as well with a skillet,” Joel said, and I set him up with one. Since the oven was part of the stove, we obviously weren’t going to be able to get to the turkeys or other dishes until Joel was done.
“So, I know you two aren’t celebrating Thanksgiving with your families this year,” Seth began, “but I’m curious about the story behind that. Is it because you’re gay?”
“Not at all,” said Clark. “Both fathers are supportive. We’ve been best friends since we were in diapers and I don’t think it was a surprise to anyone when we announced we were boyfriends at the start of sixth grade. The problem is, both our dads work for the MTA and both our moms died a long time ago. Our fathers always work on the holiday and collect the overtime. We’ve never had a real Thanksgiving dinner. When we heard that your parents have to work today, and that you had taken it upon yourselves to prepare an authentic Thanksgiving dinner, we just thought that two couples might be better than one. After all, Thanksgiving is a family time.”
“Well it’s great to have you here,” I agreed.
“OK, it’s done,” Joel announced, and Seth got out a serving dish for him. I was surprised that green bean casserole prepared in a skillet came out looking just the same as if it had been baked in an oven, but in a fraction of the time.
With everyone else’s food on the table, I dumped the rice from the cooker into a serving bowl and added it to the table. I cut up the first cornbread into eight pie-shaped slices and placed them in a basket on the table. I got out a serving platter and laid out about half the Cajun turkey on it, placing white meat at one end and dark meat at the other, getting oohs and ahs as I added it to the table. The rest I put back into the oven, most likely to become leftovers. Next, the cornbread stuffing went into a large serving bowl and on the table. Gravy from the thermos went into a gravy boat and on the table. Finally, I got out the roast turkey, but there was no more room!
“Take a look everybody. Here’s the turkey, a beautiful sixteen-pound hen, flame broiled on a rotisserie, guaranteed to be the juiciest turkey you ever had. If you don’t mind, I’m gonna slice it up here in the kitchen, and if you guys want to bring your plates, I’ll give you a serving of your choice of meat. The Cajun turkey is already on the table, along with the stuffing and other items.”
With my knowledge of bird anatomy, it didn’t take me long to have enough turkey breast meat sliced to feed everyone twice over, and to have parts of the thighs and wings ready for those who wanted them as well. For anyone daring enough, there were two whole drumsticks too.
It wasn’t until I got back to my place at the table that I realized Kyle hadn’t come up to get himself a serving of the turkey. Indeed, he had his plate piled high with the candied yams, the green bean casserole, the cranberry sauce and nothing else.
“Kyle, didn’t you want any turkey and stuffing?” I asked.
“Was the stuffing made in the turkey?” he asked. “Is there any turkey or broth in the stuffing? Was the cornbread made with any eggs, milk or butter?”
Oh shit. He was a vegan. Fuck! Why didn’t he tell me? Why didn’t Roger tell me?
“He just decided to become a vegan this morning,” Roger explained, “and I’d hoped he’d change his mind by the time we sat down for dinner. I told him he couldn’t expect you to prepare vegan food for him on short notice, so he’ll make do with whatever you have or he’ll starve.”
Looking at Kyle, I said, “I could’ve made a vegan stir fry for you if you’d have let me know when you got here. Hell, I could still order a vegan stir fry for you. My parents own the Asian restaurant on Grand Street that you all passed by to get here. I can have a vegan stir fry delivered here in just ten minutes if you want it. Or there’s Alphonso’s on the next block. I could have a vegan pizza delivered here in a half-hour. It’s up to you.
“Naw,” he replied. “There’s enough food here. I’ll be OK. And later I’ll have pumpkin and apple pie,” he added with a smile.
“But you need protein, Kyle,” I countered. “You can’t grow into a healthy teenager without protein. Just say the word and I’ll get you whatever you want.”
Grinning, he replied, “Thanks for your concern. Really, I appreciate it. It makes me feel loved, and I need a little love right now. But this is something I want and need to do, and I can’t expect you to accommodate me on such short notice.”
“That’s utter fuckin’ bullshit, Kyle,” I argued. “I offered you two alternatives… two very good alternatives. How do you think the rest of us can eat and enjoy this feast if you have nothing on your plate?”
Looking thoughtfully back at me, he finally said, “You’re right… I didn’t think of how it would affect the others. Perhaps I’ll become a vegan tomorrow, or maybe not. It’s a lot harder than I thought will be. And don’t you feel guilty for talking me into changing my mind. This is my decision and mine alone to make. I’ll wait to become a vegan until after Thanksgiving, and maybe Christmas, and maybe my birthday, and maybe New Years. Maybe I’ll become a vegan for the start of the new year. So, could someone please pass the Cajun turkey, and the stuffing, and cornbread?”
“I’ll get you some turkey?” I said as I grabbed his plate and headed to the stove.
“Hey everybody,” Seth interrupted just as everyone was about to take a bite of their food. “We need to have a toast. There’s a bottle of Riesling… it’s a semi-sweet white wine and it goes well with turkey. Ash’s and my parents gave us permission to have a half-a-glass of wine with our meals today, and to serve any of you a half-glass if you want it and if it’s OK with your parents. The deal is that it’s up to you to decide if you need or want permission from your parents. Otherwise it’s a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ situation. And Kyle, you should talk to your brother about whether or not you can drink wine with your dinner.”
Getting up, he continued, “I’ll now serve wine for anyone who wants it, and then we’ll have a toast, with the wine or with the soft drink of your choice.”
René actually did get out her phone and argue a bit with her parents, but when she closed her phone, there was a smile on her face.
Kyle and his brother seemed to be having an animated discussion and at one point I heard Kyle say, “But we have wine on Passover.” Ah, they were Jewish.
When Seth got to Kyle, he responded saying, “As my brother pointed out, although I may have the brain of someone twice my age… his words, not mine… I still have the body of a nine-year-old. We do have wine every year during the Jewish holiday of Passover, but it’s only a sip. So, I’m gonna have a little wine… but only a quarter of a glass. I need to wait ’til I’m twelve before my body can metabolize anything more.” What an amazing kid he was. Seth and I were gonna hafta make it a point to always stay in touch with him. Already I was thinking of him as if he were my own brother.
Once the wine had been dispensed to all of us, and Seth did end up emptying the bottle in spite of Kyle only taking half as much, he raised his glass in a toast. “To friends. May we never forget this afternoon together. May we always stay in touch. May our friendship be with us the rest of our lives.”
“To friends,” everyone chimed in before taking a sip of their wine, and then Kyle added, “La Chaim.”
Then it suddenly it dawned on me. “Oh shit! I forgot the pumpkin soup!” The pumpkin soup was still sitting in a cold Instant Pot. Good thing the Instant Pot is a pressure cooker. It wouldn’t take long to prepare.
As I got up to take care of the soup, Seth asked, “As long as Ash’s getting the soup ready, would anyone like coffee?”
Of all people, it was nine-year-old Kyle that answered first, “I’d love some.” When everyone just stared at him, he added, “Well, I love a good cup of Joe. Can’t start the day without it.”
Pretty soon, everyone else added their desires for coffee, including me. Seth got up and joined me in the kitchen to help out. He refilled the hopper on his Grind and Brew, filled the water tank to the top and set the quantity to the max. Checking to be sure that the filter was in place, he pushed the button and the grinder sprang to life. Pluggin’ in the Instant Pot, I removed the plastic lid and placed the standard lid on top, and then I turned it on.
There was a clicking sound that seemed to come from the closet that served as Seth’s bedroom, and then the lights went out…
Disclaimer: This story is a fictional account involving gay teenage boys. There are references to gay sex and anyone who is uncomfortable with this should obviously not be reading it. The reader takes all responsibility for the legality of reading this type of story where they live. All characters are fictional and any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental. The author retains full copyright.