New York Holidays

Christmas Storms — Part Three

A Three-Part Story by Altimexis

Please Note: The characters in the following story express some very strong and controversial opinions that some might find offensive. The opinions expressed are definitely not representative of those of the author or the site. They represent the musings of young teens who are just beginning to develop their own world view, and nothing more.

Posted December 19, 2018

 

Times Square was a place most New Yorkers avoided like the plague. With its vast profusion of video displays, several stories high, that brightly illuminated the night, Times Square was a place for tourists who crowded the sidewalks and spilled over onto the streets. Strolling four or five abreast, they frustrated New York pedestrians and drivers alike, leaving them to ponder how the tourists ever got anywhere at the speed they walked. On the other hand, a large number of the tourists were morbidly obese, in stark contrast to the mostly svelte New Yorkers, and probably weren’t capable of moving very fast, let alone of burning the calories they consumed. One couldn’t help but pity the New York Times employees who had to brave Times Square every day on their way to and from work. Indeed, many of the old-timers longed to return to the days when strip joints ruled the scene.

Whereas tourists would pay scalpers over a thousand dollars for a ticket to a Broadway extravaganza that was little more than a musical remake of popular movie, most New Yorkers craved seeing real theater in smaller playhouses with fresh talent and up-and-coming playwrights. What sometimes surprised out-of-towners, however, was that a lot of top talent also preferred acting in Off-Broadway productions. With a high-end ticket costing just over a hundred dollars and many tickets going for less than the price of a movie ticket, Off-Broadway theater was not the place for making money, but it was a pastime most New Yorkers could afford.

“This is really good!” Asher exclaimed as he took another bite of his Chicken Dijon. It came with two breast half fillets as well as a baked potato and fresh spinach as sides, not to mention the soup and salad that had been served earlier. For his part, Seth was having the penne ala vodka with chicken. They were eating at the Theater Row Diner, right by the exit from the Lincoln tunnel onto 42nd Street. Although just a little over two blocks from Times Square, The Theater Row Diner was about as far removed from the theater district as one could imagine.

 “Is it as good as the Good Stuff Diner?” Seth asked his boyfriend.

“It’s different,” Asher replied. “The Good Stuff wouldn’t serve a dish like this. They’re both very good, but different.”

“I know what you mean,” Seth replied. “I can’t put my finger on it, ’cause they both serve pasta dishes, sandwiches and traditional foods, but you’re right. The Good Stuff has penne ala vodka on their menu, but it wouldn’t be like this, even though they’re both traditional pasta dishes. I like the Good Stuff’s food a little better, and their menu’s more extensive, but the Theater Row is nearly as good.”

“Exactly,” Asher agreed.

Looking at his watch, Seth said, “It’s getting close to time. We’d better get going.”

Quickly finishing their meals, Seth paid the check and they headed down the street. Although a number of highly-respected Off-Broadway theaters existed throughout the city — theaters such as the Roundhouse, 59E59, the Atlantic, the Vineyard, the Cherry Lane and the Public Theater, as well as others, 42nd Street had the greatest profusion of them and was the place most associated with Off-Broadway productions. Theater Row and Playwrights Horizon were two large multistory complexes, each with several theaters not unlike a multi-screen cinema. The theaters in those high-rise complexes were stacked on top of each other and had only a bare minimum of lobby space, leaving patrons standing shoulder-to-shoulder while waiting for their ‘house’ to open. The one exception was the Signature Theater, located in one of the newest high-rise buildings on 42nd Street. With its spacious lobby, elegant café, open jazz club, large restrooms and ample theaters, all on the second floor, it provided a significantly more pleasant experience to theatergoers and was becoming a destination in and of itself. It was to a play at the Signature Theater that Seth had tickets, and so it was a very short walk indeed.

The play was a very thought-provoking one about a young white gay couple trying to adopt a black boy whose mother was going to prison for the rest of her son’s childhood. Most cases of adoption are uncontested when the mother won’t be eligible for parole until after the child reaches eighteen, but the social worker on the case was a black woman with very strong convictions about African American children being raised in their own culture. She also had grave reservations about a gay couple raising a young, impressionable boy. Although there was no legal justification to refuse the adoption, the social worker fabricated evidence and managed not only to block the adoption, but she took away the foster child, whom the couple had come to love. Both the child and his foster parents were left in tears at the end, and failing to find an alternative foster family, the social worker ended up placing the boy in a group home.

“Damn that was depressing,” Seth stated as the two of them exited the theater. Like the two of them, a lot of the theatergoers were young men holding hands. Ordering coffee at the counter in the café, they sat down at one of the tables.

“I’ve never understood the logic behind restricting adoptions to couples of similar racial backgrounds,” Asher began. “Look at me! I’m half black and half Asian. My parents are a mixed-race couple, and they love each other as much as any two people could. Race shouldn’t be the deciding factor.” Taking a sip of his coffee, Asher added, “Wow, this is even stronger than your coffee, Seth.”

Taking a sip of his own, Seth responded, “It’s strong, but not as smooth.”

“Guess we’ll be up all night,” Asher added.

Laughing, Seth quietly said, “We’d have been up all night, with or without the coffee.” Asher couldn’t help but giggle too.

“I agree that race shouldn’t be an issue, particularly when the child has no one else to take care of them,” Seth began, responding to Asher’s comment, “but I do see the point that kids may do better in an environment that affirms their culture. African American children deserve to learn about their own culture, and the best way for that to happen is to be raised by African American parents.”

“How does that differ from a Jewish child, or a Muslim child, or an Hispanic child, or even a Greek child?” Asher countered. “All of those have unique cultures, yet no one would ever bat an eye at Jewish child being raised by Roman Catholic, Cuban American parents. Why should race be different than ethnicity?”

“Because race is so much more obvious than ethnicity,” Seth responded.  “People of the same race but different ethnic backgrounds aren’t as obvious.”

“Really?” Asher demanded. “What about the Korean kid in a mostly Chinese American school. She’s the same race as the other kids, but they’ll still shun her because she talks funny? And it’s not just about race,” Asher continued. “Why is it OK for a white couple to adopt a child from thousands of miles away in China, but not a black kid from the other side of the railroad tracks?”

“And why should it be OK for two gay men to adopt a girl but not a boy?” Seth asked.

“I hope we don’t have any difficulties adopting,” Asher added.

“Well at least between the two of us we have white, black and Asian covered,” Seth noted with a laugh.

“But not straight,” Asher responded.

“No, definitely not straight,” Seth agreed with a smile.

“Of course, the child in the play must have had a father,” Asher brought up. “Technically it should have been the father that took the boy.”

“Assuming the father was even known, and not in jail himself,” Seth replied. “You know, as many as a third of all young black males are in prison.”

“I think it’s a third have been in prison or will be in prison, not are currently in prison,” Asher countered, “but that does bring up an interesting point. With so many kids being in the system, there ought to be DNA data available for a lot of potential fathers of kids like the one in the play. Why not do a DNA search for the father in such cases?” Asher asked.

“Actually, I’ve read some stories in which they do,” Seth replied. “But that does bring up some interesting privacy rights issues,” he added. “For example, if you are a boy living in a black neighborhood, chances are at some point that you’ll be picked up, regardless of whether or not you’re guilty of a crime. So now your fingerprints and your DNA will be in the system through no actual fault of your own. So right off the bat, you’re at a much higher risk of being convicted of committing a crime…”

“A crime that you did commit,” Asher interrupted.

“You’ll have to ask O.J. about that,” Seth countered, and then continued, “Let’s take that a step further. What if you go in for surgery and your blood is typed and matched for transfusion, and your DNA is sequenced and put into the national bone marrow data bank. Down the road, a woman is raped, and a DNA sample is obtained and matched to yours…”

“I think the national database includes only your tissue type and not your complete DNA sequence,” Asher interrupted.

“OK, let’s say you’re married with kids, and one day CPS shows up to tell you that you have an orphaned kid out there that you’re responsible for. What if the kid is only five and you’ve been married ten years. It could destroy your marriage and the only thing you’ll get for it is an orphaned kid you never knew.”

“If you fuck around behind your spouse’s back and get a girl pregnant, then you deserve whatever you get” Asher challenged. “Sex is private, but having kids most definitely is not. There can be no expectation that sex won’t lead to pregnancy and a public airing of your deeds.

“In fact, one of the best ways to reduce so-called welfare babies might be to go after the fathers,” Asher continued. “With a lot of the potential fathers being in the system, it should be possible to track them down and match them to their kids. Maybe the fathers would think twice about knocking their girlfriends up if they thought they could be forced to pay child support.”

“I can’t believe you could suggest such a thing, Ash,” Seth responded. “It would hit black and Hispanic kids hardest, while white kids would get off scot-free, just cause their DNA isn’t in the system. It would be a grave violation of minorities’ privacy rights. Besides which, if two people have consensual sex and go their separate ways, how can you go back after the father for donating his sperm?”

“Because it takes two to have a kid,” Asher responded. “Although only the mother can get pregnant, the father is equally responsible. There can be no child without a father. Why put the onus only on the mother? The mother already has enough responsibility, just to raise the kid!”

“But it’s precisely because the father can’t get pregnant that it becomes the mother’s responsibility to raise the child,” Seth countered. “That’s why in Judaism, it’s the mother that determines the child’s religion. It’s the mother’s responsibility to avoid getting pregnant. She can always use birth control, or just say no.”

“Try being a black girl and saying no to your macho black boyfriend. Try getting him to use a condom when he refuses. Try being an Hispanic girl living with your conservative, Catholic parents and bringing birth control pills into the home. If the boy were equally at risk of being responsible for raising their kid, don’t you think that would be fair? Don’t you think that might make the boy think twice?

“But consider this,” Asher continued. “Nothing contributes more to poverty than having a kid. Nothing. It’s not just that the girl and her kid end up on public assistance, but the girl, saddled with raising the kid, often doesn’t finish her education. She can’t compete in the work force or hold a job. We could talk about the responsibility to provide for your own kid, but it’s the inability to get ahead in life that keeps people in poverty, and having a kid you’re not ready to support is the surest way to make that happen.

“If, on the other hand, the father were also responsible for child support, perhaps that would be enough for the mother to finish school, put the child in childcare and get a job. Raised in a middle-class household rather than in poverty, the child would have a much better chance of breaking the cycle and making something of their life too.”

“God Ash, you sound like a Republican,” Seth responded, making being ‘Republican’ sound like it was worse than being a child rapist.

“Better to be a liberal Republican than a bleeding heart,” Asher countered.

“I can’t believe you think that!” Seth practically shouted.

“Perhaps it’s everyone’s right to choose to be poor…”

“Nobody chooses to be poor, Ash.”

“Maybe not, but in this country and especially in this city, everyone has the resources available to break out of poverty,” Asher countered. “A parent can choose to live in poverty or on the street, or to get the education they need to rise above poverty. However, a child has no role in making such a choice. We absolutely have to ensure that children have food, clothing, a roof over their heads and an education. That is a must, but children learn by example and a mother with five kids who’s made a career out of living on public assistance…”

“You’ve gotta be fuckin’ kidding,” Seth again interrupted.

“Hear me out on this,” Asher argued. “Children learn from their parents and from their peers. If the only life boys know of is life in a street gang and the only life girls know of is being a single mother on public assistance, then they’re more than likely going to perpetuate the cycle. And we’re facilitating that! Who do you think pays for the food, the clothing, the housing and even the cell phones the courts have ruled they’re entitled to? Someone has to be working to pay taxes to support those who don’t. You might even say it was the Welfare State that killed the space program. How can we ever expect to reach the future world of Star Trek if we don’t break the cycle of poverty? Like it or not, society can’t make the unproductive, productive. Only the impoverished can break out of poverty. Personal responsibility is a cornerstone of a viable society, be it capitalist or socialist.”

“That goes against everything I believe in, Ash.”

“But you believe in me,” Asher countered.

“Don’t try me,” Seth replied.

“What about your father?” Asher countered. “Would he oppose everything I’ve said?”

“Of course,” Seth responded.

“I’d like challenge you on that,” Asher replied. “Unlike you, your father has lived in the real world and I’m sure he has a much more pragmatic outlook. I’m willing to bet that he would agree that no amount of spending can erase poverty and that poverty is perpetuated by women having children they can’t afford. We may disagree on how to change it, but I think he’d agree that personal responsibility must play a role, and that the boys must be made to be a part of the solution.”

“You’re on,” Seth responded, “but what are you willing to bet?”

“We still haven’t resolved the vinyl versus digital music debate,” Asher pointed out.

“Only because you won’t let us proceed until my apartment’s renovated, which probably won’t be before the summer,” Seth countered.

Sighing, Asher agreed, “OK, we’ll find a time when my dad’s available… probably in the early morning during our winter break, and we’ll see if Kyle or Freck will moderate a test of vinyl versus digital with my equipment. In the meantime, we’ll talk to your dad. If he agrees with three or more of my points, you’ll dress up in drag for New Year’s Eve and all New Year’s Day. If he disagrees, then I’ll be the one who has to dress in drag, all in good fun, but pictures will likely show up on Facebook.”

“And if it’s a draw?”

“We’ll both dress in drag.”

“Oh, that would be interesting,” Seth replied. “Not that I’m not curious, but I’ve never had an interest in that sort of thing.”

“I’m with you there,” Asher agreed. “Seeing you in drag should be good for a laugh, but if I wanted a girlfriend, I’d date girls. I love your golden curls and your sexy green eyes, but your smooth flat chest is what turns me on. And what’s between your thighs. Boobs don’t do it for me. I like boys and I love one in particular.

“I love you too babe,” Seth responded with a quick kiss. “Just the way you are.”

 

“This meal was amazing,” Freck exclaimed as he forked the last of his salmon eggs Benedict creole into his mouth. Once again Asher had prepared a Saturday brunch feast for the four of them in what was quickly becoming a weekly tradition. The centerpiece of the meal had been an eggs Benedict in which a bagel substituted for the English muffin and smoked salmon substituted for the Canadian bacon. In place of the traditional hollandaise sauce, Asher had prepared a spicy Creole sauce with crab meat and popcorn shrimp. It was delicious.

 During the meal, Asher and Kyle told their friends about the play they’d seen the night before, and about the conversation they’d had afterwards. After hearing about the disagreement they’d had about DNA, paternal responsibility and the role of pregnancy in poverty, Freck responded by saying, “I respect your positions on privacy and personal rights, Seth, but I mostly agree with Ash. Rights come with responsibilities. Just as there should be no assumption of privacy when having an affair, out in the open with surveillance cameras all around, there can be no right of privacy with respect to DNA, irrespective of whether someone provides it voluntarily or not. We leave traces of DNA all around us, as we shed our hair and touch things. It’s no different than leaving a finger print. Tracing DNA is no different than using facial recognition software.”

“But look at what the Chinese are doing in that regard,” Kyle countered. “They have agents in the field with special glasses designed to identify persons of interest based on facial recognition.”

“Yes, but it’s not the technology that’s to blame but the way in which the government has chosen to use it,” Asher opined.

“Exactly,” Freck agreed. “The technology exists, is accurate and useful. It can be used to identify known terrorists or suspects wanted for murder. It can also be misused to identify political activists as is being done in China, but that doesn’t make it inherently bad.

“One of the things I commented on, on the way over with Kyle was how strange it is that all of these housing projects around here are surrounded by streets parked up with luxury SUVs with New Jersey tags,” Freck went on. “Somehow, I doubt the folks in New Jersey who can’t find parking are coming to the Lower East Side to park. I would wager that most of those SUVs are registered to the addresses of relatives in New Jersey, so as to prevent the New York DMV from tracing the vehicles to the residents of the projects. I would also bet they were bought primarily with drug money. You have young men living with their mothers in the projects and selling dope for the street gangs, and a lot of them are fathers with multiple girlfriends and children who are being supported entirely by the taxpayers of New York.”

“And you would use their DNA to track them down and make them pay child support?” Seth asked in disbelief.

“Why the fuck not?” Freck responded. “They’re far from innocent in all of this, and they’re supporting a culture of crime and violence while they’re girlfriends and children live in fear. I’d go even further. People in the projects don’t need cars unless they’re physically disabled or have a job that requires a car. There’s little need for parking, and so the parking lots should be auctioned off and developed where possible. The money raised could be used to clear the backlog of deferred maintenance in the projects, and to improve them, significantly. And as far as those ‘New Jersey’ SUVs are concerned, either require a residential sticker to park on the street at night, or outright ban overnight parking of all but vehicles with New York tags. At least force them to pay seven or eight hundred dollars a month to park their SUVs in a private garage. Then, at least some of that drug money would find its way back into the economy.”

“I can’t believe you don’t see that as an invasion of privacy,” Seth interjected.

“What, selling drugs, using fake addresses to purchase illegally-bought vehicles, parking those vehicles free of charge on city streets and skipping out on paying legitimate child support? Personally, I think the whole approach to drug addiction is wrong…”

“At least we can agree on that,” Seth interrupted.

“But there’s no reason the city should actually facilitate racketeering by looking the other way. Why make it easy for the drug lords in Mexico and the meth labs in the U.S. to make use of the street gangs of New York to do their dirty work?

“I was even more struck by Asher’s idea of self-help,” Freck continued. “We can’t eliminate the culture of poverty until those caught in it want to break out of it. A good case in point is one my dad commented on, just the other day. He’s too busy to volunteer for anything, so he gives generously to charity. One of the organizations he gives to is an organization that provides the resources for those in need to get an education. Sometimes they highlight a particular case as a means of raising money.

“Recently, they sent a mailing asking for help to educate a young woman with five children and a sixth on the way. If only she could get an education, the argument went, she could turn her life around and provide support for her children. Obviously, she started having children when she was in her teens, and of course there may have been extenuating circumstances. However, the fact that she’s pregnant yet again shows she hasn’t even taken the first step to turn her life around. How was it that we’re supposed to expect her to take that education seriously and use it effectively to get a good job if she hasn’t even shown a willingness to stop having kids? It would be a case of throwing good money after bad. She needs to demonstrate a willingness to take responsibility for her own life before we should step in with assistance.”

“Guys,” Kyle interrupted, “as usual, you’re trying to solve the last problem when a larger one looms ahead of us, and I’m not just talking about global warming.

“My dad went to a medical conference in Cleveland last summer, and in an attempt to be more of a real father to us, he took Roger and me with him. While he attended the conference, we went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Natural History museum and the art museum. After the conference was over, Dad took us to Sandusky, where they have one of the largest amusement parks in the world.

“Anyway, along Interstate 90 we passed a Delco plant with a huge parking lot. Only about ten percent of the parking lot was actually used for parking and the rest of it was covered over with solar arrays. Dad thought it was funny that an automotive plant had more solar cells than cars or people, but I couldn’t help but be struck by the symbolism of that one plant, and by what it means for the future.

“Imagine that a manufacturing plant only needs one-tenth as many workers as it did when it was built. Imagine that a plant that makes parts for cars that burn fossil fuels relies so heavily on renewable energy. What this portends is a future in which only a small percentage of the population is gainfully employed in high-skill jobs, and everyone else is unemployed and lives in poverty. Of course, that doesn’t exactly explain who will buy the products the skilled workers manufacture.

“Rather than trying to solve the problem of the cycle of poverty, let’s look at trying to plan for the future with a post-employment economy. Perhaps we should consider paying everyone a living wage out of the profits of industry. Perhaps we should consider shortening work hours and shortening the work week so that we can pay more people a decent salary. Perhaps we should have mandatory retirement at thirty so that people could retire young and live off the fruits of their labors for the rest of their lives. Shouldn’t automation benefit the workers it displaces as well as the shareholders?

“So rather than looking at how to end the cycle of public assistance, maybe what we should be doing is looking at how to turn it into a model for our future.”

“Damn, Kyle,” Seth responded. “Leave it to a ten-year-old to make today’s progressives look like fascists.”

“On a lighter note,” Freck interjected, “You should see the media player Kyle got for his birthday and Chanukah!”

 

“OK, we’ve got the first and fourth tracks on Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue as a definite,” Kyle expounded. “It has a lot of breath, it’s intimate and there are deep overtones that only a top sound system can reproduce. If anything will differentiate the subtleties between vinyl and digital, that will.” The four boys were sitting on the floor in front of Asher’s new stereo, selecting potential vinyl albums to use in Seth’s bet with Asher and his father. With each potential vinyl album, Seth used his iPhone to explore his digital library, making sure that he had the exact same album in his collection. It was agreed that the digital versions had to be digitized from the same master as the original vinyl. Any remixing or remastering would alter the sound, making it easy to tell the difference between versions.

As per the original bet, the test was to be conducted by an independent party, namely Kyle, and everyone was to listen to two tracks from each of five albums. A score of eight correctly identified tracks out of ten total would indicate the ability to differentiate vinyl from digital. Identifying six or fewer tracks would be considered to be the result of random chance and would constitute failure. Seven tracks would constitute a draw.

“But what if you score two or less tracks out of ten?” Kyle pointed out. “That would amount to worse than chance, or a reverse correlation.” In lay terms, scoring zero, one or two would indicate that the listener thought the digital tracks were from the vinyl recordings and vice versa. Obviously, there should be special consequences for that as well. “What if we agree that a negative correlation should be counted as a second win for the opponent, possibly doubling the length of service for the award?” Everyone agreed that that would be appropriate.

“I have Harry Belafonte,” Asher suggested. “He had an incredible voice with a lot of dynamic range.”

“Harry Belafonte? Yuck!” replied Seth. “I’m just not into Calypso. I have absolutely none of his recordings in my collection, and I’m not about to add one to win this bet.”

“How about Frank Sinatra’s My Way,” Asher suggested as he pulled out the album from his father’s collection.

“Old Blue Eyes,” Seth echoed. “He definitely had one of the most easily recognized voices of the twentieth century. The man actually had three hugely successful careers, first as a teenage heartthrob, then as a decent actor and finally as an iconic male jazz vocalist.”

“Four careers if you include his ties to the mob,” Kyle added.

“Well, there was that,” Asher agreed.

“He went into acting when he lost his singing voice,” Freck chimed in. “There’s always been a lot of speculation as to why, and how he was able to make a comeback. Obviously, it couldn’t have been cancer or anything like that, so it was probably just laryngeal polyps, but that would be devastating to a singer. He was ridiculed a lot for his acting career, but his performance in the original Manchurian Candidate was solid.”

“What tracks are on My Way?” Seth asked.

“Let’s see…” Asher replied as he looked at the back of the album cover. “Watch What Happens, Didn’t We, Hallelujah I Love Her So, Yesterday…

“McCartney’s Yesterday?” Seth asked.

“That’s the one,” Asher confirmed. “You know, I always wondered about his rendition of Didn’t We. The original title and lyrics were, Didn’t We Girl, so I always wondered if maybe old Franky wasn’t as straight as he purported to be.”

“Nah,” Freck replied. “He probably just didn’t like the way it sounded with the extra word.”

“Anyway, the other tracks are, “All My Tomorrows, My Way, A Day in the Life of a Fool, For Once in My Life, If You Go Away and Mrs. Robinson.”

A Day in the Life of a Fool is the Brazilian song, Manhã de Carnaval,” Kyle pointed out. “It’s become a Jazz standard.”

“He really belts If You Go Away out of the park,” Asher suggested, I think we should include that one and Didn’t We.”

“Sounds good to me,” Seth agreed.

“For a female vocalist, we could do Judy Garland,” Asher suggested as he pulled out another album.

“Oh, that’s so gay!” Kyle replied.

“Why not Maria Callas?” Freck interjected, “the greatest opera singer of all time.”

“Sorry, but my dad doesn’t have any opera in his record collection,” Asher responded.

“No opera?” Freck exclaimed. “How is that possible?” Then breaking into a surprisingly good falsetto, he sang, “L'amour est un oiseau rebelle Que nul ne peut apprivoiser, Et c'est bien en vain qu'on l'appelle, S'il lui convient de refuser.”

Everyone broke into applause and Seth added, “Well done, Carmen.” Freck bowed in response.

Pulling out Barbra Streisand’s album, The Way We Were, Asher suggested, “I know this is gonna sound gay, guys, but no female vocalist comes even close to Barbra Streisand.”

“Can it be that it was all so simple then?” Seth sang.

“Or has time rewritten every line?” Freck continued in song.

“If we had the chance to do it all again, tell me would we? Could we?” Kyle added in song.

“Memories light the corners of my mind,” Asher sang along, “Misty water-colored memories…”

“…of the way we were,” all four of them sang together.

“What a great song,” Kyle stated. “We gotta include that one. What else was on the album.”

Asher read off the titles from the back of the album and his boyfriend commented, “It’s gotta be either All in Love is Fair or What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life. Both of those are outstanding songs that really showcase her talent.”

“It would be easier to do All in Love is Fair,” Asher suggested. “It’s the next track on the album.

“OK, that makes sense,” Seth agreed. “I love that song.”

“And I love you!” Asher added as he gave his boyfriend a peck on the lips.”

“Oh gag me,” Freck responded as he made gagging noises.

“Shut the fuck up, Freck,” Kyle responded, “and while you’re at it, fuck me madly.” Kyle then kissed him on the lips with much more passion, earning catcalls from Asher and Seth.

“OK, we’ve got Jazz instrumentals, and male and female vocalists. We still need something classical and maybe classic rock,” Kyle suggested.

“My dad doesn’t have much in the way of classical music,” Asher lamented as he looked through the collection. “Perhaps it’s time for me to change that. Maybe it’s time for me to add to the collection.” Then continuing to explore the collection he pulled out an album and said, “This one will probably do. Eric Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, playing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.”

“I don’t have that album,” Seth replied, “but I do have the same thing with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops.”

“What do you know,” Asher responded as he pulled out another album, “My dad has that one too.”

“Isn’t Rhapsody in Blue a bit long?” Kyle asked.

“There are shorter pieces on the same album,” Asher suggested. “There’s the Concerto in F. The third movement’s only six minutes. Variations on I’ve Got Rhythm is eight minutes long.”

“I’m familiar with Variations, but not with Concerto in F,” Seth replied.

“It’s an excellent piece,” Freck responded. “It’s a piano concerto, and on a par with the likes of Grieg and Rachmaninoff in my opinion,” he added.

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Kyle challenged, “but it’s certainly one of the outstanding pieces of the twentieth century.”

“It should be fine for our purposes, along with Variations,” Asher agreed. “And for rock, how about the Eagles’ Hotel California?”

“Too much air time,” Kyle complained. “Everyone knows that song by heart. The whole album, for that matter. It would be too easy to pick up on subtle differences.”

“OK,” Asher agreed as he put the album back where he’d found it. Then pulling out another album, he suggested, “Blood, Sweat and Tears?”

“Oh, that one’s Ideal,” Kyle exclaimed. Then breaking into song, “What goes up, must come down. Spinning wheel gotta go round.”

“What else is on the album?”

“The best-known tracks are God Bless the Child, You’ve Made Me so Very Happy, More and More, and of course And When I Die.”

And When I Die would be good,” Seth suggested, and everyone agreed.

“All right, we’ve got our five albums and ten tracks. Now we just have to find a time in the early morning when Dad’s available, and Kyle,” Asher exclaimed.

“Good luck with that!” Kyle responded. “I’ve no intention of getting up early while on my winter break. I’m gonna be too busy makin’ love with my baby.”

“Oooh,” responded both Seth and Asher.

“I guess we’ll just hafta wait until after the start of the new year,” Seth commented.

“And so again, we wait,” Asher replied.

 

“Merry Christmas, sweetheart,” Julie Moore said as she kissed Asher on the cheek, after he greeted her at the door.

“Merry Christmas Asher,” Frank Moore said as he shook his son’s boyfriend’s hand. Asher invited both of them into his apartment. They were laden down with heavy shopping bags containing giftwrapped boxes.

“Apparently there’s a storm coming, so we can’t stay long,” Frank added. “We’re sorry we can’t stay for Christmas, but when the Governor extends an invitation, you can exactly say no.”

“Don’t worry, Dad,” Seth responded. “I’m used to it.”

“Oh Seth,” Julie countered. “You know we’d have much rather spent our time with you. It’s all about politics. You know we love you more than anything.”

“Yeah, I do know,” Seth replied with a smile. “I’ve always known, and the feeling’s mutual. I’m grateful that finally there’s someone in my life who matters more to me than life itself. Finally, there’s someone in my life with whom I’d rather spend the holiday. I’m beginning my own family now.”

“I’m sure you feel that way, Seth,” Frank said, “but you’re still only thirteen…”

“I guess it does sound a bit pretentious of me,” Seth interrupted, “but I do love Asher, very much.”

“We know you do,” Julie answered, “and we love him too.”

“Keep in mind that your arrangement of living with him and sleeping with him every night is temporary,” Frank interjected. “Once the new place is done, you’ll each have your own space again and, hopefully, you’ll begin a family together in earnest… maybe you’ll even adopt kids… but that’s years in the future.”

“Would you object to my moving in with Seth when the apartment’s ready, assuming my parents’ agree to it too?” Asher asked.

Looking at his wife for her head nod, Frank responded, “I think that’s a decision the two of you should make together when the time is right. I know you’d rather not go back to being alone at night, and if you still love each other as you do now, then living together should be your choice. I would recommend, however, that you both have someplace to go when you need to be alone.”

“We really do need to be going,” Julie reminded her husband.

“Before you leave,” Seth asked, “could I ask a quick question?”

“Of course, Seth,” Julie answered.

Seth then outlined the discussion he and Asher had had on the previous Friday night, without going into the nature of their bet.

“That’s some quick question!” Frank began, “The short answer is that I agree with some of what Asher said and with some of what you said, Seth. I know you probably think I believe what you believe. That’s probably where you got your beliefs in the first place. However, what you’ve heard is my political opinion, which doesn’t necessarily reflect my own. A lot of my constituents live in the projects, and I can’t exactly tell them they shouldn’t have babies. That would be political suicide. There’s no question that having children ties young women to the welfare system, makes them dependent on it and prevents them from getting the education they need or ever becoming gainfully employed. Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned of this back in the sixties, at the beginning of the formation of Johnson’s Great Society.

“The children should never be penalized, but I do think we could do a hell of a lot more to emphasize personal responsibility and maybe tie public assistance to being responsible. For example, certain luxuries like cell phone minutes could be tied to things like getting an education. And maybe certain things could be taken away when they make bad choices, such as getting pregnant while on public assistance.

“Where I strongly disagree with Asher is on the matter of using DNA to track down the fathers. It would be nice to find a way to get the fathers to be more involved with supporting their kids, but it probably won’t happen. DNA should be private, and the sharing of information should be strictly voluntary. Otherwise, where would we draw the line? Should a drug maker have direct access to DNA records, so they could track down ideal test subjects for a new drug trial? How about letting Jim Beam target ads at people who have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism. That’s a slippery slope we should never go down.”

“We really do need to get going,” Julie reminded them. Seth and Asher handed his parents a Christmas gift from both of them, and they wished them a safe trip to Albany as they closed the door.

“Wow, I never expected my dad to think like that!” Seth began, once the two of them were alone.

“Me either,” Asher agreed. “It looks like maybe we both need to rethink our opinions now.”

“Definitely,” Seth replied. “One thing’s for sure… we’re both gonna be in drag come New Year’s Eve.”

“Your dad didn’t leave us any leeway with that,” Asher agreed, and then added, “but maybe we could have a party, and talk Freck and Kyle into dressing up in drag too.”

“You know, that could really be a lot of fun!” Seth replied. “We’ll have to suggest it when they get here. Speaking of which, what time are they arriving?”

“I told them to be here at 6:00,” Asher answered. “We’ll pick up the food just before.”

The plan was to spend Christmas Eve with their best friends, but Freck had insisted that Asher take the night off and that they send out for food. Asher ended up ordering four complete turkey dinners from the Good Stuff Diner, but because they were well outside the delivery area, Seth arranged for Uber to pick up and deliver the meals. They were scheduled to arrive at around 6:30. In the meantime, Freck and Kyle would be bringing an assortment of sushi from the Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar at Hudson Eats, and Seth and Asher would pick up an assortment of Asian appetizers from Asher’s parents’ restaurant. The boys would certainly not starve.

Asher and Seth went downstairs at 5:30 but were shocked when they discovered just how much colder and windier it was than when they’d been out in the morning. It took them three trips to carry all the dishes that had been prepared for them. It was significantly more food than they’d requested. Parents!

By the time Freck and Kyle arrived, it was already beginning to snow heavily, and with a stiff wind, walking outside was very difficult.

“Looks like you got here just in time,” Seth commented as he took one of two enormous trays of sushi from Kyle and put it down on the dining room table. Freck carried the other tray into the kitchen.

“I hope the Uber guy can get here with the turkey dinners,” Asher worried as the snow only continued to worsen.”

“It shouldn’t be long until he arrives,” Asher responded.

“I’m gonna check to make sure my parents got there OK,” Seth added as he took out his phone and dialed them. His parents were already settled into the place in Albany, but during the call he got a call from the Uber driver that he couldn’t allow to go to voice mail. After speaking to him, Seth hung up his phone and said, “The driver asked if we can come downstairs to pick up the food from him, ’cause the only place to stand is at a bus stop or in the entrance to the loading dock, and he doesn’t want to get towed, especially in this weather.”

“OK, let’s get the food,” Asher agreed. Refusing Kyle and Freck’s help, they headed downstairs and out the side door into near white-out conditions.

“Are you gonna be OK?” Asher asked the driver as he and Seth took the food from him.

“I live just across Delancey,” the driver replied. “I’ll be home in five minutes, thanks to God.” Asher gave the driver an extra twenty-dollar tip in cash for his delivery in such bad weather, and wished him well.

Back upstairs in their apartment, Asher and Seth found Kyle and Freck watching the Weather Channel on Asher’s TV.

“It’s gonna be a much worse storm than originally predicted,” Freck said immediately. “A low-pressure cell tracked much further inland than originally modeled, so we’re in the midst of a real Nor’easter. We’re under a blizzard warning with winds gusting to seventy miles-an-hour and we’re expecting two to three feet of snow.”

“Obviously, you’re staying here tonight with us,” Seth said to Freck and Kyle. “Maybe tomorrow night too.”

“Fuck, I’d better call my folks,” Asher responded as he took out his phone. “I’ll tell them they need to close the restaurant and join us here.” Before he could even dial the number, however, the door opened and his parents walked in, carrying bags of additional food. They weren’t dressed for the weather, wearing only light jackets and regular shoes. Both of them were encrusted with snow.

Taking the food from them, Asher suggested, “You two need to take a hot bath. I’d suggest doing it together, but there isn’t room.”

“Oh yes there is,” his mother replied. “We’ve done it before, many times. We just have to lay in opposite directions.”

Asher didn’t even want to imagine his parents lying together, naked in their bathtub, but before he even had a chance to process the thought, they’d disappeared into the tiny bathroom.

Realizing their dinner for four had become a dinner for six, Asher quickly removed the tray of sushi from the table and began setting it with six place settings. With the other boys’ help, he set up all the food, buffet style on the kitchen island. It was going to be a feast.

Moments later, Asher’s parents emerged from the bathroom in their robes and retreated to the master bedroom, emerging a short time later wearing warm, casual clothes. Joining the boys in the kitchen, soon everyone had filled their plates with sushi, turkey and stuffing, and an assortment of Asian specialties. Ironically, it was Asher’s parents that seemed to enjoy the turkey the most, as they were used to eating their own restaurant food. Asher and Seth loaded up mostly with sushi on their plates, and there was a huge variety of it, and Kyle and Freck filled their plates mostly with the food from Asher’s parents’ restaurant, as they’d never had it before. Regardless of the food, everyone was using chopsticks, which they all used with surprising ease — even the non-Asians.

By the time they could eat no more, half of the turkey was gone, as well as one of the platters of sushi. There was so much Asian food from the restaurant, however, that one could hardly tell that it had been touched. Sealing everything up in containers, they soon had everything put away in the refrigerator, and some of it in the freezer, to be eaten another time.

They couldn’t believe what they saw when they looked out the window, or rather what they didn’t see. The view was of a complete white-out that made it impossible to see anything. Because the door to the balcony was entirely glass in an aluminum frame, however, they could see that the balcony was filled with at least a couple feet of snow, with no end to the snow in sight.

Turning the TV back on, the weather report was even worse, with wind chill temperatures well below zero and a prediction of three to four feet of snow by morning. A snow emergency had been declared and everyone was warned to stay indoors. The airports were closed, bus service had been suspended and even the above-ground portions of the subways had been shut down, with the below ground portions scheduled to stop running at midnight. Amtrak and the commuter rail lines in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey had been suspended until further notice. Beyond a doubt, it was going to be a Christmas to remember.

“Why don’t you boys go open your presents,” Asher’s mother suggested.

“We promised Seth’s parents we’d wait for Christmas morning, which we’ve interpreted as midnight.”

Shaking her head, she said, “There may not be much time in the morning, so you might as well open them now and go to bed early. We have a business to run and people in the neighborhood will be counting on us to feed them and feed them we will. It could be days before our regular help can get here, so we’ll need your help,” then looking at Kyle and Freck, she added, “All of your help, to keep the restaurant open. People will be counting on us.

“Asher, you’ll help me in the kitchen. It’ll only be the two of us, so we’ll both need to do double duty. At least you already know how to make everything on our menu. Seth, you’ll man the take-out counter. Sorry to foist it on you, but we won’t have anyone else to do the job. There’ll be a very brisk take-out business once we reopen, so you’ll have to be on your toes.

“Kyle and Freck, you’ll help my husband make deliveries. I expect we’ll be making a lot of deliveries for at least a week after this storm peters out. Once the snow stops, the city will begin clearing the roads, but with no place else to dump the snow, they’ll dump it onto the sidewalks. Any cars that didn’t heed the snow emergency warnings will simply be buried under the snow. The city won’t have the time or resources to tow them.

“The bottom line is you won’t be able to walk or even ride a Citibike to make your deliveries. Because of our years of loyalty, the car service we sometimes use will provide us with an SUV and a driver. We’ll pay him out of a delivery surcharge instead of his usual hourly rate. Even with the car, you boys will be climbing over snow drifts higher than your head, which is why it’s going to take both of you and my husband to make the rounds.”

Seth, Kyle and Freck were shocked by the magnitude of the undertaking to reopen the restaurant and provide for the needs of the community. Asher already knew what was involved, but this was going to be the first time he’d ever been involved himself. In the past, his parents had hired neighborhood teens to do the work, with mixed results. With Asher being fourteen himself now, he could do the work of a passel of help in the kitchen. The other boys were too young to be working, but there was no reason they couldn’t volunteer in return for under-the-table tips.

With nothing else to do, the boys went about exchanging gifts. Asher and Seth gave both sets of parents the same gift. They had gone to a professional studio photographer and had a formal portrait made of the two of them. Dressed in semi-formal clothing, the two boys looked absolutely stunning together. Asher with his mocha-colored skin, his Asian features, his brown eyes, black wavy hair and his warm smile, wore a red shirt with a beige suit and a red carnation. Seth, with his golden curly hair, his pale white skin and his green eyes, wore a dark green shirt with a black suit and a green carnation that really brought out the color of his eyes. Seth was seated on Asher’s lap and Asher had his arms around him, clearly showing the love they shared between them. Sized large as life at 14 X 20 inches and framed in solid mahogany, the print showed not a pair of young teens, but two mature boys who were painfully in love with each other.

Asher’s mom had already decided that the boys should remain together after the work on Seth’s apartment was complete. Seeing them as in the photo only reinforced her decision to talk to Seth’s parents about it. Gary was equally affected by the photo, literally to the point that it brought tears to his eyes.

The gift exchange continued as Seth got a shiny new A&future media player and IEMs from his parents, identical to the one Kyle got for his birthday and Chanukah. Asher’s parents got him a one-year subscription to Tidal, so he’d have music to listen to on his new player, wherever he went. Asher was blown away when he got a brand-new iPhone from his parents, similar to the model that Seth had. Not that his old phone didn’t still work, but it had a very limited capacity. Now, he had a phone that was more powerful than his Chromebook.

The gift Asher got from Seth’s parents, however, was so totally unexpected that he nearly fainted. They’d given him the newest MacBook Air laptop, fully decked out with the fastest processor and the maximum memory. Asher knew what that model cost and couldn’t believe that his boyfriend’s parents spent nearly as much on a new laptop for him as they did on Seth’s music player and earbuds. Now he had a laptop that would get him through the rest of high school and maybe even the start of college.

Asher and Seth announced that they’d decided not to get each other gifts, as they were constantly spending money on each other all the time. However, Seth then gave Asher a card with an enclosed gift card for a four-year subscription to the student edition of Microsoft Office, and Asher gave Seth a card with an enclosed fifty-dollar gift certificate to HDtracks. Seth and Asher then gave Kyle and Freck a book of a dozen round-trip tickets on Metro North, between Riverdale and Grand Central Terminal. To Kyle and Freck it wasn’t the amount of money that was spent, which wasn’t trivial but not extravagant either. It was the thought and the symbolism of such a wonderful gift. Kyle and Freck also pooled their resources and gave Asher and Seth a combined gift of a personally autographed set of Star Trek photos of all six captains from all the series and movies, and Michael Burnham, Spock’s half-sister from Discovery.

Although it was still fairly early, the boys decided to call it a night in case they had to get an early start at the restaurant in the morning. Outside the snow was still falling and the wind was howling, making that possibility seem much less likely as the storm continued.

“So how are we gonna do this?” Freck asked as he eyed Asher’s queen-size bed. Back home he had a California King that could have easily accommodated all four of them with room to spare. He wasn’t sure if that was even possible with Asher’s bed. The only alternative would be to sleep on air mattresses out in the living room, assuming they even had air mattresses. He certainly didn’t want to sleep on a hardwood floor over concrete.

“Guys, I know you’re probably wondering how four of us will fit on the queen-size bed in my room. The answer is that my parents have a king, and we’re gonna swap. We’ll change all the linens and my parents will sleep in my room, and we’ll sleep in theirs. It’ll still be a bit tighter than what we’re used to, but none of us is that large that we shouldn’t all be able to fit on a king-size mattress.”

Because Kyle and Freck didn’t have any clothes with them other than what they wore over, and nothing of Asher’s or Seth’s would fit them, it was agreed that they’d all sleep nude, so Kyle and Freck could wash out their underwear and let them dry overnight. Seth, himself a seasoned traveler, showed them how they could use a bath towel to remove most of the water. Although there was no need for Asher or Seth to sleep nude, they decided they would as well so that their friends wouldn’t feel as self-conscious. The reality, however, was that all four boys usually slept that way anyway.

After washing up, brushing their teeth and washing underwear, the boys used robes to get from the bathroom to the master bedroom and then removed their robes and slipped into bed. Asher and Freck were on the inside, with Seth and Kyle on the outside, next to their respective boyfriends. It was the first time either Asher or Seth had seen Kyle in the nude, and they were both impressed that a ten-year-old was as well-endowed as he was. In spite of the tight quarters, they fell asleep quickly.

Asher awoke first the next morning to find that he’d turned over during the night and was now facing Freck. Not only that, but he was snuggled with his friend, with his arm around him. Freck was also facing him, and their dicks were both hard and pressing against each other. Freck wasn’t Asher’s boyfriend and he wasn’t even Asher’s type, but Asher had his arm around his smooth torso and their throbbing dicks were pressed against each other, and both boys were most definitely gay, and so predictably they became aroused. They could’ve easily gotten each other off, but that wasn’t what either of them wanted.

Realizing that Seth had his arm around his own torso, Asher quickly turned back to face his own boyfriend and was greeted by a curly mop of golden curls and a radiant pair of green eyes. Poked in the thigh by Asher’s appendage, Seth reached down and felt his boyfriend’s manhood, and quietly whispered, we’d better do something about this. Scooting down in bed, Seth attended to Asher’s dilemma, and then Asher did the same. From the movements coming from the other side of the bed, Asher and Seth could tell that Freck and Kyle were doing something similar.

Glancing at the bedside clock, Asher noted that they’d been asleep for close to ten hours. Getting up, he glanced out the window and saw that it was still snowing, with whiteout conditions. Putting on a robe, Asher quickly took care of business, followed by each of his friends. Never dreaming that two boys could use the bathroom at the same time, let alone four, Asher was astounded that he and Seth actually managed to shower together while Kyle and Freck brushed their teeth. Switching places, Asher and Seth applied deodorant and brushed their teeth, vacating the bathroom by the time Kyle and Freck were ready to get out of the tub. Fortunately, Asher had shaved just the day before and could wait another day or two before shaving again.

After getting dressed, Asher knocked on his own bedroom door and let his parents know the bathroom was free. He and Seth then headed for the kitchen, where Asher got to work preparing a simple breakfast from some of the Asian leftovers, adding whole wheat toast and a soft-boiled egg to each serving.

After breakfast, they checked the Weather Channel and found that the snow was expected to diminish over the next hour or so. There was a record snowfall of close to five feet as measured in Central Park, which meant that any hope of opening the restaurant was unlikely for at least another day. This being Christmas, there was little chance the city would fully mobilize its work force to clear the streets, yet mobilize they did to provide access for police, fire and ambulance service. All of the north-south avenues were cleared, as was FDR Drive and the Westside Highway. The two-way east-west cross streets were all cleared, including Canal, Delancey, Houston and Fourteenth Streets in Lower Manhattan. In the boroughs the major highways were cleared, including the Major Deegan, the Cross-Bronx, the Brooklyn-Queens and the Long Island and Van Wyck Expressways. Also cleared were the Grand Central, Jackie Robinson, Southern State and Belt Parkways. All of the bridges were cleared of snow and de-iced.

In spite of the massive mobilization and on Christmas Day, no less, the city fielded numerous complaints about the lack of attention to individual neighborhood streets. Of course, those employees who were called in complained bitterly about missing Christmas with their families. On the other hand, the private contractors and towing companies managed to mobilize fully without experiencing any employee complaints. Many of them plowed city streets on their way to servicing their contracts for parking lots and driveways, earning the gratitude of the people in the neighborhoods they served.

With Grand and Madison Streets, and East Broadway snowed in, and without the benefit of the M14A, the M21 and the M22 buses, there was no way to access the restaurant, and so it would be at least another day before anything could be done. Although Kyle and Freck might have been able to get back to Battery Park City via FDR Drive and the West Side Highway using Uber, it would have meant climbing over eight-foot snow drifts up to Delancey Street, or possibly even Houston Street. Besides, they would be needed in a day or two to help deliver food to the needy. Hence the four boys and Asher’s parents were stuck for Christmas in their apartment.

Recognizing that it was the perfect time to act on the bet made several weeks earlier between Seth, Asher and Asher’s father, Kyle proceeded to get things set up for the test. As per the terms of the bet, there were five albums, with two selected tracks on each. Asher had copies of all of them ready on vinyl from his father’s record collection. Seth had copies of all the tracks in high-res digital format, uploaded to a cloud-based server where he kept all his music. Since his new A&K high-res music player lacked software for accessing his server, he downloaded the tracks to his laptop and loaded them onto the music player, which he connected to the Nova 300 integrated amp in Asher’s stereo system.

It was critical that there be no clues as to which source of the music was actually playing on the stereo, and Kyle would be in charge of making sure the sources were random and unknown. An app on his phone would provide a random number, which he used to select which source was heard — the vinyl record on the turntable or the digital version on Seth’s A&K. Gary couldn’t help but think that a coin toss would have been a lot simpler and equally effective, but he knew better than to suggest such an antiquated method to the boys. In any case, Kyle would need to play both the turntable and the A&K simultaneously, to ensure that the true source was unknown. With the lights on the amp covered up, he would use the remote control to switch between the two sources as appropriate. There’d be no way for anyone but Kyle to know.

Typing up an answer sheet on Seth’s laptop, Kyle provided twenty blanks in two columns of ten each, numbered from one to ten from top to bottom. Above the first column he typed ‘First’ and above the second he typed ‘Second’. Kyle printed out four copies from Asher’s printer, and gave one to each of the contestants, Asher, Seth and Gary, Asher’s dad. He kept the last one for himself, to be used for recording the answer key. Finally, Kyle played each of the ten tracks of music in random order, and he played them with the turntable selected as the sound source and with the A&K selected as the sound source. Kyle marked the correct responses on his answer sheet, to serve as the answer key for scoring the others.

After playing all the tracks in both formats, Kyle collected the answer sheets, compared them to the key and marked incorrect answers. He added up the associated score and handed the sheets back to each of the participants before announcing the results.

“Asher,” he began, “you scored seven correct out of ten, which is better than chance, but not enough better to win. Seven is an indeterminate score. You can tell the difference between vinyl and digital some of the time, but not all of the time. Neither you nor Seth has to cook for the other based on your performance.

“Seth, you scored six,” Kyle continued. “Per the agreed-upon metric, your answers were considered random chance and you truly were unable to tell the difference between vinyl and digital. You asserted you would be unable to tell the difference, and you were right! Score one for you, which means that Asher owes you a month of dinners and Gary owes you a month of breakfasts, served in bed if you wish.”

“No crumbs allowed on my sheets,” interrupted Asher to much laughter.

“Finally, Gary,” Kyle went on. “You correctly identified two tracks by the correct source. That means you actually did worse than random chance. You thought the vinyl tracks were digital, and vice versa. You preferred the digital tracks!”

“That’s impossible,” Gary complained.

“Hey, you still have a vinyl collection you can be proud of, and that’s worth a small fortune. However, when it came down to what you actually believe is more realistic, you chose digital. That just goes to show how far digital has come and that the sound quality is so good that it had you fooled. Perhaps you’ll do better the next time, on Seth’s setup when it’s finally ready. In the meantime, you owe Seth a second month of breakfasts in bed.”

Naturally, no one was happy with the results. Asher didn’t see how a mere difference of one point meant that his results where indeterminant whereas Seth, with one less point, was considered the winner because of his inability to distinguish vinyl from digital. No one was less satisfied with the outcome than Asher’s dad, though, as the last thing he expected was to prefer digital over vinyl.

By the next morning, what some around the world referred to Boxing Day and which, coincidentally, was Freck’s twelfth birthday, Grand Street and the major thoroughfares on the Lower East Side were plowed and it became possible to reopen the restaurant. The front door, however, was completely obstructed by snow up to the very top and it was necessary to shovel it out before anyone could access it. The four boys worked together to do so, clearing a path from the street to the front door, and from adjacent areas of sidewalk. Working together with the other shops and businesses, they cleared a footpath all the way to the curb cuts at both ends of the sidewalk. The one thing they couldn’t do was to shovel the snow back out into the street; they could get a citation for that. Also, it was considered bad to shovel snow onto a neighbor’s patch of sidewalk, as they could just as easily shovel it back with a bonus of their snow too. Keeping the shoveled path narrow avoided both problems.

Although it was Freck’s birthday, celebrating it would have to wait for the weekend and once the store was back on firm footing. Freck and Lyle spent the next few days making deliveries with Gary, literally climbing over snow drifts to do so. Asher provided immeasurable help in the kitchen, working with his mother to prepare the food on demand, and Seth manned the take-out counter, taking orders over the phone and via the Internet, and ringing up sales on a surprisingly modern register that even accepted electronic payments from PayPal, Apple and Google.

By the end of business on Friday, all the subways and buses were up and running on a holiday schedule and the regular help would be able to come in to work starting Saturday morning. The city wouldn’t finish digging out until Monday morning, but that was of little importance to the boys, who slept together in Asher’s parent’s bed for the final time on Friday night. Come morning, Asher prepared Freck a breakfast he would never forget. Getting up extra early and sneaking away to Chinatown with his mother, who also went in search of fresh fish, he visited some of the best fish markets in the city and purchased sushi-grade cuts of yellowfin tuna, salmon, eel, octopus, crab and squid. He bought fresh vegetables and seaweed, and he purchased the ingredients for wasabi. Getting back to the apartment by 7:30, his father was up and getting ready for work. His friends, however, were still fast asleep.

Preparing the rice in a pressure cooker, he set about cutting the fish and vegetables into long thin strips. Once the rice was ready, he rolled the requisite ingredients together and sliced the rolls into six or eight pieces. He even attempted to make rainbow sushi, a first for him, using multiple types of fish on a diagonal so as to create a rainbow effect when they were cut. He made a California roll with cucumber, crab and avocado, and he made tuna, salmon, squid ad crab rolls in both traditional and spicy varieties. He made Wasabi paste by mashing horseradish, mustard seed and avocado. Real wasabi root was almost impossible to come by, even in Japan, so he made do with an oft-used alternative recipe. Lastly, he made a ‘breakfast sushi’ by using scrambled egg and turkey bacon with sushi rice and seaweed.

By the time he was finished, the smell of the frying bacon had attracted three bleary-eyed, naked teens to the kitchen. “Is this a clothing-optional breakfast?” Asher asked with a smirk.

“It will be if you don’t get some coffee going,” Kyle responded to everyone’s laughter.

“Actually, we were too tired last night to wash out our underwear,” Freck explained. “There are some stains I’d rather not mention. We totally forgot.”

“Oh, that is way TMI,” Asher responded.

“About that coffee?” Kyle asked.

“OK, I’ll get the coffee on,” Asher replied. “Just be sure to wash your behind before you sit down on our kitchen chairs if you intend to opt out of wearing clothes to breakfast.”

“I’ll take a shower, but I want coffee when I get back, OK?” Kyle requested.

“Sure thing,” Asher replied.

“I’ll go take a shower with him too,” Freck added.

“That could take a while,” Seth said with a smirk once the bathroom door was closed.

“Ya think?” Asher replied as he started to make the coffee. “Are you really planning to eat breakfast in the nude?” he asked his boyfriend.

“What time does your mother usually come home?” Seth asked.

“Right around noon,” Asher replied.

“Good, then there’s time.” Seth answered.

“You are such a pervert,” Asher commented.

“You don’t know the half of it, babe,” Seth replied. “We were talking before we got up, and we got into the kinky things we like. Freck has a real thing for armpits, for example. He likes it that Kyle doesn’t need to use deodorant yet, ’cause he doesn’t hafta worry about getting a mouthful of deodorant.”

“More TMI,” Asher replied, “but I have a thing for feet. That’s one of the reasons I like goin’ barefoot.”

“Oh, that’s nice to know,” Seth replied.

“A lot of people have a foot fetish.” Asher continued. “We should talk about these things like they do.

“You remember when that egg fell right on your bare foot and slid between your toes, and you talked about how it might give the egg an interesting flavor?” Seth asked, “Well, that really was a turn-on. I guess I like feet too, ’cause I could really get into, something like that.”

“You mean toes to nose?” Asher asked.

“And more,” Seth responded.

Just then the bathroom door opened and Kyle and Freck walked out, still wearing not a stitch of clothing. Pouring each of them a mug of coffee, Asher added, “That ought to keep you for a little bit. Feel free to help yourself to more. Seth and I are gonna go take our showers, and then I have a deferred birthday surprise ready for brunch.”

Asher and Seth proceeded down the hallway and into the bathroom. Checking the water temperature, they got under the shower spray and made out with abandon before getting serious about getting each other clean. They’d yet to tell their friends about the plan for a drag party on New Year’s Eve, but they were nearly certain they’d go along with it. In a short time, they’d forged unusually close bonds of friendship — bonds they hoped would last a lifetime. Soon they’d ring in the new year together — a year of promise and hope.

The author gratefully acknowledges the invaluable assistance of David of Hope in editing my stories, as well as Awesome Dude, Codey’s World and Gay Authors for hosting them.

Disclaimer: This story is a fictional account involving gay teenage and pre-teen 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 views expressed by the characters are not necessarily those of the author, the editor nor the site. The author retains full copyright.