“I can’t believe these amounts,” Seth exclaimed to his boyfriend as he went over the order they’d just placed for Thanksgiving. They were in Seth’s apartment on New York’s Lower East Side and, as was typical, his parents were out of town. For most of the time, the boys lived on their own although they were young teens. Seth’s father was one of the most powerful politicians in the New York State Assembly and spent most of the year up in Albany, but at the moment he and Seth’s mother were in San Francisco on a fact-finding mission related to fire safety. It had been an historic fire season in California, and this was an opportunity to learn from their mistakes. Asher’s parents owned a couple of restaurants and were also seldom around.
“Like I said, Thanksgiving is second only to Mother’s Day, and I expect it to be no different with our place,” Asher replied. Asher was referring to the Asian takeout place his parents owned on Grand Street, near their apartment, and by ‘our place’ he meant the new Cajun restaurant they’d opened on Orchard Street, just north of Delancey. Asher’s mother was Chinese American and his father was Creole, and it had always been a dream of his father’s to open a Cajun restaurant. However, Asher’s mom was struck by a kid on an electric bicycle while crossing the street, suffering multiple fractures for which she had to spend her summer in surgery and then in rehab. She was still recovering from her injuries.
With two restaurants to run, it was left to Asher and Seth to open and run the Cajun restaurant while his father took care of business at the Asian place. It was a lot of responsibility for a couple of young teenagers – Asher had just turned fifteen and Seth fourteen – but already Asher knew his way around the kitchen as well as or perhaps even better than his dad, and Seth had learned to be a savvy businessman from his own father. Together they prepared an amazing Cajun buffet menu that attracted the attention of the Times’ food editor, and the resulting review left the boys busy beyond belief. Thankfully, Asher’s dad was able to hire and train additional help, so he could take over the Cajun restaurant when the boys returned to Stuyvesant High School in the fall for their sophomore year. Stuyvesant was New York’s top elite specialty public high school and considered one of the best secondary schools in the world.
“And don’t forget that you volunteered to provide food for the homeless shelter,” Asher added, “which means I’ll be extra busy in the kitchen when I can least afford it.”
“We can easily afford to give the shelter food to feed the homeless on Thanksgiving.” Seth replied, “and it’ll bring us a lot of good publicity and good will in the community.”
“Yeah but in effect, you volunteered my time too,” Asher countered. “The food isn’t gonna cook itself and cooking dinner for the homeless means cooking that much more food.” Yes, Asher could hire additional workers and he still had their friends, Joel and Clark, to help out in the kitchen, but there was only one Asher to put out the hypothetical fires when they inevitably arose.
“And if the shelter had approached you instead of me approaching them, are you telling me you’d have refused?” Seth asked.
Shrugging his bare shoulders, Asher responded, “No, of course not,” with his killer, Tiger Woods smile. “But it’s one of the reasons our food order’s so large. It also means I’ll be spending time preparing traditional Thanksgiving dinners in addition to the Cajun food I’ll be serving at the restaurant.”
“Yeah, I know Babe, and I’m sorry,” Seth replied. “I hadn’t thought about the need for blander food until the director of the shelter brought it up.
“By the way, where are we gonna store all that food?” Seth asked. “It’s not like we have spare refrigerators laying around, and with fresh turkeys, they’ll spoil without refrigeration.”
“Easy,” Asher responded. “We’ll have the turkeys delivered live, and we’ll butcher them as we need them.” When Seth looked at his boyfriend askance with his mouth hanging open, Asher laughed heartily and said, “Gotcha! Oh, you are so gullible.”
“I’ll show you gullible,” Seth replied, and he tickled his boyfriend in the ribs and under his arms. Asher responded by pulling Seth into a hug and kissing his boyfriend deeply. A while later, as they cuddled in bed, Seth asked, “How do you intend to keep the turkeys refrigerated?”
“I’ll use a trick I learned from my parents,” Asher explained. “There’s lots of space in the basement under the restaurant and there’s a floor drain. We’ll build a makeshift icebox over the floor drain using chicken wire and inexpensive, reusable polystyrene panels… what you’d call Styrofoam… and pack all the turkeys in ice. As the ice melts we use the turkeys on top, but we can always add more ice if we need to. Meanwhile, the water from the melting ice goes right down the floor drain.”
“Damn, I don’t know how we’re gonna keep up with the demand,” Seth commented.
“I’m not saying it won’t be a challenge,” Asher answered, “but we perfected our techniques over the summer and I’ll have a lot of extra hired help. We’ll even have a large crew of dishwashers. We have a few days yet, and we’ll be ready.”
Snuggling up with his boyfriend, Seth responded, “I’m counting on that.”
“Good morning, Momá,” Carl said as he entered the kitchen and kissed his mother on the cheek. “Have you seen Clarke?”
“Isn’t he with you?” she asked. Clarke, not to be confused with Clark, was Carl’s boyfriend and they shared a bedroom, but slept in separate twin beds. Clarke had obviously gotten up early, but as to where he went, Carl hadn’t a clue.
Carl could scarcely believe how much his life had changed in less than a year. Last year at Thanksgiving, he and his mother lived in a low-income housing project in the Two Bridges neighborhood of Lower Manhattan. Although relatively safe, thanks to its proximity to One Police Plaza, the headquarters for the New York Police Department, like most housing projects it suffered from shoddy construction, poor maintenance and a high prevalence of crime and drugs. Still, it was a great deal better than where he began his life in the projects of Spanish Harlem. His mother had gotten pregnant when she was even younger than he was, but her boyfriend was shot and killed in a spate of gang violence.
The prospects for the future of a young Latino male, particularly a gay one, raised by a single teenage mom in New York public housing are rather bleak, with a fair likelihood of ending up in prison or worse while still in the teens or twenties. The fact that he was intelligent, however, worked in his favor and when he managed to get a high enough score on the specialty high school entrance exam to get into Stuyvesant, his prospects improved dramatically. Hell, he could walk to Stuyvesant. With his minority status and a diploma from Stuyvesant, he’d likely get a full ride scholarship to an Ivy League school. On top of that, he was a top athlete and the leading scorer on the varsity basketball team, and that was last year when he was still a sophomore. If he didn’t get an academic scholarship or a needs-based scholarship, he’d very likely get an athletic scholarship, so if he survived life in the projects until he graduated high school, he’d be set for life.
However, on a fateful day last December everything changed yet again. Clarke was a freshman who was known to be a bully and managed to get in trouble on a fairly regular basis. Stuyvesant didn’t have a zero-tolerance policy, but Clarke was already skating on thin ice when he punched out a fellow freshman in gym class. The boy he’d punched out was Asher White, an out and proud gay boy who was half black and half Asian, and he’d done it right in front of his boyfriend, Seth Moore, whose father was one of the most powerful men in the State Assembly. Talk about a death wish!
Carl was working in the administrative office that day, trying to earn some badly needed spending money, when Clarke was dragged into the vice-principal’s office by his gym teacher. Right away Carl noticed something in Clarke’s eyes that spoke of profound remorse, and maybe of something else as well. While taking Clarke to retrieve his clothes from his gym locker and his books from his hall locker, Carl got an inkling of just what that other thing might be, and what he saw was desire. There was no mistaking it when Clarke flirted a bit without realizing he was flirting, Carl gained an understanding of what was driving Clarke’s bullying, particularly when Clarke opened up about how his father was beating him at home. In short, Clarke was a homophobic bully because he had a homophobic bully for a father, and because he himself was gay and having a hard time dealing with it. Carl fell in love with him on the spot and, as it turned out, he with Carl.
Clarke ended up coming out to the vice-principal, and to himself that afternoon, but the beating he got from his father that evening was enough to put him in the hospital. In the end, both of Clarke’s parents ended up in prison, not only for child endangerment but, unbeknownst to Clarke at the time, the Feds already had them in their sights for bribery, racketeering and tax evasion. Fortunately for Clarke and his eight siblings, including four sisters still living at home, his oldest brother, Joseph, had been accepted to law school at Columbia and had already planned to move back home. Joseph took on the responsibility of serving as guardian for Clarke and his sisters, but recognizing he couldn’t do it all while in law school, he hired Carl’s mom as a cook and housekeeper, and Carl moved in with Clarke. Now Carl lived with his boyfriend and the three remaining sisters still at home, on Staten Island in a stately, upscale house with a pool in back, not that any of that mattered to Carl. What was important was that he had the most wonderful boyfriend in the world.
“So, how about a Cuban omelet today?” Momá asked her son.
“I’d love It,” Carl answered. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Maybe you could get the coffee going?” his mother suggested, and Carl obliged.
A Cuban omelet was basically an omelet with sweet, fried plantains, to which any of a number of additions could be made. Momá like to make hers with diced ham, onions and bell peppers, with spicy salsa on top. Carl thought she made the best Cuban omelets in the world.
As she went about preparing the omelet ingredients for herself and five children – two teenage boys, two teenage girls and a twelve-year-old girl – she spoke to Carl about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.
“I’ve been giving some thought to Thanksgiving dinner, Carl, and I’d like to bounce some ideas off of you,” she began.
“Momá, you make the best turkey dinner in the universe,” Carl responded. “Why don’t you make the food you always make, but on a larger scale?”
“Because Puerto Rican food is very different from traditional American food,” she responded. “Although your boyfriend’s family seems to like my cooking, I’ve had to tone it down quite a bit to cater to American tastes.”
“Yeah, I’ve noticed,” Carl replied. “It just means I have to add a lot of salsa to make up for it, but what’s wrong with turkey with your best molé sauce? Clarke loves your molé.”
“As does Jasmine, but Connie and Ellen don’t,” Momá noted. “Besides which, it’s not traditional for Thanksgiving. I know to you it is, but it’s not for most American taste buds. Francine and Scott are coming home for the holiday, and Scott’s bringing his roommate and his roommate’s boyfriend with him. I have no idea what they might like. And then there’s Sarah and Jeff, and the baby to consider.”
“The baby won’t be eating any solid food in any case,” Carl pointed out.
“But the baby’s parents will, and their idea of Thanksgiving most likely involves roast turkey and stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. I’ve never made food like that, but there’s no reason I couldn’t. That stuff’s pretty simple compared to Puerto Rican food.
“So, what I thought I might do is to prepare a traditional roast turkey, but with my molé to serve on the side for those that want it. Instead of a traditional stuffing, I’ll make a cornbread stuffing with just a hint of jalapeño, and I’ll make Cuban yams with plantains. I’ve never baked a pumpkin pie before, but I’ll give it a try, along with maybe a sweet potato pie, which I do know how to make.
“How’s that sound?” she asked her son.
“It sounds fantastic,” he replied as he hugged her from behind and again kissed her on the cheek.
Just then Clarke waltzed into the kitchen, saying, “Something sure smells fantastic.”
“I made Cuban omelets,” Momá responded as she slid an omelet onto a plate for each of the boys. Carl proceeded to pour a cup of coffee for each of them as well as for his Momá.
“Where have you been?” Carl asked his boyfriend.
“I was up in the attic, getting out Ellen’s baby crib and her baby things for little Stevie,” he answered. “They’ll be here tomorrow, you know.”
“Gees, I almost forgot, since we still have school tomorrow,” Carl responded. “It kinda sucks that we have to go to school for only two days.”
“It used to be two-and-a-half days,” Momá pointed out.
Soon, they were joined by three bleary-eyed teenage and near-teenage girls and Momá prepared Cuban omelets for each of them. Afterward, they all helped with the cleanup.
They all discussed their plans for the upcoming holiday, including Momá’s plans for Thanksgiving dinner, which everyone seemed to like. Soon the other family members would be arriving from out of town. With that, Momá knew all too well, anything could happen.
Kyle Goldstein sat by the poolside as his boyfriend, ‘François “Freck” San Angelo’ swam laps in their indoor pool. They had been boyfriends for nearly a year now and Freck had been living with the Goldsteins since last January. Freck was a trophy child – the son of a billionaire father who was the CEO of one of the best-known brokerage firms in the world and a billionaire mother whose fashion label adorned the closets of affluent women the world over. Unfortunately, the lack of attention from his parents led Freck into heavy marijuana use, resulting in a nearly successful suicide attempt at the age of eleven. On top of that, Freck was a true genius – a senior at New York’s elite Stuyvesant High School who would turn thirteen next month. Kyle was no slouch either – he was also a senior at Stuyvesant and would be turning eleven, just before the Christmas holiday. Although two years apart in chronologic age, Kyle and Freck were intellectually similar and they were truly boyfriends, even at such a young age.
Kyle excelled at math and science and he planned to study physics with an emphasis on particle physics next year, hopefully at MIT. Freck was a genius at languages, speaking more than a dozen fluently and being able to communicate in several dozen more. He picked up languages the way most people learn to tie their shoes, but language was not his passion. Freck wanted to be an architect and to design sustainable cities. To do that, he hoped to be admitted next year to MIT’s combined degree program in architecture and civil engineering.
Kyle and Freck lived in a large house in Riverdale, an affluent suburb in the North Bronx. The house was built into a hillside overlooking the Riverdale commuter rail station, affording them an unobstructed view of the Hudson and of the New Jersey Palisades across the way. Short of someone using a telescope from the Palisades Parkway, the house afforded complete privacy, which was why Freck and Kyle were in the nude. The house rules were pretty much clothing optional, with no swimsuits ever worn in the pool.
Also living in the house were Kyle’s brother, Roger, who was fifteen and a sophomore at Stuyvesant, and their two dads, Jake and Ken. Jake was an ophthalmologist who specialized in disorders of the retina and was on the faculty of New York Presbyterian Hospital, a part of the Columbia-Cornell medical system. Ken was on faculty there as well, being a neurologist who specialized in seizure disorders. The two men met through their shared patients, fell in love and, once Jake finally admitted to himself that he was gay, they married in a beautiful ceremony at the start of the summer. They then took a ten-week honeymoon, traveling all over Europe, but they took the three boys with them because, as they put it, they wanted to see Europe through the boys’ eyes.
Unfortunately, Freck experienced a serious relapse during the trip and even ran away for a short time, but in confronting the episode, Freck came to accept he would need therapy sessions for quite some time. The whole family would be involved, and they were. The sessions were proceeding slowly, but already Freck was feeling more comfortable in his own skin.
Of course, the issue of their being boyfriends at such a young age often came up when people met them for the first time. At nearly thirteen, few questioned Freck’s acceptance that he was gay, but a lot of people were concerned that he was sexually active and involved in a relationship at such a young age. With Kyle only being ten, however, alarm bells tended to go off in people’s heads when they realized just how young he was. The fact that he was a brash New Yorker who could swear like a sailor didn’t seem to help things any, either.
The fact of the matter was that Kyle was a genius who became aware of sex and human sexuality when he started reading, at the age of three. It didn’t take him long to recognize that his father lacked any sexual interest in his mother but seemed to take an interest in the boys who took care of the landscaping. Kyle began to suspect that he himself might be gay and concluded that he was by the time he was seven and started masturbating. He came out one year later, at the age of eight, much to the disbelief of his family, and he met Freck when he was nine. Freck was the first person he’d ever met who truly got him. He was intelligent, he was kind, he was adorable and he was sexy as hell. Already they’d made plans to go to school together next year and to get married when Freck turned eighteen and he was sixteen.
Yes, they were sexually active. They did things that would make most grown gay men blush. At the recommendation of their psychologist and counselor, they kept separate bedrooms, but spent many of their nights together in each other’s arms. The summer had been a real learning experience in more ways than one, and since Freck’s relapse, which led to an experience with street kids, it seemed a new door had been opened to sexual experimentation and it just kept getting better and better. Now that Kyle was approaching eleven and the beginnings of the hormonal surge that would lead to puberty, he couldn’t help but wonder what was ahead. He’d always been able to achieve orgasm and although they were becoming more intense, they were still dry. He loved how Freck tasted and he couldn’t help but notice the intensity of his orgasms when he ejaculated, but for now he could only wonder what it would be like for him.
The feeling of wetness on his skin brought Kyle out of his reverie, only to realize he was being splashed by his boyfriend. It was the weekend before Thanksgiving and soon his relatives from California would arrive, but for now it was still clothing optional and so he jumped into the pool and grabbed his boyfriend’s dick and then swallowed him whole. As he’d proven before, he had little difficulty bringing his boyfriend to orgasm before he ran out of air.
“I’ve been giving some thought to Thanksgiving, “Jeff began as he and his boyfriend, Paul, sat in their apartment on the Upper West Side. Both in their sixties, they first met when there were in a summer science program at the University of Iowa back in 1972. Jeff was only sixteen back then and Paul was a mere thirteen, and they became fast friends, and then more. Unfortunately, at the end of the summer they went their separate ways and lost touch with each other until Jeff gave a lecture at Stuyvesant High School last spring. By then Jeff was a world-famous astrophysicist and a Nobel Lauriat, but he nearly faltered when a boy who was a dead ringer for his long-lost lover got up to ask a question. It turned out the boy, Seth Moore, was the grandson of his lost love, who was now the director of astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History. Over dinner that evening, Jeff had an opportunity to meet Seth and some of his friends, and then to reconnect with Paul. They rekindled their relationship that very night and it didn’t take long for that first spark to become a passionate flame.
The only problem was that, although Jeff’s twin sons lived in New York, his life was on the West Coast, where he was an endowed chair at UCLA. He could hardly walk away from that, nor could Paul leave his position. They were approaching retirement but neither of them felt close to being ready to retire. It was Seth’s friend, Freck, who came up with the answer. By talking his billionaire father into funding an endowed chairmanship at the museum, Paul could offer Jeff his dream job and a reason to move to New York. Of course, the position was competitive and because it was an endowed chair, subject to action of the board. As such, Paul had minimal influence on the selection process but at least he couldn’t be accused of nepotism. The reality was that with a Nobel Prize in physics, there was no serious competition and Jeff was awarded the position.
With the sale of his home in West L.A. and his investments, Jeff would have had little difficulty affording an apartment on the Upper West Side, near where Paul lived, but there never was any question about it. Even if Paul hadn’t owned an unusually spacious three-bedroom apartment with elegant old-world charm, Jeff would have moved in with him. They’d both lost so much time, but with God’s grace and the luck of good health, they could yet spend their last few decades of life together. It was as if they’d never been apart.
However, Thanksgiving presented a special challenge, as the two men had their own traditions. Both men had lost their wives, Paul’s wife to M.S. and Jeff’s to breast cancer, and they both had adult children. After Paul lost his wife, he and the children made every effort to be together for Thanksgiving, but to say that Paul didn’t cook was being generous and as his kids went off to school and established their own lives, it had become more and more difficult to come together for the holidays. His son, Frank, was now one of the most powerful men in the New York State Assembly and he usually had his own commitments for Thanksgiving, often with the governor. Even worse, Marissa now lived in Australia, where Thanksgiving is celebrated in March. In recent years Paul had taken to having Thanksgiving dinner alone at his favorite restaurant, the nearby City Diner.
Jeff, on the other hand, usually celebrated Thanksgiving with his twin sons and was thus in New York for the holiday. The twins lived together in The Village and both taught at NYU nearby. Brad was the chair of the economics department and Lyle was the dean of the business school. Neither of them had married and Jeff had long suspected that they were gay and in a relationship with each other, perhaps even bringing other men into the relationship as they saw fit. It just wasn’t something he felt comfortable talking about. Of course, he and Paul were both invited to spend Thanksgiving with his sons in The Village, but neither of his sons cooked and they always ended up having a ‘home-cooked’ Thanksgiving dinner delivered from the nearby Good Stuff Diner instead. Now that Jeff had a loving boyfriend, it all seemed so contrived. Maybe it was time to cut his sons loose and let them do their own thing with their own friends, rather than feeling sorry for their old man. He and Paul were perfectly capable of making Thanksgiving for themselves now, even if Paul was hopeless in the kitchen.
“So I was thinking,” Jeff continued, “the only reason the boys invited me for Thanksgiving was because they knew I would otherwise be alone for the holiday. But neither of them cooks and we always ended up ordering out. The food was always excellent, but it was all so contrived. Now, they’re approaching middle age themselves and they have their own lives in The Village, and somehow, I don’t think feeling sorry for their old man is all that important anymore. They should be doing their own thing now with their own friends… friends they wouldn’t dare have over with me around.”
“So you’re saying you’d like for the two of us to go to the City Diner for Thanksgiving?” Paul asked.
Putting his hand over his boyfriend’s, Jeff replied, “You know, unlike you, I can cook.”
“You want to make Thanksgiving dinner here? For just the two of us?” Paul asked in astonishment.
“I used to do it with Wendy and the boys,” Jeff replied. “Yes, Wendy did most of the work, but the turkey itself was always my responsibility, so I know something about making a Thanksgiving turkey.”
“But what about the stuffing, or the sweet potatoes, or the cranberry sauce?” Paul asked.
“I can follow a recipe as well as anyone else,” Jeff answered. “Besides which, cranberry sauce from a can isn’t all that bad, and a sweet potato casserole made with canned yams is surprisingly good. Wendy used to make it that way. I can make a green bean casserole… anyone can make that… even you, and Juniors makes an incredible pumpkin pie cheesecake for the holiday. I’ll order one.”
“And the stuffing?” Paul pointed out.
“Yes, making a good stuffing is hard work,” Jeff replied, “and stuffing mixes are uniformly pretty bad. I guess I’ll just have to try my luck with downloading a recipe.”
“Is all of this Kosher?” Seth asked as he surveyed the ovens Ashe had installed in the basement of their restaurant.
“Of course not,” Asher answered. “We’d have to keep separate facilities for meat and dairy if we were a Kosher restaurant, and I’d have to charge a lot more for the buffet.”
Punching his boyfriend in the arm, Seth responded, “You know what I meant.”
“The main thing’s ventilation, and the city has strict regulations for that,” Asher answered. “That’s why each oven’s individually ventilated. And of course, I had to have a city inspection when we added the extra gas line, so it’s all good. Turkeys take up a lot of space and take a long time to roast. These added rotisserie ovens will free up a lot of space upstairs for the prep of everything else.”
“But you have to go outside to bring anything upstairs,” Seth pointed out.
Pointing to the corner, Asher answered, “I got the super to let me put in a dumbwaiter. The work’ll be done tomorrow, while we’re in school. People will still need to go outside to access the basement, but the turkeys can be washed and prepped down here, cooked on rotisseries and then sent right to the kitchen upstairs.”
“What about your Cajun turkey?” Seth asked.
“I’ll prepare the brine and rub upstairs and send it down via the dumbwaiter. Our workers will inject and rub it down here, prior to loading the birds onto the rotisserie. Most of the turkeys, however, will wind up in my turkey Creole, my turkey soup and my other turkey and seafood dishes. And of course, I’ll have twenty plain whole roast turkeys ready for you to take to the shelter.”
“Fantastic,” Seth replied.
“Hey, fucker,” Scott greeted his brother and his brother’s boyfriend as they returned home from school.
“Hey, ass-wipe,” Clarke responded in return, “and Jake,” he added as he pulled his brother’s best friend and roommate into a hug. Then seeing a young African American man next to Jake, Clarke said, “And you must be Terrance,” as he shook the young man’s hand.
“I was just about to introduce you, bro,” Scott interrupted. “Clarke, you already know my best friend, Jake. This is Jake’s boyfriend, Terrance. Terrance, this is my younger brother, Clarke, and Clarke’s boyfriend, Carl.”
“Nice to meet you, Carl,” Terrance said as he shook Clarke’s boyfriend’s hand.
“How was the flight?” Clarke asked his brother. Without the resources of the football scholarship that Joseph had when he was at Notre Dame, nor an academic scholarship, Scott ended up going to the State University of New York at Buffalo. Although not cheap, in-state tuition was considerably more reasonable than it would have been at a non-SUNY school.
“It’s not all that far,” Scott answered, “Although we did have to get out and help push the plane down the runway to get it airborne.”
“You make it sound like you took a four-seater,” Clarke responded.
“That’s just what it was…” Scott replied.
“Give it a rest, shit-face,” Jake interrupted. “It wasn’t even a propeller plane. It was a regional jet with fifty seats. There were seventeen rows with two seats on one side of the aisle and one seat on the other. There wasn’t any space to speak of under the seats though, and damn little in the overhead bins, so we all had to check our carryon bags.”
“That kinda blows,” Clarke acknowledged.
“Did Francine get in OK from Albany?” Clarke asked. Francine was a freshman at SUNY Albany.
“Right behind you, Clarke,” she called out as she approached, and they hugged. “Didn’t have a seat though, and three hours standing on an Amtrak train is no picnic.”
“Never thought I’d say this, but it’s great to see you,” Clarke replied.
“Boys, I have some sandwiches ready if you’re interested,” Momá announced from the entrance to the kitchen. When wouldn’t teenage and early twenties young men be interested in sandwiches?
When they entered the kitchen, they saw that the three of Clarke’s sisters who still lived at home were inside, already eating their sandwiches, and there was a fourth plate that was apparently Francine’s. Since the Notre Dame Academy that they attended was just a one mile walk away, the girls were always home before Clarke and Carl, who had to take the Staten Island Ferry and the bus.
“So when’s Sarah getting in?” Clarke asked as he grabbed a sandwich from the stack in the center of the kitchen table and poured himself a glass of milk.
Tapping his phone a few times, Joseph replied, “Looks like their flight was delayed an hour getting outta SFO. It’s supposed to land at JFK at 10:15 instead of 9:00 tonight, and I’d figure another hour at least for holiday-related traffic over the airport, but I can’t count on that.” Then looking up, he said, “Throw in the usual backup on the Belt Parkway, made worse by holiday traffic, and it’ll probably take me ninety minutes to get there, plus I’ll need time to park and get to the gate. I’ll plan to leave here at eight.”
“And you’ll get back here with a crying baby at around midnight, if then,” Clarke added.
“But to them it’ll feel like only nine,” Carl pointed out, “’cause of the time difference.”
“They’re staying in Momá’s room?” Clarke asked.
“Yeah, they’ll need the space more than I will,” she replied.
“By the way, thanks for lending me your room, bro” Joseph added. “It would’ve been hell sharing a double bed with Scott.”
“The feeling’s mutual,” Scott responded as he flipped his brother the bird.
Yes, space was definitely going to be tight during the coming week. There were six bedrooms and a den, and ordinarily five kids and two adults living there full time. Clarke and Carl shared a room with twin beds, as did Ellen and Jasmine. Connie and Joseph each had a single room with a double bed to themselves, and Momá had the master bedroom with a queen-sized bed and a private bath. That left the guest room, with a double bed, and the den, with a pair of Hollywood beds, but there would be seven guests plus a baby staying the week. Of course, Clarke and Carl didn’t mind sharing a bed at all – indeed, they’d have liked to do so permanently – so by switching rooms with Joseph, Joseph and Scott could share a room and still each have their own bed. By sleeping in the den along with Francine, Momá could leave the master bedroom for Sarah, her husband and their baby. That left the guest room, with its double bed, to be shared by Jake and Terrance.
As the kids ate their snack, Momá looked at her to-do list for the holiday and added a few more items to it. She’d already done most of the shopping, but with a sigh, she realized just how much she had left to do.
“C’mon, we need to get going!” Kyle admonished his dad as they ate their dinner.
“It’s stupid to leave so early, when we know the flight was delayed outta San Fran,” Roger countered.
“But with holiday traffic, it’ll take forever to get to the airport,” Ky remarked.
“And with holiday traffic, their flight’ll be stacked up over JFK, maybe for hours,” Freck countered.
“But what if it’s not?” Kyle asked.
“Kyle, stop acting your age,” Ken responded. “Even with traffic, it usually only takes an hour to get to JFK from here, but just in case, let’s say it takes two hours, plus a half-hour to park and get to their terminal. So two-and-a-half hours, and that’s being extra cautious. Let’s assume their flight lands on time at 10:15. That means we wouldn’t need to leave until 7:45, which is nearly than an hour from now.”
“So chill, bro,” Roger added, causing everyone at the table to cringe.
“Hey, did you see this?” Jeff asked his boyfriend as they sat at the table, eating their frozen dinners. “The entire air traffic control system went down.”
“What?” Paul asked in surprise.
“The Associated Press reports that the entire FAA air traffic control system has gone down, leaving thousands of flights stranded in the air. The story’s been picked up by just about every other news app on my phone too. I’m getting one notification after another.”
“Damn, that’s horrible,” Paul responded. “With so many traveling for the holiday, the system must have overloaded.”
Nodding his head, Jeff agreed, “Probably a cascade failure. I wonder how long it could take to reboot all the computers.”
“Probably hours, but what would they do with all those flights in the meantime?” Paul asked.
“I think they have a contingency plan,” Jeff replied. “They put them into a holding pattern with visual flight separation until the system comes online. In a worst-case scenario, they land the planes, one at a time, wherever they happen to be.”
“Just before Thanksgiving? That would be a hell of a mess.” Then after a pause, Paul continued, “I’m just surprised there isn’t enough redundancy built into the system to compensate for a cascade failure of the entire network.”
“I’m sure there is,” Jeff countered. “There’d have to be to deal with a national catastrophe such as another 9/11. I’m just surprised it didn’t prevent something like this.”
“Maybe this wasn’t an accident,” Paul suggested.
“What do you mean, Babe?”
“Isn’t this the sort of thing Russian, or Chinese, or Iranian hackers might do to sew chaos in the U.S.?”
“You know, I think that’s a distinct possibility,” Jeff replied. “In fact, I think I read about the Pentagon conducting war games using this very scenario. The scary thing was that they never were able to bring air traffic control back online and that a series of mid-air collisions inevitably occurred. Even worse, by the time we were able to figure out the source of the attack, our utilities had already been compromised and we were in the midst of a nationwide blackout. Russia could have marched right in, had we not shown a willingness to retaliate with nuclear weapons. But it turned out it was China that had instigated the attack.”
“Let’s hope this turns out to be nothing more than a glitch,” Paul responded.
Then after another minute or two, Jeff asked, “Isn’t Frank flying today?”
“Now that you mention it, he and Julie were in San Francisco over the weekend on some sort of fact-finding mission… something about catastrophic fire response. They were supposed to fly home tonight, which means they’re almost certainly in the air right now.”
“I’m sure they’re alright,” Jeff responded as he placed his hand over his boyfriend’s, but his eyes spoke otherwise.
Business in the restaurant was unusually light, even for a Monday evening, but with Thanksgiving being only a few days away, most people weren’t interested in going out to a buffet restaurant when they’d be pigging out soon enough. Only a few of the tables were occupied and so Asher had very little to do in the way of preparing food to replenish the buffet, which gave him plenty of time to start preparing some of the food for Thanksgiving. However, there’d be a lot of food left over when they closed for the night, and that they always gave to the homeless shelter. In any case, it would soon be time for the boys to stop for the day, as there were strict workhour restrictions for those under sixteen during the school year.
Seth was manning the cash register, which left him plenty of time to work on a term paper that was due after the break. Seth didn’t need the job, but he’d helped out over the summer when Asher’s mom had been injured and it was largely due to his creative use of spreadsheets that they were able to maximize profits. Seth now felt a strong connection to the restaurant and he loved being with Ashe.
Because Seth had silenced all notifications on his phone, he was blissfully unaware of all the notifications flashing across his screen when the air traffic control system went down. Thus it came as a complete shock when the emergency tone sounded on both their phones. Living in New York, they were acutely aware that their city was the number one terrorist target in America, if not the world. Although neither of them was yet born on 9/11, they’d grown up, forever in the shadow of the events on that day. The message on their phones was terrifying. It read, ‘Terrorist threat. Stay indoors if possible. Strict curfew begins at 10:00 PM.’
“Shit, a restaurant’s no place to be stuck in the midst of a terrorist attack,” Asher exclaimed. “With our preparations for Thanksgiving, there’s virtually no room left if we have to seek shelter in the basement.”
“Let’s close up now, so everyone can get home before the curfew begins,” Seth suggested. “We can give the customers takeout containers and let them clean out what’s left of the buffet.”
“That’s a good idea,” Asher agreed, “and if anyone needs a place to go, they can come home with us. But I wonder what’s going on.”
Joel, who was helping out in the kitchen that evening, responded as he scrolled through the notices on his phone. “The air traffic control system went down, nationwide. The President’s calling it a potential terrorist attack.”
Neither Joel nor Asher noticed the ashen look on Seth’s face until he fell to the floor.
“I’m going and that’s final,” Joseph exclaimed as Fox News blared in the background.
“And what good will that do?” Clarke asked.
“I can’t find out anything,” Joseph responded. “The airline’s website is down and I can’t even get into their 800 number. All I get is a fast-busy signal.”
“That’s ’cause everyone’s tryin’ to get through,” Carl chimed in. “But think of what you’ll find at the airport. It’s not just one flight that’s missing. All flights are missing. It’ll be chaos and you won’t know anything more than you do right now.”
“But what if they make it to JFK and I’m not there?” Joseph asked.
“They were probably over the Midwest when air traffic control went down,” Clarke countered. “You heard what they said on TV. Their plane’s undoubtedly in a holding pattern over Iowa or someplace like that. But even if they did make it here,” he continued, “then what? Even if they land on time, by the time you hit the road, there won’t be enough time to make it home before the curfew takes effect. But in reality, they won’t get in tonight and you’ll be stranded at the airport with thousands of other people and no place to go.”
“I have to be there for them, Clarke,” Joseph reiterated, but Momá interrupted.
“No you don’t, Joseph,” she said. “The last thing your family needs is to have to worry about you too.”
“I’ll have my cell with me,” Joseph answered.
“And what will happen when, not if, the cell network goes down,” she asked.
Shaking his head, Joseph reiterated, “I have to do this,” and with that he entered the garage and he was gone.
The TV in the great room was tuned to CNN, with five faces glued to the screen. Jake had briefly entertained the idea of going to the airport anyway, just in case his sister’s family’s flight got through, but the likelihood of that happening was nil as was becoming increasingly apparent with the family watching the breaking news. Jake had already determined that the flight would have been crossing into Indiana when air traffic control went down, and that was where it would stay until the system either came back online, or they were forced to land each plane, one at a time.
More importantly, Jake felt it essential that the family stay together during the crisis. He remembered all too well the events of 9/11, but that was nearly two decades ago, when he was in residency. There was only his wife to consider back then but even so, stuck at the hospital, he felt utterly helpless when it came to her. He wasn’t about to do that to his sons and husband now.
In the meantime, the CNN commentators prattled on about the potential for this to be a terrorist incident, and who might be behind it. The President had yet to address the nation, but in a hastily convened news conference had named China and Iran as the most likely culprits. He didn’t even mention Russia, whom everyone knew was the most capable of carrying out such an attack on American infrastructure. The fact that it was this particular president who was responsible for shepherding the country through such an event was terrifying to Jake. The President was known for acting on instinct with little thought to the consequences. Jake had no trouble imagining the President authorizing a nuclear strike before we even knew who instigated the terrorist attack in the first place.
“This is all bullshit,” Freck suddenly exclaimed. “It’s total fuckin’ bullshit. They don’t know anything! They’re just going on and on about the same stuff over and over again… stuff a five-year-old could have told them. It’s all mindless fuckin’ bullshit.”
“But what else can they say?” Roger responded. “It’s not like there’s anything to report, but the world is hungry for news… any news. If you wanted to be entertained, you’d watch Fox. If they don’t have anything to report, they make it up. But CNN has their standards and so they feed us what little they have, over and over again.”
Suddenly standing up and pulling off his shirt, Freck announced, “I’m going for a swim. At least it’s something productive I can do to pass the time. Just let me know if there’s anything new.”
With that, he stormed out of the great room and down the stairs.
“You know what? I’m gonna join him,” Kyle announced as he too stood up, stripped off his shirt and ran after his boyfriend.
“You know what? It sounds like a plan,” Roger agreed as he ran after his brother and brother’s boyfriend, stripping off his shirt as he went.
“You want to join them?” Ken asked his husband as they mindlessly continued to stare at the TV.
“Nah,” Jake replied. “Someone has to keep apprised of what’s not going on.” And then both men laughed.
“They can’t just put the planes randomly into stacks and bring them down in the order they stacked them,” Jeff pointed out. “Most planes fly with only a slim margin of extra fuel, especially if they’re flying over land. After all, why pay to ship unused fuel across the country. But that means there isn’t much time left to bring those planes down, and they have to prioritize them by the amount of fuel left.”
“There are a lot of airports capable of handling passenger jets,” Paul pointed out. “I think I read that there are around a thousand of them in the U.S. and Canada.”
“But how many planes were flying when the air traffic control system went down?” Jeff asked.
“I think I read there are something like seven thousand over North America at any time,” Paul responded.
“Wouldn’t there be more for the holiday?” Jeff asked.
“Larger, fuller planes… not more of them,” Paul countered. “The skies are already at capacity.”
“Yikes, that doesn’t help with the situation,” Jeff interjected. Then after a pause, it dawned on him that the U.S. wasn’t the only player in North America. “What about Canada,” he asked. “Doesn’t Canada have its own air traffic control system?”
“I’m pretty sure they do,” Paul responded, “and if I remember correctly, it’s run by a private company and even a bit more advanced than ours.”
“Don’t a lot of coast-to-coast flights take a northern route to avoid congestion?” Jeff asked. “I wonder if Frank’s flight went anywhere near Canada.”
“Maybe flights out of Seattle,” Paul suggested. “Although I guess a flight from San Francisco might cross over into Canada near Detroit.”
Shaking his head, Jeff responded, “Actually, Toronto has pretty congested air space, so I doubt any U.S. flights would fly over it unless it was the most direct route. Chicago to New York would fly over Detroit and into Canada, but probably detour a bit to the south, over Lake Ontario to avoid Toronto. A flight from San Fran would most likely stick to the central U.S. to avoid the congestion over Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland. More likely it’d fly high above the Interstate 70 corridor, above Denver, Kansas City, Saint Louis, Indianapolis and Columbus.”
“Yeah, that makes sense,” Paul agreed. “They probably wouldn’t go anywhere near Canada. Then after a bit, he wondered aloud, “I wonder why they haven’t started landing the planes already?”
“They probably have,” Jeff replied. “But if they told people that, the highways would fill up in no time with people hoping to find their loved ones halfway across the country. No, they definitely wouldn’t want to do that… not with the possibility of war looming. The first priority would be to get those planes down, but even before that, they’d want to keep everyone calm and occupied. Like it or not, having folks glued to their televisions is the best way to do that. We learned that lesson on 9/11.”
“So why aren’t we glued to the TV?” Paul asked.
“Would you really rather listen to a bunch of uninformed TV reporters come up with pure conjecture?” Jeff asked.
“I’d much rather listen to you,” Paul replied.
“Likewise,” Jeff agreed. “Besides which, if anything really important happens, we’ll hear of it from our phones.”
“How the fuck are they gonna get several thousand airplanes down safely without radar?” Seth asked of no one in particular.
“Seth?” Bernice White asked her son’s boyfriend. When Seth had passed out, Asher called his parents, who were already in the process of closing up the Asian takeout restaurant because of the pending curfew. They rushed right over, but by the time they got to the Ragin’ Cajun, Seth was already conscious and back on his feet. It was then that Asher learned that Seth passed out because both his parents were headed home on a flight from San Francisco. Nevertheless, with his parents’ help, Asher closed up the restaurant and they all headed back to Asher’s family’s apartment.
“Shit, my parents are up in the fuckin’ sky and God knows when or if they’ll fuckin’ be able to land,” came Seth’s retort. “I can fuckin’ say fuck any fuckin time I fuckin’ want to.” It was the first time Seth had ever been belligerent in front of Asher’s parents, even during the several months he’d lived with them while his parent’s apartment was undergoing extensive renovations.
Walking over to where Seth was seated on the living room sofa, Bernice squeezed Seth’s shoulder and said, “I’m sorry, Seth. You’re absolutely right. I shouldn’t have tried to correct you. This is one of those times when no other word is as appropriate.”
Blushing furiously, Seth replied, “I’m sorry guys. I shouldn’t have flown off the handle like that.”
“You had every reason to fly off the handle, Seth,” Bernice replied.
“And son, they aren’t without radar,” Gary, Asher’s dad, chimed in. “Yes, commercial jets are dependent on air traffic control to maintain safe distances from other jets, which is why there are contingency plans for just this sort of incident. That’s why they put all the jets into a holding pattern until they can either get the system back up, or land all the jets safely. But they aren’t without radar.
“For one thing, every commercial jet has its own radar-based collision avoidance system. For another, the individual airports have their own radar and can track the planes as they bring them in for a landing. Indeed, the smaller airports that lack more sophisticated equipment rely only on conventional radar, and those airports will certainly be helping out under these circumstances.
“But the one thing I have yet to hear mentioned in all those news reports is our nation’s military. The military has radar that’s far more sophisticated than that used by air traffic control. Indeed, the systems used by air traffic control were developed first for the military, and they’re at least a generation behind. The military can track all those planes and get them all down safely.”
“Or shoot them down,” Seth half-way joked.
“Yes, but why would they,” Gary countered. “Their first priority is in protecting Americans, and that includes the roughly one million passengers stuck on planes right now.”
“Why the fuck are we watching Fox?” Carl asked of no one in particular.
“Because it’s what we always watch,” Clarke answered.
“But Fox isn’t real news, you know,” Carl responded. It’s nothing but a front for the Republican Party. It’s truly ‘fake news’, so why are we watching it now, when the truth matters?”
“First of all, my family has always voted Republican,” Clarke replied. “We’re Catholics, against abortion, against affirmative action and for gun rights and for family values. We believe people should be able to take care of themselves without the need for government intervention. Secondly, Fox isn’t afraid to take a chance on being first with the news.”
Chuckling, Carl countered, “First, even when they’re wrong. Why bother to verify facts when their adoring public doesn’t give a shit whether their right or wrong, ’cause if they hear it on Fox News, it must be the truth.
“And what about gay rights? The Republican Party hasn’t exactly been a champion of gender equality, gay rights, gay marriage or religious non-discrimination. Look at what happened in Indiana, where a Catholic high school fired a straight counselor, just for supporting a couple of fired gay teachers, but that’s just freedom of religion. Do you really believe that’s fair?
“And what about the rights of minorities? Is it right to separate children from their families and to put them in cages, just because they came to the U.S. in search of asylum? Is it right to break our international treaties and to ignore international law and refuse to even consider those who are persecuted from seeking asylum in America? My family came here because we’re Puerto Rican and because your country invaded ours a century ago. But how’s that differ from the countries of Central America that are effectively run by drug lords who are financed by the drug users of America?
“And do you really believe a kid should be able to buy an AR15 and bring it to school and shoot up their classmates? And as far as government assistance is concerned, after your parents went to prison, your family lost their health insurance. If it weren’t for Obamacare, your family would be uninsured and if, God forbid, one of you got sick, you’d stand to lose everything you have. Is that really what you believe is right?”
Before Clarke could even open his mouth to answer, his three sisters, his brother’s roommate and his brother’s roommate’s boyfriend all broke into applause. Only Clarke and Scott were left with their mouths hanging open, but then Scott turned to Clarke and said, “Your boyfriend has a point there, bro.”
Finally, Clarke admitted, “You know, fuck it. Those were my parents’ values and my parents’ beliefs, and look where it got them. Hell, I haven’t even been to Church in years. I don’t even believe in God, so why the fuck should I stand up for shit I don’t believe in. Is abortion wrong or right? I’ve never been in a position to need one, so I don’t know. Assault weapons? No one outside of the military needs them, and they should be illegal for everyone else. Gay rights? Minority rights? Religious rights? No one should have the right to discriminate because of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, regardless of what they believe their God says. Period. And when it comes to those down on their luck? Yeah, I think the government has a responsibility to step in, and those of us more fortunate should quit complaining.”
“You’re beginning to sound like a Democrat,” Carl told his boyfriend.
“Let’s not push it,” Clarke replied with a smile, “but yeah, let’s switch channels. I hear CNN’s petty good, or maybe MSNBC.”
“And two points for the dads!” Jake screamed as the ball swooshed into the basket. Jake and Ken had long given up on watching the TV and had joined the boys in the swimming pool. A television was tuned to CNN in the corner, just in case there was any breaking news, but no one was watching it. Baskets were set up at each end of the pool and a game of fathers versus sons basketball was in progress. The dads were outnumbered, three to two, but the dads were bigger and stronger than the boys. Only Roger was tall enough to compete with the dads’ height, but the size and agility of the younger boys, particularly Freck, allowed them to maneuver much more easily under water. The score was 48 to 27 in favor of the sons’ team, and the boys were delighted.
But then Roger noticed that the face of the president was on the television. None of them liked the man, but he was the president and so they interrupted the game to hear what he had to say.
“My fellow Americans,” the president began, “At “7:07, Eastern Standard Time, the entire U.S. air traffic control system went down. The cause of the system-wide failure isn’t yet known, but sabotage is strongly suspected. That it occurred during the busiest of the flying season would seem to be no coincidence, and for hackers in say, China or Iran, it would be an ideal way to attack the United States without resorting to military force.”
“Notice how he didn’t mention Russia?” Kyle interjected.
“Figures,” Freck agreed.
“Make no mistake, a terrorist attack on American infrastructure is no less significant than a nuclear strike on our heartland, and we will respond accordingly,” the president continued.
“Shit, I hope he targets the right enemy,” Freck interrupted, “and not with nuclear weapons.”
“The U.S. has developed the tools to hack into any infrastructure and disable it, anywhere in the world,” the president continued. “We can utterly destroy our enemies’ power grids, communications networks and air traffic control systems, and bring their economies to a halt. But make no mistake, we can and will make use of all the weapons systems at our disposal if necessary to counter a terrorist threat, and any attack on our infrastructure must be considered a terrorist attack and comparable to the use of weapons of mass destruction.”
“What a fucking idiot,” Jake exclaimed, earning a chuckle from all the boys.
“At the moment, the only system affected seems to be air traffic control,” the president went on. “However, should any other aspect of our infrastructure be targeted, we will act swiftly and brutally to counter the attack. And make no mistake, once we have determined the source of the attack on our air traffic control system, we will retaliate with an appropriate level of force as necessary to counter all future attacks. This attack will not go unanswered.
“Now I know this is a busy time for air travel and that a lot of you have family members who are on planes flying right now, and I want to assure you we will do everything possible to bring your loved ones down safely and securely, and to return them to you or home in as quickly a time frame as possible. The Canadian air traffic control system was unaffected, and for northern routes, they will be assisting us in tracking American flights and bringing them down safely. We will make use of our military, and of the vast array of small airports that have their own radar that can be used to assist in landing aircraft.
“In the meantime, all flights have been placed into safe holding patterns to ensure against the risk of collisions. These holding patterns are completely safe and stable. As quickly as possible, we will clear each flight to land where they are, in priority of remaining fuel. All we ask of the communities where these flights land, many of which do not usually receive commercial flights, is to provide shelter as best they can for the passengers, until such time as alternative transportation can be arranged.
“Now I know a lot of you have plans for the holiday and I ask you to bear with us. It may not be possible to arrange for your loved ones to get to you before the Thanksgiving holiday. Because of the volume of expected displaced people involved, we expect it could take some time before everyone’s where they’re supposed to be. That’s just the way it is. Please be patient and everyone will get where they need to be as soon as they can get there.
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but did he, like, actually say anything?” Roger asked.
“Nothing we didn’t already know,” Kyle answered.
“That’s what I thought,” Roger agreed.
“And we might not know the whereabouts for my sister’s family for days,” Jake added.
“Well, that was a pretty useless speech,” Jeff exclaimed.
“I think the last useful presidential speech began something like, ‘December 7, 1941, a day that will live in infamy,” Paul countered.
“That sounds about right,” Jeff agreed.
“The rent for landing on Indiana Avenue, with a hotel, is $1050, Dad,” Asher related. “From what I can see, you don’t have it, but you do have the Boardwalk and I happen to have Park Place. So how about you give me the Board Walk and we’ll call it even.”
“Don’t do it, Gary,” Seth admonished his boyfriend’s dad. “That’ll give him three monopolies and it’ll be impossible to go around the board without landing on one of them.”
“Don’t be so dramatic, Seth,” Asher countered. “You already have three monopolies.”
“Yeah, but two of them are the utilities and the railroads, and the third is Baltic-Mediterranean, the cheapest monopoly on the board,” Seth pointed out. “Rent for landing on them is nothing compared to landing on the Boardwalk with a hotel.”
“And it’s the only property I have left that isn’t already developed or mortgaged,” Gary noted. “So I guess I have no choice.”
“I could lend you the money,” Bernice suggested.
“And why would you do that?” Gary asked.
“Because I don’t want our son getting the Boardwalk any more than you do,” she explained. “In fact, why don’t you sell me your Boardwalk. I’ll pay you double the face value, which’ll still keep it out of Asher’s hands, and $800 will give you enough to pay him the rent you owe.”
“Hmm, that does sound like a better deal,” Gary mulled over.
“Dad!” Asher whined, “What good is owning the Boardwalk unless it can be developed. Sell it to me, and I’ll let you keep your cash.”
“Such as it is,” Gary countered. “No, I like the idea of keeping the Boardwalk out of your hands much better.” After completing the transaction, Gary was left with the monopoly of New York, Tennessee and St. James Place, with hotels on each, but only $340 in cash.
Asher was up next and he rolled a seven, taking him from Chance to Marvin Gardens, which his mother owned, with a hotel.”
“That’ll cost you twelve hundred dollars,” she exclaimed, but Asher clearly didn’t have it, and to mortgage any property, he’d need to sell back his houses and hotels, with the exception of Park Place. Holding up the card and tiling his head to the side, he shrugged his shoulders, asking the question.
“That would be fair,” Bernice agreed as she took the card from her son, and then she said, “And for only $2000, I can have hotels on the Boardwalk and Park Place.”
“How’d you accumulate so much cash,” Seth asked.
“Good investment strategy,” she answered, causing everyone to laugh.
Five minutes later, she was the only one left standing. The time was 3:20 in the morning.
The O’Malley household had been up for the past twenty-four hours and everyone was still glued to the tube, even as eyes were fading. As an honorary O’Malley and the only matriarch not in prison, Momá decided that as long as everyone was still awake and with no sign of anyone getting ready for bed, perhaps she should prepare some breakfast. Nothing heavy or spicy, given that everyone’s stomach was tied in knots, but enough to make up for being up all night while fasting.
Thinking of a French toast recipe that used cinnamon bread and more milk than egg, she got started preparing the batter while she had her son, Carl, get the coffee going. Debating whether or not to serve bacon or sausage with breakfast, she remembered a package of turkey bacon she’d bought at Francine’s request and decided it would be perfect for the meal.
The smell of frying bacon was enough to wake the dead, which pretty much described the state of the family as they watched CNN in the family room like good little zombies. As everyone wandered into the kitchen, Momá handed each of them a plate with a thick slice of French toast and a couple of strips of bacon, and Carl went around filling coffee mugs until everyone had coffee if they wanted it. Jars of various marmalades and jams on the table, as well as a bottle of pancake syrup and a carton of orange juice, completed the meal.
“Still no word from Joseph?” Momá asked.
“Can’t even get his voicemail,” Clarke replied. “CNN says the cell networks are all overloaded and that people should wait and try later, but the lack of contact with him is killing me.
Shrugging his shoulders, Scott responded, “It was his choice to go off on a fool’s mission to wait for Sarah’s family at the airport.”
Kyle and Freck were cuddled up at one end of the great room sofa and Roger was at the other end. Jake and Ken were cuddled up together on the adjacent love seat. They were all still naked, because that was the way they swam. The TV was still on and the quiet sound of commentators blabbering could be heard in the background, but no one was paying attention, as all eyes were closed.
The sound of the land line ringing woke Jeff up. He and Paul were fast asleep, each of them in one of the living room recliners in Paul’s Upper West Side apartment. Scrambling to get out of the chair, Jeff ran to grab the cordless phone in the kitchen before the call went to voicemail.
“Hello?” Jeff answered as he picked up the receiver.
“Hello, Paul?” a man’s voice queried from the other end of the transmission.
Shaking his head, not that the person at the other end could see it, Jeff replied, “This is Jeff, Paul’s friend.”
“Jeff, you have no idea how good it is to talk to you,” the man answered. “We tried calling Seth and Asher on their cells, but we couldn’t get through, not even to voicemail, and they don’t have a land line. We tried both restaurants, but there was no answer. Finally, we thought of calling you. I guess it’s natural to think first of calling your own kids at a time like this, so the thought of calling you guys slipped my mind.”
“Who is this,” Jeff asked.
“It’s Frank, Paul’s son”
“Frank?” Jeff exclaimed.
Paul was out of his recliner like a shot. He grabbed the receiver from Jeff, forcing him to retrieve the next closest handset from the den.
“Frank? How are you?” Paul asked. “Where are you. Are you alright? Is Julie okay?”
Laughing, Frank answered, “We’re both fine. In fact, everyone’s fine. They put us in a holding pattern over Indiana and Illinois, and at one time we thought they were going to have us land in Peoria or maybe Dayton, but they don’t have the capacity to handle a larger plane like the 777 without air traffic control. So we landed in Indianapolis, at the old airport, mind you. Not that anyone told us anything until we were on our final approach.”
“So you just landed in Indy?” Paul asked for confirmation.
“We landed hours ago,” Frank answered, “but all the cell phone networks are overloaded and our calls just weren’t getting through. And try to find a pay phone these days! Wherever we found some, there were endless lines to use them.”
“So where are you right now?” Paul asked.
“We’re at the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown,” Frank replied. “Everything anywhere near the airport is booked solid as you might expect under the circumstances, so we didn’t even waste our time looking. We took the first bus heading downtown, where prices are high and not many people think to look. There were plenty of rooms available, so that’s where we are. And of course, once we got into our rooms, we had access to land lines, which is why I could finally call you.”
“You talk like it’s more than just the two of you,” Jeff noted.
“Well, yeah. We were circling for quite a while, so we got to know some of the other passengers seated near us in coach, and it turned out we already had connections to some of them. You may recall that Seth and Asher are best friends with a couple of kids from school, Kyle and Freck?” Frank asked.
“Yeah, we actually met them,” Jeff answered. “Kyle was only ten, or maybe he’s eleven by now, but he’s like a junior or maybe a senior at Stuyvesant and has a wicked sense of humor… and quite a potty mouth. And he has a boyfriend, Freck, who’s twelve or maybe thirteen, and fluent in like a dozen languages.”
“Those are the boys,” Frank responded. “In fact, it was Freck that designed the plans for our apartment.”
“Oh, that’s right,” Jeff related. “He wants to be an architect. Were Kyle and Freck on your flight?”
“No, but they have family who were… an aunt, an uncle and three cousins from Berkley who were on their way to spend Thanksgiving with them. In fact, the cousins, all boys, are nearly as brilliant as Kyle and Freck. Also, you might remember one of Seth’s other friends, Clarke O’Malley.”
“Oh, I remember Clarke,” Jeff replied. “That was the kid whose parents were involved with embezzlement and racketeering and ended up in prison. The kids got a good lawyer who protected their assets, though, so they all landed on their feet.”
“Yeah, the oldest son, Joseph, is in law school at Columbia,” Frank related. “His sister and brother-in-law are very proud of him, and of Clarke for that matter, who managed to overcome his father’s homophobia and volunteers for the Stonewall Foundation. Anyway, they were on the flight too, along with their new baby, and we’re all staying at the Hilton Garden.”
“Clarke has a boyfriend, Carl, who’s on Stuyvesant’s varsity basketball team, as I recall,” Paul added. “They’re all bright kids.”
“So yeah, Julie and I are here with Kyle’s aunt and uncle and their three sons, and with Clarke’s sister and brother-in-law, and their baby.”
“Any prospects for getting home?” Paul asked.
“Not by airplane,” Frank answered. “Not for a long time by that route. It’s just like it was after 9/11. It’ll be a week before the planes are flying again, assuming they identify what went wrong and that we’re not at war as a result of that. And the one and only Amtrak train that leaves here daily is overbooked for the duration, as is every single bus heading anywhere.
“All the cars at the airport were rented too,” Frank continued, “but that was to be expected. One of the perks of my position, however, is access to rental vehicles that are reserved for official state business. I’m pretty sure I can get a ten-passenger van by tomorrow morning. 99% sure. Assuming the curfew’s lifted by then, we’ll get up early tomorrow morning and plan to hit the road at six AM if possible. It’s a fourteen-hour drive, not including stops or holiday traffic, so we figure we’ll get in late tomorrow night, which means that, God willing, we’ll be home for Thanksgiving.”
“Don’t you usually have plans with the Governor or something?” Paul asked his son.
“Normally we do, but they’ve been cancelled for obvious reasons,” Frank answered. “We’d have bowed out gracefully in any case after this ordeal. We need to be with family.”
“You’re welcome to spend Thanksgiving with us,” Paul responded, “but as you know, neither of us really cooks. We were planning to give it a try this year, and if you’re willing to take a chance on our experiment, you’re welcome to join us.”
Laughing, Frank answered, “I think I have a better idea if we can work out the logistics. After all, there are ten of us who’ll be on the way home tomorrow, and the three families are already interconnected, so I thought we might want to have Thanksgiving together as one big family. Seth and Asher will be busy with their restaurant, but I think I can talk them into spending a few hours with family and we can order our dinner from them. No one is a better chef than Asher.”
“I’ll agree with you there, Frank,” Jeff related.
“The only issue is that I think we’ll have to have it at our place for logistical reasons,” Frank went on, “but besides the ten of us now in Indy, there’s you two, Kyle and his brothers and dads, Seth and Asher and Asher’s parents, and God knows how many O’Malleys are home for the holiday… there could be as many as eight of them, plus Carl and his mom. That means perhaps as many as thirty adults and kids would be crammed into our tiny living room and dining room.”
“Yeah, but Freck did a great job with the design,” Paul thought aloud. “It’s not all that small for a Manhattan apartment, and a lot bigger than ours. It’s doable.”
“I agree,” Frank added, but then he continued, “the problem is that we have no way to reach the boys, or anyone else for that matter. We don’t have a land line in our apartment and, with the restaurants closed, the only way to reach them is on their cell phones…”
“Did you try texting them?” Jeff interrupted. “Texting uses a much smaller bandwidth than a voice call.”
“Yeah, I tried both and neither is getting through,” Frank complained.
“How about e-mail?” Jeff asked. “Did you try sending him an e-mail?
“E-mail? How retro,” Frank commented.
“You can’t get much more retro than a land line,” Jeff countered.
“How true,” Frank agreed. “The problem was that my e-mails weren’t even going out, but now that I’m in a hotel with free WiFi…” Then after a short pause, he continued. “There, I just sent both boys a quick message that we’re okay, and it didn’t bounce back.”
“Great, but let me know if you don’t hear back from them soon,” Paul responded. “If necessary, we can go there ourselves to let them know… once the damn curfew’s lifted.
“Holy shit!” Seth exclaimed as he saw there was a new email message from his dad.
“What is it, honey?” Asher asked as he stretched, realizing he’d fallen asleep while trying to watch the news. Then looking at his own phone, he said, “Holy shit is right!” After reading the message from Frank Moore, he added, “Send him a quick message, asking him to send the details of where he’s staying and when he thinks he’ll be here.”
“Already on it,” Seth stated as he swiped away at his virtual keyboard. After a delay, Seth responded, “He’s at the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown in Indianapolis, and get this, he’s with Kyle’s aunt, uncle and cousins, and with Clarke’s sister, brother-in-law and nephew.”
“Woah, they must have all been on the same flight together,” Asher exclaimed. “What are the odds of that happening?”
“Actually, pretty high if they were all flying out of San Fran on the same day,” Seth noted. “It was probably the one with the best time, best price and best seat availability, and it probably showed up at the top of the list.
“Dad’s asking if we could spare a couple of hours and bring Thanksgiving dinner for a combined feast in our apartment with all three families. He thinks there could be as many as thirty adults and kids involved.”
“Shit, that all depends on our suppliers coming through with the turkeys. All bets are off until the curfew’s lifted and we can get back to making preparations. Assuming we’re back in business, Joel and Clarke can handle the kitchen stuff for a few hours as long as it’s not during the peak times for takeout.
“Ask your dad if we could make it either really early, like before eleven, or really late, like after seven. The tables are booked all day, but I doubt anyone will come in for takeout before noon or after six.”
After a bit, Seth replied, “Dad says to plan on 7:00.” Then turning to his boyfriend, he added, “assuming we’re not at war by then.”
Turning excitedly to look at his boyfriend and his boyfriend’s mother as he hung up the land line, Clarke practically shouted, “That was Sarah!”
“So I figured,” Carl interrupted.
“Anyway,” he continued, “she’s in Indianapolis and, get this, she was on the same flight with Kyle’s aunt, uncle and cousins, and with Seth’s mom and dad!”
“Wow, what a coincidence,” Momá replied.
“Maybe not,” Carl went on to explain. “There are only so many direct flights between San Francisco and New York, and with holiday travel, only some with seats at a decent price. That’s why they didn’t fly into Newark… they were able to save a few hundred bucks by flying into Kennedy. That flight was way less expensive, as I recall… everything else was like nearly a thousand dollars because of the holiday.
“So when are they getting in?” Momá asked.
“They’re trying to rent a large van,” Clarke answered, “and hope to be here tomorrow night.”
“Great,” she responded. “Then they’ll be here for Thanksgiving.”
“Speaking of which, we’re all invited for Thanksgiving at Seth’s place, with food from Asher’s restaurant,” Clarke related.
“But I already have enough food here to serve an army,” Momá lamented. “I still have to prepare it, whether or not we have in on Thanksgiving, and it won’t keep all that long. There’s no sense in letting it all go to waste.” Then looking up, she asked her son’s boyfriend, “Ask them if we can bring the food, since we already have it. Asher can save himself the trouble of schlepping it across the Lower East Side on a city bus.”
“But Asher’s cooking’s fantastic, Momá,” Carl interjected.
“And mine isn’t?” Momá responded. Then sighing, she suggested, “Tell him he can either bring a side dish or a main dish that isn’t turkey. That way no one will starve,” she quipped with a laugh.
“I just wish we’d hear something from Joseph,” Clarke added with a worried look on his face.”
“It’s confirmed,” Jake began, “Frank Moore managed to commandeer an Indiana State Park’s Department van and will leave Indy with everyone, first thing tomorrow morning.”
“But won’t he have to drive it back to Indiana?” Kyle asked.
“At some point,” Jake agreed, “but there’s probably a lot of that sort of thing going on among various state agencies right now, thanks to the crisis. The advantage in using an official state vehicle is that they’re exempt from the curfew, so that’s one less worry they have.”
“It’s great that they’ll be here for Thanksgiving,” Ken responded, “but I’m just glad they’re all okay.”
“Definitely,” Freck agreed, but then added, “but if we’re all having Thanksgiving dinner at the Moore’s, what are we gonna do with all the food we already bought for here?”
“Will they be able to find gas along the way?” Paul wondered aloud as he and Jeff got ready to hit the sack for the first real sleep since the crisis began.
“I’m sure the gas stations will be open by tomorrow,” Jeff decided. “It’s probably just as well they aren’t leaving ’til tomorrow, though.”
“And I suppose they’d have access to emergency gas supplies if necessary, being they’ll be in a government vehicle,” Paul added, “but knowing Frank, he’d never take advantage of something like that unless he was stranded.”
“Come on, boyfriend, it’s time to get some sleep,” Jeff said as he held out his hand.
Smiling, Paul grabbed his boyfriend’s hand and followed him to their bedroom.
Having been awake for more than 24 hours, Asher and Seth went right to bed after hearing via email that Seth’s dad was safe in Indianapolis and, hopefully, would be home in time for Thanksgiving dinner, certainly in time for it to start at seven. What was not clear at the time they headed to Asher’s bedroom was who or what was responsible for the collapse of air traffic control, if or what America might do in response to it if it was indeed a terrorist attack or even if a war with a rival foreign power was imminent. There were many questions yet unresolved and they didn’t even know if or when the curfew would be lifted, nor were they aware that both Clarke’s family and Kyle’s were both making plans to bring Thanksgiving dinner, upending the boys’ plans.
None of those things mattered to Asher and Seth as they drifted off to sleep in Asher’s bed, safely in each other’s arms. What mattered was that everyone they cared about was safe and sound.
While the rest of the family was finally getting some well-needed rest, Momá was wide awake, just thinking about the preparations for Thanksgiving, which was only two days away. Today should have been a school day for the kids, but with the curfew still in place and all the schools shut down, it seemed unlikely there would be school until the following Monday. She could’ve easily waited until tomorrow to start work preparing Thanksgiving dinner, but she was wide awake, and she was psyched.
The cornbread stuffing would take the longest to prepare and so Momá began her preparations for making cornbread. Unlike Asher, who’s ‘from-scratch’ recipe involved starting with stone-ground corn meal and oatmeal, Momá used whole-grain corn on the cob, which was in season in the late fall and which gave her cornbread and her stuffing a unique, authentic texture that few could match. Husking corn was the hardest thing she would have to do, so it was just as well she was getting an early start on it.
Preparations for Thanksgiving dinner at the Goldstein household took an entirely different direction, based on years of serving turkey during the Jewish holiday of Passover, in the spring. Because Passover was based on the Jewish exodus from Egypt, during which there wasn’t time to wait for bread to rise, it had to be eaten flat. The eating of leavened bread was prohibited during the week-long holiday of Passover, in remembrance of the sacrifices made by their ancestors when they fled Egyptian tyranny.
Because of the need for a meal that could be prepared in advance and then simply be placed in the oven to roast during the lengthy Passover service, turkey had become a staple of Passover in many Jewish households. With a need for stuffing that didn’t use leavened bread, recipes had evolved for stuffing based on the use of the unleavened bread in the form of matzo or matzo meal. Neither Jake nor Ken had ever kept Kosher, but they’d both been raised on matzo-based stuffing for Passover and it was the only kind of stuffing they knew how to make for Thanksgiving.
It had been years since Jake participated in Thanksgiving meal preparation, and as his wife’s alcoholism became worse and worse to the point that she was incapable of cooking, Jake had made it a point to volunteer to take call on the holiday, leaving his sons to fend for themselves. Once Jake’s sister, Helen, became aware of the situation through her own son’s communications with their cousins, she made it a point to invite her brother’s family to California for the holiday. Jake was relieved to have someone else taking responsibility for Thanksgiving dinner, absolving him of the guilt that usually came with avoiding the holiday, but that was before Kyle came out. There was no way Jake was going to expose his sister’s family to an out-and-proud nine-year-old, particularly when Jake was dealing with issues of his own sexuality. Because Kyle refused to stay in the closet for his father’s sake, he and Roger had been forced to stay home last year. That was how Kyle came to meet Roger’s friends, Asher and Seth, and through them his boyfriend, Freck.
Freck’s story was considerably different from that of his boyfriend. Borne into a household that was rich by any standard, his parents never saw the holidays as relevant other than for public relations. They celebrated the holidays conspicuously when it was to their advantage and skipped them when it was not. When they celebrated Thanksgiving, it was always as a family with thirty or forty invited guests, and it was held in their penthouse apartment. It was a catered affair, with the caterers paid only minimum wage as they toiled all day, away from their own families. There was never a problem hiring caterers, though, as it was understood that a refusal to cater on the holiday would end any future opportunity to cater for them ever again.
Thanksgiving wasn’t Christmas, however, and so as often as not, Freck’s parents skipped the holiday altogether, spending it instead on business dealings overseas, where Thanksgiving was celebrated on different dates. As such it fell to his nanny to prepare Thanksgiving dinner for Freck and his twin sisters. Hailing originally from Poland, however, she’d never even seen a turkey let alone roasted one prior to coming to America. She always tried her best, but some of her attempts ended up as epic fails.
Amazingly, this was to be Freck’s first ever traditional family Thanksgiving dinner. Although a matzo-based stuffing might not be traditional outside of Jewish families, to Freck it would be his first taste of home-made stuffing. Not that the food prepared by the caterers hadn’t been delicious, but it wasn’t real. Although he was exhausted beyond belief, he couldn’t help but be drawn to the preparations in the kitchen, all of which were new to him. As the only member of the household with actual Thanksgiving dinner experience, it fell to Ken to do all the work, but Freck, like a kid half his age, was all too eager to help while his boyfriend slept the day away.
“Well, that was interesting,” Paul exclaimed as he hung up the phone.
“What, was interesting,” Jeff asked as he stretched his arms overhead, realizing he’d fallen asleep in his recliner yet again.
“That was Frank,” Paul explained. “He’ll definitely be leaving Indy early in the morning. Anyway, he got word from his contact in the Port Authority that the FAA has tracked down the cause of the failure.”
“They have?” Jeff asked. “What was it? Or should I ask who.”
“Definitely what,” Paul responded. “As you’d expect, air traffic control’s multiply redundant. It consists of a network of nodes, each of them associated with radar facilities, mostly at airports. The nodes work in conjunction with neighboring nodes, each of them tracking flights in their area of overlap, so that at any time a flight will be tracked by at least two or three nodes. As a flight moves through an area, each node hands off responsibility to the next one in sequence so that the location of every flight over the U.S. is always known and shared with the other nodes.”
“The planes all have transponders, don’t they?” Jeff asked.
“Yes, of course they do… at least the commercial ones do. Transponders are required for some private planes, but optional for most, which leaves a gaping hole in the system. The transponders provide air traffic control with the identification of each flight as well as with data from the planes themselves to assist with routing the flights and avoiding pockets of unstable air.
“Of course, there are other things up in the air that don’t have transponders, such as birds,” he added.
“So what does this have to do with what happened?” Jeff asked.
“Obviously, problems could arise if then nodes don’t agree on the position of a flight,” Paul explained. “That’s actually pretty common, though, as weather disturbances may affect the signal path differently from one node versus another, but there’s so much redundancy built into every node… backup computers and secondary and tertiary radars, that it seldom takes long to resolve an issue. However, if a node ever shows conflicting data for multiple flights, the system is designed to simply shut that node down. The adjacent nodes can pick up the slack and the passengers are never put in danger
“However, yesterday was one of the busiest travel days of the year and although there weren’t more commercial flights in the air, thanks to the use of larger planes and pricing to steer flyers to routes with lower utilization, every flight was full. Add to that a record number of private airplanes were flying, a lot of which lack transponders. The system was already operating beyond its design capacity when a cold-burst over Denver… an abrupt atmospheric disturbance, suddenly altered the locations of all planes without transponders. The commercial flights all compensated for the disturbance and sent updates via their transponders, but the private planes seemed to abruptly change position, casting extreme uncertainty as to their location. Without transponders, the adjacent nodes couldn’t verify the locations fast enough and the node at the Denver Airport took itself off-line as a precaution, as it was designed to do.
The adjacent nodes were designed to take up the slack, but they were still attempting to verify the positions of the private planes, and failing to get data from Denver, they were all programmed to assume they weren’t functioning properly and so they too shut down. They should have all come back online quickly after rebooting, but without data from Denver, they shut back down, permanently.”
“And the failures spread across the network from node to node… a classic cascade failure,” Jeff chimed in.
“And unfortunately, the system wasn’t designed to be rebooted from a total system shutdown,” Paul continued. “There were always expected to be at least some functioning nodes, so the coders didn’t even design for such a possibility.”
“That’s crazy! How did they bring it up in the first place?” Jeff asked.
“They brought it up on top of the old system,” Paul answered, “using a protocol that’s since been eliminated, and of course they decommissioned the old system long ago, as it would have been too expensive to maintain. Total system reboot was supposed to be added later, but it never was. After all, the new system was supposed to be foolproof.”
“But like most things, it wasn’t,” Jeff responded. “So what happens now?”
“What happens now is a lot of political scrambling to spin it the right way,” Paul replied. “As my son put it, the FAA already had a lot of egg on its face from the 737 Max debacle, and the heat from this disaster’s going to result in a lot of fried egg.”
Jeff couldn’t help but break into gales of laughter. Once he calmed down, he countered, “I meant what was going to happen to fix the system from an engineering standpoint.”
“I know that,” Paul explained, “but politics always comes into it and it will be central in this case. The simple answer is to bring the entire system up in diagnostic mode and, once everything is verified, go live. A software fix to the glitch that brought the system down in the first place could be vetted slowly and deliberately, and then installed with a future upgrade. Meanwhile the problem that resulted in the cascade failures could be avoided entirely by restricting private flights during busy times to only those with transponders. With Christmas coming, however, that would be a very tough sell. Attempts to require transponders have always failed because some pilots can’t afford them.
“Unfortunately, there’ll be substantial pressure not only to bring the system up as quickly as possible, but to declare it safe and sound. If they wanted to, they could have the air traffic control system back up tonight and the planes flying tomorrow, but that would make it all too evident that the president overplayed his hand. Instead, the engineers will be forced to rush out a quick fix before it’s ready and then everyone’ll pat themselves on the back and declare the problem cured, but not before holding congressional hearings on the matter. Either way, the planes probably won’t resume flying until the weekend at the earliest.”
“So typical,” Jeff noted.
“Agreed,” Paul replied. “What’s really scary is that with the President’s neck so far out there with the terrorist thing, there may still be talk of the whole thing being caused by terrorists. It’s so much easier to point your finger at someone else, and this president seems to do so on a routine basis. Name your country and the president will use it as an excuse for sanctions or even war.”
The pleasant slumber Asher and Seth had been enjoying for several hours was interrupted by the piercing sound of the emergency alert system, coming from their phones. Asher reached for his phone, which was charging on his nightstand. Because they were in Asher’s bedroom and Seth’s phone also needed charging, his was across the way, sitting on the dresser.
“What is it, Babe?” Seth asked.
“The president’s gonna speak to the nation at 9:00 PM, Eastern Time,” Asher responded with a yawn.
“What time is it now?” Seth asked.
“7:30,” he answered.
“Shit, we slept in all day,” Seth responded.
“Something sure smells good, Momá,” Carl exclaimed as he entered the kitchen, his boyfriend trailing behind him.
“While you were being lazy, I was getting to work on making cornbread for the stuffing,” she explained. “I make it from fresh corn on the cob, which is barely in season, but it takes me all day, just for the cornbread.”
“You make the best stuffing, Momá,” Carl exclaimed as he used a spoon to extract a small piece of the cooling cornbread and proceeded to eat it, earning a swat form his mother.”
“No sampling the cornbread,” she admonished her son. “I need all of it for the stuffing. And put some clothes on.”
Shrugging his bare shoulders – he and Clarke were dressed only in their boxers – he responded, “We just woke up, Momá. Got a message. The president’s gonna speak at 9:00.”
“Well you have plenty of time to get dressed before then,” she responded. “And you need a shave, and you both need a shower. How long has it been anyway?”
Sheepishly, Carl admitted, “Yesterday morning.” Then turning to his boyfriend and raising his eyebrows, he added, “C’mon, Clarke. Let’s go take a shower.” The implication that he intended that they shower together wasn’t lost on Momá. Ordinarily she’d have said something but decided not to this time. She’d been up since early yesterday morning and was in no mood to argue with her son and his boyfriend. Besides which, what difference did it make anyway? She knew they were intimate on a regular basis and nothing she said was going to change that.
But as the boys receded back up the stairs, she realized that soon, everyone would be up, and hungry. Quickly looking at the inventory in the refrigerator and cupboards, she pulled out some lettuce, carrots and tomatoes from which to make a salad, threw a pot of water on the stove to boil for spaghetti, and set a couple of pounds of ground beef into a large skillet to brown for her spaghetti sauce.
Because it was getting late and he was already soaking several boxes of matzo in chicken stock for the stuffing he’d make tomorrow, Ken decided to make fried matzo for dinner. Fried matzo was traditionally more of a breakfast or brunch dish, but with everyone’s sense of day and night screwed up anyway, why not? He just needed to add another box of matzo to the others, which he soaked in the boiling liquid.
Once that was done, he got out a dozen large eggs and proceeded to break them and whip them. Because the family didn’t keep Kosher, he felt free to add some milk and cheese to the mix, both of which made the meal so much better. Finally, he got out a quarter-pound package of Nova lox and shredded it into small pieces, which he added to the batter.
Once the matzo was soft, but not yet turned to pulp, he added a slice of it to a skillet and poured some of the egg batter mix over it, flipping the matzo at just the right time, when it was barely golden brown on one side. Repeating the process with each of ten of the eleven slices of matzo that came in a box, he put two slices of matzo on each plate and then put them into the oven to keep warm. It wasn’t long before the rest of the family began making their way to the kitchen, roused by the smell of the frying matzo.
When Ken placed a plate of the fried matzo in front of him, Freck couldn’t help but ask, “What the hell is this stuff?”
“It’s fried matzo,” Kyle answered. “It’s… different, but I think you’ll like it.”
Taking a bite, Freck said, “You’re right, Ky. It’s delicious.” Then changing the subject as he so often did, he asked aloud, “So what do you think the president will say tonight?”
“The bastard!” Jeff exclaimed when the president finished his speech. “How could he outright lie like that?”
“Because that’s what he does,” Paul answered. “Ever since he took the oath of office, he’s been looking for an excuse to get into Iran, and now he has one. To his way of thinking, why not take advantage of the opportunity afforded by the air traffic crisis?”
“Because too many people already know the truth!” Jeff countered.
“But the truth is what you say it is these days. Everything else is ‘fake news’, Paul noted.
“He didn’t actually say it was Iran, you know,” Jeff pointed out.
“He certainly implied it though,” Paul agreed, but then had another thought. “What do you think would happen if the truth were leaked to the press?”
“The president would categorically deny it,” Jeff surmised. “Look at all the other lies he’s gotten away with. And a war with Iran would certainly help divert attention from his other troubles.”
“Definitely,” Paul agreed. “Still, I can’t help but think that if enough sources came out with the truth…”
“What are you thinking, Babe?”
“George W. Took us to war based on disinformation,” Paul explained. “People are still skittish about that and if there’s a lot of folks telling a different story, I think it’d be pretty hard to go to war based on even less, you know?”
“Maybe, but this president has certainly shown a willingness to do what he wants, regardless of the truth,” Jeff countered.
“Yes, but his actions do have consequences,” Paul stated. “He campaigned on getting us out of endless wars and even his loyal base might take exception to him starting one. If even a few people in the know were to come forward, it could tie the president’s hands.”
“Are you suggesting you might be thinking of doing something?” Jeff asked.
“Absolutely,” Paul answered. “I know people.”
“So do I,” Jeff responded. “People listen to Nobel Laureates…”
“They also listen to the director of astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History,” Paul declared. “Not that we’d have any influence directly, but a news tip in the right direction could set in motion a chain of events that even this president couldn’t ignore.”
“How certain are you of the authenticity of the information you got from Frank?” Jeff asked.
“Very,” Paul answered. “As a member of the assembly leadership in Albany, he’s privy to a lot of information, including from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.”
“But he gave you that information in the strictest of confidence,” Jeff countered.
“No, it wasn’t like that,” Paul explained. “Sure, he wanted to reassure me that our worst fears weren’t true, but he wouldn’t have breached his confidence if that were the only reason. My son and I have an understanding. When he receives confidential information that he feels is within the public’s right to know, he sometimes leaks it to me with the understanding that it might be leaked to the press. That way, if the governor or the president stonewalls it, it will still get out. This is certainly one of those times.”
During his speech, the president had fingered terrorists from the middle east as the culprits in the air traffic control system failure, and strongly hinted that Iran was to blame. He assured the country that everything possible was being done to verify the culpability of those involved, and that a measured, appropriate response to the terrorism would be forthcoming. In the meantime, he lifted the curfew and assured America that the air traffic control system was completely safe and that flights would resume in the morning, much to the surprise of the director of the FAA, who would have to scramble to have everything ready in time.
In order to speed those stranded to their destinations, the president authorized the airlines to cancel all existing reservations through the weekend and to fill flights by lottery. Unfortunately, the ensuing chaos that resulted probably slowed things down considerably more than if the president had simply left things well enough alone. However, American ingenuity was finding a way for many of those stranded to get home by other means. Indeed, many an Uber or Lyft driver came to realize they could make decent money driving stranded passengers home, and that they could even undercut the inflated holiday prices being charged by the airlines for their flights. By whatever means, people were finding their way home for the holiday.
By Wednesday morning, however, reports were emerging that the system-wide crash of the air traffic control system was not caused by terrorists, but rather by a software bug that caused individual stations in the network to take themselves offline. Under the heavy load of holiday travel, failures in a few strategic locations resulted in a cascading series of failures that brought the entire system down. Multiple officials had come forward with evidence to refute the president’s assertion that the failure was the result of hacking by terrorists, and members of both parties were vowing to hold Congressional hearings to get to the bottom of the matter.
Asher and Seth reopened the Ragin’ Cajun on Wednesday morning and they did an outlandish takeout business. Asher’s parents reported that the same thing was happening at the Asian takeout restaurant too. People were rushing to catch up with their Thanksgiving preparations, leaving scant time to prepare something to eat on the day prior to the feast, and so they ordered takeout. Asher was relieved that he wouldn’t need to prepare a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for his family and friends. He had enough to do preparing food for the restaurant, and for the nearby homeless shelter. Preparing dinner for eight people as he’d done the previous year had been enough of a challenge. By request, however, he would bring a turkey, prepared Cajun style with his special spicy brine and rub, and he would bring a pot of his spicy pumpkin soup. With a chuckle, he couldn’t help but remember that it was his soup that had caused all the lights to go out the previous year.
With the cellular network beginning to come back online, Seth finally had a chance to talk to his parents Wednesday morning. They were already on the road, along with the eight family members of their friends who would be attending Thanksgiving dinner the next evening. Even at that hour, they’d encountered heavy traffic, making it likely they wouldn’t arrive in New York until very late that night, if not until after midnight. At least with the resumption of cell service, the boys would be kept apprised of their progress.
The sky was already beginning to lighten as Frank Moore got his first glimpse of the New York City skyline on the morning of Thanksgiving. They’d run into very heavy traffic around Columbus and stop-and-go traffic around Pittsburgh. Traffic had been heavy on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, all the way to Harrisburg, where it came to a standstill. Picking up a bit once they hit Interstate 78, it slowed again around Allentown and as the van approached New York. With frequent stops for food, bathroom breaks and diaper changes, it had taken nearly twenty-four hours by the time they crossed the Goethals Bridge into Staten Island.
Frank had briefly considered simply driving straight through the Holland Tunnel and dropping all the passengers off at his home. It would have saved him a lot of time and saved them the trouble of returning there that evening for Thanksgiving dinner. However, given how anxious everyone was to be reunited with family, he quickly dismissed that idea. Besides which, they all needed a chance to rest and freshen up for the dinner party, as did he and Julie.
In spite of the early hour, the O’Malley family was thrilled to see the new baby and to greet Sarah and her husband. The only sore point was that Joseph still hadn’t returned home. He’d spent the entire ordeal at JFK, sleeping on cots in makeshift dormitories set up for the benefit of the stranded passengers. In his haste to get to the airport, he’d neglected to bring a charging cable for his phone and, once the cell network came back online, was forced to rely on the largess of others to recharge his battery, which didn’t last very long. His phone was his only reliable link to the outside world and so he used it to keep abreast of what was happening.
It wasn’t until late on Wednesday that he was finally able to reach Clarke. When he discovered that Sarah and her family had caught a ride home with Assemblyman Moore and his wife, there was no further need to wait at the airport. Joseph went to retrieve his car from the offsite lot where he’d parked it, only to discover that the battery was dead. He’d never gotten around to buying a portable jump-starter, and his attempts to get through to AAA roadside assistance were futile. With the AAA app on his phone not even showing an estimated wait time, he began approaching total strangers to see if any of them would offer a jump start. He could only hope he’d make it home in time for Thanksgiving dinner.
Kyle was beside himself and was jumping up and down, acting more like a six-year-old than someone about to turn eleven, let alone a kid with the intellect of someone twice that age. Finally, his aunt, uncle and cousin were in New York and would soon arrive at their home in Riverdale. Actually, they were back in New Jersey, as Google had routed them up the Turnpike and over the GW Bridge, rather than having them deal with the glacial pace of the BQE or FDR Drive. There was a backup at the bridge, but that was to be expected, and now it was just a matter of time.
Frank Moore was inching the van along in that backup, cursing the fact that the van, a Parks and Recreation van from Indiana, lacked an EZ-Pass transponder, forcing him to make use of the cash-only lanes at the toll booths. Finally, he reached the front of the que, paid the toll and was soon inching his way across the bridge in heavy traffic. Once he reached the exit for the West Side Highway, he was able to move considerably faster, zipping across the Henry Hudson Bridge into the Bronx. This was his first time seeing the Goldstein house and he was surprised at just how modest it was. That was before he saw that it was built into a hillside and had an unobstructed view of the Hudson and the Palisades.
It was already early afternoon by the time Frank and Julie pulled up in front of their apartment building on the Lower East Side. With the Macey’s Thanksgiving Day Parade already in progress, traffic on the FDR had been heavy, even though it was nowhere near the parade route. They couldn’t leave the van in front of their co-op, however, even though it had an official state government license plate. They had a reserved parking place available, but it was filled with one of their cars. After quickly unloading their luggage and taking it upstairs, Frank took the car under the FDR and up an official-only exit ramp into East River Park. He parked it in front of the Lower East Side Ecology Center and handed the keys over to the officer on duty. The van still needed to be driven back to Indiana, but it was no longer Frank’s responsibility. It was now just one of many vehicles that needed to be returned to their states of origin. Indeed, there were many such vehicles in other states, waiting to be returned to New York.
There was much to be done before the Thanksgiving dinner party that evening, but the second order of business was sleep. Frank walked back across one of the pedestrian bridges over the FDR and headed up to their apartment on the top floor of their building. The first order of business, of course, was letting the dads and the boys know he and Julie were home, safe and sound, and so he quickly called them to let them know and to say they’d see them at dinner in a little while. They then quickly undressed and, after setting the alarm for 5:30 PM, they were fast asleep.
“What’s in this stuffing?” Asher asked. “I’ve never tasted anything like it.”
“Notice that he didn’t actually say he liked it,” Roger pointed out.
“Matzo stuffing is a bit of an acquired taste,” Kyle agreed. He then went on to explain the reason for using matzo instead of bread in the stuffing.
Thanksgiving dinner was underway in the Moore apartment, with twelve adults in attendance, including Scott, his roommate and his roommate’s boyfriend, and thirteen children, Including Francine, who was a freshman at SUNY Albany but was still seventeen. It was an arbitrary division that allowed for everyone to be seated comfortably, with adults in the living room and kids in the formal dining room. The only one missing was Joseph, who had yet to get his car started. Apparently, the problem was more significant than a dead battery.
Although everyone seemed to prefer the cornbread stuffing, most everyone agreed the matzo stuffing was delicious too, and the sweet potato casserole Ken brought was among the best anyone had ever tasted, not that Momá’s candied yams and plantains weren’t also fantastic.
At that moment the doorbell rang and Seth went to answer it. On the other side of the door stood Joseph, who’d finally made it for Thanksgiving dinner. Because the formal dining room was directly off the entry foyer, all the kids saw Joseph and a cacophony of questions ensued.
Finally, after everyone quieted down, Seth was able to ask, “Glad you finally made it. Is your car fixed?”
Shaking his head, Joseph answered, “Nah, the AAA finally showed up, but they couldn’t get it started. I ended up having them tow it to a garage nearby… one with a good rating on Yelp. It’s obviously more than just the battery. It’s probably the alternator, or maybe something else. I took the A-Train to Manhattan and took the M22 bus here.”
“Your car’s pretty old, Bro,” Clarke responded. “like from the nineties?”
“It’s a ’96, so it’s over twenty years old now,” Joseph answered. “Unfortunately, the garage where I had it towed won’t even be able to look at it until Monday. I guess then I’ll find out what’s wrong with it and how much it’ll cost to fix it, if it even pays to fix it.”
“What’ll you do if it doesn’t?” Clarke asked.
“I guess then I’ll have to get a new one,” Joseph replied.
“You really should get a new one anyway,” Carl interjected, “That thing has broken down so many times since you moved in with us… it’s just not reliable anymore. It’s not safe.”
“Yeah Bro,” Clarke agreed with his boyfriend. That thing was old when you bought it, back when you turned sixteen.”
“And with what money am I supposed to buy another car?” Joseph asked.
“You could use the trust fund,” Clarke suggested. “That’s kinda what it’s for. With you bein’ the head of the household and our guardian, you can’t be without a car… not on Staten Island. I don’t need to tell you that we don’t even have a subway.”
“We have a major bus route that goes right by the end of the street,” Joseph countered, “but you can’t exactly use the bus to bring home the groceries, can you?” The reality was that Staten Island was more suburban than urban and most everything required a car. Momá had been using Joseph’s mother’s Nissan Rogue to take care of the household errands, but she wasn’t always available to ferry the other kids to and from their various activities. The Feds had confiscated Joseph’s dad’s Mercedes SUV when they charged him with racketeering, so that wasn’t an option. Truthfully, Joseph really did need a car.
Following Seth into the dining room, he sighed and said, “I guess I might as well get started looking at cars tomorrow. Maybe I can find a deal for Black Friday.”
Rolling his eyes, Carl replied, “If you find a deal for Black Friday, it probably won’t be for the car you want. Buying a car takes finesse… and someone who knows something about cars.” Then after a short pause, Carl asked, “Have you given any thought to what kind of car you’d like to buy? If you could have any car in the world, what would it be?”
“Definitely an SUV,” Joseph answered. “If money were no object, Porsche has a nice SUV, but it would be way more car than I need. I think maybe another Nissan Rogue would fit the bill. it’s stylish and it gets great mileage.”
“Living in New York, you should definitely get a hybrid,” Carl suggested. “You can’t really go by just the EPA figures when it comes to driving around here, where you spend a lot of time mired in traffic. Electric motors are way more efficient than gas engines when it comes to stop-and-go traffic, so hybrids are the only cars for which you don’t pay a penalty for living in a place with a lot of heavy traffic. More importantly, you should get a larger SUV. This is a big family and you need more space. You should get something with a decent third row.”
“So what would you get,” Joseph asked.
Without hesitation, he answered, “A Toyota Highlander Hybrid. I know Toyota hasn’t exactly made the best decisions at the corporate level lately, but they still make solid, well-built, fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly, quality cars that are built to last. Its mileage is close to thirty MPG, and even with the third row open, there’s still plenty of room for cargo. It’s the ideal car for you, man.”
“Why not get a used car?” Francine asked. “A new car loses so much value the moment you drive it off the lot, you might as well save that money and use it to get a much nicer car than you could otherwise afford.”
“Maybe you could get a used Escalade, or a Navigator, or even a Range Rover,” Clarke suggested.
“Those are expensive cars to own, operate and insure,” Carl pointed out. “You might be able to afford to buy a used one, but you’ll spend a lot more on gas… premium gas, and repairs will cost you an arm and a leg. Plus, those cars make much more significant targets for thieves and the insurance rates will be through the roof.”
“All good points to consider, but I’m starved! I haven’t exactly had much to eat in the last couple of days, after all,” Joseph explained, making everyone cringe. “I’ll tell you about it later. In the meantime, I’ll go get some food, and I’ll be right back.”
“Except this is the kiddy table,” Seth pointed out. “You’re expected to eat with the adults…”
“Not that you’re an adult in any way, shape or form,” Clarke quipped.
“The cutoff’s supposed to be eighteen,” Francine explained, “which is why I’m in here and you’re supposed to be out there.”
“Frankly, I think I’d rather eat with you guys rather than with the ’rents,” Joseph countered. “Just give me a few, and I’ll be right back.” When he didn’t return after ten minutes, however, it became apparent he wasn’t going to return. Clarke surmised that Scott had probably waylaid his brother, so that he’d have someone other than the parents to talk to.
“Oh shit… again I forgot the pumpkin soup, and the Cajun turkey!” Asher exclaimed suddenly.
“No, don’t do it Ashe,” Seth responded. “The last time you tried to heat your pumpkin soup, the lights went out and we had to gut the place.”
“Not to worry,” Asher countered. “This time the pumpkin soup’s simmering on the stove, and the turkey’s keeping warm in the oven. As you know, both use gas rather than electricity, so unless your lights run on gas, there’s nothing to worry about.”
Asher then walked the short distance to the kitchen and returned with a tureen filled with the pumpkin soup. He went back and grabbed a stack of soup bowls and spoons and brought them to the table. Finally, he opened the oven and loaded some of the Cajun turkey onto a serving tray.
When Francine tasted the Cajun turkey, she actually moaned and said, “Oh, this is so good. The pumpkin soup’s fantastic, but this is the best turkey I’ve ever tasted. I thought Momá’s molé sauce is excellent, but it’s nothing compared to this. It’s orgasmic.” Everyone couldn’t help but chuckle in response to that.
“Now you know why the food editor at The Times called Asher’s cooking the best Cajun food outside of New Orleans,” Seth added.
“I’m definitely gonna hafta check out your restaurant before I return to Albany,” Francine agreed.
While the parents were engaged in a discussion of whether or not it was better to serve as a whistle-blower or to leak information to the press, Joseph became engaged in a conversation with his younger brother, Scott, Scott’s roommate and best friend, Jake, and Jake’s boyfriend, Terrance. At first the conversation revolved around the classes they were taking and how things differed at SUNY Buffalo from Notre Dame, where Joseph had done his undergraduate work. Eventually they got to talking about how he’d been stuck at the airport and how his car had been towed to a garage, where it was awaiting evaluation on Monday.
“Joseph, my man, that car’s older than I am,” Scott began. “It’s not reliable. It isn’t safe. Regardless of whether or not it can be fixed, it’s time to get a new one.”
“Yeah, that’s pretty much what everyone’s tellin’ me,” Joseph related. “Now that I have a responsibility to my siblings,” he added, “I probably should get a mid-size SUV. Something like a Toyota Highlander.”
“Why settle for a car our parents would’ve bought when you could get something much nicer if you buy it used?” Scott asked.
“That’s pretty much what Clarke said, but Carl pointed out that I not only need to be able to afford to buy it, but I have to be able to fill the gas tank.” Joseph countered. “It’s not just about the purchase price,” he continued, “it’s about the cost of ownership… how much it costs to operate, maintain and insure the vehicle.”
“Smart man,” Terrance said, agreeing with Carl.
“But what about the fact that a new car loses thousands of dollars in value the moment you drive it off the lot?” Joseph asked. “Even if I get a Highlander, wouldn’t it pay to buy a used one?”
“Not according to Consumer Reports,” Terrance, countered. “According to them, it only pays to buy a used car if you intend to trade it in. If you plan to keep a car more than ten years and particularly if you intend to run it into the ground as you did with your last car, the initial depreciation doesn’t matter. This isn’t like the bad old days when all cars were American and built to start rusting out within a few years. Today’s cars are built to last. The average car on the road today is twelve years old. Twelve years old. That’s the average. Think about it… that means that the typical car lasts more than twenty years, and people are actually keeping them that long. It’s not worth worrying about initial depreciation.”
“Buy why not save a few thousand bucks?” Joseph asked.
“Because it’s not really saving money at all,” Terrance argued. “Look, most new cars come with at least a two-year warranty. Your Toyota comes with a three-year, 36,000-mile warranty and five years or 50,000 miles on the powertrain. With a used car, you’re lucky to get a ninety-day warranty, even for a late-model car, and if you buy it from a third party, you won’t get any warranty at all. One lousy repair bill can completely wipe out your supposed savings.
“Not only that, but most dealers will cover your maintenance for free for the first two or three years. Some of them will even offer free maintenance for as long as you own your car. That’s a savings of hundreds of dollars, right there. Add to that the ability to order your new car, just the way you want it and there really is no comparison.”
“Definitely food for thought,” Joseph commented as he took another bite of his turkey, eliciting groans from his brother and his brother’s friends.
By the time they finished the meal, everyone was stuffed beyond reason and barely able to stand. A short while later, however, they all managed to find room for coffee or tea with dessert. True to his promise to cut down on caffeine, however, Kyle stuck with decaf.
With the Black Friday sales set to begin that evening, the dinner broke up at 10:00 so everyone could return home in time to check out the latest sales online. Paul and Jeff, however, stayed behind to discuss the recent air traffic control debacle with Frank. Although the leaks to the press had been extensive and although they hadn’t been the only ones to leak the details, they were concerned that the president might still try to claim that Iran had been involved. This president wasn’t known as one to be burdened by the facts. The facts were what he said they were and thus if he said the Iranians were involved, then they were involved. The man simply couldn’t be trusted. Therefore, Frank decided it was time to leak details of the debacle that could only have come from someone inside air traffic control. As a strategy it was risky, but anything was worth avoiding war.
Having pretty much decided that he needed a new car, Joseph went with Carl in tow to a number of Black Friday ‘sales events’, only to find that most of the dealerships were more interested in clearing out old inventory than in showing the latest models. Therefore Joseph and Carl spent most of Saturday visiting dealerships in New Jersey, where prices were reported to be lower. Joseph was amazed at how quickly Carl managed to get the dealers to lower their prices. It was evident that Carl knew a lot about cars and could counter any argument a dealer posed as a reason for charging a higher price. More significantly, Carl had a knack for appearing disinterested, even when the car was exactly what Joseph wanted.
Joseph, for his part, had assumed he would have to order his car with the specific options he wanted and then wait several weeks for delivery. Carl knew better. Carl was intimately aware of all of the various package deals and specifically which options were included with each. In the end, Joseph got a fantastic price on just the car he wanted in just the color he wanted, with exactly the options he wanted and with a few more thrown in. He hadn’t even considered getting heated leather seats or built-in navigation, but he was sure he’d appreciate them when trying to find his way on a cold winter day. Not only that, but he was able to drive the car off the lot that very day.
Come Monday, classes at Columbia Law School resumed and so it was between classes that he received word on the status of his old car. Unfortunately, the problem was with the onboard computer, which was no longer manufactured for his car. Because the model was so old, the only option was to obtain a similar, compatible model from a scrap dealer, but in spite of the mechanic’s best effort, none could be found. Joseph ended up paying the garage to have his old car towed away for scrap.
With Thanksgiving behind them, it was time for Asher and Seth to begin making preparations for Christmas. The Asian takeout restaurant had always been open on Christmas Day and so Asher saw no reason the Cajun place shouldn’t also be open for the holiday. With the preponderance of Jewish people that lived on the Lower East Side, Asher expected to do a brisk business.
In the meantime, Kyle would turn eleven in just a couple of weeks and everyone was excited about planning for that. A couple of weeks later, just before the end of the year, Freck would finally become a teenager. Of course, that meant holding an even bigger celebration. Asher and Seth couldn’t help but recognize how quickly time was passing them all by. They realized that these friends and these experiences were things that would never come again as everyone started to go their own, separate ways. In scarcely nine months, Kyle and Freck would be leaving for college, perhaps at MIT. Although they would always be the best of friends, it would never be the same as it was right now. Right now was a time to be savored and celebrated. It was a time that would never come again.
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. Although reference is made to the president of the United States, any resemblance to a particular president, past, present or future, is unintentional. As always, opinions expressed by characters in the story represent the opinions of the characters and are not representative of those of the author nor the sites to which the story has been posted. The author retains full copyright.