New York Stories

The Cajun Asian

Another Not so Short Story by Altimexis

Posted August 3, 2019

 

Stepping out into the nasty, cold, early April rain, I zipped up my jacket and pulled my hood over my head and my boyfriend, Asher, did the same. Looking across the street to the nearest bus stop, the M22 bus was nowhere in sight. I’d just checked the MYmta app on my phone, which showed the bus to be less than one stop away with an estimated arrival time of one minute, but looking down North End Avenue, there wasn’t a bus in sight.

Asher and I huddled under the scant overhang afforded by the front Entrance to Stuyvesant High School, one of New York City’s elite public specialty high schools. We lived only two miles away and in nicer weather, we often walked home, but this was definitely not the weather for walking.

“Where the fuck is it Seth?” my boyfriend asked.

“Maybe the weather’s messing up reception from the bus transponders,” I suggested, but then the unmistakable outline of a city bus emerged from the rain and we made a mad dash across the street to catch it. Because we lived more than a mile-and-a-half from school, we each had full-fare student bus passes, which allowed us up to three free bus rides on school days, so we dipped our cards into the metro farecard reader and proceeded to take our seats on the bus.

“How’s the apartment coming?” my boyfriend asked. He was referring to the work being done on my family’s co-op apartment on New York’s Lower East Side. Asher and I both lived in the East River Cooperative Apartments – a four-building, twelve-tower complex located where Grand Street meets FDR Drive and the East River.

“It’s getting there,” I answered. “It should be done by spring break.”

“I bet you’re excited,” Asher responded, “but I’m sure as fuck gonna miss having you stay with us.”

“Fuck being the operative word,” I added with a smirk. I’d been living with my boyfriend and his parents in their apartment the entire time the work was being done. Their apartment only had two bedrooms and one bathroom, and a small one at that, so I’d spent the last four months sleeping with my boyfriend in his bed. Both my parents and his were totally cool with that, which was pretty amazing given how young we are. I’m only thirteen – almost fourteen, and Ashe will soon celebrate his fifteenth birthday.

The thing is, my Dad’s one of the most powerful members of the New York state assembly and my parents spend most of their time up in Albany. Even when the State Assembly isn’t in session, they’re always busy meeting with constituents or at political fundraisers, so I’m pretty much on my own. Asher’s parents own an Asian takeout restaurant on Grand Street, right in our co-op complex, so they’re hardly home either, but they’ve always been there when Ashe or I needed them. Sure, I was only thirteen, but my parents treated me more like an adult. Now that I had a boyfriend, they didn’t have to worry so much about me being alone all the time, and now that Asher’s dad had guardianship papers for when my parents were away, they had peace of mind.

So much has changed in the past year! I grew up living in a nice two-bedroom apartment in Seward Park, but the reality was that I spent just as much time living with my parents up in the state capital. Because of the constant schlepping back and forth between New York and Albany, and especially because of my parents’ concern that the public schools in both cities were crap, I was home schooled. Academically I did well and finished all of my pre-high school coursework a year early, but I didn’t have any friends and I was terribly lonely. Then everything changed.

It was my mom who suggested I take the entrance exam for New York’s specialty high schools. I coulda continued to be home schooled, but I had a much better chance of getting into an Ivy League college if I had a diploma from a top high school like Stuyvesant. More importantly, going to classes in a real high school would better prepare me for life in college. Best of all, I’d have a chance to make some friends – real friends.

But staying in town meant I’d be separated from my parents, most of the time. My Grandpa Paul lives in the city, on the Upper West Side, but as the director of astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History, he’s always on the road and hardly around much either. Between my parents and my grandpa, there’d always be an adult available in an emergency, but living on my own would be a challenge. Having grown up around politicians, I was much wiser to the ways of the world than most adults, let alone young soon-to-be-teens.

But then came the event that changed my life forever. Like a lot of city folks, my parents often browsed the real estate section, mostly out of curiosity and to get an idea of what our place was worth. Sometimes we’d go to an open house if an apartment listing looked interesting. So it was on an early April Sunday, not long after I’d gotten word that I’d been accepted to the freshman class at Stuyvesant and just as I was about to turn thirteen, that we found ourselves looking at a top floor apartment in the nearby East River Cooperative. One look at the terrace and the view was all it took. Dad wrote a check for the asking price, right on the spot.

We purchased the apartment for just shy of a million, which was a bargain for Manhattan, and in return for a quick cash sale, the seller agreed to pay all closing costs. However with only one small bedroom and one tiny bathroom, we had to improvise when it came to space for me. It had an open floorplan with a phenomenal terrace and an unobstructed view of most of the New York skyline. The East River, the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, South Street Seaport the Statue of Liberty, the World Trade Center, Union Square, Hudson Yards and the Empire State Building were all part of our view. Sure, the apartment was small, as were most Manhattan apartments in our price range, but with a view like that, who cared?

And had it not been for living there and giving out candy on Halloween, I might never have met Ashe, the love of my life. We’ve been inseparable since then, but Ashe loves to cook and, as he frequently pointed out, the kitchen was designed for someone who liked to eat out. It was little more than a corner of the living room with a small stove, a sink, a tiny fridge and practically no counterspace. And while a narrow bunk bed in a closet was fine for me when it came to sleeping arrangements, there was absolutely no privacy for a couple of teens who were just learning about love. Then, on Thanksgiving, the lights went out. It turned out we had faulty wiring. It was all fucked-up.

We couldn’t live in a place without electricity and we couldn’t even sue the previous owner or the electrical contractor, because it was the co-op management that screwed it up. An office worker made a clerical error and approved adding a 220-volt line, even though the building only had 110. The contractor assumed he got what he requested and proceeded accordingly, with disastrous results. We couldn’t exactly sue the co-op, ’cause that would have been like suing our neighbors and Dad’s constituents wouldn’t have taken kindly to that. The whole place had to be gutted and the wiring replaced.

So, when we heard that the neighbors behind us were thinking of selling their place, we snatched it up. The seller was thrilled with the offer, ’cause they didn’t have to pay a real estate agent and we paid all the taxes and legal fees. We even paid the so-called flip tax required by the co-op board. With cash in hand, they were able to buy a larger place that was on the market in the adjacent wing of our building.

By combining our apartment with theirs, we’d have three bedrooms, two-and-a-half bathrooms, a den, a formal dining room, a state-of-the-art kitchen, a large living room with a home theater, and an entryway with floor-to-ceiling built-in bookcases. It would be a showplace that was worthy of one of the most powerful men in the state assembly. ’Course it would never do for it to be so nice that the voters took notice, but because it was in a co-op building on the Lower East Side, in a neighborhood surrounded by city-owned, low-income housing projects, no one could accuse us of living high on the public dole.

I figured it would be at least the middle of the summer before we’d be able to move in. An architect had to be hired and architectural drawings had to be submitted to the city building’s department and to the co-op board for approval, which could take months. Then there were two inspections required, and the co-op had strict rules about work hours, which excluded weekends and holidays. All work had to be done between 10:00 and 5:00 and on top of all that, we weren’t allowed to do any work on religious holidays, of which there were a surprising number. With Christians, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists living in our building, there was always some obscure observance getting in the way of the work to be done.

Then things seemed to happen quickly. Our architectural blueprints were approved by the city in just a few days, and the co-op board approved them in less time than that. The contractors got started right away and the city inspections occurred like clockwork. Some politicians like to throw their weight around and expect differential treatment, but that just wasn’t my dad. He wasn’t one to use his leverage or take advantage of his friendship with the governor, but we were desperate. Because of Dad’s political stature, no one wanted to get on his bad side. Thankfully, that resulted in the renovations being done in half the usual timeframe, which meant the apartment was ready for us to move in by our spring break, just in time for Asher’s birthday.

I’d been planning to take him someplace special – just the two of us, and I’d probably still do that, but maybe I could host a birthday party for him too. It’d be a great time to show off the new place, which everyone was dying to see, and to celebrate my boyfriend’s entering his middle teens. I wasn’t sure there was an exact definition, but it seemed that if thirteen and fourteen were the early teens and eighteen and nineteen were late teens, then fifteen, sixteen and seventeen must be the middle teens. So as far as I was concerned, Ashe was about to become a mid-teenager. It certainly fit, ’cause Asher was tall and he was already shaving, almost every day. I on the other hand was still pretty short and I didn’t even have any pubic hairs until a few months ago.

Maybe the best thing would be to have a kind of birthday picnic. We weren’t allowed to barbecue out on the terrace due to fire regulations, but our new kitchen would have a built-in gas grill and even I could grill hamburgers and hot dogs. Yeah, we could have hamburgers and hotdogs, and maybe chicken breasts and grilled vegies on a skewer. I’d order a birthday cake from the Kosher bakery down the street, and of course I’d pick up some ice cream too.

“Tuvok to Janeway, come in Captain Janeway,” I heard echoing from nearby. “We are approaching our destination and the shuttle will soon be landing.”

Coming out of my reverie, I realized we were approaching our bus stop, which was at the end of the line. As we got up, I replied, “Are you saying I’m a girl, Ashe?” Captain Janeway was the captain on the Star Trek series, Voyager, and Tuvok was the security officer. Ashe and I were both avid Star Trek fans, but Captain Janeway was a woman.

“If the foo shits,” Asher responded as we made our way to the back door. Stepping out into the pouring rain, we made a mad dash across Grand Street, dodging the usual heavy traffic, and headed for Asher’s apartment building.

“In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not a girl,” I countered as we retrieved the day’s mail and entered the adjacent elevator.

“No, you’re definitely not,” Ashe replied before kissing me deeply and grinding his member into mine. Usually we’d have a quick snack of some food as soon as we arrived home, but today perhaps we’d start with a different kind of snack…

 

“No, that sofa needs to face the other one,” our friend, Freck admonished the delivery people as they tried to comply with his exacting specifications. “The sofas are gonna go across from each other, with the coffee table in the middle… not in an ‘L’ configuration. The two armchairs should go on the kitchen side, and the futon will go on the entry side, so it doesn’t block the TV.” I suspected the movers weren’t used to being bossed around by a twelve-year-old kid. His real name was Frances, but he hated it and preferred to be called Freck, ’cause he had lots of freckles.

It was Freck who designed the plans for combining the two apartments, and he designed the layout of the furniture on his laptop. He had an amazing eye for spatial dimensions and planned to become an architect with particular expertise in sustainable architecture. He was hoping to get into MIT, into their combined architecture and civil engineering joint degree program. He also speaks at least a dozen foreign languages. I used to think Freck was ridiculously young to be in high school, but then his boyfriend, Kyle, joined him this semester. Kyle’s only ten, yet he can handle complex vector calculus. They’re both high school juniors at Stuyvesant and hope to graduate next year, and they’re out and proud. Their help has been invaluable.

When we first made plans for combining the two apartments, it quickly became obvious that, with the exception of my parent’s bedroom set, almost none of the furniture we had would work with the new design. We needed to buy all new furniture, but when Dad suggested buying a bunch of generic stuff from a place like Raymour and Flannagan, Mom put her foot down and said our apartment was not gonna look like a hotel lobby. It was Freck who suggested we look at custom-made Amish furniture. He knew we couldn’t afford the designer stuff his parents bought, but Kyle’s house had all Amish stuff and so we schlepped our way up to Riverdale to see it. We were all impressed with what we saw, and particularly with how well everything was made. The Amish used solid hardwoods that would last for generations.

There were some great sights on the Internet where we could order everything we would need, custom-made to the exact dimensions we wanted and with the wood and fabrics we wanted. The trouble was that Mom didn’t trust ordering furniture, sight unseen, and so we spent an early January weekend in the Lancaster area, visiting about a dozen showrooms and selecting the styles and finishes we wanted. Seth and Freck came with us, of course, and Freck brought his laptop with software that could ‘place’ any furniture we were considering, letting us see right away how it would fit and what it might look like in our apartment.

Mom fell in love with the mission-style and we ended up selecting mission-style furniture in an unusual quarter-sawn light-oak finish, with textured cushions in earth tones. The centerpiece of the living room was to be a cozy grouping with two sofas, two armchairs, a futon, a coffee table and a wedge-shaped end table. These were complemented by a set of matching bar stools along the kitchen island.

For the dining room we ordered an elegant solid oak table with two leaves and twelve chairs, as well as a matching breakfront and a buffet. For both my bedroom and the guest room, we ordered mission-style queen-sized bedroom sets with matching computer desks and bookcases. In the den we decided on a sleeper sofa, a desk and matching bookcases and file cabinets.

We knew that, contrary to popular belief, most Amish furniture is made in large factories using modern equipment and tools, but because everything was custom made to order, we were warned upfront that final delivery would not be until April at the earliest. Complicating matters, the various items would be fabricated in different shops in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. There was a lot to coordinate and a delay in the delivery of even one piece would delay the entire shipment, as all of the different items had to be stained and finished together to ensure they all matched. The stars must have all been aligned, because we were informed just the week before the apartment was finished that our new furniture was ready to be delivered.

As if we’d planned it that way, the apartment was completed on Tuesday, the week before the start of our spring break. My parents went through the apartment on Wednesday, making sure there were no problems that needed to be addressed, and had all the stuff we’d had in storage, including their bedroom furniture, delivered on Thursday, the day before the start of Spring Break. Starting bright and early on Friday morning, Good Friday, as it turned out, which was also the first night of the Jewish holiday of Passover, Ashe and Mom unpacked the clothes, the dishes and pots and pans, and anything else that could be put away in the closets and cabinets. In the meantime, Freck and Kyle helped by unboxing all the books and organizing them in the new built-in bookcases in the entryway. Meanwhile, Dad and I hung the two TVs we already had, plus two new ones we’d ordered, as well as all the artwork. By the afternoon of Easter Sunday, more than half of the boxes were empty and had been broken down, ready for recycling, and everything was put away.

The new furniture was delivered on Monday, which left us the rest of the week to finish unpacking and organizing everything, and in particular for me to connect all the stereo equipment and set up the home theater. By the time Thursday afternoon rolled around, all the boxes had been emptied, flattened and taken downstairs for recycling and all the closets and drawers were full and organized. The kitchen in particular was state-of-the-art, with a built-in Sub-Zero fridge, triple convection ovens, a built-in convection microwave, an eight-burner gas stove with a dual-burner gas grill under an overhead ventilation hood, extensive countertops with a dazzling array of KitchenAid and Cuisinart appliances, and more cabinet space than I’d ever seen outside a commercial kitchen. The apartment looked as if we’d lived in it for years, thanks to all of Freck’s planning.

Ashe’s birthday was on Saturday, but because my parents had to return to Albany the first thing on Friday morning, we had a family dinner in honor of Ashe on Thursday. His mother spent the entire afternoon preparing a feast of his favorite dishes while his father baked a traditional birthday cake. They closed their restaurant in the late afternoon and then brought all the food up to our new apartment, just as we were finishing our final unpacking. Freck and Kyle had been staying with us all week, and as they were our absolute best friends and in reward for all their help, they would be staying for Ashe’s birthday dinner. Unbeknownst to Asher, they would be staying for the coming weekend as well, including what was to be Asher’s surprise birthday party.

Setting the table, I couldn’t help but marvel at how elegant our dining room looked. The furniture was of a transitional style that matched to the Mission style of the rest of the apartment, and the light quarter-sawn oak exuded a warmth not found in most traditional dining room furniture. The central location of the dining room allowed for a passthrough between the two original apartments. It had been my parent’s bedroom and our initial thought had been to make it a den, but Freck conceived of using the space for a dining room. The idea was brilliant, as it allowed for expanding the living room and kitchen, making the whole apartment seem much larger. The only drawback was that the dining room window faced the interior and didn’t have much of a view, so we covered it with an elegant drapery.

I set the table with a fine linen tablecloth and our finest china and flatware, and carefully laid a set of chopsticks above each place setting. The meal was gonna be served by some of the kitchen staff from the restaurant, who were being paid for their time. It was gonna be an eight-course feast that was guaranteed to leave none of us standing.

We started the meal with a sizzling rice and seafood soup that was out of this world, and followed it with an amazing variety of sushi, and that was just the appetizer. The next course consisted of an array of seafood dishes – broiled calamari with rice, steamed muscles with ginger, grilled prawns and scallops with Chinese vegetables, crab imperial and in a first for me, escargot, which was the best thing I’d ever tasted. I’d always thought of escargot as being French, but the Creole had their own way of preparing it, giving it a bit of a zing without hiding the natural flavor. Thankfully, the next course was easy on the stomach – a tossed green salad with a Japanese ginger dressing – but we were only half-way through the meal!

Next up was a course of Chinese dumplings of every variety – steamed and fried – and filled with shrimp, crab, squid, mushrooms, broccoli and ground turkey as a substitute for pork. Finally, we were served the main course, a choice of prime rib, broiled salmon and boiled lobster tail in any combination, served with whipped sweet potatoes and steamed vegetables. Naturally, Ashe and I had all three. After all the dishes were cleared, we finished the meal off with a serving of green tea ice cream, which actually helped settle our overstuffed stomachs, and then a traditional birthday cake with fifteen candles was brought out as we sang a horrible rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’. Served with the cake was coffee with just enough kalua to leave us feeling warm but not buzzed.

After the last of the cake and coffee were finished and the last of the dishes were cleared away, it was time for presents. Freck and Seth started it off by pooling their resources and giving Ashe a signed original script from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn. Whoa, I’d seen something similar advertised on eBay for like $600. What a great gift!

Next it was my turn. Picking out a gift for my boyfriend was a bit tricky, ’cause I could afford to get him something really nice – even extravagant – but he couldn’t in return for my fourteenth birthday next month. The last thing I wanted was for him to feel obligated to get me something expensive that he couldn’t afford. Then I had an epiphany – I could get us both something, so he wouldn’t feel obligated at all. We’d been together for almost six months now and I had no doubt that we’d be together forever.

Asher opened the small box I gave him to find two matching gold rings inside, each with its own gold chain. “Someday those rings’ll go on our left ring fingers,” I explained, “but for now we can wear them on chains around our necks as a sign of our love for each other.”

“Seth, is this a marriage proposal?” Asher asked with a bemused expression on his face.

“In a way, I guess it is,” I answered.

“After you both graduate from high school,” Dad chimed in, much to our amusement.

“Now you’re engaged, just like us,” Kyle added to all our laughter. During our New Year’s Eve party, Kyle actually did announce that he and Freck were getting married in six years, when Freck turns eighteen.

“You should at least kiss the bride,” Freck suggested as he looked at me, to even more laughter. I didn’t hesitate to take him up on his idea.

Next up was my Grandpa Paul. Although technically part of my family, he treated Asher pretty much as if he were another grandson, just as my parents treated Ashe like another son. I knew Asher wasn’t expecting a gift and so when Grandpa handed Ashe an envelope, I knew he’d be surprised. Grandpa had discussed his gift with me in advance to be sure we didn’t already have plans. Asher tore open the envelope and pulled out the card, but when he opened his birthday card, a couple of tickets fell out.

The look of surprise on Asher’s face when he saw what the tickets were for was priceless. “Hamilton? You got me tickets to see Hamilton?” Then he looked at me and said more than asked, “You knew about this, didn’t you?”

“Look at where the tickets are, and for when,” I responded.

“Orchestra, Row C, for Tomorrow night?”

“Those are premium tickets,” I pointed out, “in the center, just behind the lottery seats.”

“They musta cost a fortune,” Ashe exclaimed.

“It wasn’t that bad,” Grandpa responded. “Thanks to my connections, I got them for about half the box-office price, which is a quarter the scalper price.”

“Thanks, Grandpa,” Ashe exclaimed as he hugged my grandpa tightly.

My parents had gotten Asher a shiny new MacBook Air laptop for Christmas, so I knew he wasn’t expecting much from them for his birthday. I also knew that he was wrong. For Christmas they’d gotten me an Astell & Kern A&futura portable music player that cost as much as Asher’s laptop, and now Asher was staring speechless at the very same model of music player and earbuds as they’d given me. We were both audiophiles and passionate for jazz and to Ashe, this was perhaps just as important as the laptop. Asher got up and hugged both my parents in thanks.

Next came the gift from Asher’s own parents. Although they didn’t have the resources that my parents had or even much money to spare, they loved their son very much and would stop at nothing to make him happy. They’d gotten me a one-year subscription to Tidal for Christmas, to go with the music player my parents got me, so I was kinda expecting them to do the same for Ashe’s birthday. Instead, Asher opened his card to find they’d given him a one-year subscription to Qobuz.

“What the hell is Qobuz?” he asked his parents in confusion. I myself had barely heard of it. I knew it was a streaming service like Tidal that also sold music like HDtracks did, but as far as I knew, it was only available in Europe.

It was Freck, however, our resident opera-lover, who answered, “Qobuz is like, the ultimate streaming service. They’re based in France and really big in Europe, and they’ve just started selling subscriptions in the U.S. Unlike Tidal, which uses MQA, Qobuz streams high-res music at full lossless resolution, which is way better, and it only costs five dollars more a month.”

“I’m gonna be jealous,” I responded, “but maybe we can share.”

“Not that I understand what Freck’s talking about, but of course we’ll share,” Asher answered, and then he hugged both his parents in thanks.

“Trust me, Qobuz sounds way better than Tidal,” Kyle chimed in, “and don’t get me started on Spotify or Apple’s, Google’s or Amazon’s pathetic streaming services.”

“Speaking of sharing,” Asher’s Dad began, “one more thing we want to discuss is your sleeping arrangements, now that the renovations are done. Your mother and I have discussed it with Frank and Julie, and the four of us agree that you and Seth are unusually close and have both demonstrated a level of maturity that’s unusual for young teens. Most parents wouldn’t be comfortable with their sons sharing their bed with their boyfriend or girlfriend. After all, you’re both young and have a lot to learn about life and love.

“The bottom line is that as much as we approve of your relationship and have no issues with your being intimate, at your age, relationships seldom last…”

“No fucking way!” I practically shouted. “Asher’s the one for me and I’m the one for him. Just like the rings I gave us both tonight, our love is forever.”

“Seth,” Dad answered, “now you’re sounding your age! We all agree on this. We love you both completely and we sincerely hope your relationship lasts, but you need to hear Gary out on this.”

“And as I was saying before I was interrupted,” Asher’s dad continued, “we do hope your love is forever, but it would be foolish to stake your lives on it. Each of you needs your own space and for that reason alone, each of you needs to have your own bedroom in your parents’ apartment. However, although we expect you to keep separate bedrooms, we’re not going to tell you where to sleep. I doubt we could force the issue if we tried, not that we would want to. We trust you both and we trust your judgement.”

“Tomorrow, we’ll be heading back to Albany,” Mom added, “but it’s fine with us if the two of you want to spend your nights together in this apartment, so long as Gary and Bernice approve. We love Asher and we feel better knowing you won’t be alone. You do need to have your own space and you need to be able to spend time alone in your own space whenever you feel like it, but it’s up to you where you spend your time and even where you keep your clothes.”

“So you’re saying Ashe can move in with me?” I asked.

“I didn’t say that,” Mom answered. “In fact, at your age I think it might be better for your relationship if you waited. However, for all intents and purposes, if that’s what you want to do, the answer’s effectively, yes.” I was thrilled! I went up and hugged Mom and then Dad, and then Asher’s mom and dad. Asher did the same.

“You’re also welcome to have friends over, so long as it doesn’t interfere with your studies and as long as their parents approve,” Dad chimed in. “However, if we ever get a call about you hosting a wild party, you’ll have to return to living with us up in Albany during the legislative session.”

“Not gonna happen,” I responded. “Look, Asher and I hosted our own Thanksgiving dinner party. The only mishap wasn’t even our fault… the lights went out when the wiring melted.”

“And you handled that very well,” Mom complimented me. “You even made arrangements for an electrician to come out. We trust you Seth. Otherwise we’d never allow you to stay here by yourself.”

“There’s one more announcement we have to make,” Dad began. “As you all know, we often order Chinese takeout from our favorite restaurant when we’re in town,” he said, referring to Asher’s family’s restaurant, “but we all know that Asian food is far from the only family specialty. The restaurant on Grand Street serves the best Asian food north of Canal Street, but we have it on good authority that Gary is also the best Cajun chef in town…”

“Along with Asher,” I interrupted. If anything, I thought Asher was a better chef than either of his parents, but then maybe I was biased.

“In any case,” Dad continued, “We realize you already have a successful restaurant and with Asher’s college expenses looming ahead, you’re not really in a position to open another one. Although I’d love to invest in your endeavor to open a Cajun restaurant and I have the resources to do so, as a politician, I can’t.

“That said, I have friends in the real estate business here on the Lower East Side and although the neighborhood is faring relatively well, like everyone else in New York, they’re facing increasing competition for retail. The new retail space at Essex Crossing and to an extent in the Hudson Yards development has only exacerbated the problem. We’re beginning to see a significant number of vacant storefronts, even though the rents here are among the lowest in Manhattan.

“Sadly, one of the newer restaurants on Orchard Street, between Delancey and Rivington, is facing bankruptcy and the landlord is being forced to foreclose on the contents due to nonpayment of rent. Usually he would sell off all the kitchen equipment, tables, chairs and other items at auction for much less than their worth to cover his costs. Then he’d be facing the prospect of a prolonged vacancy as he competes for businesses to fill the space. Naturally, he’d rather have someone paying rent rather than simply writing off his expenses.

“I’ve spoken to the owner about investing in a new restaurant and told him about your skills as a Cajun chef, but he pointed out that the Lower East Side is already home to four highly-regarded Cajun restaurants, including one right on Orchard Street, near Houston. On top of that, there are a few Cajun restaurants in the East Village, not to mention a noodle restaurant in Chinatown that also serves Cajun food and a couple of pizza places that offer Cajun toppings. In other words, there’s a fair bit of competition, but that can be an advantage too. With a critical mass on the Lower East Side, it won’t be a struggle to get people to come here for Cajun food… you just need to find a niche that the others aren’t serving.

“The existing restaurant’s small, but quite attractive, with an open kitchen, twenty-odd tables and a takeout counter. It wouldn’t take a lot of work to make it yours. The owner would like to discuss what you might do with the space and, should you take it, he’s willing to lease it with all the equipment included for the same rent he charged the last lessee, for the first year. If he likes your plan for the place, he’s willing to wave the usual deposit and to negotiate a rent abatement as an incentive to help you get started.

“A rent abatement?” Asher asked.

“With a storefront glut, some landlords will throw in free rent in return for signing a lease,” Dad explained. “Instead of requiring ninety days rent up front as a security deposit, for example, they might defer charging any rent at all for the first ninety days.”

“I don’t know…” Gary responded. “Even with all that, I’d have to front tens of thousands of dollars to hire waitstaff, busboys and dish washers. If the restaurant fails, we could lose over a hundred thousand, easily. That’s a good chunk of Asher’s college fund.”

“I have a lawyer who can help protect your assets, and he’ll only charge a few thousand for it. I’d recommend you set up each restaurant as a separate corporation so that if either fails, you won’t lose your home or Asher’s college fund. We can protect Asher’s college funds in a trust, and it’s likely my father can help get Asher a scholarship, particularly if the boys end up getting married.”

“Our restaurant’s already set up as a corporation,” Gary replied, “and Bernice’s brother will handle all the legalities at no cost. It’s how things are done in Chinatown,” Gary explained.

“And I can help out, Dad,” Asher threw in. “You know I know my way around the kitchen and it’d be a great way to see if running my own restaurant is what I want to do with my life.”

“He’s got a point there, Gary,” Dad agreed.

And then I found myself saying, “I’ll be fourteen next month and can get a work permit.”

“I’d still have to pay you boys,” Gary pointed out, “and the minimum wage is now fifteen an hour.”

“Yeah, but we’ll do the work of four regular guys,” I responded, much to everyone’s amusement.

“The owner could meet with you, first thing in the morning,” Dad added, “and I’d introduce you before taking off for Albany.”

“Could I go too?” my boyfriend asked. I guess it was gonna be an early morning for both of us.

 

“Wow, this is nice,” I exclaimed as we entered the restaurant on Orchard Street, just north of Delancey. “It’s in a great location too,” I added. “I wonder why it failed?”

“Poor service, lousy food, good intentions but poor execution,” came a voice from inside.

“Sam, how are you,” Dad said as he approached a rather large, decidedly overweight man who looked to be in his fifties. Rather than shaking hands, the two men hugged briefly, and then Dad introduced him to Gary.

“Sam Weinstein, Gary White,” he said and then the two men shook hands. Dad continued the introductions, saying, “This is my son, Seth,” after which we shook hands, “and Seth’s boyfriend and Gary’s son, Asher.”

“Has anyone told you, you look amazingly like…” Sam began as he shook Asher’s hand.

“Tiger Woods,” Asher said, completing the sentence. “I hear that all the time. With a black father and a Chinese mother, I guess the comparison’s inevitable I think.”

“I hear you’re actually Creole,” Sam asked Gary.

“Born and bred,” Gary answered. “I came up north to go to school in Poughkeepsie with the full intent of returning to Louisiana to open my own restaurant, but then I met a young Chinese American woman from Queens, who was also at the Culinary Institute of America. The rest, as they say, is history.”

“Parlez-vous français?” Sam asked Gary. Even I knew what that meant.

Un petit peu,” Gary answered, “but it's been a long time since I’ve spoken any French. My grandparents spoke Creole but around the house, my family spoke English. My Mandarin’s probably better than my French or even my Creole now, and that’s not saying much.”

“As you can see,” Sam went on, “the restaurant could be ready for business as soon as you pass your inspections, but it’s not really set up for an oyster bar.”

Laughing, Gary responded, “My grandpa loved oysters, but my dad and I never did see the enjoyment of eating raw mollusks. And they certainly can’t compare to snails in the shell, sautéed in butter.”

“There are already two highly-rated Cajun restaurants within a few blocks of here,” Sam pointed out. “How do you intend to compete with them?”

“You’re right, Sam,” Gary began, “another traditional Cajun-Creole restaurant here wouldn’t stand a chance. I’d be just another place with an oyster bar, boiled crawfish, crabs and lobster. Besides which, that kind of cooking’s not what I’m about. Sure, I enjoy those things and would serve them, but there’s nothing like a good jambalaya or shrimp creole for real Louisiana home cooking.

“We should at least check out the other places,” I suggested. “We need to know the competition.”

“Of course, we need to do that,” Gary agreed, “but I seriously doubt any of the other restaurants serve real homestyle Cajun cooking. Louisiana comfort food. Down home cooking for the soul.”

“The Ragin’ Cajun,” Asher said out of the blue.

“The Ragin’ Cajun,” Gary echoed. “I like it.”

“I like the name, but you gotta have a business plan if you’re gonna succeed,” Sam chimed in.

“I think Dad has the right idea,” Asher commented. “Cajun and Creole comfort food would be something different. Incredible flavors in simple fare, kinda like an Indian buffet, you know? You already have high-end Cajun restaurants that serve individual dishes on fine china with linen table cloths, and there are fast food Cajun restaurants where you order your food at a counter and it’s served in paper baskets. You even have places like Popeye’s that claim to serve Louisiana-style fried chicken and other dishes, fast and cheap. Imagine having a hot, all-you-can-eat buffet of incredible Cajun and Creole dishes.”

“You know, that’s a really great idea, son,” Gary responded. “We could start the day with breakfast fare… Cajun omelets, frittatas and the like. For lunch we could have a simple buffet for something like $9.95, with five or six basic dishes, and for dinner we could expand that to something like twelve or sixteen dishes and charge something like $19.95. We’d also have a menu of traditional dishes available for those that want it, but the man draw would be a feast of Cajun and Creole dishes at a reasonable price.”

“And you’d only need three people to run it,” Asher interjected. “A dedicated chef in the kitchen, an assistant chef-slash-server-slash-cashier, and a busboy-slash-dishwasher.”

“You’d need a lot more help than that, son,” Gary interrupted, “but it shouldn’t be too hard to hire some kids from the neighborhood. We’ve always managed for the restaurant on Grand Street.”

“And of course we’d offer takeout,” I chimed in. “You already accept orders over the internet at your other restaurant and you could easily expand it to include this one. We could even take phone orders over the existing line at the other restaurant. We could leverage our existing resources.”

“We?” Dad asked with a bemused expression.

“Definitely ‘we’,” I replied. “I’m part of the family too, you know.”

“You certainly are, Seth,” Gary agreed, “and that’s a really good idea.”

“You’ve tasted Gary’s cooking?” Sam asked my dad.

“It’s some of the best I’ve ever tasted,” Dad replied.

“Asher’s is even better,” I chimed in.

“You cook too?” Sam asked my boyfriend.

“Ever since I was tall enough to reach the burners,” Ashe confirmed.

“You know, you remind me of a chef prodigy who started cooking gourmet shit when he was ten,” Sam interjected. “By his early teens, he was serving full tasting menus in his home, and he was featured on the cover of The New York Times Magazine. When he was sixteen, he left home and moved from California to New York. They even made a movie about him. Now, he has a successful tasting menu restaurant very near here, over on Forsythe.”

“Sounds like you have some competition, honey,” I responded.

“Hardly,” Ashe replied. “Not that I begrudge chefs that have only one or two sittings in an evening and prepare fifteen-course meals with portions the size of an egg yolk. Nor do I begrudge patrons that are willing to shell out upwards of $500 per couple on food and drink for an evening of fine dining. I too can create dishes that stimulate taste buds you didn’t even know you had, but what’s the point if only a handful of people can afford to enjoy it?

“When I open my own restaurant someday,” Asher continued, “I want people to be able to afford to dine there for more than just special occasions. I’m not saying I’ll price it in the range of a Happy Meal, but a typical family of four should be able to afford it every now and then.”

“So let’s talk turkey,” Sam began as he rattled off some figures.

“Good God!” Gary replied. “That’s more than four times what we’re paying on Grand Street.”

“And on Fifth Ave, you’d be paying hundreds of times more,” Sam countered. “It’s all a matter of location, location and location. That said, I’d much rather have a successful restaurant on the premises than let it go vacant. This is a fully furnished restaurant and I’m willing to rent it to you as if it were raw space. I’ll let you rent it for the first year at what the last lessee paid, and I won’t charge you anything until your inspections are done and you’re ready to open. I’ll give you a six-month abatement, with only half due at the end of the lease.”

“How much would it go up after the first year?” Gary asked.

“I’d charge you market rate of course,” Sam replied.

“I’d be willing to sign a five-year lease if you’d lock in the lower rate…” Gary countered.

“Gary,” Dad interrupted. “Are you sure that’s wise? The first-year mortality for restaurants is greater than fifty percent, but you’d be on the hook for the full five years.”

“I couldn’t give you an abatement with a five-year lock-in,” Sam countered, “and the equipment and furnishings would be mine, including any you add.”

Nodding his head, Gary responded, “That’s fair.”

“But you’d be giving up three months free rent,” Dad pointed.

“Better to pay half as much for an additional four years,” Gary countered. “I’m not looking to survive the first year, only to go bankrupt in the next. A restaurant needs a good, solid five years to become established. By then, we should have enough of a following to survive paying market rate rents, even with a son in college.”

Then turning to Sam, he asked, “Is there any storage space available?”

“There’s a finished basement, accessible from outside the building, and it’s included in the rent.”

“Mr. Weinstein,” Gary replied as he reached out to shake his hand, “I’ll have to have everything inspected, but assuming everything checks out, we have a deal.”

And with that, Ashe’s and my plans for the summer were pretty much set. Little did we know how true that would turn out to be.

 

“Alexander Hamilton… My name is Alexander Hamilton… But there’s a million things I haven’t done… Just you wait… Just you wait,” my boyfriend sang as we walked down West 46th Street, toward Eighth Avenue. It was the long way around, but better than going through Times Square itself.

“You have a great singing voice,” I commented.

“Why thank you,” Ashe replied, but then added, “I wish I could say the same for you.”

“Fucker,” I responded, but we both knew it was true. Asher was a member of the Stuyvesant Men’s Chorus. I, on the other hand, wasn’t even permitted to sing in the shower. I might have a critical ear and near perfect pitch, but a great singing voice to match was not one of my talents.

As we turned onto Eighth Ave and then headed back up 45th Street, I asked my boyfriend, “So, what did you think?”

“You know, I really was expecting that all the hype was just that… hype, and I’m not at all a fan of hip-hop, but that was surprisingly good. Outstanding actually.”

“I agree,” I chimed in. “Miranda has a way of combining words and rhythms unlike anyone else. He’s really brought history to life for our generation.”

“Some of the critics are justified in claiming that he put Hamilton up on a pedestal, and demonized Jefferson, who was one of the greatest minds of the late eighteenth century,” Ashe pointed out, “and Burr wasn’t as much the demon history made him out to be.”

“Miranda didn’t whitewash Hamilton’s philandering,” I pointed out, “and when it comes to Burr, it doesn’t really matter how brilliant he might have been. As a sitting vice-president, he challenged his chief rival to a dual and killed him in cold blood. There’s no getting around that.”

Sighing, Asher agreed, “Murder does have a way of negating one’s accomplishments.”

Entering the restaurant, I approached the maître d’ and said, “You should have a listing for Seth Moore.”

Looking down his list, he replied, “Your table should be ready in about five minutes.” Asher and I stood aside to let other patrons through while we waited. Although Junior’s doesn’t take reservations, they take entries to their waitlist over the internet and I’d added my name as soon as the musical had finished.

“I can’t believe you chose Junior’s,” I began. “I mean, I would’ve taken you anywhere for your birthday.”

“But we agreed it would be better to eat after the theater on a Friday night,” Ashe explained, “and what could be better than cheesecake? Junior’s cheesecake’s even better than sex, and that’s saying a lot when compared to sex with you.”

A giggle from behind us reminded us we weren’t alone. We turned around to find an African American girl and a white boy who were maybe a few years older than Ashe and me.

“You two are so cute together,” the girl exclaimed.

“So are you,” I replied.

“I know you must get this all the time,” the boy said to my boyfriend, “but you look just like Tiger Woods did when he was a kid.”

Without missing a beat, I chided my boyfriend, “I told you Tiger, you shoulda worn a disguise,” which got a laugh from all of us.

Just then, one of the waitstaff called my name and escorted us to a small table for two in a long row of other tables for two. Junior’s was a popular place, but then their reputation for having the best cheesecake anywhere on the planet was well-deserved. The Cheesecake Factory might have more varieties, but it couldn’t compare. Ashe and I already knew what we wanted, having viewed the menu online, so we didn’t even bother with the menus that were handed to us.

As soon as our server appeared, I said, “If you’re ready, we already know what we want.” When the server nodded his head, I continued, “We’ll share an order of the broiled seafood combo, with a cup of matzo ball soup and an order of coleslaw for each of us. Just to confirm, one of the sides of coleslaw should count as the vegetable that comes with the combo?” After the server nodded his head, I went on. “Today’s my boyfriend’s birthday, so he gets a free slice of cheesecake. Is there a choice for that?”

“Plain, strawberry or marbled,” the server answered.

“I’ll take the strawberry,” Ashe responded.

And I’ll have a slice of the carrot cheesecake,” I added.

“Anything to drink?” the server asked.

“Just water,” I replied as Asher nodded in agreement.

The food arrived quickly and seeing the sizes of the servings, we were glad we’d opted to share the main course. Asher’s cheesecake arrived with much fanfare and a candle, but we decided to share both slices with each other. I’d had the carrot cheesecake before and knew it was incredible. Asher was right – Junior’s cheesecake is better than sex, and when it comes to Asher, that’s saying a lot.

By the time we finished our meal, it was almost midnight and traffic was light, so the trip home didn’t take long at all. Of course, no birthday celebration would be complete without a night of earth-shattering sex. Without getting into the specifics, we ended up putting even Junior’s cheesecake to shame.

 

Ashe and I were naked, floating in a raft down the Seine, right in the heart of Paris. Notre Dame had been restored to its full glory and it was a magnificent sight as we cuddled and kissed while the passers-by waved to us. What a glorious day, but then there was a banging sound. The sound got louder and then someone shouted from the left bank, “Hey, you lazy bums! Freck and I are starving. And it fuckin’ smells like sex in here.”

Slowly, I opened my eyes and Kyle and Freck gradually came into focus as I felt my boyfriend squirm in bed next to me. Sitting up in bed, Ashe exclaimed, “You expect me to make breakfast for you on my birthday?”

“No, we expect you to make lunch for us on the day after your birthday,” Freck replied. “It’s nearly one o’clock in the fuckin’ afternoon!”

Throwing the bedcovers aside, I got up out of bed as Asher did the same. As we walked between our friends and headed to the bathroom, I heard Kyle say, “I so didn’t need to see that.” Looking down at my body, I saw that I was encrusted with dried cum. Looking over at Ashe, he was too.

After relieving ourselves in front of the throne, we got into the shower together. It was easily big enough for two. The plan, as I’d worked it out with Freck and Kyle, was that I’d quickly finish in the bathroom and get dressed while Asher shaved. That way I could keep Asher occupied until we both headed out to the living room together. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way.

While I was in our bedroom, picking out clothes to wear to Asher’s surprise birthday party, Asher decided that in spite of my request, he didn’t really need a shave since he’d just shaved yesterday. Asher was now shaving daily during the week, but today was Saturday, after all, and so why bother shaving? And since it was just our best friends, Kyle and Freck, why not get the coffee going before getting dressed. So, while I was standing in my closet, picking out what to wear, I suddenly heard ‘Surprise!’ followed by a roar of laughter. Oh shit!

I couldn’t exactly leave Asher out there alone in front of all our friends and so I rushed out into the living room, wearing nothing more than my boxers and the look of panic on my face. Much to my surprise, Asher was still out there, posing in the nude as all our friends laughed and applauded at the same time. When Asher saw me, he said, “I’m gonna get you for this, Seth,” which only made everyone laugh harder.

“You didn’t tell us the party was ‘clothing optional’,” our friend Jessie said, to which his boyfriend, Tariq replied, “Are you suggesting that we all need to undress?”

“Clark and I are game if everyone else is,” Joel chimed in, as usual speaking both for himself and his boyfriend, but then Clark countered with, “Speak for yourself, Joel. I intend to keep my clothes on, thank you.”

“Hey! Not all of us are here are boys, you know,” René countered, to which I responded, “Yeah, you may be a trans girl, but you have the same equipment as everyone else here.”

“Sad, but true,” she agreed.

“Speaking of Clark,” Asher interjected, “where are Clarke and Carl?” Clarke had been a homophobic bully and had been Ashe’s nemesis throughout the first half of our freshman year at Stuyvesant, and then he lost it in gym class one day and decked my boyfriend, knocking him out cold. We’d hoped Clarke would be expelled, so what a surprise it was when he came back to school after the winter break… with his boyfriend, Carl. They were now two of our closest friends but had sent their regrets with very good reason.

“Clarke’s working on rewriting an essay on bullying for the Stonewall Foundation, and Carl’s helping him,” I explained “It’s due on Monday, with a chance at winning a scholarship worth thousands of dollars.”

“The excuses some people make…” Kyle quipped, which got a laugh from everyone. Kyle was only ten years old, yet he had the most natural deadpan of anyone I’d ever encountered. He had such a dry, sophisticated sense of humor. He was a natural. But then he revealed a level of maturity closer to that of his age when he added, “Well, since the party’s clothing optional…” and then proceeded to drop his shorts and boxers in one swift move, exposing himself to everyone.

His brother, Roger, intervened by saying, “Even if this party really was clothing optional, that doesn’t mean the rest of us want to see what you’ve got, bro.”

“Why not?” Kyle asked. “As long as Ashe and Seth are going au naturelle, why shouldn’t I?”

“Well while the rest of you sort out whether or not you want to party in the nude, I’m gonna go fix some lunch for all of us,” my boyfriend interjected. “I’m starving. And there’ll be no orgies until after lunch,” which got a round of oohs and ahs from everyone.

“There’ll be no orgies after lunch either,” I clarified. “Not that I think any of us are interested, but if the neighbors complain, I’ll end up back with my parents up in Albany, being home schooled.” Then turning to Asher, I added,” There’s no need for you to make the lunch, Ashe. This is your birthday party, after all, and I’m perfectly capable of grilling up some burgers and dogs.”

Shaking his head, Asher replied, “No offense, Babe, but you don’t know shit when it comes to using a grill. You’ve come a long way since we first met… finally, you can crack an egg without the yolk winding up on my foot… but do you even know how long to broil a burger so that it’s done inside without burning it, or even how to tell when it’s done?”

Sheepishly, I admitted, “I’ve no idea, but I’ll have lots of help.”

“Honey, it’s just not right to make your guests do the work for my party,” Asher countered. “Besides which, I really enjoy cooking. It’s what I love to do. Please, let me prepare the lunch. I guarantee it’ll be the best barbecue you’ve ever tasted.”

“Well with an offer like that, I can hardly refuse,” I answered. Leaving my boyfriend to do his thing in the kitchen, I turned around to find that Joel had made good on his threat and he was completely naked, as were Jessie, Tim, Larry… and Roger! Raising my eyebrows as I looked at him, he replied, “Not that I have anything to prove, but how many straight boys do you know who’d feel comfortable being naked in room full of gay boys.” Interestingly, he was the only one with a bit of a boner, but I realized that was probably because he was more than a little self-conscious under the circumstances.

René, Tariq, Clark and George were all still fully clothed, whereas Dave, Freck, Sean and Calvin had stripped to their underwear. I sure hoped that no one used their phone to take pictures!

Before long, the most amazing aromas began to permeate the air as the dining room table began to fill with plates piled high with blackened hamburgers, blackened salmon burgers, blackened chicken breasts, turkey dogs, tuna melts on rye, corn on the cob and toasted hamburger and hotdog buns. Large serving bowls soon appeared, filled with coleslaw, Cajun home fries, vegetarian chili and grilled peppers and onions. There was enough food to feed an army – or a room full of teenage boys and a trans girl.

Along with everyone else, I grabbed a paper plate and quickly filled it. I started with a hamburger smothered with peppers and onions, a turkey dog smothered with chili, home fries and coleslaw. When I bit into the hamburger, I actually moaned. The Cajun seasonings made it so much better than any hamburger I’d ever tasted. On my second trip, I had a chicken breast, a salmon burger and corn on the cob. Much as I loved a tuna melt, I was way too stuffed after my second plate to even think of having one. Ashe was right. No one else could have made a lunch like this one, and he did it in under an hour and without breaking a sweat. It made me wonder if Gary and Asher should add a catering business to their plans for the new restaurant. It was definitely something to think about down the road.

We were all groaning after finishing lunch, but in the end, there was damn little food left over. With everyone’s help, we had it all cleaned up in no time. We still had a cake and ice cream to devour, but that would come later, along with the giving of gifts. In the meantime, we had a serious Trekathon to begin.

I’d discussed some of my ideas for having a Star Trek marathon for Ashe’s party with Freck and Kyle beforehand. Freck was much more of a Star Wars fan and Kyle was a sci-fi skeptic, but they’d both enjoyed watching all the Star Trek series and the movies and had more than a few ideas on how to spend an overnight slumber party with all our friends. I owned complete sets of Blu-Ray disks and DVDs for all of the Star Trek series and movies.

In the end, we decided to watch the first season of the original series from the 1960s. Most of us, myself and Ashe included, had never actually seen it since it was released in HD on Blu-Ray. In fact, I’d only seen it in the original SD versions on our old TV. Today we’d be watching it on our 85” Visio OLED TV in 7.1 Dolby Atmos surround sound. The new Blu-Ray versions weren’t wide-screen, but they had all new enhanced special effects that were supposedly worthy of HD treatment. There were 29 episodes in season one, each of them running about forty minutes without commercials. In addition, there were several hours of commentary and special segments too, but there wouldn’t be time for any of that. The episodes would take over nineteen hours to watch by themselves.

“All right everyone,” I announced, “It’s time for our Trekathon!”

“A Trekathon?” Asher asked.

“Yeah, a Star Trek Marathon,” I explained. “Since none of us have seen the original series in high-def, we’re gonna have a 20-hour marathon and watch the whole first season as we’ve never seen it before, so empty your bladders and grab a seat on a sofa, barstool or the floor and cuddle up with the one you love, as the Trekathon begins now.”

Opening up the first season package for the first time, I popped out the first disk and dropped it into the tray of my Blu-Ray player. Since he was the guest of honor, I sat my boyfriend down in one of the two armchairs that faced the TV and I plopped myself down in front of him on the floor. With Asher’s bare legs and feet dangling over my naked torso and resting in my lap, the position was actually sexy as hell and I immediately started to plump up. Rather than embarrass myself, I grabbed the remote and cued up episode one, season one.

We started with The Man Trap, which was followed by Charlie X and then by the actual series pilot, Where No Man Has Gone Before. Actually, as everyone knows, that was really the second pilot made for the series, as the first one was deemed too cerebral by the network and ended up being incorporated into episodes 11 and 12, Menagerie, Parts I and II.

It was interesting watching the original series in high-def, as the low-budget nature of the stage sets was glaringly apparent. The bridge of the Enterprise was positively spartan, with video displays that were clearly painted on. The uniforms were nothing more than T-shirts and slacks in the case of the men, and miniskirts in the case of the women. The planets to which they beamed down were stage sets with painted styrene rocks and badly-lit skies, but at least the newly redone special effects were considerably more believable than the originals.

Above all else, the acting, if somewhat stilted, was way better than that in other shows of the era, and Star Trek featured the first truly multi-ethnic cast, including a woman of color in a major role. As would have been expected, there were no gay characters featured at all in the original series, nor were there in any of the subsequent series or movies until the final movie made, Star Trek and Beyond, in which Sulu’s character was gay. The irony was that George Takei, who played the original role of Sulu, really is gay and has since been a major activist. Of course, the new series Discovery actually does feature gay characters in major roles, as well it should.

The original series might have lacked the polish of the later series and the movies, but it was truly groundbreaking nonetheless and many of the episodes were very thought-provoking. There were several episodes that probably should have never been made, but that could be said of nearly any series. Naturally, Kyle wasted no time in panning everything about Trek, starting with the opening scene showing the Star Ship Enterprise, traveling through a field of stars.

“Even if FTL travel were possible,” he began, “that’s not how it would look. Think about it. Each of those stars is lightyears apart. As the Enterprise travels among the stars, they should appear to fly out in all directions, away from the ship as it passes them by, then fly back to close in behind the ship. The stars ahead of the ship should appear bluish and the ones behind them should appear reddish, owing to the Doppler shift.” And on and on he went as he pointed out everything that was wrong with Star Trek.

Finally, Freck said, “Shut up, Kyle. It’s science fiction. There are far more elaborate space-based series and movies that get it equally wrong, yet they’re still a lot of fun to watch.”

We were all so engrossed by the series that we didn’t break until after finishing the second disc with episode nine, Dagger of the Mind. By then we’d been watching Trek for six straight hours and it was approaching 9:00, and long past time for us to get up and stretch. Man was it difficult to get up after sitting on the floor for six hours!

I got out the birthday cake I’d bought down the street at the Kosher bakery and lit fifteen candles, as we all sang a horrible rendition of Happy Birthday. Asher tried to blow out all the candles, but they just wouldn’t blow out. It didn’t take him long to realize that they were trick candles, for which he gave me a noogie. After eating the cake and ice cream, it was time for Ashe to open his presents which, by agreement, were all inexpensive, mostly gag gifts.

I asked everyone if they wanted to call it a night or to watch more Trek, to which I got a resounding answer – everyone wanted to watch more Trek, and so we reclaimed our seats and I slipped disc three into the player, which included the superb two-part Menagerie episodes. After finishing disc three, I cued up disc four, which began with episode fourteen, Balance of Terror, arguably one of the best sci-fi episodes of any series, ever. After finishing disc four, it was nearly 5:00 AM and the sky was starting to lighten. I noticed that eyelids were drooping and we all realized it was probably a good point to stop for the night, and so I got out a bunch of air mattresses and spread them around the living room. Cuddling up with my Asher, I was soon fast asleep and didn’t wake up until the doorbell rang at noon.

Realizing that none of us would feel like fixing something for brunch, I’d ordered a Sunday brunch to be delivered from Russ and Daughter’s. Forgetting that I was dressed in only my boxers, I gave the delivery guy an eyeful when I answered the door. Realizing what I’d done when he blushed, I apologized and explained that it was a slumber party for my boyfriend’s birthday and we’d all just woken up. Because the dining room was directly across from the entrance, I had him set up all the food on the dining room table, so he didn’t see more than a glimpse of the naked and nearly naked bodies, strung out on air mattresses all over the living room floor. I did give him a rather hefty tip though.

Brunch consisted of an impressive spread of bagels, lox, smoked whitefish, pickled herring, hummus, knishes, blintzes, potato pancakes, tomato and cucumber salad and other assorted specialties. After I got the coffee going, it didn’t take long for everyone to grab a plate and fill it with some of the best breakfast food on the planet.

After putting the air mattresses away and giving everyone a chance to wash up and brush their teeth, we resumed our places in front of the TV and I inserted disc five of Star Trek, the Original Series, season one. By the time we polished off disc seven, we’d watched another twelve episodes, and with a break for pizza, it was after 10:00. Because of the lateness of the hour and since tomorrow was a school day, the first after the spring break, I arranged transportation for everyone who needed it and thanked them for coming to the party.

After the last of our guests was out the door, I turned to my boyfriend and he swept me into his arms and kissed me deeply. “Thanks so much for planning all that for me,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting it, and it was wonderful.” Our bed was still unmade and smelled of dried cum from our love making of two nights before, but we didn’t bother changing the sheets. It had been about 48 hours since we’d last worn any clothes and even though we’d been naked, or nearly so, the whole time, there hadn’t been any way for us to do anything more than cuddle. My boyfriend was feeling randy and we wasted little time in adding to the cum stains that were already all over the sheets.

 

As the semester began to draw to a close, I became more and more excited about our plans for the summer. Not that I needed the money or anything, but for the first time in my life I’d be working in a real job. I knew it would be good experience and I’d get to spend my summer, side-by-side with my boyfriend. I knew there’d be challenges with opening a new restaurant, but with Gary’s and Ashe’s cooking, it was bound to be a hit.

But then came the day that changed everything.

It was my fourteenth birthday and Ashe and I had plans. From Stuyvesant it was a very short walk to the Brookfield Place Pier, where we would take a water taxi to Chelsie Pier, a short ride to the north. We could’ve taken an M20 bus most of the way there, or sprung for a limo, but somehow the idea of taking a water taxi seemed more romantic. At Chelsie Pier, we’d board a yacht for an architectural tour of the city, by cruise ship. When Asher asked about taking a cruise for my birthday, we both agreed we didn’t want to do the tourist thing, but the cost of a charter was prohibitive. The idea of an architectural cruise seemed ideal, as it would be a chance to explore familiar landmarks from a new perspective. There would be snacks on the boat, which was essential for a pair of teenagers. Afterwards, we’d tour the new Whitney Museum of American Art, which neither of us had been to, and then have dinner at Simò Pizza, rumored to have the best pizza in New York.

I had just gotten out of my last class of the day and was heading to the main entrance, to meet up with Ashe and head to the pier, when I got a text from Gary, Ashe’s dad. Immediately, I feared that something had happened to Asher, but when I read the message, I realized the situation was no less dire. Ashe’s mom had been in an accident and was in the Emergency Room at Belleview. My heart sank as I read the message, which had been sent to both Ashe and me. Belleview was a Level I trauma center and a teaching hospital for NYU. For anything other than trauma, she’d have been taken to the closest hospital, Lower Manhattan Hospital, or if less serious, to Beth Israel or Tisch. Belleview meant trauma. Bernice and I had become very close, but Ashe would be devastated.

When I got to the lobby, I looked around for Ashe but didn’t see him. Usually, he got there first and was waiting for me. I wondered if something had happened to him, but then I spotted him coming toward me as he spoke on his phone. Of course – he must’ve called his dad. As Ashe approached, I heard him say, “Love you, Dad. We’ll be right there,” and then he hung up his phone.

“Ashe, you know I love Bernice the way I love my own mother,” I said as he caught up to me.

“I know you do,” my boyfriend replied.

“What happened?” I asked.

“We’ll talk on the way,” he responded. “The M9 bus goes right there, but Dad ordered a car for us. It’ll be here any minute.”

Sure enough, a black limo was waiting for us in front of the school. We got in back and Ashe proceeded to explain what happened as the driver pulled away.

“A kid on an electric bike rode westbound in the eastbound bike lane on Grand Street this morning. He ran a red light and struck Mom when she attempted to cross. She had the walk light and was in the crosswalk. I know she always looks both ways, but an electric bike can go as fast as a car and Dad thinks that even if she saw it, she didn’t have time to avoid it. She’s lucky she wasn’t killed.”

“I thought electric bikes are illegal in New York,” I asked as much as stated.

“They are for now,” Ashe replied. “Same for electric scooters,” he added, “’cause they’re deadly on crowded New York streets, but that doesn’t stop unscrupulous businesses from using them for deliveries, just to shave a few seconds and beat out their competitors.”

“Did the kid even stop after he hit Bernice?” I asked, “or did he disappear?”

Getting a somber look on his face, Ashe replied, “Both. After he hit my mom, the kid lost control of his bike and veered into the path of a 14A bus that was rushing the light. Dad said the kid was dead at the scene.”

“Good,” I responded, “served him right.”

Taking my hand, Ashe countered, “He was only doing his job, Seth. Dad said he found out the kid was only fourteen and still in middle school. He was our age, probably trying to earn some spending money with a job before school. Yeah, he rode the wrong way and ran a red light, but it was his employer who put an illegal vehicle in his hands without even providing a helmet, let alone instruction in how to use the bike safely.

“I feel bad for what happened to Mom… horrible, but the kid who hit her was just a kid like us. He made a foolish mistake and he coulda killed Mom, but he didn’t deserve to pay for his mistake with his life. Now, there’s a grieving mother who’ll never see her son again. Maybe she’ll get a multi-million-dollar settlement from the MTA, but that won’t bring her son back.”

“You guys should sue the owner of the company that hired the kid,” I suggested.

“Perhaps we will, but it’s probably nothing more than a family-owned restaurant like ours, just barely eking out a living and putting food on the dinner table.”

After a brief bit of silence, I suddenly realized I didn’t know the extent of Bernice’s injuries, so I asked Ashe, “What about your mom?”

“Thank God she didn’t get a serious brain injury,” Asher exclaimed. “She has a concussion and will probably be a bit out of it for a few weeks, but it coulda been so much worse. It’s bad enough as it is.

“The worst of it is that her right femur is shattered. It’ll take multiple surgeries and months of rehab before she’ll be able to walk. On top of that, her left leg is broken… both the tibia and fibula… as is her right wrist.”

“Jesus,” I exclaimed.

“And she has multiple cracked ribs and pulmonary contusions that make it painful just to breathe.”

“You got all of that from the brief call to your father?” I asked.

“That… and more.”

After thinking about what had happened, I asked my boyfriend, “If the accident happened this morning, I guess while we were still on the bus to school, why didn’t your dad call us then? Why’d he wait ’til the end of the day?”

“Well, of course his first concern after the accident happened was with Mom,” Asher explained. “I asked Dad why he didn’t call us sooner though, and he explained that he didn’t want to take us out of school any more than he had to so close to finals. And of course, there was the fact that as kids, we wouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near Mom while she was in Emergency. We’d have spent the entire day in the waiting room.”

Pretty soon, the limo pulled up in front of the main entrance to Belleview and we went inside. Before we could go anywhere, we had to stop at the Information desk and get picture IDs, which proved to be a problem in my case. At first the receptionist didn’t want to issue me an ID because I wasn’t a family member, even after Ashe explained that I was his boyfriend. It wasn’t until he pulled out his phone and threatened to call his dad, who was my guardian, that the receptionist relented. Apparently because of the guardianship, I was considered a family member after all.

Once we found Emergency, it didn’t take long to spot Gary, who explained that Bernice was in stable condition and just waiting for a bed in the NYU Langone Orthopedic Hospital over on Second Avenue. Originally known as the Hospital for Bone and Joint Diseases, it was a world-famous institution similar to its chief rival, the Hospital for Special Surgery, located just three miles to the north.

Gary got permission for us to go back and see Bernice while we waited for her to be transferred to the orthopedic hospital. I wasn’t prepared for just how bruised up her face was, though. It was a miracle she didn’t suffer a brain injury or even lose any teeth. She kept fading in and out, I guess ’cause of all the pain meds she was on. While we were with her, one of the orthopedic residents came in to check up on her. He told us they had a bed for her, but that it wouldn’t be until late in the evening before an ambulance would be available to take here there. He also told us Dr. McCray would be operating on her in maybe a day or two. The resident told us Dr. McCray was one of the top trauma orthopedic surgeons in the world.

With nothing better to do in the meantime, Gary took us to the Moonstruck Diner, located right inside the hospital. It wasn’t anything like Asher’s favorite diner, the Good Stuff, but the food was way better than the usual hospital cafeteria shit. While we were eating, however, there was an overhead page for Gary. It turned out Bernice was gonna be moved right then!

We quickly wolfed down the rest of our dinner and Gary hightailed it back to Emergency, so he could ride in the ambulance with his wife. Because it was fairly close, Ashe and I decided to walk to the orthopedic hospital – it was an easy fifteen-minute walk. We got there just as the ambulance pulled in, and so we followed Bernice up to her room.

Just as the nurse was telling us we had to leave so she could admit Asher’s mom to her room, a very tall, distinguished-looking, silver-haired African American lady in a white coat waltzed into the room, went straight to Bernice and introduced herself as Dr. McCray. Woah – Dr. McCray was a woman, and she was black. For a woman of color in that era to have made it in Medicine and particularly in such a male-dominated field as Orthopedics meant she had to be twice as good as anyone else. She had a warm, compassionate smile and very respectful demeanor. I instantly took a liking to her.

Looking around the room, Dr. McCray began, “I see you have the whole family here, and such a diverse group. You guys are a real microcosm of America and such a nice contrast to those who think we need to become bullies to make America great.” She certainly didn’t mince words.

“I’ll have to mention what you said to my dad,” I spoke up. “I think we’re definitely on the same political wavelength.”

Looking at me for the first time, she said, “Young man, you don’t look anything like the other people in this room, but your eyes are exactly the same as those of someone I’ve met before. Your hair too. My son’s doing a post-doc under Dr. Paul Moore at the American Museum of Natural History. Are you by any chance a relation?”

“He’s my grandpa,” I replied.

“Which means your father is Frank Moore, I take it,” to which I nodded. “No wonder you mentioned your father and politics,” she continued. “He’s such a fine man. But how are you related to this family?” she asked.

Taking my hand in his, Ashe explained, “Seth’s the love of my life.”

“And I love Asher’s parents as much as I love my own,” I added.

“I can see it in your eyes,” she replied.

Then turning back to Bernice, she said, “We used to handle trauma cases like yours by operating as soon as possible… usually within hours of injury, but all too often, there were complications. The desire to fix things is so overwhelming that it’s hard to admit that rushing right in isn’t the best thing to do.

“The human skeleton isn’t like the steel skeleton of a building and your bones are far from inert. In fact, bones are among the most vascular structures in the body and not only do broken bones bleed like crazy, but the only way to stop the bleeding is to cauterize the blood vessels within them, killing the cells that are so critical to bone healing.

“So now we wait… at least 24 to 72 hours after injury before we do any major surgery. That way all the swelling, bleeding and inflammation will have subsided, allowing us to safely repair the damage without making things worse.

“Now for the left leg and the right wrist, however, we’re not going to be using invasive surgery and so we’d like to align them as soon as possible. We could simply set them and put them in a cast, but with the trauma to your femur and given that you won’t be walking any time soon, it’s better to use external fixators.”

Pulling out an x-ray – how’d she get it from Bellevue so quickly? – she held it up to the light and said, “I downloaded this film from the Emergency Department and printed it out for us to look at together.” Ah, so that was how she did it. “As you can see, there are simple fractures of the wrist bones… both the radius and the ulna. The location’s fortunate, as it means there should be no disruption of the ligaments or the carpal bones that make up the wrist itself. Still, we aren’t going to take any chances and I’ve called in Dr. Thomas, one of the finest hand surgeons in New York. Tomorrow morning, he’ll take you to the OR and under local anesthesia, just enough to numb up the bones, he’ll drill holes in the bone fragments and insert pins and an external fixator to hold the wrist together until it heals. The whole procedure won’t even take an hour.

“In the meantime, and while he’s doing that, I’ll be working on your left leg, pretty much doing the same thing with the tibia and fibula.” Then getting out another x-ray film and holding it up to the light, she continued, “Your right femur, or thigh bone, is quite another story. As you can see, you have a complex comminuted fracture of the shaft of the femur, with four separate bone fragments. Very often when dealing with femoral fractures, we simply drive a rod through the center of the bone from end to end, but there’s no way a rod could hold so many fragments together. So on Saturday, we’re going to take you back to the OR and under a combination of heavy sedation and spinal anesthesia, we’ll use steel plates and screws to hold all the fragments together so they can heal in proper alignment.”

“Why won’t you use general anesthesia?” I asked.

“We used to,” Dr. McCray answered, “and our patients experienced a lot of bleeding. It was only after a number of us noticed that in the patients who requested not to be put to sleep, that bleeding was much less. Again, bone bleeds a lot and we’ll still probably need to transfuse at least a couple of units, and we’ll use a device called a cell saver to recover as much of your own blood as we can so we can re-transfuse it, but with heavy sedation and a spinal, you’ll lose less than half as much blood as with general anesthesia.”

“Could I donate blood for Mom?” my boyfriend asked. “We’re both O-positive.”

“Are you sixteen?” Dr. McCray asked.

Shaking his head, Ashe replied, “I just turned fifteen.”

“I’m sorry, but you can’t,” Dr. McCray answered. “Although there’s no valid medical reason why a healthy young man like you can’t donate, the law doesn’t permit it before the age of sixteen.”

“How long will all this take?” Mom asked.

“There’s no sugar-coating it,” Dr. McCray replied. “Recovery from the surgery generally takes a week under the best of circumstances and could take as long as a month. Once you’re stable enough, and assuming your insurance approves it, we’ll transfer you to the Rusk Institute for Rehabilitation, which is also in this building. Inpatient rehab typically lasts one to two weeks for injuries such as these, with a focus on being able to care for yourself as you heal up at home. You’ll be restricted in bearing weight on your left leg and right wrist for six weeks, and on the right leg for at least three months. Then begins the real work, with intensive outpatient rehab. Figure at least six months before you’re ready to go back to work, and perhaps as much as a year for maximum recovery.”

“Fuck,” I said, after Dr. McCray had left the room, which earned me a stern look from Gary.

“Dad, will our insurance cover all of this?” Asher asked.

With a loud sigh, Gary answered, “I already notified our insurance this morning. We have Empire Blue Cross through the health exchange and, fortunately, NYU and all its facilities and doctors are in-network. The stop-loss kicks in after our out-of-pocket expenses reach $7500, which they certainly will. Without that, we’d be royally screwed. Thank God for the ACA.”

“Dad, what about the restaurants?” my boyfriend asked.

“Well that’s going to be a real problem, isn’t it?” he replied. “We already hired extra help for the Asian takeout place in anticipation of opening the new restaurant, but with your mom out of commission, I’m going to have to split my time between two restaurants, and both will suffer. And then when Mom comes home, she’s going to need a lot of help, and our health insurance doesn’t cover any of that. We may just have to declare bankruptcy on the new place and cut our losses.”

“No, you won’t,” Asher countered. “I can open the Ragin’ Cajun and run it myself, starting once school’s out for the summer. Seth and I can handle it, at least until school starts back up in September. By then, maybe the Ragin’ Cajun will be enough on its feet that you can take it over and hire extra help for the place on Grand.”

“Son, you don’t know anything when it comes to running a restaurant,” Gary countered.

“Sure I do,” Ashe challenged his father. “I know how to plan menus and prepare food for dozens of people at a time. Seth already has experience in taking orders and collecting payments…”

“I’m already experienced in buying and trading stocks and bonds,” I interrupted. “I know how to run a business and file taxes. My dad taught me to do that,” I added.

“And who’s going to wash the dishes and mop the floors?” Gary asked. “Who’s going to make sure the windows are clean and the trash is taken out? How are you going to drum up business? Unless you have a plan for all of that and then some, the restaurant will fail, and New York’s brutal that way. People will try a place once, but they’ll never give you a second chance if you screw up.”

“I know that, Dad,” Asher responded. “Yes, we need some help. We coulda handled all those things if you were in the kitchen doin’ all the cooking and running things. I’ll need to train Seth and maybe someone else to take over cooking in case I can’t. And I’ll need to hire some kids to wash the dishes, bus the tables and mop the floors. Fortunately, Seth and I know of a couple of kids from school who could use the money and whom we can trust.”

“You mean Clarke and Carl?” I asked.

“Can you think of anyone better?” Ashe answered.

“Except that Clarke won that scholarship,” I pointed out, “and he and Carl will be away for the whole summer.”

“Shit, you’re right,” Asher responded. “I forgot about that.”

“Hiring friends can be trouble,” Gary cautioned. “If they don’t measure up, you’d be hesitant to take them to task for it. It’d be a shame for a job to get in the way of your friendship. And if they’re under sixteen, they’ll need work permits.”

“I understand the risks,” I countered, “but I’d rather start a new business with people I can trust than with total strangers.” Then giving it some thought, I asked my boyfriend, “What about Joel and Clark?” I suggested.

“I thought you said Clark was going to be away for the summer,” Gary interrupted.

“C-L-A-R-K from Queens… not C-L-A-R-K-E from Staten Island,” I corrected Gary. “Both Joel and Clark’s fathers work for the MTA and they don’t make a lot of money. If they don’t already have jobs lined up, they’d probably love a chance to make some extra cash. And they’re not so close to us that their friendship should get in the way.”

“We’ll have to ask them,” Ashe agreed. “In fact, Joel likes to cook… or is it Clark?” he continued. “Perhaps they could be my backup in the kitchen.”

“You’ll have to pay them fifteen an hour,” Gary pointed out. “That’s minimum wage. On top of that, you have to pay for workers’ comp, and you have to consider payroll taxes.”

“Couldn’t we just subcontract with you?” I asked. “You could hire us and our friends and provide workers for the Ragin’ Cajun under contract. I’m sure Ashe would be willing to pay a fair fee for your services, like maybe a dollar per year over cost.”

Nodding his head, Gary answered, “It wouldn’t cost us anything to add a few more employees to the payroll, and that way, we could cover each other if the need arose.

“The biggest problem as I see it is that you won’t be able to do anything until after finals, and even then, Asher will be preoccupied by his mother’s recovery…”

“Dad,” Ashe interrupted, “I’m ready for finals. So’s Seth. We’ve both turned in all our term papers. We’ve studied all along and we’re ready for finals right now. It’s a good thing too, with what’s happened to Mom. And the restaurant’s already ready for business. The window signs are painted and the buffet table’s installed. We just need to finalize the menu and to advertise. We can put up some signs in local businesses, drop some flyers with coupons in all the mail rooms of the co-ops, and hire some kids to give out flyers in front of the Delancey and Essex subway station, and maybe take out an ad in The Low Down. We can do it, Dad.”

“I think it’s an excellent idea,” came Bernice’s voice from out of nowhere.

“What?” Gary, Ashe and I all asked at once.

“Gary, you’re going to have your hands full on Grand Street and taking care of me, but it’s nothing we haven’t done before when one of us is ill,” she explained. “There’s no way you can take the time to open a new restaurant now, but wouldn’t it be better to let our son give it a try than to give up and declare bankruptcy? Would we be any worse off? If Asher can get the restaurant off the ground before school starts in the fall, by then I should be well enough to manage our Grand Street restaurant from home…”

“But Dr. McCray said you won’t be able to go back to work for six months,” Gary interrupted.

“It wouldn’t be physical work,” she countered. “I’d simply handle the books for both restaurants and put out the fires while you take care of the early morning shopping runs and the day-to-day management of the new place. The experience this summer would be great for Asher and Seth, and it would give them something else to do besides worrying about me… and you know that otherwise Asher would worry himself sick. This way he’ll be too busy to worry.”

“Once school starts, I could still help out in the restaurant on most evenings and weekends,” Asher pointed out.

“As could I,” I chimed in, “and yes, we both realize that school comes first.”

“At least the rent doesn’t start until we open,” Gary said as much to himself as to us, “but it’s still a huge undertaking for a couple of boys who are barely old enough to work.”

“We can do it, Dad,” Asher replied.

“You’ll need far more help than you realize,” Gary countered. “Even if you hire your friends, you should hire some kids part-time from the neighborhood too. Let them handle the grunt work. They can bus tables, wash dishes and mop floors. We’ll be hiring some kids for the Grand Street restaurant for the summer anyway, so we’ll just hire twice as many kids as before.” Then turning to me, Gary said, “Seth, you’ll have to run it by your parents.”

“Of course I will,” I responded, “but they won’t say no. They’ll see it as a great learning experience and they’ve always been willing to let me take a chance that I’ll fail, rather than preventing me from even trying to succeed. The thing is, I’ve never really failed.”

“When is your birthday?” Gary asked.

“Oh shit!” Asher exclaimed as he realized we’d forgotten about our plans.

“I’m sorry,” Garry chimed in. “With all that happened, I forgot it was today.” Sighing, he added, “At least you’re old enough now to get your work permit. I still don’t know if it’s a good idea, but I guess there’s little harm in giving it a try.”

“Yes!” Asher shouted as he pumped his fist in the air. I’d never seen him so excited.

 

“Cajun buffet! Half-price! Authentic Cajun buffet! All you can eat!” I practically screamed out at the top of my lungs. Then turning to the kid standing next to me, I said, “Now you try it.” We were standing on the southeast corner of Delancey and Essex, right at the exit from the subway and the entrance to the Essex Market. He was a cute African American boy who looked like he wasn’t a day over twelve, but I knew he was fourteen and had a work permit. Man, did he have a mouth, though. His shouting was much more effective than mine.

Another kid from the neighborhood, a Latino girl, was standing on the northeast corner, and there were kids on the southwest corner and on the northwest corner, which was right in front of McDonalds. We were handing out flyers to passersby in front of the four main exits from the Delancey and Essex Street subway station, the busiest on the Lower East Side and a major terminus for Brooklynites entering Manhattan. With four subway lines and three bus lines converging at one location, there was an amazing amount of foot traffic and ample opportunity to hand out leaflets.

We’d printed up twenty thousand tri-fold full-color, two-sided leaflets on heavy glossy paper, with a full menu inside. On the front were the words, “GRAND OPENING! Ragin’ Cajun Buffet!” as well as a color photo of Ashe’s incredible spicy jambalaya. On the back was a map showing the location of the restaurant, highlighting that it was only two blocks from the subway, as well as the phone number to call for takeout and the website address. On the inside flap were four coupons – two for a half-price lunch buffet at $5.99 each and two for a half-price dinner buffet at $10.99 each. At full price, the buffet was a steal but with the coupons, it was insanely cheap.

Over the weekend, we’d left stacks of the leaflets in the mailrooms of all of the nearby co-ops and apartment buildings, as well as in several local businesses that included beauty and barber shops, dry cleaners, drug stores and markets. We’d left stacks of them in the gift shop of the Tenement Museum, located right by the restaurant, just across Delancey Street. Now, we were handing them out to busy commuters on their way to work, and we’d hit them up again over the lunch hour and with the evening commute. We’d also placed an ad with coupons in the The LowDown and in Time Out New York.

Once I was sure the kids were doing their job, I joined Ashe, just in time for the restaurant’s opening at 11:00. Joel and Clark were already hard at work. I’d stay until closing at 9:00. We would’ve preferred to stay open at least until 10:00 or 11:00 to match the competition, but federal and state workhour restrictions made that impossible. During the summer months, we were restricted from working later than 9:00 PM, and that would drop to 7:00 PM during the schoolyear. We couldn’t work more than six days a week, nor could we work more than forty hours in a week until we turned sixteen. And although we had a liquor license, none of us was old enough to serve alcohol.

Russ and Daughter’s Café, right across the street, opened at 8:00, so we decided there was little point in competing with them for the breakfast crowd. For those who didn’t want to spend close to $20 on lox and bagels, there was the McDonalds nearby. There was no way Ashe and I could be open for both breakfast and dinner, so aspirations of offering Cajun frittatas would have to wait until we were established and could afford to hire more people.

Our lunch buffet would begin at 11:00 and close at 2:30. The dinner buffet would be open from 4:30 until 8:00, with the restaurant closing at 9:00. Patrons could order from the menu all day for eat-in or takeout service. Orders could be placed by phone or through the website, but those would be handled by the restaurant on Grand Street. For the time being, we would close from Sunday afternoon through Monday, as it was the easiest way to satisfy the workhour restrictions. Technically, Ashe could only work from 8:30 AM until noon and from 4:00 until 8:00 PM. On the books, I would work from noon until 8:00 PM, but the reality is that we both would have to work our asses off from 8:00 AM until 10:00 PM. Fourteen-hour days were definitely not legal for anyone under the age of eighteen, but there was way too much for us to do. After today, Joel and Clark would work from 1:00 PM until closing, Tuesday through Saturday, and we’d have part-time help from neighborhood kids during the peak lunch and dinner hours.

Even though I’d had an idea of what was involved, I couldn’t believe the amount of work that went into running a restaurant. In order to serve the freshest food possible, the food had to be purchased every day. Fortunately, with our proximity to Chinatown, fresh produce, fish, seafood and poultry were readily at hand, provided one was willing to get up at the crack of dawn. Because both the Grand Street restaurant and ours used similar ingredients, one person could do all the shopping for both and have everything delivered. In the past, it was Asher’s mom who did the shopping, but she was still undergoing inpatient rehab at the Rusk Institute and wouldn’t be able to walk around Chinatown before Thanksgiving at the earliest. Thus, it fell to Ashe’s dad to do all the shopping for now. Even so, the delivery trucks started showing up at 8:00 and even that barely left enough time to prepare the lunch buffet.

Asher made everything from scratch, so baked goods, prepared the night before, went straight into the oven first thing. Chicken and vegetable stock for soups were also prepared the night before and allowed to set overnight. Asher made his own sausage from ground turkey, and that too took time. In the meantime, it was our responsibility to maintain the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, which included sweeping it and hosing it down, and would include shoveling it in the winter. Windows had to be washed at least twice a week to keep them free of New York City grime.

Inside, everything had to be spotless, which meant washing the floor every night. Plates, silverware and stemware had to be washed throughout the day to keep up with the demand of the buffet. We had a commercial dishwasher, but it wasn’t adequate for the high volume we needed and so about half the dishes needed to be washed by hand. Eventually we’d install a second dishwasher, but that wouldn’t be for some time. A commercial washer and dryer kept us supplied with clean linens.

On our first day of business, with all the leaflets we’d given out, I expected there’d be a line at the door but of course there wasn’t. The buffet was fully stocked with an amazing variety of Cajun, Creole and fusion dishes when we opened at 11:00, but no one came. Our first customer didn’t arrive until nearly 11:30, and even at our busiest during the lunch hour, no more than four or five of the tables were occupied in spite of the half-price coupons we’d given out. By the time we took down the buffet at 2:30, less than half the food Ashe had prepared was gone. Those who came for lunch, however, really seemed to like the food and made multiple trips to the buffet. The amount of food eaten per person was very high – there just hadn’t been nearly as many customers as we’d hoped for, but it was only our first day.

Dinner was even worse, with only a smattering of people in the restaurant at any time. That was probably to be expected, given the lighter foot traffic in the evening and that it was a weekday. At the end of the day, more than half the food was left by the time we closed the buffet line at 8:00. I hated to see all that food go to waste and had no intention of following the usual practice of most restaurants to simply throw it out. There are legal and tax incentives to give it to the homeless, so I arranged for it to be picked up by a church nearby.

Even though there hadn’t been much business, Ashe and I were exhausted by the time we walked into my apartment at close to midnight. By the time we got into bed, we scarcely had six hours to sleep before we had to get up to be at the restaurant in time for the deliveries the next day. I could only hope we’d become more efficient with time, and maybe then we could get seven hours of sleep each night. I could function on seven hours and often did during the school year, but getting less sleep than that was a killer.

Our second day of business wasn’t better than the first. During the peak of the lunch hour, less than half the tables were full. Again, dinner was a bust with much food left over at the end of the day. As the week progressed, the lunch crowd slowly increased and people started coming in without coupons and asking if they could still get the discount, which we honored nevertheless. Word was spreading, but when the coupons ran out, would people still come? Even now, was there enough business to pay the rent?

On our first Friday and Saturday evenings, we did a surprisingly brisk business for dinner. We were never quite full and there never was a wait for a table, but it was a struggle to keep up. A number of patrons even ordered from the menu – enough to keep Ashe busy. On Sunday, the lunch business was significantly brisker than we’d anticipated as people came for brunch. Not that we were ever full, but Asher had to work feverishly in the kitchen to keep up with the demand.

By the end of business on Sunday afternoon, we were exhausted and crashed the moment we got home. I think we slept straight through until mid-morning on Monday and then spent the rest of the day with Asher’s parents at the Rusk Institute. It was our only chance to physically spend time with family and there was no time left for ourselves. And then it all started again on Tuesday morning.

By the end of the second week, we were doing a brisk business for the lunch crowd and for Friday and Saturday dinners. Business on weekday evenings, however, remained tepid at best and when the coupons expired on June 30, all our business declined. After deducting food costs, salaries and benefits, rent, electricity, gas and Internet costs, we weren’t even close to breaking even. Of course, when we figured in our advertising costs and the lost revenue from the coupon promotion, we were significantly in the red and would need to make much, much more to climb out of our cumulative debt. It was to be expected that business would fall off during the winter and I began to wonder if we’d survive.

The first time a patron ate a full meal, then filled a plate and asked for a take-away container, I was shocked. The whole idea of an all-you-can-eat buffet is that one should take only what they can eat, and I came to realize why some restaurants charge for uneaten food. I started to prepare a sign that we reserved the right to charge for uneaten food, but then I had an epiphany. New York was full of food bars that charged for food by the pound. What if we were to let patrons get take-out from the buffet for a flat per-pound charge? Asher was game and so I put up a whiteboard and wrote that takeaway service was available from the buffet for a flat $9.99 per pound – a price in line with that charged by other food bars in New York.

The effect on business was dramatic. People who didn’t have the time for a sit-down meal were willing to pay more to take it with them. This was especially true in the evening, with customers stopping by on their way home from work. By the end of July, nearly half our business was for takeout. People loved being able to pick and choose what they wanted to fill up their take-home containers, rather than ordering takeout from the menu. Even so, we were struggling to break even. At least the Yelp reviews were strong and positive.

In the meantime, Bernice was making slow but steady progress in her rehabilitation. She was discharged home the morning of the Fourth of July, just in time to watch the fireworks from the terrace of our apartment. I hear they were spectacular, but Asher and I weren’t finished with our work at the restaurant until after the show was over. The same was true for Gary at the restaurant on Grand Street, but at least my parents and Bernice had a great time. Not that I was complaining. Asher was having the time of his life doing what he loved. In addition to waiting on tables, Joel and Clark were learning how to prepare all the dishes as Asher varied the buffet menu, day by day. I was having a blast managing the restaurant and spending time with the boy I loved. I was learning how to analyze profits and even developed my own method for using spreadsheets to track the cost and marginal return on each and every one of Asher’s dishes. It might not be enough to avert bankruptcy, but every little bit helped in the end.

As July became August, Bernice began taking baby steps with a walker in physical therapy. She wasn’t allowed to put any weight on her right leg or left wrist just yet, but she was getting better and better at getting around on her own. She even managed an occasional appearance at our restaurant, which was near where she had her physical therapy. Seeing her struggle to carry a plate of food from the buffet made us realize what people with disabilities had to deal with every day. We put up a sign indicating that help was available for those who needed it.

And then our lives changed yet again although we didn’t know it at the time.

It was a Thursday evening and business was typical of a weeknight, which was to say slow. Asher had prepared a typical buffet for the evening, consisting of fifteen Cajun, Asian and fusion dishes that represented a sampling of popular items. There was a spicy jambalaya, seafood creole, lentils with curry over saffron rice, spicy vegetable stir fry and wild mushroom dumplings. There was a matzo ball soup with squid, spicy Cajun crab soup and lobster ravioli with peppers and Cajun spices. All in all, it was an amazing spread that made my mouth water, but typical of what we served every night.

My curiosity was peaked when a middle-aged gentleman came in alone and ordered both the buffet and some items from the menu. I couldn’t help but wonder why the buffet wasn’t enough for him, and why he needed to order multiple entrées. He wasn’t thin, but he wasn’t so large that I could picture him eating that much food. His appearance was pretty typical of many of the working-class people who lived on the Lower East Side.

As I took his order, he commented on the young appearance of the kitchen staff. Since we had an open kitchen, he could easily see Ashe and Clark as they prepared the food for the buffet. He asked me how old we were, and I told him I’d just turned fourteen and the others were fifteen, and that we were all about to begin our sophomore year at Stuyvesant. He seemed intrigued.

“Where are the adults?” he asked and so I explained how Bernice had been struck by a kid on an electric bike, and how Gary had to manage the place on Grand Street. We spoke about how electric bikes and scooters had just been legalized in the New York and how that might lead to even more accidents in the future. “Anything that can go over ten mph should require training and a license,” I said, but the man pointed out just how difficult it would be to enforce such a law.

When I came back with the first of the food he’d ordered from the menu, I saw that he’d taken a single plate with a sampling of items from the buffet – just enough for a taste of everything. As I was about to leave, he asked, “You know, young man, you look very familiar, like someone I’ve met before.”

“You may have met my dad,” I replied. “He’s our state assemblyman.”

“You’re Frank Moore’s son!” the man exclaimed. “No wonder you look familiar. No wonder you’re so smart, but what’s your connection to the restaurant?”

“Asher’s my boyfriend,” I explained. “I don’t really need the money… not that I don’t appreciate the tips,” I hastened to add with a smile, “but Asher and his parents need my help. I love Ashe, but I love his parents too.”

“The things we do for love,” the man replied with a sigh.

I gave the man little thought as I went about waiting on tables, making sure every customer’s needs were attended to. He took his time to savor the meal, but we weren’t particularly busy or in need of tables for other customers. Whenever I visited his table, whether it was to bring him more food, to refill his water glass or just to see if he needed anything, he asked me about the restaurant and about our lives. In time I told him about how Gary and Bernice met in culinary school, how Ashe and I met last Halloween, the extent of Bernice’s injuries and her progress in rehab. The man was quite personable and I ended up mentioning my novel use of spreadsheets and statistics to track the profitability of individual dishes. He seemed impressed. In any case, when he finished, he paid the meal in cash and left a rather generous tip. His visit was quickly forgotten.

 

It was two weeks until the start of school and the strange man who’d eaten in our restaurant last Thursday was just about the furthest thing from my mind. Ashe and I already had our class schedules and locker assignments, and we were excitedly looking forward to the start of a new school year. We planned to continue working nights and weekends at the restaurant, with Gary handling the weekday lunch crowd. We’d be busy for sure but until Bernice was able to return to work, Gary needed all the help we could give him. If the restaurant failed, it wouldn’t be from our lack of trying.

Because Asher was practically living with me fulltime, it wasn’t at all unusual for us to speak with his parents by phone. That didn’t mean we never saw them but with our being busy at the restaurant, talking by phone was sometimes the easiest way to keep up with Bernice’s progress and to express our love for each other. However, I knew something was up when Asher hung up his phone.

“Well that was strange,” Asher said with a perplexed look on his face.

“What was strange?” I asked.

“Dad said he’ll be stopping by the restaurant this morning with some people,” he replied. “He also told me he wanted to be sure I knew that he was always available to help if things got out of hand. I mean it’s not like we have customers waiting for a table, so why would things get out of hand?”

Shrugging my shoulders, I said, “I’ve no idea, but we’d better get going in any case.”

When we got to the restaurant, Dad was already waiting for us, along with the man who’d eaten with us last Thursday and a man with multiple cameras hanging from his shoulders and his neck. The guy was obviously a photographer, but why was he here along with the guy from the other night?

“Pete Wells?” my boyfriend asked as he approached the man from the other night and shook his hand.

“You know this man?” I asked.

“Not personally, but of course I know who he is,” Ashe replied. “I’ve only read his column in the Times about a bazillian times. They don’t show his face, so he can visit restaurants incognito, but his pic’s all over the ’net for anyone who takes the time to find it.” Then turning back to face the man he’d referred to as Pete Wells, he asked, “Are you here to review our restaurant, or is it just my wishful thinking?”

Laughing, he replied, “You probably didn’t recognize me when I ate here last week. I make it a point to come unannounced when I review a restaurant, and I do my best to blend in with the crowd. I’ve been known to show up unshaven, in ratty jeans and a T-shirt,” he added.

“I certainly remember you,” I responded, “Particularly since we spent so much time talking to each other. It’s a bit unusual for a patron to order multiple entrées on top of the buffet, but I just thought you were being eccentric and I never once thought you were a food critic. No offense, but you seemed so ordinary, like someone I could’ve passed on the streets of the Lower East Side, hundreds of times and not noticed.”

Laughing, Mr. Wells said, “That, young man, was the intent. When there’s a buffet, I usually stick to the items on the buffet, but your menu includes some highly unusual items that I just had to sample, even though it made it more difficult for me to blend in.”

“Asher’s mixed background gives him a unique ability to combine Asian and Cajun approaches to cooking in unusual ways,” I explained.

“Anyone, myself included, can serve raw oysters or boiled live crayfish,” Gary chimed in, “but how many chefs can make a spicy shrimp and sausage creole as a stir-fry with snap peas and water chestnuts? My wife’s Chinese and I work in her restaurant, yet I’d have never thought of it.”

“They call it fusion, but this Cajun Asian chef is my fusion boyfriend,” I said as I pulled Ashe into a half-hug.

“Hold that pose!” the photographer exclaimed as he shot several photos of us.

As the delivery trucks arrived and Asher and I prepared the food for the lunch crowd, Mr. Wells interviewed us in depth and the photographer shot a bunch of pictures, seemingly photographing every square inch of the restaurant, inside and out. He also photographed pictures of Gary, Ashe and me, separately and in various combinations. As we began setting out the food for the lunch buffet, the photographer shot photos of each of the dishes and of the buffet from various angles.

When we opened the doors and the first customers arrived, Mr. Wells thanked us and then left, but Gary stayed. The first words out of my boyfriend’s mouth were, “Well that was unexpected. When do you think the review will run?”

“The Times runs it’s restaurant reviews on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” Gary answered. “I expect this one will run this Thursday.”

“I wonder if the review’ll be decent,” I asked aloud.

“Oh, I think it’ll be more than decent.” Gary replied. “Otherwise, he wouldn’t have come back.”

“A bad review I could live with,” Ashe responded. “I could learn from a bad review. But a review from the Times leaves no room for improvement. How can I top that?”

Taking him in my arms, I answered, “Honey, you don’t need to top that. Your success is what matters and I’ve always known that whatever you do, you’ll be successful. You’re the best. This just confirms that.”

With a laugh, he countered, “I just have to survive the onslaught.” Then with a sheepish smile, he added, “C’mon, we need to get going.”

“I meant what I said about being available to help out,” Gary added. “You don’t need me today or tomorrow, but I’m sure you will on Thursday if I’m right about this. In the meantime, I’ll arrange help from Mom’s family to cover the place on Grand Street. Maybe even more help for here too. Your cousin’s in Queens can help out,” he continued as he looked at Asher.

I knew Bernice came from Queens, but I’d never stopped to think that she probably still had an extended family there. Since I’d never met them, not even for Asher’s birthday, it made me wonder if she was estranged from them due to her marrying a black man. I knew such prejudice existed, but I’d never given thought to it before. To me, Bernice wasn’t Asian, Gary wasn’t black, and Asher was neither. They were simply the people I loved.

“Obviously, I think we should raise our prices,” Gary continued, but Asher interrupted.

“Dad, we already raised our prices before we opened. We had to, because of the new minimum wage. I don’t want this to become just another upscale restaurant.”

“It won’t be, but you have to do something about the demand a review from the Times will generate. Do you have any idea what Russ and Daughters Café charges across the street?” Gary asked.

“Yes,” I answered, “but eventually the crowds will return to normal and we don’t want to scare away our customers. It’s what economists call hysteresis in the demand curve, where raising prices has a different effect than lowering them.” Then I had a crazy thought.

“What if we were to offer a two-tiered buffet?” I thought aloud. “We could charge more for Asher’s more expensive items… his recipes that use more expensive ingredients and have a higher demand than the others.” I then outlined how we might arrange a second buffet line with premium items, and I explained how I’d already determined which dishes could command a higher price. Gary was amazed when I showed him some of my spreadsheets.

“Son, this is incredible,” Gary responded, but he was addressing me and not Ashe. I liked it that he considered me to be his son, too. “And by introducing it as a premium buffet, it won’t look like you’re raising prices. Do it.” At first I thought we might charge an extra five dollars for the premium buffet, both for lunch and dinner, but Gary convinced me the demand could justify an extra six dollars for the premium lunch buffet and eleven dollars for the premium dinner buffet. We’d start the premium buffet on Thursday.

After Gary left, it was pretty much business as usual as we served our patrons lunch. When Joel and Clark showed up, I told them about the visit by the New York Times food critic and the photographer. “It could get crazy,” Joel responded.

“For all we know, it’ll be a bad review,” Clark suggested, earning a gentle slug from his boyfriend. “Ouch!” said Clark in return.

“Nah, this is a great restaurant,” countered Joel. “It’ll be a great review.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” I replied.

I was surprised the next morning when again, Gary was waiting for us at the restaurant when we arrived. A delivery truck was dropping off some tables and chairs that were a close match for the ones we already had, but where the fuck were we gonna put them?

“If you move the buffet table back by the kitchen,” Gary explained, “you’ll have enough room to fit them in. Just then a truck arrived bearing cartons of new dishes and silverware, and Gary and I set to unloading them, and then moving things around to accommodate the new tables. I thought about mentioning that we’d paid for tables that would belong to Sam, our landlord, but then thought better of it. We’d probably earn back enough to pay for them in less than a day, if the Times gave us a good review.

“I’ll see you boys here in the morning, bright and early,” Gary responded as he walked out the door.

I slept poorly that night, waking frequently to check the time on my phone. The time seemed to crawl by as sleep eluded me until just before dawn – then the alarm on my phone sounded the start of a new day.

Whipping out my phone, I pulled up the New York Times app and went straight to the food section. Because my parents had a subscription, I could read the Times for free. And there it was as I read aloud, “Ragin’ Cajun Rocks the Lower East Side.”

What? Let me see that,” my boyfriend exclaimed as he grabbed my phone. Asher started scrolling through the article like crazy. “Best Cajun cuisine outside of New Orleans… Elegant dinner service… Phenomenal buffet… Reasonable prices… Talented teenage chef?” he read aloud. “This is a really long review. He only does that for the very best restaurants.” Then looking at me, he added, “This could be trouble.”

“Yeah, but it’s the good kind of trouble to have,” I countered. “Maybe now we can make enough to survive. Who knows, we might even earn a Michelin Star.”

Laughing, Ashe responded, “There are just 76 one-star restaurants in New York, fifteen with two stars and only five with three. I’ve never eaten at any of them. We’re not in that league. Not even the Times can help with that.”

“But who’s counting?” I responded with a laugh of my own. If my boyfriend truly didn’t care, how was it that he knew the precise number of restaurants in the city with Michelin stars? “Maybe we’ll get a Zagat recommendation,” I suggested.

“That’s definitely possible…” Ashe agreed. “Actually, it’s quite likely.”

When we got to the restaurant, the first delivery truck was already waiting for us and the order was for four times as much food as usual. “Holy fuck, does my dad really think we’re gonna need this much?”

With a shrug, I answered, “I guess we’ll find out.”

It didn’t take long to find out, as several times that morning, people knocked on the door to see if we were open for breakfast, even though our hours were clearly posted. By 10:30, when Gary finally arrived, there already was a line forming, even though we wouldn’t open before 11:00. As Gary walked in the door, he handed me a piece of paper and explained, “Here’s a list of the reservations for this evening.” Asher barely acknowledged his father as he worked feverishly in the kitchen to prepare for the mad rush that was to follow. Gary continued, “the phone’s been ringing off the hook with requests, so I decided we’d take reservations for half the tables. We’re booked solid for the next two months.” My jaw just about hit the floor.

Looking over the items Ashe had prepared for the lunch buffet, I quickly determined which of them would be worth an extra 50%, and then I wrote on the white board, ‘New Premium Buffet: Lunch – $18.99. Dinner - $32.99’. I arranged the premium items in a third row, down the center of the buffet table, with the standard items in rows on either side – one side for eat-in customers and the other for takeout. Everything was as ready as it could be, and it was time to open the doors. As I did so, I noticed that the line stretched all the way to Delancey, and around the corner before it disappeared from view.

I seated our patrons as quickly as possible and within minutes, there were hardly any empty seats in the house. I already had an app on our phone that allowed us to track orders, but now we had half-again as many tables. Thankfully it didn’t take long to reconfigure it for the new arrangement. Surprisingly, at least to me, nearly everyone opted for the premium buffet.

Ashe was desperate for Gary’s help in the kitchen, which left only me to take orders and accept payments for the entire restaurant, the new tables included. On top of that, there was as steady stream of people opting for takeout from the buffet, but all of those orders had to be weighed and rung up.

I thought we were fucked, but then Joel and Clark walked in, nearly an hour early. “We saw the review in this morning’s Times,” Joel explained as they walked in the door, “and we figured you could use our help.”

“That’s a bit like saying the Titanic coulda used another lifeboat,” I commented with a smirk, and then added, “Thanks for coming in early. You’ve just saved the day.”

“Hey, what are superheroes for?” Clark responded, earning a punch to the shoulder from his boyfriend.

“I put Joel and Clark to work waiting tables while I rang up the takeout orders. Our part-time help bussed tables and washed the dishes, but as busy as the restaurant was, they were working twice as hard as before and would quickly burn out. We were gonna hafta hire some more kids to keep up the pace.

When 2:30 rolled around and we shoulda been dismantling the buffet and closing until dinner, there was still a long line out the door with patrons waiting for a table or to grab some takeout. There was no way we could close the buffet. The tables were all full. Fortunately, a group of Asian teenagers arrived shortly afterwards, ready to help out. They looked like they ranged in age from about twelve to fifteen, but they were probably older.

Gary came over and introduced all of them to me. They were all his nieces and his nephew and included Jas, who was fourteen, Leela, who was fifteen, Jennie, who was seventeen and Lisa, who was nineteen. Gary asked me to put them to work where they were needed, and to train them, and I wasted no time in doing so. It was evident from the start that they’d helped out in other restaurants before, as they slipped into their roles very quickly.

How naïve I’d been about managing with only two or three people! Even before the Times article, we were struggling to keep up with four of us and some part-time help. It was obvious the demand was there for us to open in the morning for breakfast, and now we’d be hard-pressed to close before ten, but teens weren’t allowed to work past nine. Having Gary on-sight was extremely helpful, but he couldn’t run things by himself after nine, and once school started back up, we could only work evenings and weekends. We wouldn’t even be able to work past seven during the school year. What were we gonna do?

Things continued at a brisk pace through the afternoon and into the evening, when the first of our guests with reservations started to arrive. We didn’t have a maître d' and it quickly became evident that we needed one. Fortunately, with patrons lingering longer over dinner, we could still get by with two servers and two busboys. I therefore pulled Leela to seat our guests while her sisters were the servers.

By the time we closed for the night at ten, we were all exhausted. I was also concerned that we’d violated workhour restrictions for minors and that if someone reported us, the city could actually close the restaurant down and impose a huge fine. And tomorrow was Friday, the start of the weekend.

After Gary returned from escorting his nieces and nephew to the subway station nearby, as well as Joel and Clark, Asher said, “Dad, there’s no way we can keep this up. No way. We’ll burn out, crash and burn before the weekend’s over.”

“And we risk being closed down by the city for violating workhour restrictions for minors,” I pointed out, “and what about when school starts back up?”

“And who’s in charge at the other restaurant?” Asher asked.”

“Hey, maybe Clarke and Carl are back,” I pointed out. “Maybe they could help out. I’m sure they’d like to earn a little money.”

“Boys, boys,” Gary responded as he held up his hands, “If you know some kids who’d be interested in a job, that’s great, but we’ll have a lot more help starting tomorrow.”

“How so, Dad?” my boyfriend asked.

“I’ve made arrangements with an agency to provide some additional help,” Gary explained. “Four workers from seven in the morning until three, and two more to work from 2:30 through 10:30. We’ll open at 7:30 and close at ten.”

“But won’t that be expensive?” I asked.

When Gary replied with the cost per hour per employee, it caused me to whistle. “Yes, it sounds outlandish” Gary admitted, “but that includes benefits and taxes. We don’t have to pay workers comp, health insurance or payroll taxes, so it’s not all that bad.”

“But that’s still a hell of a lot to take from the bottom line,” I pointed out.

“And how much did we gross today?” Gary asked.

“Yeah, OK. We can afford it,” I realized. “And we’ll need all the help we can get for the weekend.”

“We’ll stay open Sunday afternoon and Monday too,” Gary added. “I expect that by next week, things will settle down a bit and then we can reassess our need for people. In the meantime, we’ll begin interviewing for permanent jobs here.”

“Are you staying?” I asked Gary.

Laughing, he answered, “This was supposed to be my restaurant in the first place. The restaurant on Grand isn’t nearly as busy and Mom can manage it from home as she continues her recovery. Qin, who’s been with us since before Asher was born, will take over the daily food buying while I prepare to open for breakfast every morning. You boys will take over the food prep and management for lunch and early dinner while I get some much-needed sleep, and then I’ll come in for the dinner crowd.

“Asher will continue to be in charge of the menu and Seth, you’ll continue to manage the books. I could never manage to do what you’ve accomplished with your spreadsheets and statistics. The Ragin’ Cajun may be my restaurant, but I can hardly take credit for the Times review. That was all your doing. When school starts back up, you and your friends can work evenings and weekends, so long as it doesn’t interfere with your studies.”

 

“Hey Freck! Kyle!” I shouted as I spotted our friends in the cafeteria. “Sitting down with them, I asked, “How was Europe?”

“Europe was awesome,” Freck answered.

“Europe was fuckin’ hot!” Kyle interjected. “They set records across the continent. It was insanely hot.”

“Yeah, it was nice,” Freck responded.

“You called that nice?” Kyle asked. “You thought 42 C was nice? Are you fuckin’ crazy?”

“42 degrees Celcius?” I thought aloud. “That’s like… 108 degrees Fahrenheit! That really is insane.”

“Yeah, but Madrid’s always hot in the summer,” Freck countered. “And man, wasn’t Spain really something?”

“And Portugal,” Kyle agreed, “and it was nice to have someone who speaks the language.”

“Yeah, it really was a lot of fun to practice my languages,” Freck chimed in, “especially in London.”

“Very funny,” Asher chided, but Freck countered, “Hey, London’s a lot like New York, with more people speaking foreign languages than English.”

“So where all did you guys go?” I asked.

“We flew to London and spent a whole week there.” Kyle answered. “I’d never been to Europe before, and London’s my absolute favorite city next to New York. Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abby are cool, The British Museum is cool, The Victoria and Albert Museum is way cool, the London Eye is cool and the British Library is incredible. Way better than Bryant Park.”

“So you liked London, but what else did you do?” I asked.

“We visited Manchester, York, Birmingham and Liverpool,” Kyle answered. “Liverpool was amazing, and not just because of the Beatles.”

“We took the train through the Chunnel to Paris,” Freck took over. “Now to me, Paris was the best. We spent a whole week there and it still wasn’t enough. The Louvre alone was worth a week, and not just because of the art. I. M. Pei was a genius. His glass pyramid’s like a giant skylight, letting visitors see where everything is at a glance from underground. And then there was the Eiffel Tower, the Quai Branly, Musée d’ Orsay, the Grand Palais, Montmartre, the Pantheon, Champs Elysées and Saint-Germain Des Prés.”

Laughing, I responded, “I get the idea.”

“Notre Dame’s a real mess,” Kyle added. “It’ll take years to restore it. To think the whole cathedral could’ve collapsed, all because of a lack of firewalls, sprinklers or a decent alarm system.”

“I understand why they made the choices they did,” Freck chimed in, “but it nearly cost them a world treasure. This is exactly the sort of problem I’d like to solve as an architect. They could’ve kept their historic ‘forest’ to support the roof, but added firewalls made of light-weight ceramics to keep a fire from spreading. Instead of sprinklers that could’ve caused water damage, they could’ve used oxygen-depleting fire suppression systems like the ones used in data centers. And instead of an advanced but cryptic alarm system, they could’ve had a computerized system with embedded infrared cameras that could’ve instantly pinpointed the source. Even with a tight budget, the cost would’ve been nominal, and there’d have been no need to send someone to investigate a suspected fire.”

“An ounce of prevention always seems like it costs too much money, until you have to buy a pound of cure,” I agreed.

“From there we went to Madrid, Lisbon, Gibraltar, Grenada, Valencia and Barcelona” Kyle continued. “Then it was back to France and Lyon, and then Milan, Florence, Rome, Naples and Venice, and then Zagreb, Sarajevo, Sophia, Athens and Istanbul.”

“Wow!” Asher exclaimed.

“Then we flew to Israel,” Freck went on, “and we spent a week there. It was incredible, but I could never live like the Israelis, surrounded by my enemies and in a constant state of war. It’s easy to see why they treat the Palestinians as they do, but they’ll never know peace. Then from Israel we flew to Bucharest, and from there we went to Budapest, and then Krakow and Auschwitz…”

“That was so important,” Kyle interrupted. “My father’s greatgrandparents were the only ones to escape Hitler, the rest of the family couldn’t get out, and they all perished in the gas chambers of eastern Europe.”

“You can’t imagine the scope of Auschwitz until you see it in person,” Freck continued. “There’s a large room filled with nothing but shoes, and another with eyeglasses. When you get to Birkenau, the immense size of the place is something you have to see to believe. The ruins of the ovens are still smoldering.”

After a prolonged silence, Kyle continued, “From there we went to Vienna, Munich and Prague, which I think is the most beautiful city in Europe, if not the world.”

“Beyond a doubt,” Freck agreed, “and then we went to Dresden, Berlin, Hamburg, Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm. From there we flew to Reykjavik and spent a few days in Iceland, and then we flew home.”

“Man,” Asher began, “I know you spent like ten weeks on your trip, but that sounds exhausting.”

“There’s an old movie that Dad made us watch before the wedding,” Kyle explained. “It’s from like the sixties and called, If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium.” Then laughing, he added, “Funny, but we didn’t even have time to get to Belgium, even though Brussels is the like center of the EU. We didn’t see Amsterdam in the Netherlands either, which not only is supposed to be beautiful, but it’s where the Anne Frank House is. Dad and Ken didn’t want us to do the kind of trip where you see a new country every day. They wanted us to really get to know some of the most important cities in Europe. There’s still a lot to see, and someday, Freck and I will see it all.”

“It’s really cool that your dad and his husband wanted to take you guys with them on their honeymoon,” I said.

“You know, I still keep in touch with my biological parents,” Freck began, “but even with all the traveling they do all over the world, they never once took my sisters or me on a family vacation. The only reason they cared when I nearly killed myself was because it would’ve made them look bad.

“I know Kyle’s dad was pretty much the same way, but he’s really turned his life around. He admitted he’s gay and got a boyfriend, and now they’re married and sickeningly in love. More importantly, he spends time with Kyle and me, and with Kyle’s brother, Roger. He and Ken took the three of us along on their honeymoon because they love us and because, as they put it, it was way more fun to see Europe through our eyes.

“I love them,” Freck added as tears came to his eyes. “They’re the parents I never had.” Kyle put his arm around his boyfriend and pulled him tight. Sometimes it was hard to think of them as being only twelve and ten, as they acted more like Ashe and me. And on top of all that, they were seniors this year. Next year they’d be in college, maybe at MIT.

Getting his composure back, Freck asked, “Anyway, I saw the piece in the New York Times about your restaurant. It sounds awesome, but you guys must be crazy busy.”

“Tell me something I don’t know,” I replied, getting a laugh from everyone. “We recruited Joel and Clark and they were a major help over the summer, and now they’re working weeknights after school along with Clarke and Carl, who just got back from their summer program. It’s Ashe’s Dad’s restaurant and he’s pretty much taken it over since the article came out, but Asher’s still in charge when it comes to planning the menu and trying new recipes, and I manage the books and keep track of which dishes sell.”

“And of course we spend our weekends working at the restaurant,” Asher chimed in.

“How’s your mom doing, Ashe,” Kyle asked.

Getting a sad look in his eyes, he answered, “It’s a long, slow process. She still can’t put weight on her right leg, and because of her broken wrist, she can’t use crutches, so she has a special walker with a raised platform for her right forearm. She can get around, but it’s slow going and she gets frustrated. So much of her time is taken up by PT…”

“Yeah, but none of that has stopped her from being involved with the restaurant on Grand Street,” I interrupted. “Since Gary had to take over running the Ragin’ Cajun, she’s thrown herself into managing Grand Street, even though she can’t physically do much. I can’t help but admire her.”

“I can’t believe they actually legalized electric bikes like the one that hit her,” Asher added as he stared off into space.

“Actually, it was the state government that legalized them,” I pointed out, “and even my dad voted to lift the ban in spite of knowing what happened. As he put it, stopping and arresting kids on electric bikes and scooters was seen as targeting immigrants, and even though the city didn’t check immigration status, ICE used it as an excuse for their raids. Many of those kids and their families ended up being deported. Besides which, anything that gets people out of their cars is seen as a good thing. Rentals are still banned in Manhattan, but businesses that purchase them for deliveries can now use them legally.”

“Let’s just hope they take the time to train their employees to use them safely, and that they supply them with helmets too,” Asher responded.

“Amen to that,” I agreed. “We don’t need to have any more middle-schoolers getting killed, trying to earn a few extra bucks.”

Realizing we only had minutes until the bell rang, we all wolfed down our lunch and prepared to head to our afternoon classes. Compared to the work of starting a restaurant, schoolwork was easy. While some of our classmates were involved in Junior Achievement, Ashe and I’d actually started our own business. We’d managed to double Asher’s college fund and we still had three years more to build on our success… or to crash and burn. Gary was being cautious and even if both restaurants went belly-up however, our profits were invested safely in a trust fund with a broad portfolio, ensuring that Ashe and I could attend college wherever we wanted.

My dad used to joke that someday I’d be the mayor and Ashe would own the best restaurant in New York. Chuckling as I collected my things, I wondered if a fourteen-year-old could run for public office. On the other hand, I knew all too well what real-world politics were like, and it was sobering to think of where we might be had Gary not stepped in to take over the restaurant. Perhaps taking our time to finish high school and go to college wasn’t such a bad plan after all.

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

Disclaimer: This story is a fictional account involving gay preteen and 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. Some of the locations described are real locations, and some of the characters and organizations described may bear a strong resemblance to real individuals and organizations; however, this is a fictional story and should be taken as such. The author retains full copyright.