“Ashe, I can’t believe your parents are gonna be working on Thanksgiving!” Seth said as we walked past City Hall on our way home from school.
Shrugging my shoulders, I replied, “They’ve always worked on Thanksgiving… after all, they own a restaurant.”
“But who the fuck would want Chinese food on Thanksgiving?” Seth practically shouted as much as asked.
“You’d be surprised,” I answered. “A lot of people are lazy, and then there are the young couples trying to make their first Thanksgiving dinner. When the turkey comes out tasting like shoe leather, guess what they end up doing?”
It was a glorious late fall day with ample sunshine and the temperature was well into the sixties. Before meeting Seth, I would’ve just taken the bus home, but now that I had a boyfriend in my life, it seemed a shame to spend our time cooped up on a city bus when we could be alone together. It didn’t take much longer to walk home than to take the bus, and with weather like this, it was sooo much better to walk home with the boy I loved.
“But Chinese?” Seth asked again.
“Why not,” I replied. “You’ve tasted my parents’ cooking. You’ve tasted my cooking. If you’ve just made Thanksgiving dinner, and the turkey came out tasting like shoe leather, would you really want to be reminded of just how badly you fucked it up by eating turkey from a restaurant?” Imitating a much lower voice, I parodied, “No Honey, that’s OK. Why don’t we send out for Chinese from our favorite take-out?”
“OK, I see your point, Ashe,” Seth continued, “but does that really happen that often?”
“Let’s put it this way,” I replied, “Thanksgiving is second only to Mother’s Day and Christmas in terms of our business every year. There’s no way my parents could take it off. At least they’re not asking me to help out… not yet, anyway.”
“Your parents hafta work Christmas too?” Seth asked.
“Haven’t your heard of a Jewish Christmas?” I asked. “If you’re Jewish and don’t celebrate Christmas, what else is there to do? Watch a movie and eat Chinese food. It used to be people went out to the movies and ate at a Chinese restaurant, but now they often stream a movie from Netflix and order takeout from us.”
“But I was counting on spending Thanksgiving with you,” Seth said with a pout as we passed through the Dinkins Municipal Building and turned onto the footpath for Park Row.
“Oh, so you were gonna invite yourself to spend Thanksgiving with me and my parents?” I asked in amusement.
“Well yeah.” Seth replied. “My parents have been invited to spend it with the Governor, and I wasn’t exactly invited. It’s not like they have a choice. So, either I spend it alone or I spend Thanksgiving with you.”
“But just because my parents have to work on Thanksgiving, doesn’t mean we can’t spend the holiday together,” I suggested. “We could even cook our own turkey.”
“Are you serious?” Seth asked as a grin took over his face.
“Of course I’m serious” I answered. “I’ve never roasted a turkey before. It’d be fun!”
“But you do know how to make a turkey dinner, don’t you? I mean you’ve seen how your mom makes it, right?” Seth asked.
“Haven’t you heard a word I’ve said?” I asked. “My parents work on Thanksgiving. They’ve always worked on Thanksgiving. As far as I know, they’ve never roasted a turkey before… at least not that I can remember.”
“You’re shittin’ me. You’ve never had a turkey dinner before?” Seth asked incredulously.
“I didn’t say that,” I replied. “I’ve never had it at home, but the Good Stuff Diner makes a turkey dinner that I’ve heard it is second to none. Their apple walnut stuffing is incredible.”
“The Good Stuff Diner?” Seth asked.
“Not that I eat out very often, but it’s definitely one of my favorite restaurants in New York,” I replied. “It’s on Fourteenth Street, at Sixth Avenue, just north of The Village. It’s right next to the Y – M – C – A. It’s fun to eat by the YYY – M – C – A-A,” I broke into song.
“Oh, that is sooo bad, Ashe,” Seth responded, pretending to puke on the sidewalk as we passed through Chatham Square, walking by the statue at the foot of Chinatown. We turned onto Oliver Street, and then headed up Henry Street, toward home. We dropped our hands once we passed under the Manhattan Bridge. We were out and proud, but there was no reason to attract the attention of a street gang from the projects.
“So, you’re gonna show me how much you love me by giving me food poisoning on Thanksgiving?” Seth joked.
“Jerk,” I replied as I gave him a little shove to the side. “You know that I’ve been cooking for myself ever since I could reach the burners on the stove. Sure, I usually eat at my parents’ take-out. They expect me to eat there with them, but when they’re busy, I’d starve if I didn’t know how to cook for myself.”
“My parents aren’t around either, but I never needed to cook for myself,” Seth countered.
“And what healthy, nutritious things do you eat for dinner?” I asked.
“Pizza, or a sandwich from the deli, or takeout from your restaurant.”
“I rest my case,” I chided my boyfriend. “But seriously, if we do this, you’re gonna help.”
“You expect me to make Thanksgiving dinner?” Seth asked in shock.
“It’ll be a learning experience for the both of us,” I replied, “and if we don’t manage to poison each other, then maybe we can spend the night together.”
“Seriously?” my boyfriend replied. “You think your parents would go for that?”
“They might, but we’ll never know unless we ask.” I responded. “After all, they’ve always felt guilty about never spendin’ Thanksgiving together. I’d just be spendin’ another Thanksgiving alone otherwise. If there’s any time they’d allow it, this would be the time.”
“Holy fuck!” Seth exclaimed.
“That’s a distinct possibility,” I joked.
“Doofus,” he replied as he gave me a playful shove to the side.
We turned onto Grand Street, then headed into my parent’s restaurant. Mom was at the counter, so I greeted her in her native Mandarin Chinese, saying, “Good afternoon Mother.”
“Good afternoon, Asher,” she replied in Mandarin, then turning to face my boyfriend, added in English, “Good afternoon, Seth. Are you boys hungry?”
What a stupid thing to ask a couple of teenagers. “Of course we’re hungry, Mom.”
“Then let me get you boys a snack,” she replied, “and send you home with your dinner.”
As usual, she disappeared for only a moment, and then returned with a full plate of food for each of us and set them down on one of the few tables we had in the front of the restaurant. She’d obviously been expecting us.
As Seth started to dig into his, before starting to eat, I looked up at my mom and asked in Mandarin, “Mother, Seth and I thought we might spend Thanksgiving together. We thought we could maybe make Thanksgiving dinner together too.”
“I think that sounds like a wonderful idea, Asher,” she replied in Mandarin Chinese, “but do you realize how much work it is to prepare a traditional Thanksgiving dinner?”
“Yes, I believe I do, Mother,” I replied. “We will have to do our own shopping, and spend hours in the kitchen, and then clean up after ourselves too.”
“If anyone can pull it off, you can, my son,” she replied, “but you must know that with so many dishes in the oven and on the stove at once, something is bound to go wrong.”
“Nothing is going to go wrong, Mother,” I replied, “but even if it does, I know how to handle it. I know where to buy the best turkey… a fresh one… not frozen. I know where to buy the best ingredients. I know my way around Chinatown. And I’ll keep a fire extinguisher handy, just in case.”
Nodding her head and laughing, she responded in English, “Perhaps you boys should spend the entire holiday weekend together. You two have much work ahead of you, and it would be much easier if you didn’t have to go home at night to separate apartments. You will need each other’s support.”
“Thank you, Mother, for trusting us,” I replied in Mandarin.
“Of course I trust you, Asher,” she replied in English. “I trust your judgement and I know you and Seth respect each other. The two of you are together every afternoon after school, I know, and you have ample opportunity to get into mischief. I know I don’t have to worry, as you are responsible. I know you must want to explore your relationship and that is fine with me. I expect it. I know that if you are not at home, I can find you at Seth’s. I only ask that you get permission from Seth’s parents as well.”
“Thank you, Mother,” I replied, and then I stood and hugged her tightly. Then in a gesture that really touched my heart, Seth got up and did the same.
Noticing that we had finished our ‘snack’, my mom took both plates and said, “I’ll be right back with your dinner for tonight.” Moments later we were on our way, laden down with several containers of Chinese food for the evening.
We’d agreed that we would wait until the weekend before Thanksgiving to spend the night with each other. It was just as well, as we both had a lot of homework and there were several term papers due before the holiday recess. Of course, we still spent our afternoons together, walking home when the weather permitted it, doing our homework together, usually at Seth’s, where we could enjoy the sunset together, and eating together with food from my parents’ restaurant. Occasionally I would cook a meal for us, and we’d stop on the way home to buy the necessary groceries. It was nice to have someone to cook for.
So, it was that a few days later, we found ourselves walking home through Chinatown. We stopped in a seafood shop, where I picked up a pound of fresh shrimp, and then a butcher shop, where I picked a small but meaty chicken that was hanging in the window. Finally, I picked up a couple of bell peppers, an onion, a clove of garlic and some chilis, tomatoes, carrots and potatoes from a local market.
“I still can’t believe your parents are OK with the two of us having sex,” Seth reiterated as we began our walk home from the market.
“Yours are too,” I pointed out.
“Yeah, but they’re liberal to the core,” Seth pointed out. “Your dad is practically a Republican, and your mom is so traditional.”
“Both my parents are moderate Democrats,” I countered. “You know as well as I do that the Mayor’s totally incompetent, so you can’t blame them for voting Republican in the last election —”
“Yes, I can,” Seth challenged. “In politics, sometimes you have to hold your nose when you cast your ballot if you want to get ahead.”
“Well my parents aren’t in politics, nor am I,” I reminded Seth. “A person’s integrity is always more important than their party affiliation. And you can’t spend what you don’t have as the mayor does so freely. ’Course the Republicans used to be more responsible that way, but that was before they became fanatical about cutting taxes. Just the other day the Times had an article on how the IRS is leaving billions of dollars on the table, just ’cause they don’t have the budget to go after it. That’s not a matter of cutting waste… it’s just plain stupid.”
“Yeah, but the Republicans wouldn’t keep New York as a sanctuary city,” Seth argued. “That alone is reason enough not to vote for them.”
“And the Democrats would open the borders, taking in all-comers,” I countered. “I strongly disagree with what Trump has done with immigration, but we can’t take in the whole planet.”
“But the Hondurans have no place else to go.”
“Sure they do,” I responded. “Why not Mexico. Mexico’s not rich, but it’s not poor, they speak the same language. Why does it have to be the U.S. that takes them in?”
“A lot of them have sought refuge in Mexico, but the gangs can still get to them there,” Seth pointed out. “In the U.S., there are support networks ready to take them in.”
“With government assistance… our tax dollars… paying the way,” I replied in exasperation. “Look Seth, I understand what you’re talking about, but we can’t be the world’s savior. Unless and until the entire planet develops the resolve to put an end to war, famine, corruption and crime, there will be refugees. Look at what’s happened in Europe. The migration crisis has only fueled the rise of the radical right and fascism. If we take in all refugees, we’ll end up with a wrecked economy and environment. That’s not to say we shouldn’t do what we can, but our resources are limited.”
“But not even a wall can stop them from entering the country,” Seth countered. “Look, not even the Trump Administration’s deplorable policy of separating children from their parents has stemmed the flow. And it’s only gonna get worse with climate change.”
“With climate change, someday we’ll be the refugees,” I declared. “All of Lower Manhattan will be under water, perhaps even in our lifetimes.”
“Sadly, I have to agree with you there,” Seth stated as we entered my building and took an elevator to the ninth floor.
As we entered my apartment, we both kicked off our shoes and, while I changed out of my school clothes, Seth headed for the living room and riffled through my dad’s record collection selecting music to suit the mood. One of the things we’d discovered about each other, besides our shared love of sci-fi in general and Star Trek in particular, was a shared love of the jazz classics. Not that we didn’t like rock music too, and classical for that matter, but the combination of African rhythms with European folk music had resulted in some of the most enduring music of all time. It was jazz that put American music on the map – not rock, not rap and certainly not hip-hop. Jazz was timeless. Soon, the unmistakable sounds of Billie Holiday filled the apartment.
By the time Seth joined me in my room, I was already down to my boxers and socks. By the look of his stare, it was obvious Seth liked the way I looked in just my underwear, though I couldn’t for the life of me understand why. As he too got undressed, I tossed him and old t-shirt and a pair of shorts that I’d worn last year, which were way too small on me now, and I got out a pair of shorts and a t-shirt for myself as well. Heading to the bathroom, I slipped off my socks and dropped them in the hamper and Seth did the same. I much preferred barefoot to stocking feet, and Seth followed my example. Lifting the seat on the toilet, we both unzipped and let loose our streams, then I flushed and we both washed our hands.
Back in the kitchen, I got out the rice cooker and other cooking equipment. When I placed a large pot on the stove, however, Seth asked, “What, no wok?”
“Tonight, we’re having something totally different… jambalaya.”
“Jambalaya!” Seth exclaimed. “Where the fuck did you learn to make jambalaya?”
Shrugging my shoulders, I pointed out, “My dad’s Creole and from New Orleans. His Cajun food’s fantastic. I learned from the master.”
“Why doesn’t your dad open a Cajun restaurant?” Seth asked.
“He probably should,” I answered, “but the Asian restaurant is doing so well… he doesn’t want to chance it while he has a sure thing.”
Putting his arm around my shoulders, he suggested, “What you need, my man, is an investor. There’d be very little risk to you if you use someone else’s money.”
“Yeah, like that’s gonna happen.” I replied.
“It might,” Seth answered. “My dad has connections.”
“And how might it affect us if the restaurant fails?” I asked. “I’d rather not have that hanging over our heads.”
“Well at least your dad could add some Cajun items to the menu?” Seth suggested.
“He tried it once before,” I responded. “No one ordered any of it.”
“They probably didn’t know what it was,” Seth replied. “Actually, I’ve never tried Cajun food. I have no idea if I’d like it.”
“Then you, my man, are in for a treat,” I responded.
Getting started, I set my boyfriend to work peeling potatoes and scrubbing carrots while I set up the rice cooker. I put the potatoes, carrots and tomatoes on a slow boil and had Seth peel the shrimp while I skinned and boned the chicken. I threw the chicken and shrimp into another pot and started the meat browning while Seth diced the bell peppers and chilis and I diced the onions and minced the garlic.
Once the meat was brown, I added the peppers, onions and garlic and covered the pot. The smell was incredible. I drained the water from the vegies and threw them into a food processor, puréeing them to a bisque. Finally, I poured the purée over the stewing meat, added some spices, stirred the mixture, covered it and left it to simmer on low heat.
Twenty minutes later, I scooped some rice onto a pair of plates, spooned some of the jambalaya mixture on top of it and dinner was served. The first thing that happened when Seth tasted it was that he moaned. “Oh, this is heavenly,” he said. “This is incredible. Your dad taught you how to make this?”
“Well yeah,” I replied, “but it’s really quite simple. You saw… there were only about a dozen ingredients and it only took a few steps to make. And there’s enough left over for tomorrow at least.”
“Maybe simple for you, but I could never do this,” Seth exclaimed. “I’ve never tasted anything like it before… anywhere in New York. You could definitely get investors for this. A small restaurant north of Delancey or in the East Village, and you’d be packed all week.”
We were already on our second record album of the evening and when the music stopped, Seth got up and picked out another – our third of the evening. Recognizing it immediately, I said, “Nothing like a little Sara Vaughn in the evening, and nothing sounds better than Sarah on vinyl.”
“Except Sarah in 24 bits at 192 kilohertz,” replied my boyfriend, touching off an ongoing argument we’d been having since we first discovered our shared passion for jazz.
Sighing, I countered, “When it comes to the golden era of jazz recording, there’s just no comparison.” The golden era of jazz referred primarily to the 1950s and the early 1960s, when most of the jazz greats were still alive and high-fidelity recording was in its prime. We could argue about the merits of monaural versus early stereo, but we could both agree that the best jazz recordings of all time were made during about a ten-year timespan.
I had to admit that in recent years, digital signal processing had made it possible to recover jazz recordings previously thought to be lost forever to time. In my opinion, however, digitally recovered music was a poor substitute for an original vinyl record in mint condition, and thanks to my father, I had an extensive collection of them.
“You’re sitting on a six-figure collection, Ashe, and for all practical purposes, it’s uninsured,” Seth reiterated for about the twentieth time. “That collection could pay for your college education, or it could be destroyed in a fire or by the next hurricane. Your dad’s original pressing of Kind of Blue could fetch five figures at least… and it’s just sitting there. But sell it to a collector and you could buy a whole ‘shelf’ of digital versions that will never degrade. Digitizing preserves them in pristine condition form for all time.”
Getting up and grabbing the dishes to take to the sink, Seth followed suit in helping me to clean up after our dinner. As I sealed what was left of our meal in a plastic container and put it in the fridge, I argued, “In the same way that a lithograph preserves a Picasso, but wouldn’t you feel gypped if you went to a museum and all they had were reproductions? Like you said, I’ll talk to my dad about having his collection appraised and insured, but I’d be heartbroken if he sold it to pay for my education. Those records will last for decades. I’d like to be able to hand them down to our kids someday.”
“Oh, so you’ve decided we’re gonna have kids?” Seth asked with an obvious tease in his voice.
“I’d like to,” I responded, “but only if you want them too.”
Throwing his arms around me and hugging me from behind, he kissed me on the neck and said, “Actually, I do want kids someday, but that still doesn’t change the fact that Miles Davis sounds much better on my stereo than on yours.”
“And your stereo must’ve cost about, what, ten thousand?” I asked.
“More like thirty thousand,” my boyfriend admitted, “but that’s beside the point. For an investment of about two thousand dollars or maybe twenty-five hundred, your stereo could sound nearly as good as mine, and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between vinyl and digital.”
Sighing, I admitted, “My dad would never go for spending that kinda money, but if he would, I’d take you up on that bet, and I’d win it easily. I’d even be willing to bet that if you added a turntable of comparable quality as the rest of your system to your system, I’d be able to tell the difference too. I’d even be willing to take it a step further and bet that you could tell the difference.”
“Oh, that’s a bet that’s just too good to pass up,” Seth responded. “We just hafta come up with a fair wager.”
“But wait a minute,” I replied. “Isn’t it a moot point, ’cause there’s no way to test it?”
“But we can test it, Ashe!”
“How, might I ask?”
“That’s easy,” my boyfriend started to explain. “You know I get an allowance every month, but I don’t come close to spending all of it. I have more than enough to get you a decent sound system, and to add a decent turntable to mine.”
“But I could never let you do that, Seth,” I responded. “My dad would never let you give me that kind of money, and he’d be right.”
“Don’t worry about your dad, Ashe,” he countered. “We could always tell him I got myself a new sound system and gave you my old one, and he wouldn’t know the difference. It wouldn’t be a lie either… not really. I’d be getting you a system similar to what we used to have, before we moved into the new place.”
“Still,” I admonished.
“What if we made your new stereo part of the bet?” Seth suggested. “Let’s say that if you can tell the difference between vinyl and digital on both your new stereo and on mine, the stereo is yours, free and clear.”
“And if I can’t?” I asked.
“Most high-end stereo stores will let you audition their equipment in your home for as long as a month. So, if you can’t tell the difference on either system, then the equipment has to go back.”
“And what’s in it for you?” I asked.
Thinking for a moment, Seth replied, “If I win the bet, you have to cook me dinner every night for the rest of the year.”
“Meaning the end of December?” I asked for confirmation.
“Well, I was kinda hoping you’d take it to mean the end of the school year —”
“In your dreams,” I replied, “And what if you can tell the difference?” I asked.
“Then I’ll have to cook dinner for you ’til the end of the year.”
“But you can’t cook,” I pointed out.
“True,” Seth acknowledged, “So I’ll hafta let you teach me how to cook.”
Since I’d been trying to get Seth let me teach him to cook since we met, that was just the kind of pot-sweetener I needed to seal the deal, and so I agreed, “You’ve got yourself a bet,” and then we shook hands on, and followed it with a kiss.
Thanks to homework, it was actually two days later that we had a chance to go shopping for stereo equipment, so we could make good on our bet. It was also the Friday before Thanksgiving, and it was to be our first sleepover, as we’d be doing our grocery shopping for Thanksgiving tomorrow. Needless to say, we were both excited about what was to happen later, but first we had some stereo equipment to buy.
When I’d suggested taking an R train to Union Square and checking out the sales at Best Buy, Seth laughed at me, and not just a chuckle either. It was a good full-body laugh-your-head-off kind of laugh.
“Shopping at Best Buy for a stereo is like buying a Hawaiian shirt at Walmart,” Seth admonished me.
“What’s wrong with buying a Hawaiian shirt at Walmart,” I asked, just not getting the analogy.
“Nothing at all if you like wearing loud and obnoxious clothes,” Seth tried to explain.
“Isn’t that the whole idea of wearing a Hawaiian shirt?” I asked.
“When we get home, go on-line and look up Hawaiian shirts at Walmart.com versus The Territory Ahead,” Seth suggested. “It’s like the difference between metal and Mozart.”
Like a lightbulb turning on in my head, I suddenly got it. “So, you’re sayin’ we aren’t going to find a decent stereo at Best Buy.”
“You’d end up spending nearly as much money for a lot of features you don’t need or even want, and disturbing the neighbors with crappy sound.”
And so that’s how we came to find ourselves spending a perfectly good Friday afternoon at a place on Canal Street, near the entrance to the Holland Tunnel. It only took us about fifteen minutes to walk there from school.
“This place is awesome,” Seth began as we looked around. “Most of their business is in rentals for parties, but they also do a phenomenal business in sales over the Internet. Their eBay store is renowned for their outstanding selection of high-end, used equipment, which is the main reason we’re here, and their service is outstanding.”
Horrified at the thought, I practically shouted, “Used equipment? Won’t it be obsolete, won’t it be out of warranty? And if it was used for parties, won’t it be all banged up?”
“I wouldn’t even suggest buying used party equipment,” a guy who looked like an aging hippie said as he approached us. “Seth, how you been?” He asked.
“I’ve been great, Paul.” Seth answered, “Couldn’t be better.”
“How’s the Bryston working out for you?” he asked.
“It’s outstanding. Just what I needed. But we’re here today, mainly to look at equipment for my boyfriend, Ashe. And maybe a turntable for me.”
“A turntable!” Paul exclaimed. “With your setup, that won’t be easy… or cheap. You kind of burned your bridges when you went all-digital.”
Paul and Seth bantered back and forth for quite a while, and I didn’t have the slightest idea of what in the world they were talking about. Finally, Seth turned to me and said, “It’s not gonna be so simple to add a turntable to my setup, Ashe. My home theater is all digital. Each of my seven speakers and two subs has its own amp and DAC,” whatever that was. “It saves the complexity of running speaker wire between the amp and each speaker. Good speaker wire can cost hundreds of dollars per foot, and I’d have needed hundreds of feet of it.”
“Holy fuck,” I couldn’t help but say. “What’s it made of… solid gold?”
“The best stuff is solid silver,” Paul chimed in, “But most of what we sell is multi-strand, oxygen-free copper, which is a lot less expensive.”
Seth went on. “With all digital, I only need connect each speaker to our home network using thin, inexpensive ethernet cable or WiFi, but that won’t work with a turntable. So, I either hafta to buy a phono preamp and connect it to the two front speakers and live without surround sound, or I could digitize the output of the turntable, but that would defeat the purpose of having a turntable in the first place.”
“There is a third possibility,” Paul suggested. I have a phono preamp that can encode DSD and a digital signal processor that plugs into the back of each of your speakers, to decode it.”
Noticing my confusion, Seth turned to me and said, “DSD is like FM on steroids… It might be a way to send the analog signal from a turntable over a digital network.”
“Exactly,” Paul continued, and then turning back to Seth, he said, “As a bonus, the DSPs would add MQA, MP3, AAC and Ogg Vorbis, and extend your PCM to 32 bits and 768 kilohertz.” What the fuck was he talking about? “Not that many folks believe the human ear is even capable of discerning music to that kind of precision or frequency.”
Laughing, Seth replied, “There are music critics who insist the human ear can’t discern anything better than the sixteen bits and 44.1 kilohertz used on audio CDs.”
Laughing, Paul chimed in. “There are people who can’t tell the difference between a CD and Apple Music or Spotify. That’s what listening to loud music does to your hearing.”
“Well I sure as fuck can tell, but how much is all this gonna cost?” Seth asked.
“I can sell you the phono pre-amp for a grand. The DSPs list for $500 each, and you’d need nine of them. I could let those go for an even it $2500 —”
“How about $2500 including pre-amp,” Seth interrupted.
“An even three grand for the phono pre-amp and the DSPs,” Paul countered.
“OK,” Seth said as he nodded his head, “and what about a turntable.”
“I have a barely used V12 that I could let you have for $8500.”
“$8500!” I exclaimed. “And if it’s barely been used, doesn’t that mean it was returned because it was no good?” I asked.
“On the contrary,” Seth answered, “a lot of audiophiles constantly swap components, trying to find the absolute perfect sound. But even at half price, that’s really quite a bit more than I intended to spend.” I was still trying to wrap my head around the idea of spending $8500 on a stupid turntable, let alone $17 grand.
“Frankly, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the V12 and an 11.1 on your system,” Paul suggested.
“That’s still a $4500 turntable,” Seth countered.
“Why would you spend $4500 on a turntable?” I naively asked. “All it does is spin records.” Two heads swiveled and looked at me like I’d suddenly sprouted horns. I ended up getting a thorough lecture on why a turntable does so much more than spin records. I was sorry I asked.
“The 11.1 lists for $4459,” Paul responded, “but I have a used one in mint condition, with a brand-new cartridge. I could let that go for only $2500.”
“How about we make it an even five grand for everything?” Seth asked.
Nodding his head, Paul agreed, “I think we can do that.” I could barely wrap my mind around spending five grand on a stereo system, let alone just to add a turntable.
Then turning to me, Paul asked, “Now what can we do for you, Ashe,”
“Well, our stereo is my dad’s, and I think he once said he bought it in like the mid-eighties,” I answered.
“That’s over thirty years old!” Paul exclaimed, obviously astonished. “It still plays?”
“Surprisingly well,” Seth answered. “Other than the Bose speakers, it’s decent for the era, but his father’s record collection deserves much better. He has a huge collection of original jazz recordings from the fifties, including a first pressing of Kind of Blue.”
“Do you have any idea what that’s worth?” Paul exclaimed.
“Yeah, I do,” Seth answered.
“So how much can you afford to spend on your new stereo system?” Paul asked.
I started to open my mouth, but then Seth spoke up and said, “I told Ashe we could get a decent stereo for around $2500, but that might not be enough to do that record collection justice.
“You might be surprised,” Paul responded. “I think we can do something decent for two or three grand if we stick to used components… except for the turntable. In that price range, you just can’t do better than the LP7 for 800 dollars.
“How about the TV,” Paul asked. “Is it mounted on the wall, or on a stand, and do you use the internal speakers or the stereo to listen to it? Do you have a blue-ray player or other devices connected to it?”
“We have a Panasonic, a sixty-inch plasma, I think,” I answered. “It’s only a few years old. We have it mounted on the wall, but the only thing it’s connected to is the cable box.”
“What’s on the other side of the wall, Ashe,” Paul asked,
“I’ve no idea,” I answered, “I’ve never been inside our neighbor’s apartment.”
“So, it’s on a shared wall with your neighbor,” Paul asked and I nodded my head. “Your poor neighbors! The speakers in most TVs are very small and in order to move any air, they have to vibrate quite a bit. That’s just Newton’s first law —”
“The conservation of linear momentum,” I interrupted.
“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” Paul agreed. “And the speakers face backwards toward the wall, so the sound actually bounces off of the wall before reaching your ears. To put it mildly, your TV’s speakers do a much better job of transmitting sound into your neighbor’s apartment than into your own.”
“Do you have any kind of streaming device such as a Roku, an Amazon Fire TV, an Apple TV or a Chromecast?
“What are those?” I asked.
“How the fuck did you watch Star Trek Discovery?” Seth asked.
“I watched it on my Chromebook,” I answered.
“I would definitely recommend adding a streaming device to your TV,” Paul responded. “It would add may options for streaming TV and music. You might even consider getting rid of your cable subscription and just subscribing to broadband and something like Sling TV. Where do you have your turntable, your receiver and your speakers?”
“They have a set of wall-mounted shelves under the TV,” Seth answered for me. “The turntable and speakers are on the same shelf, and the resulting feedback is obvious.”
“Ouch!” Paul exclaimed. “How much empty space do you have on either side of the TV?”
“I dunno,” I answered. “Maybe two or three feet on either side.”
“I think you should use a pair of floor-standing R500s on either side of the TV,” Paul suggested. “They’re a closeout model and on sale for $950 per speaker. We have a pair of them on display right here,” he added as he pointed to a couple of speakers that were nearly as tall as Seth was.
“No sooner did we put these out than we got word the model was being replaced, so they’ve just been sitting here collecting dust. Customers don’t want to listen to a discontinued model. I’m willing to let you have the pair for $1100. To drive them, I’d recommend the Nova 300. It lists for $2200, but I have a used one that’s less than a year old that I can sell you for half that. I’ll also throw in all your interconnect cables and your speaker cables at no extra charge. That’s at least a $500 value.
“So altogether, I’m offering you a complete stereo system that incorporates your TV too, for a total of $3000 plus tax. With in-home installation and a lifetime warrantee on everything we sell, you can’t do better than that.”
“So, the total for Ashe’s system and mine is $8000 even plus tax? How much is the discount if I pay in cash?” Seth asked.
“I can absorb the tax if you pay me in cash,” Paul answered, “with half down today, check or cash.”
“Great, when can you install?” Seth asked.
“Next week’s pretty busy, as you can imagine,” Paul answered. “Everyone and their grandmother will be here for Black Friday, even though our prices always reflect the maximum discount and we guarantee our prices for a month. If we don’t install tomorrow, it’ll be at least another two weeks before we can get to it. Let’s set the installations for tomorrow starting at, say, 2PM?” I guessed we’d have to leave our grocery shopping for Sunday.
“Fantastic!” Seth said as he pulled his checkbook out of his pocket and wrote out a check while Paul wrote out an itemized receipt. This was a whole other side of Seth that I was seeing.
After spending the afternoon shopping for stereo equipment, I decided to treat my boyfriend to a nice dinner at my favorite diner, the Good Stuff Diner on Fourteenth Street. Getting there was easy – we just walked five minutes to the Canal Street subway station, took the one train to Fourteenth Street, and walked a block to the diner. My favorite table was free, and so we sat in the front window, where we could watch the passersby on Fourteenth Street. The restaurant itself is huge, going back the entire depth of the building, halfway to Fifteenth Street.
“Did you see all the desserts?” Seth asked, practically salivating as we took our menus from the maître d.
“Trust me, you won’t even want to look at the dessert case on the way out after you finish your dinner. Especially if you opt for the turkey,” I replied. Yes, the dessert case was very impressive, but I knew from experience that the portions were huge and I’d yet to sample any of the desserts.
The menu at the Good Stuff is more like a book, with page after page of breakfast items, sandwiches, meals and deserts. I’d been planning to order the turkey dinner when Seth asked, “Are you sure you want to get the turkey dinner, when Thanksgiving’s less than a week away?”
He did have a point. “Well maybe not,” I replied, “but everything on the menu’s excellent.”
“The turkey dinner’s only $21.95?” Seth asked. “That’s a steal!”
“The prices are quite reasonable here,” I agreed, “although some of the seafood is a bit pricey.”
“Yeah, the broiled seafood combo is $31.50, but look at what you get! Shrimp, scallops, stuffed sole and salmon, along with a potato and vegetable, and soup or salad? I bet we could share a meal and still have food left over to take home.
“Oh, these pastas sound good,” Seth exclaimed as he continued to read the menu. “I think I’m gonna have the chicken fettuccini basil pesto. It sounds yummy, and I still get a soup or salad.”
“That does sound good,” I agreed. I was having a hard time deciding between one of the pasta dishes, the salmon burger deluxe and the turkey. In the end I decided on the salmon burger.
“Good evening, gentlemen,” the server said as he approached our table, opening his order book as he did so. “What can I get for you this evening. Anything to drink to start the meal?”
“Is your coffee really legendary?” Seth asked before I could say anything.
“It’s very good,” the server said, but I made it a point to shake my head and finally, caught Seth’s attention.
“I guess I’ll just have water to start with,” Seth responded.
“I’ll have the same,” I added.
“Do you boys need some time, or are you ready to order?” the server asked.
“I’m ready,” Seth answered, and I nodded my head in agreement. “What are the soups tonight?”
“Tonight, we have tomato, matzo ball, chicken noodle, minestrone and lobster bisque,” the server answered. My ears perked up at the mention of lobster bisque. My meal might not come with soup, but I was gonna have to have some.
“OK, I’ll have the lobster bisque and the chicken fettuccini basil pesto,” Seth began.
“And I’ll have a cup of the lobster bisque, followed by a salmon burger deluxe, with a sub of sweet potato fries,” I added as I handed back the menu, and Seth did the same.
Taking my hand in his across the table, right in full view of anyone walking down Fourteenth Street, Seth said, “Did you realize that this is actually our first date?”
Taken by surprise, I thought about it and realized he was right! “We’ve spent all our time together after school since we met, but this is the first time we’ve actually gone out for dinner together. You’re right, it’s our first real date.” Then I added, “I love you, Seth. I can’t believe how perfect we are together.”
“I’m far from perfect,” Seth responded, “but I love you too, Ashe. I never believed in soul mates before, but I sure as fuck do now.”
“And speaking of fuck, I’m excited about tonight.”
“Me too,” Seth agreed. “It’s gonna be awesome.”
Just then our soups arrived along with a basket of rolls. Taking one of the hard rolls with raisins, I said, “Not that I need to fill up on these, but their rolls are excellent.” I took one and broke it open, buttering it before I ate it. Seth likewise took a roll, and then tasted the soup. I did likewise.
“Oh, this soup is good,” Seth responded. “And you’re right about the roll. Both are great.”
“I still can’t believe you bought me all that stereo equipment today,” I mentioned as I continued to eat my soup and rolls.
“I bought it for you because I want you to have it,” Seth replied. “Truth be told, your dad should have replaced your stereo decades ago. His old system just doesn’t do the music justice.”
“My dad doesn’t like to replace anything until it’s broken,” I replied. “He’s frugal. It’s just the way it is. As it is, I’m gonna have a tough time explaining why it’s OK to accept your ‘old’ equipment as a gift from you.”
“You can leave that part to me, Ashe,” Seth replied. “I grew up around politicians and I know just how to schmooze someone without making them feel like they’ve been had.
“And don’t worry about having to send it back if you lose the bet either,” he went on. “I still want you to have it. Cooking dinner for me will be more than enough if you lose.”
“I still think it’s way too much.”
“But I want you to have it,” Seth replied. “Think of it as an early Christmas gift, or think of it as a Chanukah gift if you’d prefer… that way I can still give you a Christmas gift. Why have only one?
“But seriously, I enjoy jazz every bit as much as you do, so now I’ll be able to enjoy listening to your dad’s records as they were meant to be heard, whether we play them at your place, or mine.”
The server came to take our empty soup bowls and the bread basket. He brought me a plate with a pickle and a small cup of coleslaw. Technically they were part of my meal, but I proceeded to cut the pickle in half lengthwise, and spooned half the slaw onto the plate, which I passed to Seth.
“Thanks, I love this stuff,” he said with an angelic smile as he ate his portion. I finished what was left in the cup and ate my half of the pickle. Perhaps I shoulda offered Seth the whole thing, but I loved this stuff too.
A moment later, the server brought us our portions. “You’ve gotta be kidding me,” Seth said as the server set his plate down in front of Seth. The portion was huge. My dinner was equally big, with a salmon burger that was enormous – way too big to eat as a sandwich.
“Feel free to take some of my fries,” I told Seth as I poured ketchup onto my plate, smeared lemon mayo on the salmon and then piled the lettuce, tomato and onions on top, making a sandwich that was far too big for any mouth to eat.
“You’re joking, right?” Seth responded as he took spoon and fork and dug into his pasta. “Man, is this ever good,” he added.
I used a fork and knife to cut my burger up into pieces small enough to fit in my mouth. The salmon was excellent, as always.
“Out of curiosity, why did you shake your head at the coffee?” Seth asked.
“Don’t get me wrong… I love coffee. I’ve just never found a diner that serves good coffee, and this is no exception. I don’t know what it is about diners, but the coffee isn’t even as good as what they serve in the cafeteria at school.”
“Oh, that is bad,” Seth agreed.
Even as big as the portions were, neither of us had any trouble finishing our meal, and I was thoroughly stuffed.
I asked our server for the check, but when it came, Seth snatched it outta my hand. He might be better able to afford it, but I was far from poor and after what he’d already done today, I’d had enough.
“Please, Seth, don’t do this man. I invited you out ’cause I wanted to share one of my favorite restaurants with you. Do you know how it makes me feel for you to swoop in and take that away from me? This one’s on me. It’s my treat this time… not yours.”
“Well at least let me pay the tip, man,” Seth admonished me.
Figuring it was fair, I responded, “OK.” Seth left a ten-dollar tip, which at 25% was frankly more than was warranted, but I wasn’t about to tell my boyfriend how much to tip.
I took the check to the cashier and paid the bill. As we passed the desert case, I asked Seth, “Would you like to take something home with us for later? I’ve heard their bread pudding is the best anywhere.”
“I don’t even want to look at food until tomorrow morning,” replied Seth.
As we exited the restaurant, I suggested, “We could take the 14A across the street and it would practically take us door to door, but this being a Friday night, we’ll have to stand most of the way home and with traffic, the trip’ll take at least an hour. Or we could take an F or an M train to Delancey and walk home from there. I vote for taking the F or M train.”
“Same here,” Seth replied.
The entrance to the subway was right in front of the restaurant, so we descended into the world under New York City. It wasn’t long before a Brooklyn-bound F train appeared, and so we took it four stops, to Delancey Street. As we passed by Trader Joe’s on the walk home, Seth suggested stopping by to do some of our grocery shopping then, so there’d be less to carry home tomorrow, but the place was jammed. Besides which, I had much better places in mind for our Thanksgiving shopping.
We headed to my apartment, ‘cause Seth’s parents wouldn’t be leaving for Albany until Sunday. Not only would we have to sleep separately in bunk beds at his place, but we’d have no privacy at all there. My parents would be home too, but not before midnight, and in my room, we could sleep together in a double bed, behind a closed door.
Disclaimer: This story is a fictional account involving gay teenage boys. There are references to gay sex and anyone who is uncomfortable with this should obviously not be reading it. The reader takes all responsibility for the legality of reading this type of story where they live. All characters are fictional and any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental. The author retains full copyright.