New York Holidays

I’ll Have A Double Bar Mitzvah To Go

A New York Story about coming of age, food carts and tradition, by Altimexis

Posted November 4, 2023


Author’s Note: I wrote this story as one of four concurrent tales dealing with important events in the lives of the characters in my New York Stories series. They were intended to help fill in the gaps that arose during the time I worked on my major story, Brilliant Boy Billionaire. A number of the characters in the New York Stories are Jewish and Double Bar Mitzvah was intended to bring closure to Francis (Freck) San Angelo’s discovery of his Jewish ancestry. That was, of course, before the events of October 7, 2023. Many have been quick to condemn Israel for its response to the attack, or even to blame Israel for inciting the attack, and far too many have extended their condemnation to all Jews. Many of us have been strong advocates for a peaceful resolution and Palestinian statehood, yet nothing can justify the barbarism of Hamas’ attack on Israeli civilians. When rockets are raining down, overwhelming their defenses, one can hardly blame Israel for bombing the sites of the rocket launchers. It was Hamas, after all, that placed them in densely-populated areas. Countering Hamas, however, must never be allowed to deteriorate into seeking vengeance at the expense of the lives of innocent Palestinians, even though such things are sometimes unavoidable in the military milieu.

Anti-Israeli sentiment around the world had already led to a dramatic increase in antisemitism, which has only increased since the attack. The characters in my stories would not be immune to this, particularly those who are in college. Once the dust has settled a bit and events are further behind us, I will write a New York story that tackles the fallout from the Hamas attack and the Israeli response head on, from both sides of the equation. Meanwhile, what follows is a tale from a more innocent time.

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Saturday, July 1, 2023

Oseh shalom bimramov,” the cantor began to sing in a loud, pure voice. “Hu yaaseh shalom aleynu…” the entire congregation joined in. Of course, most of our friends, who weren’t Jewish, were clueless, but they’d catch on soon enough. “Val kol Yisrael, vImru…Imru Amen.” It was the last line from the Kaddish, the holiest of prayers in the Hebrew liturgy. Better known as a prayer said by mourners for the dead, it was actually a concluding prayer, said – or more often chanted – at the end of each section of the prayer service. The prayer was a praise to God, but the last line was one that even an agnostic such as myself could say with true meaning. Translated literally, it says, “May he who brings peace to the heavens, bring peace to all of us and to Israel, and let us say Amen.” Israel, of course, referred to the tribe of Israel rather than the country, and by extension to all the Jewish people – not just those living in Israel – but in the context of the Kaddish, it implied the granting of peace to all of humanity.

As far as I was concerned, peace wasn’t something that some divine being could ever grant – not that I believed in a divine being – but to me, peace was something that we had to earn. That was actually a line from the bar mitzvah speech I’d prepared to give at the conclusion of dinner, in the early afternoon. Unfortunately, it seemed we’d never been further from peace. This was the worst time in America’s history since the Civil War, and that wasn’t just my opinion. Many an historian said much the same thing. Unfortunately, the same was true of Israel, in which a right-wing government was trying its best to subvert Israel’s democratic institutions and to annex the West Bank, the Palestinians be damned. And then there was the Russian invasion of Ukraine…

The cantor started to play his guitar as he continued to sing, repeatedly, Ya’aseh Shalom, as everyone sang along, and then he climbed down from the bimah – the pulpit – and the rabbi reached her hand toward me and said, “Francis?” When I held out my hand, she grabbed it and started to dance the Hora – the traditional Jewish dance that was often used in celebration at life-cycle events such as bar mitzvahs and weddings. I started to dance too, albeit awkwardly, as I grabbed my mother’s hand as she also started to dance. In the meantime, the assistant rabbi grabbed my boyfriend’s hand and he in turn grabbed his father’s hand, who then grabbed his husband’s hand, who then grabbed Kyle’s mother’s hand. The cantor motioned for everyone to stand as the rabbi split to the right and the assistant rabbi to the left, pulling us in opposite directions as we made our way across the front of the sanctuary.

When we reached the aisles, we proceeded down the aisles and the last person in each line grabbed the the hand of the person at the end of the first center row. Everyone in the row followed us into the aisle, followed by everyone in the first outer row, and then row by row, they extended the procession, dancing as they went.

Although the prayer service was now finished, the celebration of Kyle’s and my double bar mitzvah had just begun. We’d taken turns in leading the congregation in prayer and successfully chanted the Torah and Haftorah portions for the week. The Saturday morning Shabbat prayer service had concluded and, with that, Kyle and I were now b’nai mitzvah, sons of the commandments, capable of participating in Jewish prayer services as part of a minyan. Our double bar mitzvah was 2½ years later than originally planned and I was now sixteen and Kyle was fourteen. We’d both just finished our junior year at MIT, but given all that had happened, having a double bar mitzvah at all was something of a miracle.

My dancing was more than a bit clumsy at first but I managed to hold my own. My dear mother, although raised as a Roman Catholic, seemed to be a natural at dancing the Hora. I’d long ago mastered Hebrew, along with dozens of other languages, but Jewish traditions were an entirely different matter. Hell, I hadn’t even known I was one-quarter Jewish until I started to delve into my family’s past. It was then that I discovered that my maternal grandmother had been Jewish, which meant that by traditional Jewish laws, I was considered to be Jewish too. With a name like Francis Lynn San Angelo, who would’ve thought I was Jewish? I didn’t exactly look Jewish either, taking after the Irish side of my father’s family. I was a redheaded, freckle-faced kid who went by the nickname, ‘Freck’. I’d been raised as a Roman Catholic, but I considered myself to be an agnostic – a radical agnostic – which basically meant that I rejected all forms of organized religion. However, unlike my boyfriend, Kyle, I wasn’t an atheist either.

I believed atheism fell short in two major respects – it places absolute faith in science, and as a corollary, it assumes that the universe and all life arose by chance. However, science is a method for acquiring knowledge based on hypotheses, experimentation, data collection and logic. Science can only explain what it can test and, frankly, some things just aren’t testable – at least not with our current level of understanding. Although the scientific method has essentially proven the theory of evolution, there’s insufficient data upon which to test theories for the very origin of life; hence such theories amount to little more than conjecture. It’s a classic case of chicken versus egg, in which the enzymes that transcribe proteins from DNA couldn’t have arisen without the enzymes to transcribe them in the first place. A radical agnostic believes neither that a creator is necessary, nor that one can be ruled out. For all we know, the universe is some super-being’s middle school science project, but if that’s the case, who or what created the creator?

So why were my boyfriend and I going through with a double bar mitzvah when neither of us believed in religion? In Ky’s case, it was because he was raised in Jewish traditions and carried forth as his older brother did before him. My case was a bit murkier, as I was raised nominally as a Roman Catholic by parents who were not at all religious. To them, attending mass was strictly something for show. However, once I knew I had Jewish blood, I embarked on an intense study of my roots and of Jewish traditions, even making the decision to begin the rigorous studies required for a bar mitzvah. It was as if I’d suddenly found a piece of the puzzle of my life that I hadn’t even realized was missing.

As the two phalanxes of dancers wound their way down the outer aisles of the sanctuary, with the rabbi clearing the left half of the room and the assistant rabbi clearing the right half, we proceeded out one set of doors and through another that brought us into the reception hall. The two phalanxes seemed to come together, but then each started to form a separate spiral as we wound ourselves into tighter and tighter circles of dancers. The Hora involved a Yemeni step in which the right foot alternated between crossing in front of and then behind the left foot. It was a simple pattern that was easy to master, but most of the congregants had been dancing the Hora since they were in kindergarten. The non-Jews among us, which essentially included me, kept tripping over our feet and throwing everyone else off, but it didn’t matter ’cause we were all having fun.

Suddenly, a chair was thrust in front of me and the rabbi forced me down into the chair. She was surprisingly strong! The next thing I knew, the chair was being hoisted into the air with me in it as the people around us broke into concentric circles and continued to dance as the cantor played his guitar. I saw that Kyle was also in a chair, high above another set of concentric circles of dancers as we both were lifted over the crowd. Then the outer-most circles merged into a single ring that encompassed both Kyle’s and my circles of dancers. That was followed by the next largest ring and the next one after that, until Kyle and I were both in the center of a single set of concentric rings of dancers, held high in our chairs and facing each other. The effect was really cool.

After lowering both chairs and setting them down, the rabbi grabbed my hand and then had me grab Kyle’s hand and she led us out through the rings. Grabbing the hand of each person we passed, we unraveled the circles back into a single snaking line of dancers that wound its way around the room. We danced to song after song as the cantor led us in singing a series of traditional Hebrew songs that everyone else seemed to know by heart, but then again, most of the participants had been singing them all their lives.

Ordinarily, the reception for our double bar mitzvah would’ve been held in the synagogue, but our dear friend, Asher Whitmore, had offered to prepare a Cajun-Asian feast for the celebration. Since Asher was considered one of the top chefs in New York, we could hardly refuse. Although the congregation was Reform, the synagogue kept a kosher kitchen and that meant that any food served in the synagogue had to be prepared by a kosher caterer. The only members of either of our families who kept kosher were those in Kyle’s family who lived in Brazil. After the fiasco of their behavior at Kyle’s fathers’ wedding, they weren’t invited this time. Therefore, the reception was being held at Kyle’s family’s home, just a one-mile walk away.

The walk reminded me of a similar walk four years ago, when Kyle’s biological father, Jake, married Kyle’s other father, Ken, in an elaborate ceremony held nearby on Wave Hill. For their honeymoon, they took my boyfriend Kyle, his brother and me with them to Europe and the Middle East because, as they put it, they wanted to see the trip through our eyes. They’re such amazing dads! It was while visiting Yad Vashem, the holocaust remembrance center in Jerusalem, that I discovered that my mother’s family was documented in their extensive genealogy database. I was shocked to learn that her family was alleged to have survived the German occupation of France by collaborating with the Nazis.

How strange to think that I might never have been born had it not been for the evil facilitated by some of my ancestors. I couldn’t help but wonder how many others were never born because of my family’s despicable actions. There was nothing I could do to undo the past, but perhaps I could in some small way make amends by the way in which I lived my life. What better way, then, to assuage my family history than to study my Jewish roots and to become a bar mitzvah? It didn’t change the way I felt about religion or god, but it brought closure and acceptance to a vital part of who I was and who I wanted to be.

We walked so slowly that even the slowest of our guests would have no trouble keeping pace with us. Thus it took nearly an hour to walk the short distance to Kyle’s family’s house in Riverdale, an affluent section of the Bronx just north of Manhattan and right on the Hudson. When we arrived, we walked directly around the side of the house and out onto the extensive terrace and its breathtaking view of the Hudson, Riverdale Park, the Riverdale Metro North rail station, the Riverdale Yacht Club and the New Jersey Palisades across the way. A large tent had been erected on the terrace, mostly as a precaution in case it rained. The weather, however, was spectacular, with ample sunshine and temperatures in the seventies, and so the side flaps were all raised and the tent provided much needed shade.

The French doors leading from the great room to the terrace were already wide open and we could see the caterers, along with Asher and his husband, Seth, who were preparing the food for the dinner reception. As Kyle and I walked through the screen doors to greet our friends, however, I was shocked to see how they were dressed. Kyle noticed it at the same time I did, exclaiming, “You’re wearing speedos!”

“Well yeah,” Seth replied. “It’s supposed to be a pool party, after all.”

“Yeah, but the pool party’s not supposed to start until after the reception, in the late afternoon,” I explained. Kyle and I were still in our suits and ties, and we’d told all the other kids to wear casual clothes for the service and to bring their swimsuits with them to change into later.

By then, people were filtering into the great room from outside and predictably, when Josh saw that Asher and Seth were wearing their speedos, he asked, “Where can we change?”

I was about to say that we’d change later, when Kyle answered, “Up the stairs and the first door on the right for boys, first door on the left for girls. There are signs pointing you in the right direction once you’re up there.” Fuck!

Not only did Josh and his boyfriend, Dave, head upstairs, but Josh’s sister, Robin, and her boyfriend, Larry, headed upstairs as well, followed by Carl, Clarke, Tanner, Zach, Zach’s brother, Jake, and Sandy. Next came Kyle’s cousins, Steve, Jason and Phil, and then Craig came in with his wheelchair-bound boyfriend, Simon, who asked, “Is there a place where I can change?”

In the meantime, Kyle’s older brother, Roger, had followed them in, with Kyle’s dads right behind him. Before I could say anything about not having to change until later, Roger answered, “There are bath and shower rooms on the pool level that you can reach via a ramp outside. I’ll take you there.”

After Roger left with Craig and Simon, Kyle’s father, Jake, not to be confused with Zach’s brother, came up to us and asked, “I thought people weren’t supposed to change into their swimsuits until after dinner. When did you decide to have everyone change now?”

“I didn’t,” I replied. “Asher and Seth were already wearing their swimsuits when we got here so when people started arriving, they asked where they could change. I guess they just assumed we’d planned it that way, and once Kyle told them where the bedrooms were, there was no going back.”

“In that case, maybe we’d better change into our swimsuits, too,” Ken, Ky’s other dad responded.

“But the pool party was supposed to be later, for the kids,” Jake pointed out. “We already have the adults seated separately, so it shouldn’t matter. Besides, the adults weren’t told to bring their swimsuits.”

“We have more than enough extra swimsuits to go around for those who want them,” Ken suggested.

“What about the women?” Jake asked.

“Oops, that could be a problem…”

While the dads were sorting things out, Kyle learned over and whispered, “C’mon, Freck. Let’s lose the suits and go change into our speedos.”

“But what about Roger?” I asked. “Do we really want all of the video and the photos he shoots to be of us in our speedos?”

“Hmm… I hadn’t thought of that.” Then after a pause, Kyle grinned and said, “Well look at it this way – there’ll never be a time when we look better in our speedos than right now. With all the swimming you do, you’re ripped —”

“I am not,” I protested.

“Freck, you’re a stud. You look sexy as hell in a speedo. I’m the one who should be self-conscious —”

“Are you kidding?” I replied. “You’re already starting to get chest hair, at fourteen, and you shave. And thanks to all the exercises we’ve been doing together, you’ve got muscles too. You look way sexier than I do in a speedo.”

“You’re biased. However, don’t you think it’d look weird if all the other kids are in their swimwear and we’re wearing suits,” Kyle added. “If nothing else, we’ll get a laugh looking back at the photos when we’re old, like in our fifties.”

After thinking about it for a moment, I lamented, “Oh well, at least we’ll be wearing formalwear in our wedding photos.”

Kyle replied with an impish smile, “So much for my thoughts about having a nudist wedding…”

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Three Years Earlier

The original plan for the Bar Mitzvahs had been for Kyle and I to study together with his family’s rabbi. With that in mind, we’d scheduled our double bar mitzvah for Saturday, December 19, the week before Christmas, in 2020. The idea behind that date was that it was shortly after Kyle’s twelfth birthday and just before my fourteenth birthday. Most boys undergo their bar mitzvah when they turn thirteen, but Orthodox girls go through bat mitzvah at the age of twelve and so we thought that Kyle might be able to do so as well, so that the two of us could undergo our bar mitzvahs together. After all, Kyle looked much older than his actual age and intellectually, he was lightyears ahead. December 19 fell before my fourteenth birthday, which would’ve allowed me to complete my bar mitzvah while I was still thirteen. For some reason at the time, that was important to me. Of course we didn’t yet know about Covid-19, which would have upended our plans in any case, let alone about the outrage that followed the death of a black man in Minneapolis at the hands of the police. Little did we know that attending a Black Lives Matter protest would forever change the course of our lives.

It was on Memorial Day of 2020 that an ignominious man named George Floyd attempted to use a counterfeit $20 bill to buy a pack of cigarettes. That he died at the hands of the police might have gone unnoticed had it not been for the bravery of a teenage girl who recorded the whole incident on her smartphone. What she documented was effectively a lynching by means of a police officer’s knee, as other officers looked on. Kyle and I were horrified, as were all of our friends, and so we attended protests every day after finishing our schoolwork. Union Square has long been a place of peaceful protest, as well as a natural gathering place for teens and young adults. Surrounded by multiple restaurants and cafés and with two of New York’s best-known bookstores – Barnes & Noble’s flagship store and The Strand – it was the kind of place you came to spend an afternoon with friends, no matter where you lived in the city. Located on top of Manhattan’s busiest subway station and bordered by the city’s first dedicated busway on Fourteenth Street, and a host of bus routes running up and down the Park Avenue South corridor, it was accessible from just about everywhere.

There were reports of looting and sporadic violence in other cities, but the Black Lives Matter protests in Union Square had been peaceful, so we were blissfully unaware of how that was about to change. Unbeknownst to us, a mob of protesters from the Barclay Center in Brooklyn had crossed the Manhattan Bridge and was proceeding up Bowery, headed our way. As a precaution, the NYPD decided to clear Washington and Union Squares, hoping to avoid any violence before it began. In the process, Kyle and I were separated from our friends and found ourselves on the opposite side of a police barricade from where we were supposed to meet up with them. We didn’t know it at the time, but Asher and Seth had been caught in the middle and ended up being arrested, so there was no one waiting for us there anyway.

Kyle doesn’t have any memories of that day, but the sight of a police officer in riot gear hitting him hard on the left side of his head with a baton will haunt me the rest of my days. The result was an epidural hematoma – a massive bleed inside Kyle’s skull that nearly took his life. We were lucky that an ambulance and paramedics were already there on standby, and that they were able to get Kyle to a pediatric trauma center so quickly.

He was taken directly to surgery and the left half of his skull was removed so they could repair a torn artery, remove an enormous blood clot and give his brain room to expand. They placed his skull flap in a deep freeze until they could put it back, months later, leaving him with one side of his head that was quite sunken. After the surgery, they kept him in an induced coma for a week, hoping to limit the extent of any brain damage, but even after they stopped the sedatives, he still was in a coma for another week. It was slow going at first, and he could barely talk. Saying anything more than a few cuss words took him forever, which wasn’t like Kyle at all, as he’d always had a sharp wit and could trash-talk with the best of us.

Once he was medically stable and his breathing and feeding tubes had been removed, they fit him with a helmet to protect his brain while his skull flap was still in the freezer. Then it was off to the Kennedy-Krieger Institute at Johns Hopkins, in Baltimore, for a course of intensive brain injury rehabilitation. For Ky, it was like going to school all over again as he learned how to get around in a wheelchair, how to eat without stabbing himself in the eyes, how to use the bathroom without pissing on the floor, and most importantly, how to talk. Although he could do most things for himself by the time he returned to New York, he still couldn’t walk on his own.

He had something called apraxia, which is where you know what to do and can even do some things that are automatic, such as scratching an itch, but can’t initiate purposeful movements. When he tried to walk, he tripped over his own feet and fell flat on his face. The only way for him to get around on his own was in a wheelchair. It took over a year for him to regain enough motor control to get out of the wheelchair and take more than a few steps on his own.

Unable to return to his own house in Riverdale, a front-to-back split level with lots of stairs, my mother offered to let him stay with me in her brownstone on the Upper West Side. The house had once been owned by a quadriplegic attorney who modernized it and made it fully accessible. There was an elevator that was made to look like a gilded cage right in the center of the main stairway, which allowed Ky to go anywhere within the house and to easily access the outdoor garden. There was also a street-level entrance he could access via the kitchen. Thanks to my mom, who understood how much we meant to each other, we were able to spend all our nights together in spite of our young age. I really think it was our shared love that helped to pull both of us through Kyle’s ordeal. I always thought it was a trite expression, but Kyle truly was the love of my life – my soulmate.

At the time of Kyle’s injury, we were both seniors at Stuyvesant High School, one of the best public schools in the world. Although we could’ve graduated from high school and matriculated at MIT, where we’d already been accepted for the fall semester, me in the combined architecture and civil engineering program and Kyle in astrophysics, we were only thirteen and eleven years old, respectively. Instead, we took college-level courses at the High School for Math, Science and Engineering, on the City College campus in Harlem. Thus Kyle was able to continue his education while recovering from his injury. We hired private physical, occupational and speech therapists who worked with Kyle daily and slowly, he recovered most of his lost abilities.

Of course, our plans to complete our Jewish studies and to have a double bar mitzvah took a back seat to Kyle’s recovery. We’d intended to get back to them, but they just weren’t a priority when Kyle was learning how to speak, write and walk all over again, and when I was helping him with his therapies at every step of the way. We met with the rabbi to discuss rescheduling our double bar mitzvah, but a lot of people had requested postponements because of the pandemic. No one wanted to have a virtual bar mitzvah. The problem was that there are only 52 Saturdays in the year, many of them unavailable due to Jewish holidays. People scheduled their bar mitzvahs years in advance and even with the permission of those already scheduled to allow for doubling up, everything was booked solid through late 2022. We hoped to be heading off to MIT in the fall of 2022, and so our Jewish studies fell by the wayside.

However, just as Kyle returned to New York to begin his outpatient rehabilitation, something else arose that took up much of my time. An off-hand comment about operating food carts during the pandemic turned into a personal obsession of mine…

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Late July, 2020

“It’s a good idea, though, right?” I asked. We were having a small party at my mom’s place to celebrate the completion of Kyle’s inpatient brain injury rehab and his return to New York. Most of the guests had already left and now it was just Asher, Seth, Kyle and me. We were sitting in the garden, just behind the great room, and I’d rather naïvely suggested that Asher start a Cajun-Asian food cart business. Asher’s family had had a very successful all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant, the Ragin’ Cajun, and they still had an Asian takeout restaurant on the Lower East Side. Although the Asian place did very well during the pandemic, the Ragin’ Cajun was ill-suited to the restrictions imposed by New York State under Covid-19. When their landlord was arrested for corruption, the building in which the Ragin’ Cajun was located was seized, along with everything Asher’s family had invested in the restaurant.

Even at sixteen, Asher was an experienced chef who’d helped out in his parents’ Asian takeout restaurant since he could reach the burners on the stove. Just days before the Ragin’ Cajun was set to open, his mom was struck by a kid on an e-bike while she was crossing Grand Street. There was no way his dad could manage two restaurants at once and so Asher opened and managed the Ragin’ Cajun with the help of his boyfriend, Seth, and their friends while his mom recovered from her injuries. Asher’s mother was an Asian American and his father was a black Creole, and Asher had developed his own unique style of Cajun-Asian fusion. The food editor for the New York Times wrote that the Ragin’ Cajun served the best Cajun cuisine outside of New Orleans and in no time, it was booked for months in advance and the lines for walk-ins and takeout stretched around the block – but then it closed. Although reopening the restaurant in the midst of a pandemic wasn’t possible, I thought that perhaps a food cart might be a way for Asher to get back into the business.

“It’s an incredible idea,” Seth responded, echoing my enthusiasm. “Even after the pandemic’s over, a food cart would be popular, and rather than cannibalizing the restaurant business, it would whet appetites for a real sit-down meal at our restaurant. We’d hafta muscle in on the existing food cart business, but I think people would appreciate having an alternative to the Middle Eastern food carts that dominate the city. Why stop at one, though? Maybe we could buy out one of the existing vendors that’s not doing so well, or maybe we could find a partner among them. It’s a great idea, Freck. Thanks!”

“Hey, what good is knowing a super-genius if you can’t take advantage of him?” I quipped, causing my boyfriend to give me a playful shove.

I knew that many food cart vendors were struggling ’cause people were working from home, and foot traffic had dried up, but there were still plenty of places where food carts were doing well, particularly around hospitals, where first responders and hospital personnel were too busy to stop to eat a proper meal. The problem was that most food carts served hotdogs, pretzels, knishes or in particular, Mediterranean food, and there was little to distinguish one cart from another. As I saw it, Asher’s outstanding cooking would add something fresh to the mix and would give him a leg up on the competition.

But then Asher brought us back down to earth by asking, “You do realize the city makes it just about impossible to get started in the food cart business, don’t you? My parents looked into it after they graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, thinking it might be easier than trying to start a restaurant from scratch. The number of permits is strictly limited and people wait years to get one. It’s almost as bad as it used to be with taxi medallions, before the likes of Uber came along. Anyway, when my parents saw what they were up against, they decided to open a takeout restaurant instead.”

“There’s a lot involved with fielding food carts too,” Seth added. “I remember listening to a podcast on NPR in which they interviewed some of the vendors. There’s a constant battle over legal spots for food trucks, and the competition for prime locations for sidewalk carts is brutal. Sidewalk carts are easier to place, but they need to be resupplied throughout the day, and that means having a team of drivers to deliver fresh food to them.”

“I still think it’s a good idea, though,” I reiterated. “It’ll probably be a while before you can even think of opening a new restaurant.”

“I dunno, it’d be a major commitment with an iffy chance for success,” Asher said.

Looking at his phone, Seth added, “I’m on the city’s website and each food cart needs to have its own permit. If you wanna have twenty food carts, you need twenty licenses and they hafta be renewed every two years at a cost of something like $2,000 each. There’s only 2,900 permits issued for year-round use for the entire city of New York, and an additional 1,000 permits for seasonal use during the summer. There are a hundred permits reserved for veterans and the disabled —”

“Ky could help with that!” I exclaimed.

“You really want your boyfriend to sit out in the rain selling jambalaya?” Seth asked. Kyle attempted to give him the finger, but couldn’t quite get his fingers to do what he wanted them to do and gave up in disgust.

“There are also 200 borough-specific permits, so you’re lookin’ at maybe 4,200 total permits, with people waiting for years to get one, and there’s more,” Seth continued. He went on to list the requirements for inspections, licensing, refrigeration, temperature monitoring, ventilation and tanks for drinking, washing and waste water. “In other words, you need a kitchen on wheels. A sidewalk cart can be no more than five feet wide by ten feet long. The sidewalk hasta be at least twelve feet wide and you must be at least ten feet from any crosswalk, subway entrance or driveway, and twenty feet from any building entrance —”

“Well that sure limits things, doesn’t it?” Asher stated more than asked. “It’s no wonder food carts are located only in certain places.”

“It also can’t be in a loading or no-standing zone or next to a bus stop,” Seth continued. “It goes without saying that food trucks have to obey all traffic laws and pass vehicle as well as a health department inspections, and you can’t park them in a metered space.”

“Try finding a non-metered space near a hospital,” Asher complained. “Not that I’ll even be eligible for a commercial driver’s license for another two years.”

“The biggest issue, however, is that you hafta have a separate ‘commissary’ for meal prep and to house the carts overnight,” Seth went on. “You can’t leave the carts parked on city sidewalks nor trucks on city streets, and you can’t prepare the food in a private home. Food hasta be prepared in a dedicated facility which itself needs to be licensed and inspected by the Board of Health.”

“So you still need a kitchen,” Asher concluded. “Jeez, you might as well open a restaurant! It’s no wonder my parents decided on doing takeout instead.”

“Perhaps you could p…partner with an existing food cart vendor,” Kyle suggested. “You’d provide the recipes and they’d provide the equipment, personnel and permits.”

“You could even apply for one of those pandemic-related loans that you don’t even hafta pay back,” I pointed out.

“It’s a real opportunity,” Seth chimed in.

“Yeah, but a lot of work with little chance for a decent return,” Asher complained.

“But it’d be a chance to keep your oars in the water,” Seth argued. “You’d whet the city’s appetite for your Cajun-Asian food, and maybe even spread it to all five boroughs. Then, once this wretched pandemic’s over, you’ll open a new Ragin’ Cajun and people will flock to it anew.”

“I dunno. I’d hafta run it by Dad,” Asher lamented, “and he’s likely to point out that school comes first – which it does. The back-to-school ads have already started, and you know what that means. It’ll probably be his decision more than mine. We’d definitely need to partner with someone and we’d need an iron-clad contract to keep them from simply walking away – with my recipes. Besides, I wouldn’t have a clue as to how to find a partner.”

“Would Gary know any food cart vendors?” I asked. Gary was Asher’s father.

Shaking his head, Asher answered, “I doubt it. “None of them serves the Lower East Side and they don’t exactly purchase food from the same suppliers we use. Most of the carts are either kosher or halal. A few of them are Asian but in name only, serving food like you get at a place like Panda Express. They pretty much keep to themselves.”

“Let me look into it. I still have connections to the financial world through my dad’s brokerage,” I suggested. My dad had been the CEO of one of the largest brokerage firms in the world, but he’d always been distant, and then he died from Covid-19 in the early days of the pandemic. “I might have a handle on who’s in dire enough straits to accept a goyish partner.”

Laughing, Kyle said, “Goyish is an English b…bastardization of the Yiddish word, Goy, which means someone who isn’t Jewish. I don’t know if Muslims have an equivalent, other than inf…fidel, but they certainly wouldn’t use Yiddish.”

“Point well taken,” I replied.

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The pandemic had been hard on a lot of businesses, particularly when it came to buffet restaurants like the Ragin’ Cajun. On the whole, Asher’s family had done okay because of their Asian takeout place, which was ideally suited to life during the pandemic. However, once I had the idea of resurrecting the Ragin’ Cajun as a food cart business, l could think of little else. The smart thing was to do what Asher’s parents were already doing – to wait out the pandemic – but I’d never been known for my patience. On top of helping Kyle with his therapy sessions and recovery from a devastating injury, I was bound and determined to help my best friends get started in the food cart business.

Although I didn’t know shit about food carts, I’d internalized a bit of my dad’s wisdom when it came to the world of business and finance. Takeout and delivery services were booming, but with people working from home, the food cart business was in real trouble; however, that in and of itself presented a real opportunity. I looked into it and found that there was plenty of demand – it just wasn’t in the locations where food carts typically operated. Not only that, but most of the carts served the same Mediterranean food, whereas their customers craved variety. It was a classic mismatch, borne of the city’s antiquated regulations and a stagnant industry that had seen no reason to change.

Even with a global pandemic and people working and studying from home, there was no shortage of entrepreneurs willing to take a chance on food carts. I spent the week after the party looking up public information on food cart vendors and made surprisingly little headway. Most were struggling to be sure, but for every vendor who called it quits, there were several in line waiting to acquire their permits. It seemed that all the vendors were trying to be the last one standing, selling off critical assets with the hope of staying alive long enough for business to return. Asher had a real shot at picking up some of their business by offering a superior product, if he could get carts with permits and if he could find legal spots to place them.

As I expected, most vendors were fighting over the limited locations around hospitals and other essential services. I was surprised to see that very few vendors were targeting the areas around precinct stations and fire houses, but it didn’t take me long to find out why. Firehouses in particular had a tradition of cooking all their own meals. Indeed, there were entire cookbooks dedicated to firehouse recipes. Firefighters couldn’t leave their stations, so they really didn’t have a choice but to cook their own meals. The police, on the other hand, were mobile. They spent only a fraction of their time in their respective precinct houses, so naturally they picked up their food in the neighborhoods they served, but that gave me an idea.

People weren’t eating near where they worked because they were working from home. Students weren’t eating near their schools because they were learning from home. They still needed to eat, but restaurants were closed and supermarkets were requiring masks and social distancing, and people were scared of getting sick from going out to grocery shop. Instead, many of them were spending a fortune on grocery and restaurant delivery. Of course, most neighborhoods had their local bodega or family restaurant for takeout, but I could see a real opportunity for a food cart to provide something different – something worth going out for.

Obviously, it wouldn’t be practical for residents in communities dominated by single family homes to walk several blocks to get a bite from a food cart. However, in denser neighborhoods dominated by large high-rise apartment buildings, a lone food truck could offer a reprieve to the usual takeout and delivery options, at a much lower cost. Even in housing projects like the ones that dominated much of the Lower East Side, people who couldn’t afford food delivery could afford a bite from a food cart.

So I had a strategy, but Asher still needed permits and equipment, and for that he needed a partner. Although I couldn’t yet get data for food cart vendors operating during the pandemic, what I could do was to look up pre-pandemic data on the operations of larger food cart vendors. For that, I went to my dad’s former brokerage firm and used my connections to assemble spreadsheets of who, what and where they operated, and their financials from 2019 and before. Based on the data, it wasn’t hard to figure out who among them was struggling the most.

I didn’t consider Asian food cart vendors, ’cause they already occupied their own niche. I eliminated the pretzel and knish vendors, as their carts wouldn’t be large enough to meet Asher’s needs. I wasn’t sure that hot dog vendors would have adequate equipment either, but they were worth considering. Primarily, that left Middle Eastern food cart vendors serving halal Mediterranean fare. I showed the list to Asher and Seth and, although Asher was spending the summer working in his parents’ Asian takeout restaurant, his schedule was flexible, and so we arranged to go visit the most promising candidates. We couldn’t exactly show up unannounced, yet if we called in advance and even hinted at our interest in a partnership, they’d probably balk at meeting with teenagers. We were all high school students and wouldn’t be taken seriously, but that also presented us with an angle – an excuse to make an appointment with them.

I called each of the vendors and requested an interview for a school project on how the pandemic was affecting the city’s food cart vendors. At first we thought we might conduct the interviews by Zoom conference, but many of the vendors were old-school and might not agree to a virtual meeting. Besides which, a lot would be lost in attempting to make a business proposition over the internet, so we agreed we’d need to meet with them in person. We’d have to wear our masks and could only hope that the vendors also wore theirs. We decided not to involve Kyle in the interview process, even though he was my other half, as the added dimension of access for his wheelchair would limit the vendors we could visit. All but one of the vendors on my list agreed to meet with us.

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Our first interview was with Samuel Goldberg, who owned twenty hot dog stands that used to populate Midtown Manhattan. Although twenty food carts would be about right for our initial effort, the design would probably be too limiting for the presentation of Asher’s food. Hot dog stands primarily served one product, with a variety of condiments, as well as canned sodas. That formula would never work with Cajun food, but I was keeping an open mind. Cajun Hots, anyone? We arrived fifteen minutes early for our appointment, and we were still waiting nearly an hour later, when Mr. Goldberg finally breezed in right past us and into his office – and shut the door. We asked his secretary to remind him that we had an appointment to interview him, which she did, and yet it was another twenty minutes before he opened his door.

“So what can I do for you gentlemen?” he asked as he barely poked his head out the door, still wearing his yarmulke, but his face mask was nowhere in sight.

“Uh, we have an appointment to interview you,” I answered. “We’re doing a school project on effect of the pandemic on the food cart business.”

“Remember, I mentioned it to you last week?” his secretary chimed in.

Shaking his head, he said, “Why don’t you come in?” as he swung his door open. His office was a mess, with papers covering every available surface, including the two chairs where I suppose guests were supposed to sit. Apparently, he didn’t get many guests. When he realized that there were three of us, he frantically tried shuffling papers around, moving piles of papers from the seats to the floor, but that still left us shy one chair. His secretary responded by moving one of the extra chairs from her office to his, but that made it impossible to close the door. That was probably for the best, as Mr. Goldberg still wasn’t wearing his face mask.

Once we were finally seated, I began, “Thank you very much for agreeing to meet with us. I’m Francis San Angelo, and this is Asher White and Seth Moore. We’re students at Stuyvesant High School and we’re doing a class project over the summer on the effect of the pandemic on the food cart business. We’d like to ask you some questions and then discuss your thoughts about the future of the food cart business.”

After he said nothing and seemingly continued to stare off into space, I continued, “Mr. Goldberg, it’s no secret that with the shut-down, people aren’t going to work and tourists aren’t coming here. The food cart business is built around workers and tourists, so how have you been coping with the pandemic?”

“How are we coping, he asks,” he replied as he continued to stare off into space. “How are we coping with this hoax of a pandemic, and people like sheep who believe in it.”

“With all due respect, Mr. Goldberg, my own father died from Covid-19. He didn’t even know he had it. One day he didn’t come into work, and so his company sent the police. They found him dead on the floor of his apartment He’d drowned in his own fluid, caused by viral pneumonia.”

“And who told you this?” Mr. Goldberg asked as he looked right at me. “He was found by the police, right? So the autopsy was done by the medical examiner’s office. They’re in on the conspiracy, so of course they told you he died of the virus. It’s all part of the hoax.”

The man was off his rocker, and there was no way he’d make a viable business partner, but before I could say anything else, Asher dug in deep and added, “You don’t understand, Freck’s – or rather Francis’s father was too well known to simply disappear like that. His father was Frank San Angelo, the CEO of one of the most famous brokerages in the world, so of course there was an independent autopsy. The results were the same. He died of Covid.”

Then Seth added more fuel to the fire by saying, “We have a good friend whose mother nearly died of Covid. She works as a nurse at the NYU Langone Medical Center. Because of the pandemic, they reassigned her to Bellevue, where she took care of Covid patients in intensive care, only she got it and ended up a patient in the ICU herself. Before that, she worked day in and day out to take care of patients with Covid-19. There’s no way anyone could’ve faked it.”

“Don’t you see, she was in on it!” Mr. Goldberg replied. “First there was the pandemic, then there was Black Lives Matter. It’s all a plot by Antifa to take over the government!” This guy was on another planet. He reminded me of the idiots who claimed NASA faked the moon landings – never mind that nearly a million folks who worked on the Apollo missions would’ve had to maintain their silence. Conspiracy theorists always need someone to blame for their ills; hence they can’t accept that the simplest explanation is the truth.

All the evidence in the world wasn’t gonna convince him that the pandemic was nothing more than a hoax to put him out of business and for the leftists and socialists to overthrow the government. After a pause, he actually echoed my sentiments in reverse by saying, “You know what? This is a useless waste of time. Nothing I say is going to convince you that the pandemic isn’t real. You’ve all been brainwashed by the left. It’s hopeless. My secretary should have told you not to bother.”

As I prepared to get up and get out of there, Asher dug in his heels even more and said, “Mr. Goldberg, I fully understand how you feel. Being of mixed race as I am, you can imagine what I’ve faced all my life, and you can imagine what my parents went through when my dad, a Creole shvartsa from New Orleans and my mom, a Chinese American from Queens, tied the knot. My dad’s family still won’t accept my mom – or me. Still, my parents own an Asian takeout place on Grand Street that’s rather popular in the Jewish community. We used to have a Cajun restaurant too, but the Feds seized the building and shut it down.”

“Can we please stop talking about things that might be the result of conspiracies and instead talk about how to deal with them?” I suggested. “I’ve done some research on foot traffic patterns in New York and although there’s no data yet on the effect of the pandemic, it’s easy to infer the impact on specific locations, based on the existing data —”

“How old did you say your are, young man?”

“I’m thirteen years old, sir,” I answered.

“And he’s a senior at Stuyvesant, New York’s best public high school,” Seth added.

Shaking his head, Mr. Goldberg said, “It’s no wonder you’re so clueless. You have brains but no smarts. So you were saying?"

“What I realized is that to survive, let alone succeed, you need to go where the people are. If people are working from home, you need to go to where they live, and if they’re stuck taking care of their kids, you need to have a kid-friendly menu too. A handful of vendors have actually managed to thrive by doing just that, but only a few.”

“You think I didn’t consider that?” Mr. Goldberg responded. “People grab food from a food cart as a spur of the moment decision. They see us in passing, or they get hungry and remember grabbing a hotdog a couple days before. They have to go out anyway, but we’re more convenient and we’re faster than fast food, and nothing beats a kosher hot with all the fixings. When they’re working from home, they have a kitchen and a fridge stocked with food. If they don’t feel like making something or nuking a frozen dinner, they order takeout. Why go out when someone will bring the food, right to your door? And there may well be multiple mouths to feed. Both kids and adults love hotdogs, but parents feel guilty feeding hotdogs to their kids.”

“Those are all valid points,” Seth chimed in, “but you don’t need for people to make a habit of stopping by your carts every day. Asher and I live in one of the co-ops on the Lower East Side. There are some five thousand apartments in Co-op Village, straddling the east end of Grand Street. Most of the residents are middle-class and can’t afford to order takeout very often. If they do order takeout, it’ll be from a neighborhood place like Zafi’s Luncheonette or Asher’s parents’ Asian takeout, and they’ll pick it up themselves rather than pay for delivery. Trust me, if you park a hotdog cart on Grand Street, in the center of one of the co-ops, you’ll have more business than you know what to do with.

“A hotdog costs, what, $2.50 or maybe three dollars with all the fixings?” Seth asked and Mr. Goldberg nodded. “So a couple of hot dogs cost five or six dollars, and it’s enough to feed a mother and her kid – or one teenage boy,” he added and we all laughed. “People who live in my neighborhood can afford that. People who live in the projects can even afford that.”

“You talked about impulse buying,” I chimed in. “What about ice cream trucks? They certainly don’t have any trouble attracting customers in residential neighborhoods.”

“Yeah, but those are kids. They flock to ice cream like sharks to a fishing boat.”

“They’re young kids, but not many teens are satisfied with ice cream. With kids at home during the school day, what do you think the average high school student would crave, an ice cream cone or one of your hotdogs?”

Laughing heartily, Mr. Goldberg replied, “Can you picture hotdog trucks, prowling our neighborhood streets? The trouble is, the city has rules for ice cream trucks, which can move and stand, and food trucks, which have to be parked.”

“Is there any rule that says an ice cream truck can’t also sell hotdogs?” I asked.

“Even if there isn’t, you’re forgetting one thing. I don’t actually own any ice cream trucks, and they ain’t cheap. In ordinary times I might consider the investment, but permits are limited and I’m not sure my food cart permits would even transfer. But these aren’t ordinary times and I’m up to my eyeballs in debt. I’m not exactly in a position to purchase ice cream trucks.

“Your idea about parking some of my carts in high-density, middle-class neighborhoods is a good one, but finding spots without driveways, crosswalks and twelve-foot-wide sidewalks would be a challenge! It’s definitely something I’ll look into, though.”

“Have you applied for Covid relief funds?” Seth asked.

“And have the government peering over my shoulder? Thanks but no thanks.” Jeez, this guy’s paranoia was going to be his undoing.

“Would you consider partnering with someone else?” Asher asked. “Maybe by diversifying beyond kosher hots, you could attract more business. It might give you a leg up on the other hotdog stands.”

“Like what am I gonna offer that I can sell along with my hotdogs? I already sell beef dogs, turkey dogs and red hots. I already sell grilled onions, grilled peppers, and chili for my dogs. I already sell soft drinks, chips and knishes. Maybe I could add pretzels, but I’m not sure where I’d put’em. Some customers have asked for hamburgers or even grilled chicken, but I’d need larger carts, and everything hasta be kosher.”

“A partner would bring fresh ideas, and maybe some cash,” Asher continued.

“And they’d take a share of the profits, if there are any profits. I’d never consider a partner who didn’t keep kosher, though. One screwup and I might as well throw the affected carts out, for what it’d take to re-kosher them.”

“That means no pork, no dairy and no shellfish, right?” Asher asked.

“And only kosher meat,” Mr. Goldberg added. “Everything has to be certified and blessed by a recognized orthodox rabbi. There are no exceptions.”

“There goes my plan for a Cajun hot dog stand,” Asher quipped and Mr. Goldberg laughed along with us. Little did he know that Asher was dead serious.

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“Well, that didn’t go very well,” I sighed as we sat around the table in the great room of my mother’s brownstone. Kyle had joined us and was shocked by the crazy conspiracy theories Mr. Goldberg was convinced were true.

“With New York entering phase three, and with phase four of the reopening in sight, maybe we should just focus on finding a new place for the Ragin’ Cajun,” Asher thought aloud.

Shaking his head, Seth said, “Even with phase four, there’ll still only be outdoor dining at first, and when indoor dining returns, it’ll only be at 25% capacity. That’s still not enough to pay the rent, let alone justify the startup costs. And what’s gonna happen when there’s a new variant or something, and the city goes back into lockdown?

“I’m not saying that partnering with a food cart vendor will be easy, but it’ll allow us to do two things – we’ll be able to take advantage of existing permits, equipment and personnel, and we’ll be able to apply for Covid relief funds that we wouldn’t be eligible for in starting a new restaurant. It’s also a way for a food cart vendor who hasn’t been able to think outside the box to survive.”

“What about the kosher thing?” Kyle asked. “You said the guy insisted that he’d only partner with someone who kept kosher. He didn’t just say they had to agree to keeping the carts kosher – he said they had to keep kosher themselves.”

“That certainly leaves me out,” Asher replied. “Even if it were only a case of agreeing to keep the carts kosher, I don’t know how I’d serve Cajun food if I couldn’t mix meat and dairy or use shellfish.”

“You don’t have to have a comprehensive menu when it comes to a food cart,” Seth pointed out.

“Are the re…re…requirements the same for halal food?” Kyle asked.

“Probably.” Seth answered. “The rules come from the same source, after all.”

“Yeah, but halal’s based on the Quran,” Kyle noted.

“I know for a fact that in Mediterranean food, it’s common to mix meat with yogurt, so obviously the rules aren’t as strict when it comes to mixing meat and dairy,” I added.

“That’s ’cause the Torah says, like, three times that you can’t boil a kid in its mother’s milk,” Kyle explained. “It has to do with a pagan ritual, but the Talmud takes it a step further by sayin’ you can’t mix any meat and dairy at all.”

“That’s nuts!” I exclaimed as I rolled my eyes.

“That would make a huge difference,” Asher exclaimed. “Now if only I could use shellfish.”

After spending some time looking at his phone, Seth responded, “Apparently, you can. The Jews treat the Torah as being exclusive. In Leviticus, it states that fish without scales are unclean, so Jews who keep kosher won’t eat anything from the sea except fish with scales.”

“Sounds bass-ackwards to me,” I stated.

“And Muslims would agree with you,” Seth went on. “It’s perfectly halal to eat shellfish because they aren’t fish without scales. They aren’t fish at all. The only fish that don’t have scales that I can think of are catfish and sharks.”

“And quite possibly dolphins and whales,” I pointed out. “We know that those are sea mammals, but in biblical times they likely saw them as air-breathing fish that didn’t have scales.”

“That’s an interesting point,” Seth continued. Anyway, if a food wasn’t mentioned specifically in the Quran, then it’s okay to eat it. The only real prohibition is against eating carrion, and of course you aren’t allowed to eat animals without cloven hooves, such as pork. The main issue is that meat has to be raised and slaughtered by Muslims, according to halal practice.”

“That sounds quite a bit more promising,” Asher agreed. “We just hafta find a vendor who’s willing to take on a black Asian partner.

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We only had time to interview three more vendors before it was time to get ready for the new school year. Although none of them was as kooky as Mr. Goldberg had been, they were equally in denial when it came to their prospects for recovery from the pandemic. Neither of the vendors selling Mediterranean food was willing to partner with anyone who wasn’t a fellow Muslim. The third vendor sold barbecued ribs and although they might have been open to a partnership, there was no way their sidewalk smoker carts could be adapted to anything else, nor was the smell of the smoke they generated welcome in residential neighborhoods.

Before we knew it, the school year was upon us and Kyle and I were taking classes in a new school. Although technically, we were still high school students at Stuyvesant, we signed up for classes through the High School of Math, Science and Engineering, which allowed us access to courses at the City College of New York. We’d been taking college-level courses ever since we started at Stuyvesant. By design, Stuyvesant High School was located directly across West Street from Manhattan Community College, which was a part of the City University of New York as was City College. Indeed, Kyle had taken all of his math classes there, having long ago mastered the traditional high school math curriculum.

However at City College, none of our courses was taught on all five days of the workweek, and some courses were even taught on Saturdays in a single three-hour block, undoubtedly for the benefit of those students who worked full time. Most of our courses met for an hour on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, or for an hour and a half on Tuesday and Thursday. Complicating matters was the pandemic, which still posed a danger to the students and particularly to the professors, many of whom were older. At least for the fall semester, classroom instruction was entirely online. Associated labs, which were taught in two-hour blocks, involved a combination of home-based study and in-person experimentation, with no more than half the students in the lab at any one time.

Against the advice of his neuropsychologist, Kyle signed up for twelve credit-hours of coursework for the fall semester, which was the minimum requirement for a full-time load. Because of his ongoing therapy sessions and especially because his brain was still recovering, it was double the load his therapists thought was appropriate. In the meantime, I signed up for nineteen hours of coursework and although that would have been a heavy load for most, it was a load I knew I could handle. Secretly, I think Kyle was jealous of me, but he fervently denied it. “Surely I can handle four courses and my ongoing rehab,” he exclaimed. “All of the instruction is online, so it’s not like I have to schlep around the campus or anything. It’ll be a piece of cake.”

Unfortunately, his neuropsychologist was right – at that course load, he was doomed to fail and Kyle found himself falling further and further behind. He ended up dropping two of the courses and even so, it was still a challenge to keep up with even six hours of classes per week, plus the associated homework. He even found he had to study for the exams – something neither of us had ever had to do before. For my part, I handled all of my courses with ease, including the labs. No matter how busy I was in school, however, I never missed Kyle’s therapy sessions.

The good news was that Ky hadn’t lost any of his cognitive abilities and by the time of our high school graduation, he’d caught up with me. He liked to boast that he could still invert fourth-order tensors in his head – but for quite some time, he couldn’t write out the results. His writing was the slowest thing to recover, and he still couldn’t type as fast as he used to. The doctors told us it may never come back to the way it was, but they don’t know my Kyle.

Now that we’re done with high school, I’ve decided to start using my given name, Francis. I guess I’m finally coming to terms with my identity. Maybe someday I’ll even feel comfortable going by Frank, which was my father’s nickname. Of course, to my friends in New York, I’ll probably always be Freck, but for a kid living in the adult world, somehow the nickname doesn’t really suit me anymore. Perhaps the biggest change in my relationship with Kyle is that he’s hit a growth spurt, just as mine’s slowing down, and for the first time since I’ve known him, he’s noticeably taller than I am. Given his father’s and brother’s appearance, there’s no doubt that Kyle is destined to be quite a bit taller and hairier than I’ll ever be. Actually, I rather like the thought of a tall, hairy, handsome boyfriend.

In the meantime, as far as the food cart business was concerned, that miraculously came together, pretty much on its own…

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Friday, June 24, 2022

“So you went around to all the food cart vendors on your list, until Fareed Salim agreed to take you on as a partner?” Zach asked. We were at Asher and Seth’s surprise graduation and birthday party, thrown by their parents in the community kitchen at Essex Market. Asher had turned eighteen back in April and Seth had turned seventeen over the Memorial Day weekend, but they were both way too busy to celebrate their birthdays while preparing for exams and graduation. They’d both just graduated from high school a few days ago, as had Kyle and I, but after spending the last two years taking all our classes up at City College, it seemed rather anticlimactic to me. We were sitting with Asher and Seth as well as with some of our friends, and we were just getting to know Zach and his younger brother, Jake, who’d asked about how Ashe got into the food cart business.

Laughing, I answered, “Not on your life. We went around and interviewed every damn vendor on my list and not one of them took the bait. Some of them did take my advice and went into residential neighborhoods but there were challenges there as well, such as sidewalks that weren’t wide enough and driveways spaced every few feet apart. A few were creative and leased unused driveways and other private property for their carts, and were able to hang on until the city began to reopen,” I continued, “but with a lot of folks still working from home, business probably never will be what it was. A lot of food cart vendors just didn’t make it.”

“So how did you ever manage to talk Salim into partnering with you?” Robin asked.

“We didn’t,” Seth answered. “It was he that came to us.”

“You’re kidding, right?” Zach asked.

“No, he’s not,” Asher replied. “After all the running around and all the interviews, we got squat. Even though they were all on the brink of bankruptcy, not one of them was interested in partnering with us.”

“And then out of the blue, Gary got a call from Salim, asking if he’d consider licensing Asher’s recipes,” I explained.

“Who the hell is Gary?” Zach asked.

“Oh right,” I answered. “You wouldn’t know. Gary is Asher’s dad. He was actually considering licensing their recipes until I found out about it. I convinced him it would be a bad idea. By the time he could hope to litigate it, stolen recipes could be all over the internet and beyond his control. I told him in no uncertain terms that Salim had to have his own skin in the game, so Gary asked Salim if instead he’d be willing to partner with him.”

“In addition to his food carts, Salim ran a takeout restaurant on Fourteenth Street, literally one stop away from the old Ragin’ Cajun on the F Train,” Seth explained. “I guess he figured that if he had to have a halal kitchen to service his food carts, he might as well sell takeout too. Anyway, to him, we’d been his competition.”

“He wasn’t even on my list, ’cause he wasn’t doing all that badly,” I continued. “Although his food cart business was in the crapper, his takeout business thrived during the pandemic so overall, he did okay. The main issue for him was that, even with five daughters and a son, none of his children or grandchildren was interested in taking over the food cart business when he retired. His original plan had been to to retire n 2020, but to keep the takeout restaurant as something to do in retirement. He’d already found a buyer for his network of food carts, but then Covid happened and the buyer backed out.

“Technically, food cart permits can’t be bought or sold, and they hafta be renewed every two years. If you let your permits expire, they’ll go to the next person on the waitlist, and you’ll never get them back. Naturally, when there’s a significant imbalance in supply and demand, a black market emerges. There’d be little point in buying a food cart if you can’t get a permit for it, so people who have permits they no longer need will rent them out at a substantial markup. The city charges $2k for a two-year permit that can rent on the black market for as much as ten times that. Technically, the permit owner is still responsible for maintaining the cart to code and for paying fines if they don’t, so you don’t wanna rent your permit to just anybody.”

“A partnership agreement provides the legal framework for legitimately selling food carts with the associated permits,” Seth chimed in. “You can’t transfer the permits but you can take on a partner, who can assume responsibility for them. Provided the partner has been substantially involved in the business, based on the IRS definition, you can then sell out your share after a few years. In the end, it amounts to a sale. So Gary White and Fareed Salim were both looking for the same thing – someone to partner with them. Salim knew Gary had run two successful restaurants, and he knew that Asher had earned critical acclaim for his food. Salim’s Mediterranean food carts were struggling to survive, and the operators, each of whom was licensed and had been with him for years, were hurting.”

“Salim approached Gary with the idea of fielding Cajun food carts?” Zach asked and I nodded my head. “How ironic!”

“Exactly,” I answered. “Little did he know that we were already trying to get into the food cart business. So when Gary declined to license Asher’s recipes, Salim offered him the opportunity to buy into his food cart business for less than the fair market value of the carts. The only stipulation was that he employ the existing operators – and that everything had to be strictly halal. Salim had some of the best food trucks and sidewalk carts in the city and the permits to operate them, but he was struggling with the loss of foot traffic. As it was, he ended up laying off more than half his workforce. He was at a crossroads. Either he sold his assets, dissolved the food cart business and deferred his retirement, or he found a partner.”

“We countered with a no-cash offer in which Salim kept ownership of the carts and we managed them in return for half of the profit,” Seth added. “We didn’t need to spend a penny of our own money. Fareed wasn’t aware of the government programs to help small businesses survive the pandemic. By applying for a Federal small business loan that didn’t even need to be repaid, we were able to pay off all of his debts and hire back everyone he’d laid off. We taught Fareed’s kitchen staff how to prepare Asher’s recipes in their halal kitchen, after they signed non-disclosure agreements. Our Cajun-Asian cuisine gave the customers something that no other food carts were selling. It was a better deal than he could’ve imagined, ’cause he emerged debt-free and could afford to retire.”

“And he didn’t care about partnering with a black guy, his Asian wife and their gay Cajun-Asian son?”

“Fareed had been putting up with anti-Muslim crap since 9/11, so he coulda cared less,” Ashe answered. “By partnering with us, he could offer an entirely new menu that gave him a competitive edge in attracting new customers. By agreement, we have the option to buy out Salim’s portion of the business after five years and we’re exercising that option in 2025, just after I graduate from NYU with my MBA. Salim will get to retire to his takeout restaurant and we’ll get all of the food carts, the operators and the permits.”

“Does that mean you’re not gonna open a new Ragin’ Cajun restaurant?” Josh asked.

“That’s a good question,” Asher answered. “After all, Seth and I will be in college full-time next year. But the way I look at it, if we don’t reopen the Ragin’ Cajun now, when will we? And we’re gonna need to have our own kitchen to supply the food carts come 2025 anyway. Actually, Seth and I thought our parents were asking us here to discuss our plans for the Ragin’ Cajun, so the surprise party truly was a surprise. We’ve been approached by scores of investors who want to back us, but if we aren’t careful, we could find ourselves with a mountain of debt and no way to break even on the deal.”

“That’s so true,” I agreed. “The key is to make sure the risk is entirely on the investors so that if the restaurant doesn’t make it, you’ll still walk away without losing your shirts.”

“Actually, you guys look pretty good without your shirts,” Josh quipped, causing his boyfriend, Dave, to punch him lightly in the arm.

“I hate to ask, but what happens if the new place goes bust? Will your college funds be at risk?” Josh asked.

“My parents would never take a chance on that,” Asher replied. “With the success of the original Ragin’ Cajun and the success of Ragin’ Cajun ala Carte, we can pick and choose our investors. We’ll set up the new Ragin’ Cajun as a corporation and hire the best attorneys in the business to set things up with an iron-clad firewall between our business and personal finances. None of our money will be at risk.”

“’Course Asher’ll return from college with his MBA and make millions,” I added with a smile.

“Especially once The Ragin’ Cajun gets a Michelin star,” Jake suggested.

“Why stop at one star,” Seth replied. “We won’t be satisfied until we have three stars.”

“Aren’t we modest,” Kyle joked.

“Of course, school comes first and our parents will be the first to say so. However, my dad’s campaign won’t wait,” Seth pointed out. “That’s even more of a problem for us, ’cause family members are expected to go out on the campaign trail along with the candidate and the primary’s coming up on August 23, just as Ashe and I are starting college.” Seth’s father was running for Congress.

“I thought the primary’s on June 21.”

Shaking his head, Seth replied, “That’s just for the governor’s race.” The rest of the primaries are gonna be at the end of August. What happened is that the Democrats drew up a blatantly gerrymandered Congressional map, so the Republicans sued and the judge threw it out. Instead we ended up with a map that’s gerrymandered to favor the Republicans, and the state’s spending millions on delayed Congressional primaries.”

“I thought your dad was gonna run for governor,” Carl exclaimed.

Shaking his head, Seth replied, “Not after what happened. How ironic it was that Dad took the fall for the governor in exposing the plot to get us into a war with Iran, only for the governor to be brought down by a sex scandal. The governor was single, and he got a bit too personal with single women. It wasn’t like he had an affair, but he overstepped acceptable boundaries and politicians just can’t do that. His lieutenant governor became the first woman governor of New York and Dad couldn’t run against her. It woulda been a career-ending move, so he’s running for Congress instead.”

“It would be cool if he wins,” Josh said.

“Very cool,” I agreed.

<> <> <>

Late Summer, 2022

By the start of the fall semester of 2022, Kyle and I were in a much better place, both mentally and physically, and ready to go away to college and live on our own. Asher’s family had found a sweet new place in which to reopen the Ragin’ Cajun, and Seth’s dad had won the Democratic primary for his Congressional district and would square off against the Republican candidate in November. With a five-to-one ratio of Democrats to Republicans in the district, the outcome was nearly certain.

I was fifteen and Kyle was thirteen, but he was nearly a foot taller than I was and could have easily passed for sixteen. Boston was the ultimate college town and MIT was the ultimate school for kids like us. We hoped to share a dorm room and with our transferred credits and advanced placement, we’d start out as juniors. I was entering the combined civil engineering and architecture program, which involved five years of undergraduate study, two of which I’d already completed at City College, plus a minimum of one year for the masters degree. However, I intended to go on to get a PhD and specialize in sustainable architecture. Kyle was in the astrophysics program and he also intended to get a PhD.

Selecting a dormitory at MIT proved to be more of a challenge than we’d imagined. All new undergrads were required to live on campus and besides which, living off-campus would’ve meant relying on public transportation, which would’ve been particularly hard on Kyle. However, the process of choosing a residence hall didn’t guarantee that Kyle and I would be together. We had the opportunity to rate the various dorms by preference, but requesting to room together actually increased the odds of being placed in a triple or quad unit. In some ways, having an additional roommate or two would’ve been worse than being in separate double rooms, where we’d at least have the opportunity to negotiate with roommates for alone time, or perhaps to arrange for a swap. As upperclassmen, we had priority over freshmen for single and double units.

An even more important issue was Kyle’s mobility. He was still using forearm crutches for longer-distance mobility outdoors and unfortunately, attempts at using a bicycle had so far proven futile. He just didn’t react quickly enough to avoid pedestrians and other unexpected obstacles. To minimize the time spent waiting for the campus shuttle, he really needed to be close to center campus. The best residence hall for Kyle by far was Maseeh Hall, a century-old building that had been gutted and modernized. It was the largest of the residence halls, it was centrally located and it looked like a castle, which was utterly cool. It had its own dining facilities but was also close to the Stratton Student Center, which offered an extensive food court. Of importance to me, it was close to the athletic facilities, including an enclosed, Olympic-sized pool.

Requesting to room together in Maseeh would’ve just about guaranteed being in a triple room, so instead we both requested single rooms in Maseeh. Under the ADA, Kyle’s request was given priority and he ended up with just that – a single interior room without much of a view and with grab bars and other accessibility features he didn’t particularly want or need. I was assigned to a double room with a fantastic view of the Charles River, Fenway Park, the Prudential Center and the Hancock Tower. When I met him, I asked my roommate if he’d be interested in a trade for a single room. At first he was reluctant to give up the view, but when I explained that Kyle and I had been boyfriends for 4½ years, he thought that was incredibly romantic and he readily agreed to swap. Thus Kyle and I were able to share a room together that was centrally located and close to everything, on top of which, it had a phenomenal view.

Even with our proximity to the center of campus, I was worried that the distances he’d need to walk between classes would be too much for Kyle, and that he’d still have to rely on the Tech Shuttle to get around, but that wasn’t the case. The more Kyle walked, the easier it became for him to walk, and by the time we returned home for the winter break, he was down to walking around campus with nothing more than a straight cane. He didn’t even need to use the elevators – he took the stairs! Of course Kyle continued his daily therapeutic exercise program, with my assistance, and we took full advantage of the school’s athletic facilities. I also made it a point to swim with Kyle every day, which helped him to build muscle mass, stamina and coordination. It also resulted in my being approached about joining the swim team, but I didn’t have the time!

The university had numerous clubs and activities available and there was also the Rainbow Lounge, which provided an opportunity for Kyle and me to meet other LGBTQ+ students. Much to our surprise, Kyle wasn’t the only thirteen-year-old to frequent the Rainbow Lounge and we made a number of friends there, but we did have to make it clear that Kyle and I were exclusive… repeatedly. Although none of our friends on campus could compare with the friendship we shared with Asher and Seth and our other friends back home, we did develop a number of new friendships that we hoped would last all our lives.

Not long after we began our studies at MIT, I came across a flyer posted on a bulletin board in our dorm for a meet and greet at the MIT Hillel. I’d heard of Hillel before and knew it was some sort of Jewish campus organization, but other than that, I knew very little about it, so I asked Kyle if he was interested. His whole face lit up when I brought it up, and so we went. The Hillel was located in a building right behind Maseeh Hall and although at first I was a bit disappointed in the turnout, I quickly came to appreciate the advantages of getting to know people in a smaller group. The Hillel offered a full kosher meal service as an alternative to that offered in the dorms, but our residence hall also offered fully kosher meals, as well as vegetarian and vegan options. In any case, neither Kyle nor I kept kosher, nor did we intend to start doing so.

More importantly for us, there was a communal Shabbat dinner held at the Hillel every Friday evening, which made for a great opportunity to get to know other Jewish kids. In addition, student-led Conservative Shabbat services were held just before the dinner, and Orthodox Shabbat services, followed by a Shabbat brunch, were held there on Saturday mornings. We met with Rabbi Finkel, who was director of the Hillel, and I mentioned that we’d never completed our bar mitzvahs because of Covid and because of Kyle’s injury. I went on to explain to her my background as an agnostic Catholic who’d discovered his Jewish roots, and how we’d been studying for our double bar mitzvah when Kyle was seriously injured during a Black Lives Matter protest. I made no bones about the fact that Kyle and I were boyfriends and that we intended to get married when Kyle turned sixteen and I turned eighteen.

“Would you still like to become b’nai mitzvah?” she asked us.

“Very much so,” Kyle responded and I agreed by nodding my head.

“We’re not really set up to hold a bar mitzvah here at the Hillel,” she responded, “and I suspect you’d like to hold it where friends and family can attend in any case,” she added. “However, if you can arrange for your double bar mitzvah back home, I’d be delighted to help you with your studies. I could have you ready for your b’nai mitzvah as early as the end of the spring semester.”

“That would be fantastic,” Kyle replied.

I sent off a quick text to our rabbi back in Riverdale, asking if there was any Saturday available at all during the  summer of 2023 when we could hold our double bar mitzvah, and she texted me back within minutes that she had July 1 available. It seemed most people had plans and didn’t want to have their bar mitzvah during the Fourth of July weekend. I texted her right back that Kyle and I would definitely plan on that date, and that we’d make arrangements for our studies in the interim through the Hillel at MIT. I then texted Kyle’s dads and my mom to mark the date.

We set up a schedule with Rabbi Finkel to get us ready in time. We agreed to attend the weekly Friday evening service with the Conservative students, followed by Shabbat dinner, and then the weekly Saturday morning service and brunch with the Orthodox students. The rabbi would meet with us after the brunch for weekly study sessions, and we’d start preparing for our Torah and Haftorah portions right away. Although there was no charge for the sessions, she suggested that a donation to the Hillel would be appreciated. I asked her how much would be appropriate and she responded that $100 for each of us would be typical, but that any amount we could afford would be appreciated. I pulled up the Hillel website on my phone and donated $10k on the spot, just about giving the rabbi heart failure.

“I hope that that will be just the first of many donations,” I added. “My father dedicated his life to making money, only to die from Covid in his early forties. I nearly killed myself when I was eleven, when I was so high on pot that I thought I could fly. It was Kyle and his dads who saved me, and now I have a network of friends who mean so much to me, as I do to them. My father invested billions in companies that wrecked the environment and contributed to climate change. I’ve taken his billions and established a foundation dedicated to climate justice, and I’m dedicating my life to building sustainable architecture – and to my love for Kyle.”

“You can’t imagine how much this donation will help us,” the rabbi responded. “We’ll be able to serve so many more students. Saying thank you isn’t enough.”

“Just help us to get ready for our double bar mitzvah, and we’ll call it even,” Kyle added.

“You have a deal.”

<> <> <>

Saturday, July 1, 2023

Even without the relatives from Brazil, whom we’d not invited, Kyle had a large family, with aunts, uncles and cousins from across America. We also invited Kyle’s mother, of course. When she still lived with Kyle, his brother and their dad, she was an alcoholic who wasn’t fit to be a mother. After the divorce, she got her life together, went back to school and got her Master’s degree in Social Work. She’s since remarried and works at a senior center in Washington Heights. Now that she’s sober, I’ve found her to be a delightful person, and I really like her husband too, as does Kyle.

On my mother’s side of my family, I had relatives in France, none of whom came, even though I offered to pay their way. Apparently they didn’t give a fuck about a nephew they’d never seen, or perhaps they felt uncomfortable attending a ceremony from a religion they’d long ago left behind. At least my twin sisters came. They themselves were turning thirteen in a few weeks and would be undergoing a double bat mitzvah on July 29, at a synagogue near our brownstone on the Upper West Side. They were following in my footsteps in pursuing their Jewish roots. They would both be starting their senior year at Stuyvesant High School in the fall. My little sisters weren’t so little anymore.

My father had long ago distanced himself from his working-class parents and siblings, and since they were Roman Catholic, I doubted they’d want to come, but they all accepted our invitation and they came, as did all of the cousins I never knew I had. Mom said they were nice people, and they were. I feared that my father had long ago poisoned any chance I had of a relationship with the members of his family, but perhaps it wasn’t too late after all. It was such a shame that I didn’t get to know them when I was growing up.

Of course Kyle and I invited all of our many friends from Stuyvesant, HSMSE and City College, and they all came. We also invited our new friends from the MIT Hillel and from the Rainbow Lounge, and nearly all of them came as well. We had an impressive crowd for the reception and for the pool party afterwards. It was a good thing the terrace was as large as it was, or we never could’ve accommodated so many people.

It was almost surreal, giving our bar mitzvah speeches while wearing only speedos as our guests nibbled on their desserts and drank coffee. Since he was studying photography at Yale, we hired Kyle’s brother, Roger, to be our photographer and videographer for the day. He had a super-expensive medium format digital camera that was capable of shooting 100 megapixel stills as well as 4k video at 120 Hz. Kyle gave his speech first and I had to admit that he looked incredibly sexy, dressed only in his speedo and a smile, but I couldn’t help but think of how it looked to everyone else in the room, and to the camera. Standing behind a lectern as we gave our prepared remarks, it looked like we weren’t wearing anything. To the camera, it looked like we were in the nude.

When we planned our double bar mitzvah for July 1, we realized it would have to be a pool party. How could we not have a pool party on the Fourth of July weekend? It all seemed perfectly logical. We’d have the service in the morning, followed by a traditional reception with food and Kyle’s and my bar mitzvah speeches. Our teenage guests would then change into their swimsuits and we’d have a pool party in the afternoon, followed by a Fourth of July barbecue and dancing until midnight. I just assumed everyone would understand that the pool party would occur after the dinner reception.

Asher and Seth, however, had no previous experience with bar mitzvah receptions and just assumed the pool party began as soon as we returned from services, and so they dressed the part. All of our friends, who were none the wiser, assumed that’s the way we’d planned it, and so they headed to the designated changing rooms when they arrived. The adults sat separately and wore the same clothes they’d worn to the morning service, while all the teens wore their swimsuits and when seated, it almost looked like the boys were all naked. It certainly felt that way.

Perhaps we could call it a bare mitzvah, and I nearly laughed out loud in the middle of my own bar mitzvah speech when I thought of that, but then why not? I therefore concluded my speech by saying, “I’d like to thank you all for coming to Kyle’s and my double bare mitzvah —” I had to pause at that point before I continued, as there was uproarious laughter. “We didn’t plan it that way, but I have to admit, we have the perfect weather for dining nearly au naturel. Kyle’s dads and my mom have some brief remarks, and then we’ll have a pool party downstairs for all the teens and the young at heart, while the adults are welcome to stay and kibitz a while and enjoy the magnificent weather.

“Later, we’ll have a traditional Fourth of July barbecue on both levels, with hamburgers, hot dogs, grilled veggies and the like, followed by a Havdalah service up here at sunset, at the conclusion of Shabbat. After that, we’ll have dancing on the poolside patio until midnight, or until the neighbors call the cops. Actually, all of the neighbors are aware of the party, and most of them are away for the holiday weekend in any case.

“At this point, I’ll turn it over to Jake, Kyle’s dad,” I said as I proceeded to take my seat. I kind of zoned out as the parental units made their remarks and for some reason, my thoughts drifted to the gifts we received. Although gift giving for bar mitzvahs ranks up there with gift giving for weddings and the like, thanks to my parents’ wealth, Kyle and I had no need for gifts of money. Indeed, we went out of our way to tell our friends that there was no obligation to give us gifts, just because we’d invited them. The invitations themselves stated, ‘Gifts strictly optional’. Nevertheless, our relatives felt obligated and so we quietly told them that if they gave us something, to give us things we’d never think to get for ourselves.

Kyle’s dads got us matching custom-made prayer shawls called tallits, made of hand embroidered silk, with the colors of the rainbow flag stitched in an incredibly intricate design. Although I’d seen pride tallits advertised for only a few hundred dollars, these were clearly one-of-a-kind items that likely cost thousands. They gave them to us just before services on Friday night, in time for us to wear them during the bar mitzvah service in the morning. We intended to wear them whenever we attended services from now on.

My mother gave us a sterling silver, rainbow-enameled kiddish cup with matching Shabbat candlesticks. Asher and Seth got us a Hanukkah menorah and a Passover Seder plate. We received hundreds of such gifts, and with them the bane of every bar mitzvah boy’s existence – the need to write hundreds of personal thank you notes.

<> <> <>

“I had a great time, but I’m sure glad that’s over with,” Kyle exclaimed as we brushed our teeth and got ready for bed.

“Me too,” I agreed. It was nearly 3:00 AM and we’d bid the last of our guests goodbye just a short time before. The party was supposed to have ended at midnight, but everyone was enjoying themselves so much and dancing to the music, and we just didn’t have the heart to end the party before it wound down on its own.

“I’m so tired, I think I could fall asleep standing at the toilet, in the middle of pissing,” Kyle quipped.

“You could be my very own Manneken Pis,” I responded.

“Except that I’m about five times taller and I have facial hair,” Kyle replied.

“And hair on your chest,” I added.

Getting under the covers and snuggling up together, Kyle asked, “Now that that’s over with, what are we gonna do for the rest of the summer?”

“Well, there’s season three of The Mandalorian to catch up on, and the first season of Andor, and the new Ahsoka series that’s rumored to be coming out this summer.”

“Oh barf,” Kyle replied. “Just when it seemed the Star Wars saga was finally over. Disney+ turns it into the story that just won’t die.”

“But you’ll still watch them with me, won’t you?” I asked coquettishly.

Sighing, Kyle answered, “Of course I will and you know it. I’ve no interest in science fantasy, but I’m too heavily invested in the saga to abandon it now. Besides, it’s something you love, and it’s fun to see how you react to it.”

“I don’t react to Star Wars any differently than anyone else,” I countered.

“I’ll hafta shoot some videos of you watching it, then,” Ky said. “To parody those old 80s anti-drug commercials we saw in school, “This is Freck’s brain. This is Freck’s brain on Star Wars.” Then, after a pause, he continued, “There’s also the second season of Strange New Worlds to watch. At least the Star Trek series have a degree of plausibility.”

“What’s plausible about the rumored crossover episode with the animated series, Lower Decks, or the rumored musical episode in which everyone breaks into song?” I asked.

“At least Star Trek doesn’t need a mysterious, paranormal force to be with you,” Kyle countered.

“As spoken by a ‘true believer’ in atheism,” I replied. “As a radical agnostic, at least I can acknowledge the possibility of things that defy explanation. But come to think of it, didn’t Deep Space Nine have a sort of mystical component?”

“The mysticism of the Bajorans, it turned out, had an actual cause. There was a species of non-corporeal beings that lived in the so-called celestial temple, which was a wormhole that existed outside of normal space-time,” Kyle explained.

“How convenient that in Star Trek, The Federation, the Klingons, the Romulans, the Cardassians and to an extent, even the Borg are at a similar level of technologic development. At least in Star Wars, there’s a reason everyone in the galaxy is at the same level,” I countered. “Colonization and conquest have a way of setting the floor for technology, as it did on Earth. Besides which, it was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”

“Double barf,” Kyle replied. “I’m looking forward to the second season of Asimov’s Foundation, on Apple TV+. It’s nothing like the books, but it’s still outstanding. Asimov was well ahead of his time.”

“Agreed,” I said with a loud yawn and then added, “We should take Seth up on his offer of a VIP tour of the Capitol. I’ve never even been to Washington.”

“You’re kidding,” Kyle exclaimed.

“Before your dads took us to Europe, my parents never saw the need to take the twins or me anywhere,” I explained.

“We should make a week of it,” Kyle suggested. “See all the monuments, visit the Smithsonian and Arlington Cemetery. I’ll have to get my dads to reserve the hotel room, but we can take the Amtrak Acela Express down and take the Metro to everything we want to see. I’d suggest taking the twins with us, but they’ll be too busy getting ready for their bat mitzvahs, I suppose.”

“Actually, they’re spending the next two weeks in the Catskills at a summer camp run by the synagogue where they’re having their bat mitzvahs,” I explained. “They’re leaving tomorrow – or rather this afternoon, and they’ll return on Sunday in two weeks. It’ll be a chance for them to unwind a bit before the craziness begins. They’ll still have a week to get ready for their double bat mitzvah, but as you can probably imagine, they’re more than ready right now.”

“They take after their older brother that way.”

“Perhaps,” I acknowledged, “and after their bat mitzvahs, we’ll be leaving on our trip to Glacier National Park with Asher and Seth. We should definitely plan on going to Washington, though.”

Before I could hear Kyle’s reply, I was fast asleep.


The author gratefully acknowledges the invaluable assistance of Rob in editing my story, as well as Awesome Dude, Codey’s World and Gay Authors for hosting it.

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. All characters are fictional and any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental. The author retains full copyright.