Not even a year has passed since Paul and I were reunited and yet it seems like we’d always been together. We met back in the summer of 1972, back when I was sixteen and Paul was thirteen, in a summer science training program at the University of Iowa. Over the course of six weeks, we became inseparable… and we fell in love. However, we were both from the Midwest and being gay in the Midwest in the 1970s was not something one talked about. Frankly, neither of us were ready to admit it back then, even to ourselves.
So Paul stayed on in Iowa City, studying under some of the preeminent astrophysicists in the world. He got married, had children and settled down into a faculty position at the University of Chicago. Unfortunately, his wife developed an aggressive form of chronic progressive multiple sclerosis and passed away several years ago. Paul is now the director of astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History, home of the world-famous Hayden Planetarium, in New York City.
My story’s not much different, although I returned home to Indianapolis, completed my high school education and then went on to study astrophysics at Stanford University. After completing my post-doctorate, I took a faculty position at Cal Tech while doing work for the Jet Propulsion Lab, also in Pasadena. My work in laser energetics eventually earned me a Nobel prize in physics, after which I was recruited to an endowed professorship at UCLA. Along the way I got married, had children too, but my wife developed breast cancer and ultimately lost her battle to widespread metastatic disease.
As a Nobel laureate, I spent much of my time on the lecture circuit, and so it was last spring that I found myself in New York City addressing a group of teenagers at Stuyvesant High School, an elite public school for the best of the best. I just about had heart failure when a student stood up to ask a question. He was the spitting image of the first boy to capture my heart. In the course of talking to the boy after the lecture, I learned that he was Paul’s grandson and that evening I was reunited with my long-lost love.
“You sure look lost in thought, Jeff,” Paul said as he entered the kitchen. We shared a large 3-bedroom, co-op apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
Rather than admit that I’d been thinking about when we met, I responded, “I was thinking about what it would look like if we opened up the kitchen to the dining room, the way they do with newer, modern apartments these days. Did you ever think of doing that?”
Laughing, he replied, “I thought about doing that when I first looked at the place, before I even bought it.” Filling a mug with hot water and adding a tea bag, he took a seat at the kitchen table with me. We both were tea drinkers and didn’t even own a coffee maker, favoring Earl Grey in particular. He continued, “We made a killing on our condo in Chicago, which was right on the Loop and had a view of the lake, so we bought a large condo in a new high-rise building in Bethesda, the better to be close to the NIH when my wife underwent her treatments there. It was right on the Red Line, which made my commute to the National Air and Space Museum very easy. After she passed and I took the job here, I had a couple million to spend, but that doesn’t go very far in New York!”
Laughing, I responded, “As my sons are always telling me.” I had twin boys – well, to me they were still boys. Brad was the chair of the economics department at New York University, and Lyle was the dean of the business school at NYU. They shared a very small brownstone in Greenwich Village, a heavily gay area in Lower Manhattan. I’d always assumed they themselves were gay and possibly even in a relationship with each other.
“So a luxury apartment on Central Park West was not and option,” Paul continued. “But I still wanted something near enough to the museum that I could walk to work. There are a lot of nice apartment buildings on the Upper West Side, but they’re mostly older buildings, and a lot of them are rentals. Although I’d lived in new and modern condo buildings for close to three decades, I fell in love with the old-world charm of this place. Besides which, it’s all I could afford. Nevertheless, every now and then I think about taking out the wall separating the kitchen from the dining room and redoing the kitchen, but then I’m faced with the question of how to blend a modern, open kitchen with a prewar apartment.”
“The kitchen might blend in, but it’s dated,” I pointed out.
“You think I don’t know that, Jeff?” Paul asked. “I know I can get modern appliances and cabinets that look like they’re from the 1920s but let’s face it. If I were to modernize the kitchen, I’d want to expand it and do away with the table and chairs, but then I’d miss having an eat-in kitchen. And then there’d be the small matter of having to walk through the kitchen to get to the living room.”
“Cost wouldn’t be a factor,” I pointed out. “I still have nearly a million left from the sale of my house in West L.A. and we both make decent money. But you’re right. I could care less about the logistics, particularly since we so seldom entertain, but I’d hate to have to sit at a formal dining room table for all our meals. It wouldn’t be the same.”
Then getting a thought, I asked, “Do you remember Freck, your grandson’s friend? I think his real name’s Francis… actually he goes by François now… but he’s only twelve and a senior at Stuyvesant, and quite the architect.”
“How could I forget him and his outspoken boyfriend, Kyle?” he responded. “Freck’s father was the one who donated the money for your position, after all. Actually, Freck just turned thirteen, and you may recall that he and Kyle will be spending the summer with us.”
“Oh, that’s right,” I interrupted. “It honestly slipped my mind. Kyle’s a bit younger, isn’t he?”
“Yeah, Kyle’s only eleven,” Paul answered. “He just had his birthday too.”
“Wow!” I responded. “I’d forgotten there’s a two-year age difference. Kyle looks older, and he’s nearly as tall as Freck.”
“Not anymore Jeff,” Paul interjected. “The boys stopped by last week along with Kyle’s brother and dad, and Freck has definitely undergone a growth spurt.”
“At least until Kyle catches up and passes his boyfriend,” I added.
“Undoubtedly,” Paul agreed. “Kyle’s brother and dad are both well over six feet. So what made you bring up Freck now?” Paul asked.
“As I recall, he did the redesign of your son’s apartment when they combined it with the adjacent one, and he furnished it too,” I answered. “Before I forget, did anything ever come of that leak Frank arranged through the New York Times by way of your contact there?”
“Even after the press got wind of several leaks blaming the Air Traffic debacle on a software glitch, the president still insisted it was engineered by Iran,” Paul answered. He was of course referring to the day when the entire air traffic control system went down, just a few days before Thanksgiving. “Frank ended up leaking an internal memo from the FAA to Homeland Security but with everything going on, the president still seemed bound and determined to go to war with Iran.”
“Frank’s a good man,” I responded. “We can only hope that the president never finds out that he was the source of the leak.”
“That he is,” Paul replied. “Did you know he was number one in his graduating class at Georgetown?”
“And at the age of 23,” I responded.
“I guess I’ve told you that a few times,” Paul added with a smile, “just as you’ve told me about your sons.”
“By the way, how’s Marissa?” I asked. Marissa was Paul’s daughter, and she lived with her husband and three daughters in Australia.
“I don’t need to tell you what a tough fire season they’ve had,” Paul replied. “Although Melbourne, being further to the south, hasn’t had it nearly as bad as Sydney, it’s still covered in a perpetual haze.”
“Is her husband still a climate denier?” I asked.
“That’s a major source of friction between the two of them, and the girls are caught in the middle,” Paul answered. “I’ll never understand the mindset that can cause people to ignore science and elect someone who wants to expand coal production, there or here.”
“If all you’ve got to sell is coal, oil or gas, then you’re likely to see climate change as a hoax,” I countered, “and that’s especially true in Australia. It’s too bad the rest of the world will pay the price.”
After a moment of silence, Paul asked, “So I take it, you think we should get Freck’s opinion regarding redoing the kitchen?”
“I know he’s young, but he’s already shown how he can see things in building design that no one else sees,” I noted. “He’s a natural, and I trust his intuition when it comes to renovation, and not just of the kitchen. I’m not suggesting we gut the place, but we have such large rooms and microscopic closets. Certainly, there must be a way to add closet space without detracting from the elegant, prewar details that make this place special.”
Shrugging his shoulders, Paul replied, “I have his number. I’ll give him a call and ask if he can stop by over the weekend. In the meantime, we need to get going or we’ll be late for work, and while you can get away with it, as director of the department, I can’t.”
“Hey, Dr. Franklin,” Freck said as I opened the door. “I hope you don’t mind that I brought my partner in crime along with me to see your place.”
“Not at all,” I replied as I ushered the boys inside.
“Would you like us to remove our shoes or anything?” Kyle asked.
“With old linoleum and ancient carpeting, you’ll probably want to leave them on,” I responded with a laugh, to which the boys laughed as well.
“I love old buildings like this,” Freck said as we made our way inside, walking down the entry hallway toward the living room. “The original art deco lobby’s fantastic, and the elevators have the original doors. They’re beautiful. And I love your high ceilings. I bet the rooms are…”
“Holy fuck! Look at the home theater!” Kyle shouted from the living room.
“That’s my contribution,” I responded as I entered behind the boys. “Paul actually has a very nice, high-end sound system, and you should see what he has in his office at work, but the one here is tucked away in what he calls the den, along with a 32-inch, TV, if you can believe it.”
“You’ve got, what, a 65-inch screen?” Freck asked. “Is that a plasma display?”
“How in the world did you notice that?” I asked.
“Plasma has a darker glass, helping you get the better black levels it’s known for,” Freck answered. “Does it do 3D?”
“Yes, but there’s not much 3D content anymore,” I answered. “What I have is amazing, but most of what has been made in 3D is in the action, superhero genre that’s mostly crap, or in animated features. Now, I’d much rather have 4K HDR, since everything’s gone in that direction, but I’m waiting to get an 85-inch OLED display, and the price needs to come down a bit more before I buy one.”
“By which time, they’ll be tryin’ to get you to buy an 8K TV,” Freck pointed out.
“Those are Martin-Logan speakers,” Kyle interjected. “I’ve heard electrostatic speakers are way more accurate than speaker cones, but those are mother-fuckin’ huge!”
“Kyle, watch your language,” Freck admonished his boyfriend.
“What the fuck’s wrong with my language?” Kyle asked with a smirk on his face. He was as brash as ever.
“What kinda turntable is that?” Freck asked. “I’ve never seen one like it before.”
“You probably won’t again,” I replied, “because they aren’t made anymore. It’s one of the last linear turntables ever made, and vertical turntables are equally rare. With a vertical turntable, the tonearm literally hangs from that rod, with none of the weight of the tonearm resting on the record itself. However, there’s something called a servomechanism that keeps the needle centered in the groove. A servomechanism is…”
“I know what a servomechanism is,” Freck interrupted. “I’m going to be a civil engineer as well as an architect.”
“I didn’t think they taught about servomechanisms anymore,” I countered.
“They do,” Freck responded, “but that’s not how I know about them. I haven’t even started my engineering courses. I read a lot and when I come across a term I don’t know, I look it up. I think I encountered the term servo when I was seven or eight years old. Maybe it was something by Jules Verne… no, it couldn’t have been him. He lived in the nineteenth century. Anyway, I looked up the definition and the concept was really cool, but I didn’t understand why you couldn’t just use a microchip, but then I realized that things like flaps on airplane wings were around long before there were microchips or even computers, so I did more reading. Doing that led me deeper and deeper into studying calculus and learning about Fourier and Laplace transforms, pole-zero diagrams and Nyquist plots.”
“And you learned about that when you were seven?” I asked, incredulous that anyone that young could understand such advanced concepts. I doubted that most engineering graduate students understood those topics that well anymore.”
“Or maybe when I was eight,” he responded. “It really helped me understand how complex systems work, and what makes a system stable or not. That’s what’s wrong with Boeing’s approach to the 737 Max,” he went on. “They used an existing aircraft design from decades ago and slapped a larger engine on it, but that shifted some of the poles to the right half-plane, no pun intended. No one stopped to think that there was only one nose-angle sensor, so if the sensor stuck, the software took the airplane right to the unstable region of the operating curve.
“I’ll never design a building that way,” Freck went on. “Did you know that the antenna on One World Trade Center is unstable? It was originally supposed to be covered in glass, like the rest of the building, but the computer models showed it would bend beyond what it could withstand in a stiff wind, so they left the glass out of the final design. However, if there’s a Cat-5 hurricane, you can bet it’ll break free and do countless damage. My buildings will be based on passive designs that make them inherently stable. They’ll hold up in hurricanes, fires, floods and earthquakes, and we may well see all of those things by the end of the century.”
Shaking my head, I asked Freck, “Okay smarty pants, what’s the series expansion of the exponential of x?”
Rolling his eyes, he replied, “x to the n over n factorial, summed over all integer values of n from zero to infinity. I knew that when I was six.”
“And I thought Kyle was the math genius,” Paul interjected.
“Ask me to prove the fundamental theorem of calculus,” Kyle suggested.
“I’ve no doubt that you could do so,” I replied, “but we don’t have all weekend. That’s a problem not even our advanced graduate students can solve.”
“It’s not all that difficult in concept,” Kyle countered, “but it does take quite a few steps, and it involves some math that not even most math students seem interested in studying.”
As Kyle was still intently studying my home theater, I asked, “Would you like to see and hear it in action?”
“I thought you’d never ask,” Kyle answered.
“Let’s start with a 3D blu-ray movie,” I suggested as I got out my copy of Avatar, which I thought was one of the finest 3D transfers ever done. “You’ll need these,” I added as I handed each boy a set of 3D glasses. I fired up the system and inserted the disc into the blu-ray player and waited for it to load. When the index menu appeared, I had the boys turn on their glasses, and then I selected a scene in which Jake was flying through the jungle on Pandora. The boys were instantly mesmerized as the surround sound and 3D imaging came together to create a very realistic experience.
“Woah,” Kyle exclaimed. “I never saw Avatar in 3D before. In fact, when I go to the movies, I rarely see even the movies that are available in 3D, in 3D. The last Star Wars movie was a rare exception, but even that didn’t seem to benefit much from it.”
“Avatar’s one of the best movies for 3D ever,” I admitted. “Most 3D movies today are gimmicky, especially the ones from Disney and Marvel Comics. If you’d like, perhaps we could watch Avatar in its entirety when we’re done looking at the apartment.”
“You have a deal,” Freck responded.
“Let’s move on to music,” I suggested. “Perhaps we can start with something in vinyl.”
After ejecting and putting away the disc and turning off the TV, I got out my copy of Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, a classic vinyl Beatles album from 1967. As the music started to play, the look of awe on both boys’ faces was a wonder to see. “Wow, it sounds like they’re right here,” Kyle responded. “If I close my eyes, I can almost visualize where each of them is standing, and where each instrument is playing.
“That’s what electrostatic speakers can do for you,” I commented. “Although any top-of-the-line audiophile speaker will do nearly as well when it comes to projecting a sound stage, electrostats have a sense of presence that nothing else on the market can match. And with a high-end turntable, there’s virtually no background noise. A vertical turntable helps to avoid getting dust in the grooves, and the servomechanism virtually eliminates the application of any pressure from the needle.”
“It’d be interesting to hear The Beatles in a digital format for comparison,” Kyle suggested. “I have the 2017 remixed and remastered hi-res version, but I don’t have it with me.”
“Ah, but I do,” I replied as I used my Harmony Remote to switch to the very same track from my server. Soon, the song With a Little Help from my Friends filled the room once again. “24-bit, 96 kilohertz,” I commented.
“Damn,” Freck exclaimed, “if anything, the digital version sounds more natural.”
“The Beatles remixes are a special case,” I explained, “as the original recordings were made with a four-track tape recorder and down-mixing. Making matters worse, the stereo was exaggerated, with the instruments appearing to come from different spots than the people playing them. The 2017 remix fixes those problems, so it sounds more natural.”
Kyle complained, “It’s too bad they’re only releasing one remixed Beatle’s album a year, so in the meantime I can only listen to them on CDs.”
Rather than say anything, I picked up a tiny green apple with the Beatles logo on the side from a nearby table and held it in my outstretched palm. When the boys showed only puzzled faces, I reached out with the other hand and pulled up on the stem to reveal a tiny thumb drive.
“Whoa, I think I read about that,” Freck exclaimed. “Is that what I think it is?”
“24-bit remasters of all the Beatle’s Studio Albums,” I replied. “They’re only 44.1 kHz, but they sound great, at least until you hear the new remixes at 96 kHz. This boxed set was released in 2009 and it sold out almost immediately. You can still get one from Amazon UK for £300 though. Or if you’d like, I’d be happy to copy the contents to another thumb drive for you.”
“Would you?” Kyle beamed. “That’d be fuckin’ fantastic.”
“I’d love to hear what your system can do with opera,” Freck interjected.
I was surprised that a young teenager would be interested in opera, but then Freck was no ordinary teen, nor was his boyfriend an ordinary pre-teen. I responded, “That can be arranged, as I used my remote to select the first track on my remaster of Maria Callas singing Carmen.”
Freck closed his eyes and the look of pure joy that took over his face was a pleasure to watch. “That’s the 2016 remaster, isn’t it.” It wasn’t a question but rather a statement of fact.
“Yes, Astell and Kern had the complete set of Maria Callas’ remastered studio albums on sale over the holidays…”
“I saw that,” Kyle interrupted.
“Me too,” Freck chimed in.
Pulling the box set off a shelf, I handed it to Freck, who responded by saying, “Shit, this mother’s heavy.” Then opening it, he pulled out one of the jacket sleeves and looked at the microSD card inside. Closing it and putting it back, he then pulled out the hardcover book that was inside the box.”
Turning to look at me, he asked. “How many gigabytes total are on all the albums? It couldn’t be that much.”
“You’re right, it’s only a little over 55 gigs,” I answered.
Nodding, Freck added, “This is a beautiful boxed set but they could’ve put it all on a single microSD card and tucked it inside the hardcover book, but I have to admit, it’s still very, very cool. I kinda wish I’d picked up the set while I still could.”
“Would you like it?” I asked.
“Well yeah,” Freck replied, “but it’s too late for me to buy it now.”
“Then take this one,” I responded. “It’s yours. I’ve already downloaded all the music to my server and backed it up in the cloud, and I’m not really interested in the book, why don’t you take it?”
“Really?” Freck asked in disbelief, and I merely nodded my head. “Gee, thanks Jeff.”
“It’s my pleasure,” I responded.
“So, shall we take a look at your apartment?” Freck asked.
“That’s why you’re here,” Paul chimed in. “Let’s start with the kitchen.”
When we entered the kitchen, Freck exclaimed, “Wow, this is tiny, and are those the original appliances?”
“Obviously, the refrigerator has been replaced, multiple times,” Paul answered, “and the dishwasher was added long after the place was built, but the stove appears to be original.”
“I bet the original refrigerator was like an ice box with one of those round compressors on top,” Freck responded.
“I’m sure that’s exactly what it was,” Paul agreed. “Electric refrigerators were new back when this building was built, and it was probably one of the first in New York that didn’t have ice boxes.”
“Utterly cool,” Freck chimed in. He was such a charming boy. It was hard to imagine how his parents could have failed to appreciate what they had.
“And you’d like to open the kitchen up to the living and dining rooms?” Freck asked, and I nodded my head in confirmation. “Was that a half-bath I noticed when we came in?”
“Yes, it was,” I answered. “It’s right next to the kitchen, on the other side of that wall.”
“That’s what I thought,” he replied. “That wall undoubtedly contains all the plumbing for both, and probably the gas line too. The risers have probably been replaced with copper, but your plumbing’s probably still the original galvanized steel. Let’s take a look at the bathroom.”
We exited the kitchen and squeezed into the entrance to the tiny half-bath that was right by the entrance to the apartment. “This is great,” Freck expounded. “There isn’t much I’d change in here. The tile is original, and it’s cemented to the underlying brick or concrete, rather than being glued to the drywall as is done today. You’d end up taking out the entire walls if you tried to replace the tiles in here, and I assume your other bathrooms are like this?”
“Yes, it is,” Paul answered. Much a surprise to Freck I was sure, there was only one.
“We should definitely leave the existing tile. I know the pink color is less than appealing now and if you insist in changing it, there are re-glazers who can do that, but I’d recommend keeping it and sticking with all vintage-reproduction fixtures in here. I’d replace the medicine cabinet for sure. It was obviously replaced at least once already and I’d be willing to bet the original space for a recessed medicine cabinet’s still there behind that one. I’d replace the pedestal sink with a vintage reproduction that’s a bit larger and that has holes spaced for modern plumbing fixtures. I’d also replace the toilet with a more efficient one, but again with a vintage reproduction. Of course, you’ll want to replace all the plumbing with copper while you’re at it, but you’ll do that from the other side along with the kitchen plumbing when you gut the kitchen. There’s no need to break into this wall.”
As we moved back into the entry hall, Freck continued, “Now this is the biggest problem as I see it. You have a tiny, narrow kitchen and it’s constrained by a narrow entry hall, which separates the kitchen from a large dining room, which is completely separate from the ginormous living room. You can’t enlarge and modernize the kitchen without encroaching on the entry hall. They do make modern cabinets and appliances that’ll fit the original space, but then you’d be stuck with your current, dysfunctional layout.
“What helps is to think of the space encompassing the kitchen, dining room, living room and this hallway all as a single space, and then reconfigure it to make it what we want it to be. The only constraint is that the kitchen has to abut the bathroom, because all the plumbing is there, and of course there needs to be a way to get through here, and there will be some issues with the electrical wiring, but otherwise we have no other constraints. By the way, where is the circuit breaker box? You do have circuit breakers and not fuses, don’t you?”
“It’s in the bedroom hall,” Paul answered, “and yes, we have circuit breakers. The wiring was upgraded in the sixties and again in the nineties, and we have 100-amp service.”
“Great,” Freck responded. “What I’d recommend is that you end the entrance hall right here, and your kitchen would expand to occupy the entirety of the rest of the hallway beyond this point. I’d remove the existing wall between the dining room and the living room, and the existing dining room would become part of the living room.”
“That’s an interesting idea, Freck,” Paul commented, “but then where would the dining room go?”
“You could keep it here if you wanted to, or you could move it around the corner to the other side of the kitchen, which would be more functional,” Freck answered. “It wouldn’t matter where you put it, as the living and dining rooms would be one big, open L-shaped space around the kitchen.”
“So by entering the living-dining room here, you would gain all this space for the kitchen.” I realized.
“Exactly,” Freck answered. Once again, Freck was demonstrating the skills he would bring to his work as an architect. He was seeing something I would have never conceived of before. “So you’ll have a larger, open kitchen with all modern, retro appliances and cabinetry. There could even be enough room for a small table and chairs if you want to keep it as an eat-in kitchen, or you can have an island with bar stools if you wish.”
“I think we’d like to keep it as an eat-in kitchen,” Paul commented, and I nodded my head in the affirmative.
“Did you want to renovate the bedrooms?” Freck asked,
“The bedrooms are large, but the closets are tiny.” Paul responded.
“Let’s take a look,” Freck suggested. After seeing all three bedrooms, he said, “Obviously, there’s plenty of room for additional closet space in all three bedrooms. It’s strictly up to you as to how much smaller you’re willing to make them to accommodate walk-in closets. The biggest surprise is that you don’t have a master bathroom!” Freck continued. “You have an enormous main bathroom, but no master bathroom. Since your Master bedroom is adjacent the bathroom, we can change that if you want…”
“I’m so used to having only the one-and-a-half baths that I didn’t even consider the possibility,” Paul responded. “Having a separate master bathroom would be fantastic.”
“You don’t need much space for the master bath,” Freck continued. “The plumbing’s in this wall, which separates the master bedroom from the main bathroom, so the toilet and shower stall have to go on this wall. I’d suggest taking six feet from this end of the bedroom, all along this wall, and we’d gain another foot by taking out the existing wall and putting in drywall. You can put your bathroom in this corner, in as little as six feet by six feet. The rest of the space along this wall would be taken up by two walk-in closets. That would maximize your closet space while taking the least amount of space from the bedroom.
“Now let’s take a look at the main bathroom,” Freck went on. Once we were all inside, he said, “Again, we should keep the original tilework. It’s a very attractive pattern and you could never duplicate it now. You have a clawfoot bathtub, and I bet you hate it…”
“You’ve no idea,” I chimed in.
“These old clawfoots are too short to use as bathtubs for anyone taller than about five feet,” Freck quipped, “and as showers, the curtain leaves damn little space to stand, and it’s not very effective in keeping the water inside, so you end up with a wet floor. Firstly, we’re gonna add a separate shower stall, so you don’t need to replace the bathtub if you want to keep the original one. That said, this one’s too short, it doesn’t have hole dimensions to support modern plumbing, and the porcelain surface is badly crazed and stained, and would have to be re-glazed. I would recommend replacing it with a much larger, vintage reproduction clawfoot tub… or a Jacuzzi if you’d prefer.”
“A Jacuzzi would be nice,” I admitted, thinking of my aching, stiff joints in the winter.
“Maybe even a two-person Jacuzzi,” Kyle suggested with a wink.
“Get your head outta the gutter, Ky,” Freck admonished his boyfriend.
But then Paul totally surprised me by asking, “Is there room for a two person Jacuzzi? Wouldn’t it look out of place?”
Laughing, Freck answered, “In a bathroom this size, we can fit almost anything, and certainly a two-person Jacuzzi would fit. As far as it blending in with the décor, we could use a drop-in model and frame it with tile to match the rest of the room. You might want to consider a walk-in model with a door that seals shut once you’re inside. Those are really nice, and they come in two-person models too. And you’ve got this huge space between the tub and the outer wall that’s wasted. What I think I’d like to do is to put a large two-person shower here. We’ll have two vintage-style rainfall showerheads coming down from above, a series of body jets mounted in the wall and a pair of handheld showers. Each set of showerheads will be controlled with a thermostatic valve and diverter valve, and the whole thing will be enclosed in clear glass.
“We’d replace the toilet with a vintage style, modern efficient model, and we’d replace the original pedestal sink with something more modern, but vintage. I’d recommend a double-wide period vanity with a granite top and a pair of vessel sinks on top.”
“Do you have any idea what’s under that dreadful carpeting?” Freck asked as we exited the bathroom.
“I’ve no idea,” Paul replied.
“Mind if I take a look?”
Of course we said we didn’t, and when Freck pulled up a corner of it in the bedroom, we found that whatever had been there had been removed and now there was only rotting particle board on top of bare brick. “Brick?” I asked.
“Poured concrete was uncommon back then, and most residential properties used clay or concrete bricks,” Freck explained. Originally, there was probably hardwood on top of the brick, but it probably flooded at some point and then rotted, so it was removed. We should restore the floors. We’ll take up the carpeting and the linoleum and dispose of the particle board. We’ll replace it with hardwoods throughout and with ceramic tile in the kitchen and bathrooms. You’ll have to get area rugs though. I’d suggest Persian, but I think art deco reproductions would look better in here.”
“Thanks so much, Freck,” Paul responded. “It sounds like we’re going to have to spend a fair chunk of change if we want to do it right. I guess we’d better hire an architect, and then we can shop for a contractor.”
“I’d be happy to draw up architectural plans for you guys,” Freck volunteered. “I have a drafting table and all the paraphernalia at home, as well as a decked-out iMac Pro and gobs of architectural software. If you can wait a few months for it, I can deliver a full set of drawings and use the opportunity to learn how to use my new toys.”
As much as I trusted Freck’s skills, I wasn’t sure he was even capable of meeting the rigorous city building requirements, let alone produce the drawings needed to file for the necessary permits with the city buildings department, and so I replied, “Don’t you think that maybe we should hire a professional architect for something like this? Not that I don’t trust you, Freck, but you’ve got school to think about, and then your summer with us at AMNH, you know? When would you ever find time for something like this?”
“But you saw what he did with my son’s apartment, Jeff,” Paul countered. “That was a much larger project involving a full gut. They did hire a professional architect, but Freck did all the original plans that the architect worked from, and he did all the interior design work. Freck learned a lot from that experience and I think he’s ready give it a try.”
I wasn’t sure Freck could tackle something like our apartment on his own just yet and so I suggested, “How about we let Freck do a first pass, and then have a professional architect review Freck’s plans?”
“I’m sure the architect who drew up the plans for your son’s place would be willing to review all the plans for accuracy and completeness,” Freck suggested. “He already knows me, and it probably wouldn’t cost half what someone would charge to do the whole project from scratch.”
“That sounds like a reasonable compromise,” I agreed.
“Now how about that movie,” Kyle asked.
I set up the movie and let the boys get to watching it. I only had two pair of 3D glasses, so I couldn’t really watch it with them, but then I’d already seen it, dozens of times. It was evident that they loved it. Afterwards, after getting permission from Kyle’s dad, Paul and I took them out to the City Diner for dinner.
“It must be so hard on you and the boys,” I heard Paul say as I entered the bedroom Paul referred to as the den. “I see… would you like for Jeff and me to take Seth for the time being, while you sort things out?” What the hell was my boyfriend talking about? “I should have known the Whites would step up to the plate. Those two boys are so in love and I’m sure Asher feels just as devastated by this, just as Seth was when Beatrice was injured last summer. It’s better that they stay together, and it’s a lot easier for Seth to go to school from down there.”
Paul held up his index finger as I approached him, indicating I should wait to speak until he finished the call.
“You gave them permission to get married!” Paul exclaimed. “But is Asher even sixteen yet?” I knew for a fact that he wasn’t. His birthday wasn’t until April. “And Seth’s only fourteen. They can’t get married for another year-and-a-half. Maybe in some southern states, but not in New York.” Why the hell would Seth and Asher even need to get married? It’s not like either of them could get pregnant. I seemed to remember reading something about Hassidic Jews getting married with a court order when the girl got pregnant, but that certainly didn’t apply to our boys. “They can with a court order? Why would they want to do that?” Paul continued.
“Julie, you’re under a hell of a lot of stress,” Paul went on. “Would you maybe like me to come down to stay with you for a while… Yes, I know it would make my commute difficult… Well if you change your mind, please let me know, and keep me apprised regarding Frank. Hopefully, the judge’ll approve bail in the morning, and he’ll be home with you soon.
“Bye, Love you. Jeff and I will have you in our prayers,” Paul concluded the call and hung up the landline.
“I take it the president traced the source of the leak to Frank,” I said.
“He was arrested today by Federal marshals,” Paul answered, “on trumped-up charges of corruption. You heard what I offered, but Julie seems to have things under control, and she and Frank have become quite close to the White’s since Seth and Asher became boyfriends. The Whites have pretty much taken charge of things for now.”
“What was that about Seth and Asher getting married?”
“Their attorney suggested it,” Paul answered. “She thinks it might be a way to shelter Seth’s investments, and the apartment, from the Feds.”
“Fat chance of that,” I responded. “The Feds have never honored traditional boundaries when it comes to going after assets. It’s virtually impossible to sue the federal government, so there’s no check on their power.”
“I just hope Julie doesn’t rush into anything,” Paul added. “Now is not the time to be making life-altering decisions. If Seth and Asher get married, that would essentially make them emancipated minors and they’d face the full wrath of the federal government as adults.”
“That’s a scary thought,” I agreed.
“Oh, by the way, Freck e-mailed some preliminary drawings for the apartment,” Paul informed me. Would you like to take a look at them?
“Of course I would,” I replied.
Paul had a high-end workstation in the den, with something like an eighteen-core Intel Xenon processor, a terabyte of RAM and a sixteen terabyte SSD RAID array, all of which he needed for his work. Attached were a pair of XDR displays, each of which cost several thousand dollars. I, on the other hand, had settled for a high-end iMac Pro, not unlike the one Freck had bought. For my work, it was more than adequate. However, I had to admit that it was pretty damn cool the way Paul could routinely bring up three-dimensional renders of faraway nebulas, based on actual earth-based images, all in real time. It was more than adequate for looking at Freck’s drawings.
When Paul opened the first drawing, however, I was totally blown away. This wasn’t a rough sketch done with pencil on paper and scanned in as I’d expected. It was a full architectural drawing of our new kitchen, complete with elevations. Every detail was taken into account, including the locations of the existing hot and cold risers, gas line and sewage stacks. I couldn’t believe he’d put something like that together in just a matter of days, particularly with his being in high school full time.
“How in the world did he know where to put the risers?” I asked out loud of no one in particular.
“He said he photocopied the original architectural drawings for the building, which he obtained from the buildings department on microfiche,” Paul explained. “He walked there from school.”
“Damn, I didn’t even know something like that existed,” I responded.
“Would you like to see some of Freck’s other drawings?” Paul asked.
“You mean there’s more?” I asked.
Rather than answer. Paul brought up an architectural drawing of the living and dining room, showing how the kitchen fit in, and then he brought up drawings of the bedrooms with their new closets, the new master bathroom and the main bathroom, all with surprising detail.
“This is amazing,” I commented. “It looks really professional.”
“I told you he was up to the task,” Paul responded. “I’m just surprised he did this so quickly. He actually apologized for not including the wiring in his drawings. He complained that the city didn’t have any drawings that included the original wiring, and that he couldn’t be sure everything hadn’t been rewired anyway. He said he’d have to get in here with a circuit tester to trace the individual circuits.”
“Isn’t that the job of the electrical contractor anyway?” I asked.
“I’m certain it is, but I think Freck feels uncomfortable when he can’t account for the locations of the junction boxes and conduits in his drawings,” Paul suggested. “It’s hard to trace these things when they’re embedded in a brick wall, so it’s probably impossible to know until you start breaking into the walls.”
“I can imagine,” I agreed.
“So, what do you think of the plans so far?” Paul asked.
“I guess they’re okay,” I replied. “It’s hard to picture what it’ll look like from line drawings.”
“I know what you mean,” Paul agreed. “The line drawings don’t look much like what we have now, so it’s hard to picture the finished product. He said he can do full renders of how it’ll look on his computer, once we’ve made our selections.”
“Our selections?” I asked.
“Chosen our cabinets, appliances, plumbing fixtures, lighting, flooring, doors and the like,” Paul explained. “Freck included some websites he suggested we look at for ideas, and he gave us the names of some stores in The City that sell the stuff.”
“I hadn’t realized so much needed to go into the place,” I responded.
“Neither did I,” Paul chimed in.
“I can’t believe you like that, Jeff,” Paul exclaimed when I showed him the kitchen sink I thought would be perfect for our new kitchen. We were looking around one of the kitchen and bath stores Freck had recommended, attempting to choose cabinets, countertops, fixtures and hardware. We weren’t even looking at appliances yet, as we figured we’d have a much more limited selection when it came to refrigerators, dish washers and stoves.
“What don’t you like about the sink?” I asked. “It’s perfect.”
“Perfect if you’re furnishing an eighteenth-century farmhouse,” Paul responded. “Our building’s pre-World War II, not pre-Civil War. This sink design if anything dates back to the American Revolution. It’d look right at home in Jefferson’s Monticello.”
“Okay, I guess I can see your point,” I replied. “So what would you choose?”
“Let’s look around a bit more,” he suggested. “Maybe even check out another store. I don’t see anything but antique reproductions and contemporary furnishings. We need something more modern.”
“Why did you say modern?” I asked. “Aren’t modern and contemporary the same thing? Don’t we want the style to blend in with the overall look of the apartment?”
“Of course,” Paul answered, “But modern and contemporary aren’t at all the same thing. Modern is a bit of a misnomer, as it refers to a style from the past. Modern style refers to a period of streamlined styles form about 1920 through 1960, which includes Art Deco and mid-century modern. I was referring to Art Deco of course. The sink you showed me has square lines with perfect right angles. Contemporary styles are much the same. In other words, they’re boxy. The signature style in modern it’s the use of rounded corners. There are no sharp edges in Art Deco.”
“I’m not sure I like that,” I complained.
“Unless you’re willing to break style and mix contemporary with modern, that could be a problem,” Paul countered. “I should hope we can agree that we both have to love what we choose. We need to reach a consensus for this to work. Otherwise one or both of us will be unhappy with the final result.”
“On that I couldn’t agree more.” I agreed.
“Let’s see If we can find something in a modern style that we both like,” Paul suggested.
“Fine with me,” I agreed.
At that moment, we were approached by a young man came up to us and said, “My name’s Dave. Can I help you gentlemen with anything?”
“Yes,” Paul replied. “We’re planning to renovate our apartment. It’s in a prewar building with the original design intact, and we’d like to enlarge and modernize the kitchen and bathrooms without destroying the character of the original construction. We need cabinets, hardware and appliances that will be similar to items of the 1920s.”
“That sounds like quite a project, and we can definitely supply everything you need,” Dave responded. “Do you have an idea of what you need?”
“I have some architectural diagrams that my grandson’s friend put together on his computer,” Paul said as he got out paper copies of the drawings Freck had already done for us.
Looking over the first few pages, Dave said, “These are extraordinary. I take it your grandson’s friend is an architect.”
“Actually, he’s a student at Stuyvesant High, as is my partner’s grandson,” I replied. “He’s been accepted into MIT’s joint architecture and civil engineering program for next year, but he’s only thirteen and so he’s decided to defer graduation for a year or two and attend City College in the interim.”
“A thirteen-year-old did this?” Dave asked, but before I could answer, he continued, “Pretty amazing. These drawings are as good as those done by any professional. I recognize the software he used and it takes most people years to master. He’s quite a genius.
“Let’s start by looking at some appliances and depending on what you like, we can then choose the appropriate kitchen cabinets and hardware,” he continued. Then taking us to a grouping of kitchen appliances in stainless steel, he suggested, “There’s a reason contemporary appliances are so popular. It’s hard to find all the features and conveniences in a period piece that you’ll find here, and certainly not at a reasonable price. Stainless steel blends beautifully with prewar décor. Just don’t opt for black stainless. Even though it’s popular now, it doesn’t go with Art Deco.
“Most people who are doing what you’re doing will opt for contemporary stainless steel appliances.” I could see the wisdom in what Dave was suggesting. Although not available in the prewar era, any of the appliances shown in the grouping would look at home in a ‘modern’ kitchen. I was thrilled with the idea, but clearly my boyfriend was not as he shook his head and frowned.
“Prewar kitchens were never open to the living room in those days, so we’re already breaking tradition by having an open kitchen,” Paul countered. Fine, so why not break with tradition in the name of convenience when it came to the appliances? But that was not Paul’s reasoning as he continued. “Because of that, the kitchen appliances absolutely must match what was used in an affluent home of the era.”
“You mean like a tiny refrigerator with a round compressor on top?” Dave scoffed. I couldn’t have agreed more with Dave’s sentiment, but Paul quite obviously took offense at it.
“Come, Jeff,” he said as we walked out of there. “Let’s go find a place that appreciates what it is we’re trying to do. As we exited the store, he continued to vent his frustrations, saying, “Can you believe the audacity of that guy in showing us that awful stuff? Clearly, he’s trying to sell us what he has and not what we want. We can do much better than that.”
Finally, I had a chance to speak my mind, and I did, much to my later regret. “Actually, I liked what he showed us,” I began.
Paul stopped had dead in his tracks and replied, “You can’t be serious. That stuff was dreadful.”
“But isn’t that the kind of stuff you had in your place in Bethesda?” I asked. “Didn’t you like it then?”
“They didn’t have French door refrigerators back then,” he countered. “We had a side-by-side but, yeah, everything was stainless steel and contemporary. But that misses the point, Jeff. Both our previous condos, in Bethesda and in Chicago, were new glass and steel high rises. Contemporary furnishings were appropriate in apartments like that. They aren’t in an apartment like ours.”
“But Dave’s argument makes sense, don’t you think?” I realized my folly the moment the words left my mouth.
“I definitely do not think,” Paul interrupted. “What good is it if the appliances utterly ruin the apartment?”
“What good are appliances that look good if we hate the way they actually work?” I countered. “Isn’t function more important than form?”
“I’d have to choose form over function.” my boyfriend responded. “Obviously, function’s important too…”
“Well thank you for conceding that much,” I interrupted.
Sighing deeply, Paul suggested, “There are some more stores on the list Freck gave us. Let’s see if we can find something we both can love.”
The more stores we visited, however, the more hardened we became in our opinions and by the end of the next week, were practically at each other’s throats.
It was Valentine’s Day and Paul and I were nearly at the breaking point. We barely spoke to one another walking to work in the morning, and seeing the joy of colleagues and staff as they received candy, cards and flowers from those they loved or from their secret admirers only reinforced how miserable I felt. I hadn’t even bothered to get my boyfriend a card, let alone think of sending him candy or flowers.
And yet I knew down deep that we still loved each other. In my mind, Paul was still that thirteen-year-old boy who stole my heart all those years ago, yet perhaps that was the problem. Maybe I was still idealizing the boy I once knew rather than seeing him as the mature man he’d become. Yet I knew we still shared so many interests. Were it not for the desire I felt for him, I knew we would have at least, been best friends.
The anger we felt for each other over renovating the apartment seemed silly when one got down to it. We’d been happy with the apartment as it was and a simple solution would’ve been to simply leave it as it is. However, now that we’d gone through the place with Freck pointing out the possibilities, it was hard to look at the place in the same light. When we got down to it, the apartment was downright shabby. It was well beneath what we’d both been used to before moving to New York, yet it was all Paul could afford, even for over two million dollars. Of course, as many would point out, that was the price of our easy commute. We could’ve had something much nicer for the money in Riverdale, Brooklyn, Queens or across the river in New Jersey. For that matter, we could’ve had a brand new, sleek one-bedroom apartment with a great view in Hells Kitchen. The trip on the A Train would be short, and by giving up all the space we had, we could have something new and nice, but it wouldn’t have room for my Martin-Logan speakers.
We lived in a beautiful apartment with old world charm. With a little of my cash, we could make it really nice, if we could just get past the consensus-building stage. Yes, the wall-to-wall carpeting had to go. It was ancient and probably harbored mold and who knew what else. There was no point in simply replacing it as carpeting was out of style now and, besides which, nothing was more beautiful than hardwood floors. They’d cost a lot more money but would last forever and retain their beauty long after we were gone. New flooring alone would do wonders to make the apartment gleam. Certainly, we could agree on flooring and maybe we should start there.
By the same token, the shortage of closet space was a real issue. We’d made do with what we had and found room for all our clothes, albeit very cramped room, but just about everything else one would normally keep in a closet was shoved into a corner somewhere, out in the open, simply because there was no place else to put it. There wasn’t even enough wall space to put wardrobes or cabinets if we had them, because most of the unused space in the apartment was simply open, wasted space. What was the use of having enough space to buy a settee and chairs for every bedroom if all the luggage, vacuum cleaners and other sundry items were out in the open? Adding closet space would significantly improve our quality of life, not to mention make the apartment look less cluttered.
Then again, wouldn’t it be nice to have a modern kitchen? Not that either of us liked to cook, but any desire to do more than stick something in the microwave was quashed by not having enough room to turn around. New apartments made the kitchen the focus of the living space, and wouldn’t it be nice to have a kitchen that was worth showing off, even if we never had guests over. On the other hand, Paul was the friggin’ director of astrophysics at one of the most prestigious museums in the world, and I was a Nobel laureate. Was the reason we never had guests over because we didn’t need to, or was it because our apartment was an embarrassment? With our positions, weren’t we supposed to entertain? If nothing else, didn’t we need a modern enough kitchen for caterers to use?
The arguments we’d been having over what the new kitchen should look like were so silly, and yet, I just couldn’t get past the need for it to be functional. A kitchen with nice-looking appliances that were impractical to use was worse than nothing at all. And Paul’s taste in so-called modern style was abysmal. As he said, we both had to love what we bought, but I didn’t even like the stuff he barely liked. Neither of us could tolerate the things the other loved. How could we ever reach a consensus when we were so far apart?
Some Valentine’s Day. It was our very first Valentine’s Day together, ever, and I hadn’t even bothered to get Paul a card. Just then, Paul ducked into my office and asked. “Are you interested in going out to dinner tonight for Valentine’s Day, Love?”
Sighing, I replied, “I know we should, but I’m not sure either of us is in the mood. Besides which, for any nice place wouldn’t we have had to make reservations some time ago?”
“There’s always the City Diner,” Paul suggested.
“How romantic,” I chided my boyfriend.
“Yeah, I know, yet in a way, it might have done both of us some good to back away from things for an evening and remember why we love each other,” Paul lamented. “Anyway, the reason I brought it up is that Seth called a few minutes ago. He and Asher have plans for this evening and would like to stop by our place on the way to dinner, but they didn’t want to intrude if we had our own plans.”
“I don’t mind if you don’t mind,” I replied. “I can’t help but wonder where they could be going that they’d be in the neighborhood? It’s not like the Upper West Side’s a paragon of romantic restaurants, particularly when they have the whole East Village nearby.”
“I got the impression that they were also going to see something special on Broadway, or perhaps Off-Broadway,” Paul answered, “so they’re probably eating in Hell’s Kitchen. From that standpoint, we’re not that far out of the way.”
“No, I guess we’re not,” I agreed, “and it’s not like we have plans or anything.”
“I’ll go ahead and tell them it’s fine with us if they’d like to stop by, any time,” Paul responded, and then he left.
The moment we opened the door, we were enveloped in the most wonderful of smells. I could tell that something was cooking inside, but who or what was responsible? Not only that, but there was music playing in the background. Maybe John Coltrane, I think.
“Hey Grandpa,” Seth called out as he approached the door, quickly enveloping Paul in a tight hug. Then he said, “Hi Jeff,” and he hugged me too. “It’ll be a while before dinner’s ready, so Ashe made some appetizers to get us started. Why don’t we go sit down and enjoy them?” As we entered the apartment, I saw that Freck and Kyle were sitting inside, on the living room sofa.
“I hope you don’t mind, but I invited Freck and Kyle to join us.” Seth continued. “Freck had some ideas to show you, but there’ll be plenty of time to go over them later. Anyway, since none of us had made plans, I thought the three of us couples could celebrate Valentine’s Day together.” He then brought out a platter with bruschetta and diced tomatoes, as well as a bowl of garlic breadsticks with a cheese and chive dip.
Paul and I sat for down on the adjacent love seat and grabbed one of the small plates Seth had set out for us as well as a napkin for each of us. Both appetizers were delicious, as I’d come to expect from Asher. “I’m sorry I can’t serve wine,” Seth continued, “but in New York, it’s illegal for someone our age to even transport alcohol in a sealed bottle. My dad thinks teens should be exposed to responsible drinking the way they are in much of Europe, so they’ll become responsible drinkers as adults, but it wouldn’t help his case for his son to be arrested for carrying alcohol.”
“Actually, that theory about responsible drinking has been debunked,” I informed my young guests. “It turns out that the important variable isn’t underage drinking but having parents who drink responsibly. Kids whose parents drink responsibly are more likely to drink responsibly themselves, regardless of which side of the Atlantic they live on. American kids whose parents drink responsibility tend not to be the ones who get drunk at parties. Ironically, kids whose parents don’t drink at all are more likely to get into trouble. It’s anyone’s guess, though, what effect this will have on marijuana use, now that pot’s become so widely available.”
“By the way,” how is your father, Seth,” Paul asked. “I seem to be the last to be informed of what’s going on, in spite of the frequent phone calls.”
“Kids just don’t want to talk to their parents, no matter what their age,” I heard Asher say from the kitchen.
“Sad but true,” Freck agreed, “and then there are the parents who don’t want to talk to their kids, even when they live in the same home.” As I recalled, although Freck had a cordial relationship with his father, who was the CEO of one of the largest brokerage firms in the world, he considered himself to be nothing more than a trophy child. His father expected him to be seen and not heard, so he’d moved in with his boyfriend’s family. Apparently his mother, who owned one of the best-known and expensive designer labels in the world, was no better.
“Dad’s holding up about as well as can be expected,” Seth informed us. “The worst of it is that he has nothing to do all day and so he’s put everything into writing a book. He’s retreated into the study and he spends day and night researching and writing.”
“What’s the book about?” I asked.
“It’s about the polarization of politics in America,” Seth related. “He’s of the opinion that representative democracies inherently tend to become polarized, and that the widespread availability of disinformation has only accelerated a process that generally takes hundreds of years. He thinks that nearly all democracies ultimately succumb to this and the electorate becomes suspectable to autocratic rulers and fascism or communism.”
“But does he have a solution?” I asked.
“Actually, yeah,” Seth went on. “He thinks that we have the idea representative democracy backwards, forcing people to choose a single representative based solely on where they live. Those on the losing side become disenfranchised and ultimately seek other means of expression. But in today’s world, there’s no reason why a person’s representative needs to be based on where they live. Everyone should have a right to be represented and should be free to choose a representative who’ll mostly vote as they would. With modern technology, it should be possible to match voters and representatives more perfectly, reducing disenfranchisement. The challenge is to make the system secure so that it can’t be hacked.”
“An interesting concept,” I responded, “but you’d never get it through congress, let alone pass a constitutional amendment.”
“It would take a grassroots effort for sure,” Seth admitted. “There might be alternatives such as a legalized system of vote trading or as a last resort, the states could call for a new constitutional convention. Better still, start with state and local governments, and the constitutional amendments would follow. Dad also has ideas for reforming the presidency and the courts, not to mention balancing the Senate to restore voter parity. He thinks all primaries need to be non-partisan and open, with rank-choice voting and a ban on winner-take-all contests.”
“Wow, I came here tonight to celebrate Valentine’s Day with my baby, and I ended up getting a lesson on the political philosophy of Frank Moore,” Kyle commented.
“Frank Moore for president,” Asher exclaimed as he carried a bowl of pasta to the dining room table.
“Not gonna happen,” Freck responded. “Not unless he’s fully exonerated at the end of the day. Ashe, you need any help with that?”
“That’s okay, Freck. I’ve got it covered,” Asher replied as he went back into the kitchen and carried another bowl to the table.
“How are things going with the case?” I asked.
Sighing, Seth replied, “It’s a very slow process. We’ve hired high-powered attorney who’s argued cases before the Supreme Court, but he charges Twelve-fifty an hour…”
Kyle whistled and asked, “I assume that’s one thousand, two hundred fifty and not twelve dollars and fifty cents?”
“You’re either extremely naïve, or pulling my leg if you have to ask,” Seth responded. “He’s not at all what I expected either,” Seth went on. “For one thing, he’s much younger than I figured he’d be. As he explained it, once attorneys with experience in arguing federal cases reach middle age, they tend to be appointed to the bench. Not only is he young, but he’s gay and he’s African American. He really knows his shit too.”
“Guys,” Asher called out, “dinner is served.”
With that, we all stood up and made our way to the dining room table. Arrayed on the table were a large bowl of pasta and a variety of dishes to go with it. As we sat down, Asher explained, “Feel free to help yourselves. We have fettuccini with two different sauces. There’s a spinach pesto sauce and a seafood alfredo sauce. They’re both healthy, by the way, being high in mono and polyunsaturated fats and with very little saturated fat and no trans-fat. Help yourself to the salad… it’s a Greek salad, with feta cheese, olives, peppers and olive oil. There’s more of the bread sticks and some garlic bread as well. Finally, there’s a broccoli rabe that’s suitable for use either as a main dish or a side dish.”
“This looks and smells amazing,” Paul commented, “but I’m curious why you made an Italian meal. I thought your expertise is in making Asian and Cajun dishes.”
“A great chef needs to be proficient in making a wide variety of different types of food,” Asher explained. “It’s necessary to combine skills obtained from many different lands these days. People expect creativity and that means combining elements from a variety of faraway lands. Fusion is the name of the game. The only way to master those skills, however, is to prepare traditional dishes of all types so as to learn the unique attributes that each has to offer. Mediterranean dishes, be they Italian, Greek, Turkish, Middle Eastern, Algerian or Moroccan, have much to offer.”
“What about Spanish and French,” Kyle asked, the stinker.
“Spanish is unique unto itself,” Asher answered without missing a beat. “It shares elements with Portuguese, and of course there are Moorish, French, Anglo-Saxon and New World influences, but Spanish foods are unique in their use of spices. Americans tend to be more familiar with Mexican cooking, which combines Spanish seasonings with indigenous foods. Although food in Southern France is quite different from Parisian food and from Norman or Flemish food, it’s still very much French. The high reliance on dairy, particularly butter and heavy cream, gives French food an entirely different flavor and texture.
“Now I bet your next challenge is going to be regarding Italian, which I lumped with other Mediterranean foods. I’ll admit that the use of pasta, which is an import from Asia, by the way, as well as the use of tomato-based sauces is unique to Italian food, but you need to put aside the pasta and look at what the Italians serve for their main courses. In Italy, pasta serves as only the first course, with a second course that usually consists of meat, and the second course is much more like Greek and Turkish food than anything else.”
“What about pizza?” Freck asked.
“Actually, the concept of a dough either topped with or stuffed with meat, cheese or vegetables, or a combination of various elements, is found in virtually every ethnic food. It is one of the most common and elementary ways in which nearly all cultures have learned to combine ingredients to make a meal. After all, aren’t a calzone, a dumpling or a burrito all variations on the same theme?”
“And people wonder why I enjoy being around young people,” I interjected. “I learn more from them than from a passel of so-called scholars.” That got a laugh from all present.
Raising a glass of water, Asher said, “This being Valentine’s Day, here’s a toast to love and those we love.” Everyone raised their glasses and echoed Asher’s toast, and then Asher and Seth kissed. So did Freck and Kyle. It was perhaps a bit disconcerting to see two boys so young kiss each other on the lips, but there was little doubt that the love they shared was any less real than that I shared with Paul. With that in mind, I kissed Paul on the lips. It was nice.
Of course the food Asher served was outstanding – as good as any Italian food I’d had in the best restaurants in the world. I knew from experience that teenage boys can put away a lot of food, but there was still a fair amount of everything left, so Asher put it all away in our refrigerator for Paul and I to reheat in the microwave and enjoy another day.
“So is everyone ready for dessert?” Asher asked.
“You’ve gotta fuckin’ be kidding me,” Kyle responded, getting a chuckle from the group of us.
“Actually, I did make some cannoli,” Asher explained. “It’s not the low-fat kind either. My one unhealthy concession to Italian food. But perhaps we should put it aside and eat it later with coffee or tea, once our stomachs have settled a bit.”
“Just so you know,” Paul interjected, neither Jeff nor I drink coffee and we don’t even own a coffee maker.”
“Then I guess we’ll have to have it with tea,” Kyle responded. “Instant coffee’s nasty.”
“So are you interested in seeing the renderings I’ve done of your apartment?” Freck asked.
“As much as Jeff and I have been arguing over form versus function and authenticity versus practicality,” Paul began, “I’m not sure I’m ready to get into it after such a wonderful meal.”
“Actually, that’s one of the reasons I think you should see this,” Freck responded. “As Seth already explained, democracies are a messy business, and trying to design a renovation democratically just doesn’t work, especially when there are two parties involved. You’ll always be driven to the extremes and that makes it very difficult to compromise.
“By the same token, design by consensus isn’t all that great either. The tendency is to keep one’s feelings to oneself and the result is a compromise that satisfies no one. What good is a consensus if the result is so uninteresting and generic that it reminds you of a hotel lobby, and not a great one at that?
“Sometimes there’s a need for authoritarian rule, or at least for good old-fashioned leadership. This is one of those times. And with that, if we could use your workstation, I’ll gladly show you what I’ve got.”
We all crammed into the den and Freck plugged in a thumb drive into the front of Paul’s workstation. He entered a password and logged himself on. I didn’t even realize that Freck had a user account on Paul’s personal workstation, let alone that he knew how to use Linux and Ubuntu. Within mere seconds, Freck brought up one of Paul’s 3D modeling programs and zoomed right into our apartment.
“The first thing I’d like to suggest is that there’s no reason other than cost to stick with a prewar apartment. I can show you hundreds of examples of beautiful prewar era buildings in New York that have maintained their beautiful Art Deco styling on the outside and in the common areas, yet that have offices and apartments that are completely modern and contemporary inside, including in such famed structures as the Chrysler Building. One option is to simply gut this place and start over, building a new, contemporary apartment inside the existing space that meets all your expectations. The cost of breaking through all the walls in the apartment, however, would be exorbitant. Count on spending at least one or two million and possibly more and, frankly, it’s not worth that much. You’d never recoup that kind of expense.
“A much more practical alternative is a modern build-in-place approach in which you put up framing on top of the existing walls and put drywall over that. You’d lose about a foot of space in each dimension, in every room, but for the most part, you have the room to spare. What we’re seeing now,” he said as he zoomed into the living room and showed us a 3D-rendered view, “is what that might look like. As you can see, the kitchen is completely integrated into the space and it’s completely contemporary in design, with modern cabinetry, granite countertops, a gas cooktop, and dual convection ovens built into the wall. The refrigerator is a large French door model with full internet connectivity and a touch screen display that can show you what’s inside without even opening the fridge, and you can even tell Alexa to order food to replenish the contents.
“So that’s what can be done if you choose to modernize your apartment, at a cost of roughly half-a-million to a million dollars.”
“I have the money, Paul,” I pointed out. “If this is what we both would prefer, then we should go for it. It would be worth it to us, particularly since we intend to die here, and recouping the money on selling the place isn’t a concern.”
“Much as I’d like to think we’ll both remain healthy and die here, we have to face reality, Jeff,” Paul began. “Chances are that one of us at some point will need more care than the other is able to give. Assisted living is very expensive and personal aides cost even more.”
“I guess you’re right,” I had to admit, “But what you came up with, Freck, is very, very cool. So why don’t you show us what you came up with in the way of maintaining the prewar styling?”
“Okay, so here’s the same render with your existing styling intact,” Freck began. “As you can see, the original walls and the high ceilings in the living and dining area have been left as they are. Turning to the kitchen area, however, the ceiling is lowered as it is in the hallways. They aren’t as low as they are now, but we still need to maintain enough space for ventilation and for central air.”
“What the fuck do you mean by central air?” Paul asked. I’d never heard him swear like that before.
Laughing, Freck responded, “Somehow, I knew you’d react that way when I mentioned central air. Of course when I started working on your design, I had to contact the co-op office to find out about the various connections and what would and wouldn’t be allowed. One of the first things I found out is that your hot and cold water come in through the ceiling over the central hallways in the building. Rather than break through walls to install all new risers throughout the building, your co-op took the easy way out back in the sixties. You might have noticed a wall running up and down the center of your stairwells. That wall isn’t original to the building. It used to be you could go to the top floor and look all the way down to the basement, but they took the space to run new copper risers and wiring and they put in a false ceiling in the hallway to run plumbing and wiring to each of the apartments in your building.
“Apparently in the 1980s, there was a major fight regarding the installation of central air conditioning for the newly-formed cooperative. As is typical in co-ops, the original tenants didn’t want to spend the money, whereas the new owners desperately wanted it. They just about came to blows over the issue until a group of them got together and formed their own consortium. The group put in all the infrastructure for central air at their expense, assuming that as the original renters died off and new people moved in, they’d ultimately make their investment back and even earn a profit. You’ll pay twenty grand up front, just to join the consortium, and fifty dollars a month in dues, year round, but that includes unlimited use of the circulating coolant for your air conditioning. Still, that’ll probably save you money compared to using window units.”
“I would’ve never even thought to ask if it were possible,” Paul interrupted. “Thanks so much, Freck. Having central air will be well worth the cost.”
“So let’s take a look at the kitchen,” Freck continued as he zoomed in. I gasped when I saw the bright red appliances. I didn’t know they made such a thing. “You have many choices available, but I suggest using classic white cabinetry with retro red appliances from a company that specializes in that, such as Big Chill or Elmira Stove Works as shown here. The appliances look like something right of the 1920s, yet they’re thoroughly modern in every way except for ice and water through the door. They didn’t have that a century ago. You can order them in any color you like, but red was particularly popular back then, as it is now. Other colors that were popular included pastels such as light blue, light green, pink and pale yellow.
“I love the red, Freck…” Paul started to say.
“So do I,” I interrupted.
“But where did you find such a thing?” Paul continued. “I didn’t see anything like this in any showroom or even online.”
“You didn’t follow my advice and look at some of the examples on the Houzz website,” Freck countered. “Unfortunately, you won’t find anything like this from the likes of GE, Frigidaire, Samsung or LG. I did suggest visiting some showrooms that carry retro appliances, but you can’t get there by subway. They’re in Jersey, or out on Long Island or upstate. You hafta take a train and a taxi to get to them.
Switching views, Freck went on. “Now in this option, I’ve shown the appliances in the Antique collection from Elmira Stove Works. These may be from an earlier time, but a person from the 1920s would feel right at home in this kitchen. I especially like the addition of the second oven and built-in microwave, which aren’t available in the first design. Both designs allow space for a small table and chairs. There is a third option I could suggest, which is to hide built-in appliances behind matching cabinet doors, but personally I think it’s better to show off appliances that enhance rather than detract from your décor.
“As much as I like the first option, I think the second option is more elegant and a better choice for this apartment, but the final choice will be yours.”
“I think you finally found a design we can both agree on,” I commented. “I like both variations, but particularly the second one.”
“Definitely,” Paul chimed in. “I guess when it comes to making a decision, dictatorships work best.”
“So long as you can fire them,” Seth agreed, getting a laugh from all of us.
“Anyway,” Freck continued, “let’s look at the rest of the apartment.” Freck used Paul’s workstation to take us on a virtual 3D tour of the renovated apartment, and it was outstanding. I couldn’t get over the attention to detail in all of Freck’s renderings. They were truly photorealistic. All the prewar styling was still there, but everything was updated, with hardwood floors, new sinks, toilets and showers, new plumbing fixtures, new hardware, and in the bathrooms, closets and kitchen, new recessed lighting. All three bedrooms had generous walk-in closets and in the master bedroom, a new master bath. In the main bath, there were dual shower heads, dual sinks and a two-person walk-in Jacuzzi. There was even a new washer and drier in cherry red, hidden away in a new linen closet. Freck had thought of everything.”
“I hate to ask, but all of this still can’t be cheap,” I asked. “How much do you estimate this would run at New York construction rates?”
“Something approaching a half-million,” Freck answered. “Maybe three or four hundred thou if you use cut-rate contractors. Much depends on your selections and options. A lot of folks in Lower Manhattan hire out of Chinatown. They do first-rate work, but they often use the language barrier as an excuse to get away with things like working outside of allowed work hours. Of course they can’t get away with that with Ashe or me, ’cause we speak the language. On the flipside, contractors that specialize in pricier neighborhoods like this one charge a lot more, but they don’t give you any flack when it comes to co-op rules, nor do they give you attitude.”
“I can’t get over what you’ve done, Freck. We must pay you for your work,” Paul suggested emphatically.
“Yes, we must pay you,” I chimed in. “We’d have paid a professional architect thousands for this. You deserve to be paid.”
Shaking his head, Freck responded, “It wouldn’t be right for me to take your money for this. I’m just learning how to use the software and I’m not licensed or bonded. In other words, I’m not in a position to accept liability. If you use my design and my drawings, the liability will all be on you. In any case, it’ll be the responsibility of your contractor to ensure the viability of the plans.
“Besides which, the two of you have done more for Kyle and me than you could know.”
“As have you for us, Freck,” I added. “Not only did you arrange for your father to endow my position, but in so doing you helped bring Paul and me back together in the first place. Now, you may very well have saved our relationship and for that we’ll always be grateful. Thanks to Paul’s grandson and you and your friends, what started out as a terrible Valentine’s Day has turned into one of the best days of my life.”
“It’s my pleasure, literally,” Freck responded, “Part of the Joy of architecture is being able to help people realize their dreams.”
“And to a degree, the same is true of cooking,” Asher chimed in. “Now how about dessert?”
Things moved fairly quickly after that. Unfortunately, the contractor that did the work on Paul’s son’s place had more jobs than he could handle on the Lower East Side and in Tribeca, Soho and the East and Greenwich Village, and didn’t take jobs north of Fourteenth Street. With advice from some of our neighbors, we found a contractor who had renovated a number of the apartments in our building and who did excellent work. He wasn’t the least expensive option, but he was reliable. One thing I liked about our contractor was that he’d work on only half the apartment at a time. It would’ve been faster to do all the plumbing at once but that would’ve meant staying in a hotel for months while the work was being done, or schlepping up from Paul’s son’s apartment every day. God knows, I didn’t want to impose on his son for that much time either. By doing the work in stages, we could stay in the apartment while the work was being done and always have access to a working bathroom.
The contractor went over Freck’s design and found only a few minor issues that were easily corrected. With Freck’s architectural drawings, the building permits were issued surprisingly quickly. Work began on the renovations just after Saint Patrick’s Day, but soon came to a halt when the entire state went into lockdown because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, that left us without a functioning kitchen for several months, but at least the living room, bedrooms and main bathroom were unaffected.
Sadly, our favorite restaurant, the City Diner, closed rather than provide takeout or delivery and it wasn’t clear that it would ever reopen again. There was no shortage of restaurants offering delivery on the Upper West Side, however, and so we certainly didn't starve. Unfortunately, we found ourselves spending upwards of a hundred dollars a day on our meals, and Paul and I both put on weight. Fearful for our health and unable to go to the gym, we invested in a treadmill, stationary bicycle and compact home gym, and we actually used them.
In the meantime, Paul’s son rejected a plea agreement that would have sent him to prison for insider trading and the charges of corruption would have been dropped. His legal team produced reams of data to refute the insider trading allegation and claimed prosecutorial misconduct, an allegation that’s very difficult to prove. It will now be up to the judge on the case to decide if the allegation of prosecutorial misconduct has merit and if so, what to do about it. If luck is on our side, the whole thing could be over in a matter of weeks. Otherwise it could drag on for months or years. In the end I know that Frank will be exonerated.
But before the judge makes his decision, another very important date will be upon us, the first anniversary of the day I saw a young boy who bore an uncanny resemblance to the boy I loved when I myself was a teenager. It was the day I was reunited with my long-lost love. No matter how many Valentine’s Days may come to pass, nor how many global pandemics may force us to shelter in place, that is an anniversary we will always celebrate.
Disclaimer: This story is a fictional account involving gay teenage and pre-teen boys. There are references to gay sex and anyone who is uncomfortable with this should obviously not be reading it. The reader takes all responsibility for the legality of reading this type of story where they live. All characters are fictional and any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental. Although reference is made to the president of the United States, any resemblance to a particular president, past, present or future, is unintentional. As always, opinions expressed by characters in the story represent the opinions of the characters and are not representative of those of the author nor the sites to which the story has been posted. The author retains full copyright.