One Step Closer to Heaven

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A month after moving in, George was still settling. As a retired sailor, and younger son of an amateur optimist for whom the grass was always greener somewhere else, moving wasn’t new to George. He, like his own sons, could pack a Uhaul better than many professional movers. All that experience had taught him it takes almost a full year to make the place you live in feel like home, so he wasn’t surprised by feeling unsettled there at Sinclair Towers. ‘Give it time,’ he thought. ‘It will happen.’

Not being able to share his new apartment with the various members of his widely-spread family didn’t help. His one brother lived a pleasant half-hour drive away. Three sisters were scattered about the northwestern US, and his parents were in the Idaho foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Then were his own children, largely grown themselves and even more widely scattered. He had to tell everyone his new address and phone number, of course. And those who lived in the surrounding area were already asking when he’d be ready for visitors. Fighting down a small burst of panic, George guiltily explained about his lack of furniture (“you’re always welcome but there’s no place to sit”), parking congestion, tap dancing as best he could while mentioning everything he could think of but the one real reason he wasn’t ready for visitors.

The crisis in family visitation popped up during planning for the holidays. George’s parents wanted the family to gather on the farm one more time, for what would probably be the last “old fashioned Christmas” the family would have. That meant that, by default, the Thanksgiving gathering would take place among those living closer to the coast, meaning George or one of his siblings would have to host the family gathering. Group E-mails flew like electronic locusts once the discussion began.

“I vote for George to host,” Kay wrote. George almost stopped breathing when he read that one short line. Kay was his older sister, now in her fifties but still small and attractive. She had recently left her third husband and was living alone (with cats) and working as a librarian in the town nearest their parents’ farm. She was easy going, and like most of his family had a great sense of humor. Kay might, George surmised, be quite happy with his new living arrangements — once she got over the shock of every single man in the building being butt naked, including her own brother. George thought for a moment, then shelved that thought for future consideration.

“I second,” baby sister Marie responded that evening from Olympia’s outskirts. “I hear his new apartment is awesome.” Marie might also adjust, George surmised, or even welcome the quirks in his living arrangements. As the youngest of his generation of Hanovers, she was in her mid-forties, a plump but attractive nurse with dark hair, brown eyes, a wry wit and perhaps the easiest belly laugh of all his family. She’d been divorced for years, generally loved life and didn’t care a whole lot for what everyone else might think. George suspected she might think a little eye candy would just make Thanksgiving even sweeter.

“We’ve been waiting for a dinner invitation, maybe this is the time to pony up eh?” Janey wrote. She was Jerry’s wife, the same age as Marie, and though unrelated by blood could almost pass as one of the family. She always said it was because she and her brother, like George’s generation of Hanovers, had grown up watching Montana recede out the back window of a station wagon. But while the Hanovers tended toward introversion, Janey was outgoing, almost domineering if she saw the need. She, too, was a nurse, but she had moved into the management side of life, and was now deeply involved in building a home health care business with Jerry. Family rumour had it their business was worth millions. Others might disapprove of George’s living arrangements, but Janey was the most likely to publicly twist the knife. His own kin would politely wait until his back was turned to crucify him.

“We can help with an extra table and some folding chairs if needed,” Jerry chipped in via his own e-mail account. Jerry was the oldest of George’s siblings. Like Janey, he had parlayed a health care background into major business management experience before setting out to make his fortune. George used to tell his own children, “I spent my life trying to do the right thing. Jerry spent his life making money. I think that’s fine, if it’s what’s important to him. He thinks I’m a freakin’ idiot.” Jerry seldom said anything to contradict George’s assessment. He and Janey lived in the hills west of Portland, an easy drive from George’s new apartment. While George was now blessed with an incredible urban panorama outside his windows, Jerry and Janey were equally blessed with views of wooded slopes and patchwork farms stretching across to the Coastal range of northern Oregon. Sunsets from their deck were to die for. But of course George was merely paying rent on his view, while Jerry and Janey were purchasing fixbet equity in theirs.

“I guess it’s settled then,” Lea wrote. “Thanksgiving dinner at George’s new apartment. We’ll be there, appetites in tow!” Lea was the sister closest to George in both age and temperament, so of course they were fated to be either best friends or worst enemies. Her pale coloring and green eyes were similar to his, as was her tall, slender build and quiet, moody temperament. Her husband, Niles, was a successful environmental management consultant who loved a good joke himself — else he couldn’t have survived around the Hanover family — but had grown up in what George referred to as “Politically Correct California.” He had a strong sense of what was proper, permissible behavior, and didn’t hesitate to share it with the more rustic Hanovers. George, a retired Navy man, could seldom appreciate either his prissy attitudes or his well-meant input.

After a near-sleepless night, George gathered his thoughts and sat before the altar of the internet gods to prepare his response. “I guess I’m willing to host Thanksgiving dinner,” he wrote, “but you all need to be aware of a number of issues that will impact the occasion.” He re-read the line. It sounded very formal in his mind’s voice. ‘Move on, George,’ he ordered himself. ‘Quit stalling.’ If he didn’t just bull his way through this task, he’d waffle forever and never get the note sent. He resumed typing.

“First, I don’t have a clue how to actually prepare a Thanksgiving dinner, so I will need lots of input and elbow grease from the more experienced amongst us.” Honest enough, he thought. None of them would be surprised by that, but maybe they’d decide it would be easier to gather someplace where the cooks actually knew how to cook.

“Second, I live in a high-density urban neighborhood. Parking is always a problem, so we’ll have to check into alternatives. I only have one slot in the parking garage here, and management has already told me there are no guest slots available. Sorry for the inconvenience.”

“Third, while my apartment is very spacious for my needs, and the views are just indescribable — especially sunset on Mt. Hood on a clear day — it could be a tight fit if everyone shows with kids in tow, so I’ll need to know exactly how many we’ll be feeding and make sure I have places to put them.” If he could make it sound inconvenient enough, maybe they’d all decide on another spot for Thanksgiving dinner. Without exposing himself, so to speak, to their judgments. And view.

“And, fourth, my apartment building has some peculiar rules concerning lifestyle and deportment that we’ll need to discuss before we make a final decision.” He clicked the send button, rushing his comments to the others, hoping they’d decide it was too much trouble to gather at his home for Thanksgiving yet also, maybe a little secretly, wishing they could all know and be okay with it. Wishing he could stay here in this fantastic apartment at an incredibly low rent and not have to hide any of it from the people he was close to. Wishing he could talk openly and unguardedly, and they could drop in for visits while in town, and no one would be embarrassed or offended or have to dance around the real issues like he was in this email.

Lea was the first to respond. “I have no problem with helping out,” she wrote. “Women cook, everyone eats, men clean up after. Isn’t that the way it usually works anyway?”

“I’ve met with clients in that neighborhood, and George is right, parking is horrible” Janey wrote. “You have to have a city permit just to park on the street. Business parking lots are patrolled, and they tow.”

“If you want, everyone can gather at our place and carpool in. We have the Suburban, we can shove you in like circus clowns,” Jerry offered. “It’s easier to park one large car than a half dozen smaller ones.”

“I’m alone this year, the Kid is doing Thanksgiving with his Dad,” Marie wrote. “Same here,” Lea chimed in, “just Niles and I.” “Ditto,” Kay the librarian responded. “No kids in tow.”

“The Brat,” Janey wrote, referring to their twelve year old son, “is spending the entire weekend camping on the coast with a friend, so it will just be me, Jerry, and Heather,” their eighteen year old daughter. “If we all bring our camp chairs, then we’ll all have places to sit. I’m sure we can make this work.”

George was caught by surprise here — with his pants down, so to speak. Everyone seemed eager to do Thanksgiving at his place. But none of them, he knew, had any idea what the real problem was. ‘You haven’t told them,’ he reminded himself. Now it was time to give them the real info. How to do that? A test of his communication skills, to be sure. He started to type, feeling like he was offering his testicles on a chopping block. Of course he could just back out without explanation, but he hated the thought. Through all his Navy years, the family had gathered for holidays fixbet giriş without him, and he had never, ever hosted a family holiday get-together. Now he was in the neighborhood, he didn’t have the ex-wife to contend with, he had a great place to live, it seemed to be time to step back into the mix and become part of the family again. As far as his living arrangements here at Sinclair Towers, he was either going to have to accept that they would find out sooner or later, or plan on moving again.

“Okay, I’m convinced,” he wrote. “I’m willing to do Thanksgiving dinner here at my place. I hope you all enjoy the new apartment, and eat yourselves sick. But I did mention a few building rules that you’ll need to be aware of. I hesitate to put them in writing but trying to talk to each of you individually would be too cumbersome. So here goes.” He sat back and stared at the screen. Did he really have the balls to just write it out like this? Well, he had to tell them, one way or another. It would be terribly unfair to just spring it on them, although watching the shock on the faces of Lea and Niles might be worth that little devilry.

Now there’s a thought. Maybe he could just tell some, and leave others in the dark? That might help it come off more as a joke, might make it easier to make the thing work because some of them would be “in” on it and have a vested interest in pushing the others to accept and deal with it. But there was always the problem of his parents. Mom was like Churchlady on steroids, while Dad was merely ultraconservative and judgmental in a bitingly sarcastic way. Perhaps he could enlist Kay’s help there? She could speak with them face-to-face, whereas he’d have to plead his case over the phone.

And then, without clearly being aware of it, his decision was made. He erased the last few lines of his note, telling the recipients merely that there were rules in his building they’d need to be aware of, and he’d tell them more later. Then he started listing names and plotting his course.

Janey and Jerry. They would have to be told, but it was dangerous. They would love being on the inside of the joke and watching the others squirm, but would hate having such a joke played on them. So George needed to get them on the inside. On the other hand, Janey was possibly the least discrete of all his relatives. She loved a good story, loved being first with news or gossip, and this would be gossip of the highest order. He’d have to play it very carefully, but, he decided, they had to be told. If he didn’t get them on his side up front, their reaction could be blistering. And Heather? There were very few children in this building, but most of what there was were girls, whose mothers were happily raising their daughters to be open, empowered women. Heather was hardly a little girl. Eighteen years old, a highschool senior with braces and dimples and bright blue eyes, she might be okay once she was safely inside the apartment and shielded from public areas. But she was one hundred percent modern teen. As soon as she set a toe outside the building, she’d be texting everyone on the planet. Probably with pictures.

Kay. Hmmm. Kay was pretty easy going, and not exactly a spring chicken. She’d been around the block, probably more than once if truth be told. She could appear as conservative as any small town librarian, but then whip out some off-color one liner that would leave your jaw open and your ears red. She’d probably be fine, whether on the inside or the outside. In fact, George thought, she’d probably enjoy the hell out of it, as long as no one else caused a rucus.

Lea and Niles. Problem territory again. Obviously, they would be the best ones to pull the prank on, with their third-grade-teacher morality and pushy prissiness. But Niles was no weakling, whatever his faults might be. If he was too shocked at the beginning, he might simply refuse to enter the building. But wait, wasn’t there a twenty four hour guest pass policy? George, as a resident and especially as a ‘rent-reduced’ resident, would have to stay naked, but he could probably get Niles a guest pass. Ditto for any of the other males in the group, while he was thinking about it. He’d have to remember to check on it and prepare in advance. A small slip here could spoil the entire day, with all his dinner guests piling back into the car and driving over to the nearest all-you-can-eat buffet. He would plan on surprising Lea and Niles, then, but providing guest passes for all the males whether surprised or not.

Marie. Easy one here, in George’s mind. Marie was probably the one person most likely to just shrug and say “sounds like fun to me.” So should she be warned ahead of time, or left to enjoy the moment? She might make a good ally if he needed help. She might even block the door if Niles and Lea try to run. He marked her as a ‘maybe’ in either category.

And finally, Parents. Dad could be remarkably open minded, when the mood hit, or an acid-tongued Torquemada if it didn’t. And worse, his mind could change with the weather, depending largely on how many hours Mom spent camped on his ear driving her points home. It would be best to talk with him at length, explain the pros and cons. He’d understand the financial argument if nothing else. Mom, on the other hand, would be locked so tightly into her moral judgments that the Hiroshima bomb couldn’t open her mind. They might just have to blindfold her on the sidewalk and tell her it’s a surprise. Then let her see once they were inside the apartment, with the river in the foreground and Mt. Hood in the distance and the city spires reflecting the sun. The impact of that view just might be enough to get her past any inconvenience. Well, he’d have to talk with Dad about it, and that might even provide a little leverage with the old man. George could gain Dad’s implicit consent and explicit cooperation by enlisting him to help get Mom inside for Thanksgiving dinner. At least, so he hoped.

George’s strategy was set. He would talk with Janey, to get her help with Jerry and Heather. He would talk with Marie, to get her help in dealing with Niles and Lea. And he would talk with Kay and Dad, to get their help with Mom. And if Dad had doubts, Kay could help there also. He started making calls.

“Oh my God, you have got to be kidding!” Kay shrieked over the cell phone. “Is this for real?”

“It’s real,” George assured her. “It’s how I can afford such an amazing apartment. I agreed to the terms, and I’m a single guy in reasonably good shape, so they gave me a serious break on the rent.”

“So how can you host a family dinner in a place like that?” she asked.

“Well, I thought maybe you could help me out with some of the problems,” George said.

Immediately, Kay sounded guarded. “What exactly do you think I would do?” she asked.

“Keep in mind that only the men have to stay naked,” George rushed to remind her. “The women are always clothed. Also,” he continued, “there is no clothing gestapo going door to door to make sure we aren’t wearing clothing when they’re not looking. So once we’re all inside the apartment, I can put something on and it won’t be a problem. It will just be a normal family gathering.”

“Uh huh,” Kay responded, obviously thinking while he spoke.

“So there is no problem for you as far as clothing is concerned, just dress as you normally would, and don’t worry about it. And I think I can get day passes for the male guests. They’re good for twenty four hours, so even the guys won’t have to strip down unless they decide to spend more than one night.”

“Uh huh,” Kay said.

“So the only one who actually is required to be naked is me, and then only when I’m outside my apartment but inside the building. It’s a relatively short period of time there, you see?”

“Mom will have a cow.”

“Not if we blindfold her and tell her it’s a surprise. Then we’ll take the blindfold off when she’s inside the apartment, and she’ll never know the difference.”

“That might work for going in,” Kay commented, “but what about going back out? Are you going to blindfold her and tell her the street outside is a surprise also?”

“Oops,” George said. “Hadn’t thought of that. See, that’s why I need your help on this.”

“I’ll have to think about it,” Kay said, and they said goodbye.

George met with Janey at a Starbucks near his building. He wore kahki slacks and a polo shirt. She was dressed for success. They sat at one of the small blonde wooden tables. She sipped her tea, watching him over the rim of her paper cup.

“You’re serious?” she asked.

“Absolutely,” George said. “That is the way it is in my building, and agreeing to it was the only way I could get in.”

“So if we went over there right now and you showed me your apartment, you’d have to strip bare-ass naked right there on the street before going in?” She smirked. She seemed to think she’d caught him in some sort of gaffe.

“No.” George could feel the blush in his cheeks and ears. Janey smiled a razor thin smile. Her dark eyes continued to watch him. “There are locker rooms, where the male residents can store street clothes. The outside doors all let onto the locker rooms except for the main public entrance, which opens to a kind of indoor garden entryway. So while I am required to enter and exit through the locker rooms, the guests could enter through the garden. They would never need to even know there’s a locker room. I might even be able to talk one of the leasing agents into escorting all of you up to my apartment, so I wouldn’t need to come down in my altogether to let you in.”

Janey’s smile widened several nanometers. “Thanksgiving,” she noted. “It’s a holiday. I would expect your leasing agents to be home with their families.”

“Oops,” George said. He hesitated. His blush deepened. “Well, I guess that I’d probably have to come down and let you in,” he said.

“You’d have to come down naked,” she observed.

“Yes,” George confirmed. “That’s in the lease contract. I’d have to be naked. If someone saw me in the hallways with clothing on, I could be evicted.”

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