Asaph's young sister came to help us with the babies. She didn't have much experience with children, although she had two nieces. After an emotional first meeting, she set about asking questions.
"Don't they need toys in their crib to play with?"
We had to explain that they were not at the age where they could play with anything. They could barely see us. They didn't even notice each other.
We had enjoyed 17 days (I would never forget that it was 17 days, since my brother had said that he would never forget, or forgive, either) of in-home help from my sister-in-law, who slept on an inflated mattress and who devoted nearly every minute to caring for the babies, except for one morning when she asked if she could go stand outside the filming of a breakfast television show to hold up a sign for her sons and husband -- my nephews and brother. We got a phone call from her an hour after we expected her return, and she informed us that she had been selected for a makeover and that we needed to come down to the studio to be shocked and excited by her transformation. So we did.
We had had a period with no familial help at at all, when we resorted to an occasional Trinidadian night nurse, at great expense. So the arrival of Asaph's young sister was very welcome.
Our surrogate Mary was coming again for a visit as well, and was bringing a friend of hers. She had already visited once, for the ritual genital mutilation of our son.
I had cried during this ceremony, much more than the boy did. The mohel (מוהל), who had been very nice and funny (and who was called a serial sexual criminal by numerous New York Times commenters), gave us a card documenting the event. In the section listing the parents, Asaph's name was written in Latin letters, and then in Hebrew: אסף. Next to my name, instead, were the words "לא יהודי", meaning "not Jewish".
We were happy to see Mary, and she brought the babies a wonderful treat she had decided to give them.
After my mother died, and as a part of my disillusionment with the social-justice Christianity to which I had signed up in 1997, I became nearly entirely apolitical, and borderline amoral. This had made a lot of things easier. Talking about Israel, for starters.
I did, however, occasionally think about why surrogacy was illegal in so many countries. The Roman church declared: Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral. These techniques (heterologous artificial insemination and fertilization) infringe the child's right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage.
But fewer and fewer people cared about the Roman church. I thought about my grandmother, whose mother died in childbirth, something that used to happen all of the time to prevent overpopulation, and who had no right to be born to a father and mother known to her and bound to each other by marriage. Her older sister had lost that right as well upon my grandmother's arrival.
But even enlightened and atheist countries like France prohibited surrogacy; as far as I could tell, children produced through surrogacy in France would be forcibly removed from all of the parties involved to be raised by laic bureaucrats. The Germanic and Scandinavian countries favored by Canadian journalist, entrepreneur, and magazine publisher (Jayson) Tyler Brûlé also forbade the practice. It was only legal in backwards countries like India and Ukraine, and in brutal oligarcho-dictatorships like the Russian Federation -- not countries anyone civilized wanted to emulate.
I normally agreed with the laws and policies of the countries that prohibited surrogacy: their national health care, lack of capital punishment, subsidized high-speed rail, 24-hour clock and (generally) superior graphic design. Had we done a bad thing?
It was very hard to think so when gazing at our children, whom we loved more than anything we had previously thought possible (although we had predicted these loving feelings).
We had decided to have a little dinner to introduce Mary to some of our friends. I realized a few days prior that my friend Darius, who was very left-wing and who I knew did not think kindly of surrogacy, had been left off the guest list. I kept meaning to call him, but the constant care required by the babies made it difficult to carry out even the simplest projects unrelated to their immediate needs. At 16:30 on the day of the event, I finally managed to call him. I had been up since 6:30, but had not yet been able to take a shower or to brush my teeth.
He was extremely offended at being invited to a dinner three hours before it was to begin. I realized I had committed a grave etiquette error. I apologized obsequiously. I wanted to then spend more time feeling bad about having done this, but the babies started crying.
The dinner was being prepared as a wedding gift by our friend Jubal and his very young boyfriend, an Amero-Israeli like Asaph (although he spoke much better English). It was delicious and nutritious and vegetarian, as Asaph was a vegetarian, like Tzipi Livni and the Ayatollah Khomeini.
Our friends liked the babies. I was happy. I had not really been afraid of the conservative and religious belief that it was unnatural and immoral for two men to raise children, but I had worried a bit about judgement from my left-wing peers, many of whom saw child-rearing as a more ostentatious form of pet ownership and felt that non-heterosexuals who had children outside of a non-homosexual relationship were betraying the path cleared for us by Alan Hollinghurst, Andrew Holleran, Edmund White, Ned Rorem, Christopher Isherwood, and Paul Lynde.
I also knew many liberal overpopulationists, who thought that child production, like landscaping and food delivery, should be left to immigrants from Third World countries. "I wish they had adopted" was something I had heard said several times by others upon hearing about a same-sex male couple who had resorted to surrogacy. "There are already so many children in the world who need homes." The high cost of surrogacy figured into this belief -- it was conspicuous consumption, like weekend houses in the Hamptons or first-class tickets on Emirates Airlines.
I didn't really have anything to say to counter these people. I had wanted to be a parent, as had Asaph. Now we were parents. My endless theorizing had been defeated by Asaph's practical practice, and we now had the full-time job to love and care for these two new persons.
I had to go back to work, as my supposedly progressive employer only offered two weeks of paid parental leave. Women were able to get much more paid time off by going on temporary disability, even though Mary had gone back to work only a few days after giving birth to our twins. I wondered how disabled someone who had had children pass through her vagina actually was.
I took as much unpaid leave as we could afford, which wasn't much.
There was a business trip to Budapest scheduled for me. At first I was looking forward to the sleeping aspect of the trip -- if I was strategic, I could be in bed for 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night! But I cried when the car came to pick me up to take me to the airport. I didn't want to leave them. Mary and Asaph's young sister assured me that everything would be alright.
I fell asleep on the road to Newark.
Faruq was planning on coming down from Berlin to see me for two days. He was very excited about the babies. When I had told him in December that Mary was having some indicators of pre-term labor, he said, "The Jewish one is probably taking up all of the space and is pushing the other one out. He probably thinks that God promised him the entire womb, from the Fallopian tubes to the cervix."
"They are both going to be Jewish," I said. "And Israeli."
"I see," he said, disappointed.
I had told Faruq that, owing to Hungary's descent into right-wing xenophobia and quasi-dictatorship, he needed to be careful that no one mistook him for a member of the Roma minority. He agreed.
I flew through Düsseldorf, fashion capital of Germany, although not according to Faruq. I ate a croissant while waiting for my flight to spooky Budapest.
I had been unsuccessfully trying to lose my baby weight, but I was hungry.
My flight from Düsseldorf was nearly entirely full and entirely male. I slept fitfully.
I found Budapest creepy and grim, especially since the Zeitgeist (korszellem) had become ever more fascistic.
It was sad when we landed at Budapest Liszt Ferenc Nemzetközi Repülőtér, knowing that the Hungarian national airline (Magyar Légiközlekedési Vállalat) had just gone out of business.
I met my departmental colleague, who had flown through Frankfurt, at baggage claim.
The sun was shining on the eerie government ministry across the street from the Austrian chain business hotel where I always stayed. Although New York had had the warmest winter on record, there was a sharp continental chill in atmosphere of the Hungarian capital.
I slept for two hours and then met my colleague to walk to our office there. It was in an old Communist building that still had some furnishings from the Cold War days.
That cheered me a bit.
We met our legal colleague from New York, who had arrived in Budapest a few days prior to explore the city a bit. When I quizzed her about what she had done, I realized she had missed everything worth seeing. I made her a list.
Faruq sent me a text message that he was boarding the night train from Berlin.
After dinner at a German fast casual restaurant chain offering Italian food, I called home to speak to the babies and then fell into a shallow slumber where I woke frequently owing to dreams about having to wake frequently.
I took a walk the next morning before the training we were there to conduct.
I remembered the tour I had taken of the parliament with my mother and father back in 1996.
I had loved Budapest back then, mostly because it was summer and warm and I was young and impressed by the number of attractive young men strutting around. Hungary was a lot shabbier back then, but much more upbeat.
I stopped to look at a memorial to the failed 1956 uprising. Bullet holes in the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (Földművelésügyi és Vidékfejlesztési Minisztérium) had been filled in with new and bigger, more ornamental bullets.
I got a message from Faruq saying that he had arrived and that he was "going to bathe". I had told my colleagues that a friend was coming down from Berlin to visit ahead of time, to prevent them from thinking that I was having some sort of zentraleuropäisches Abenteuer, so soon after my marriage and the onset of fatherhood.
My colleagues and I spent the day conducting trainings for a hostile audience of Hungarians and others from the region. A selection of hostile pastries and other snacks were served.
At 17:00 I left the office to meet Faruq. He was waiting outside on Október 6. utca.
It was great to see him!
We went back to the hotel, where he had already left his things.
We had great time catching up.
"The language here is so strange!" he noticed, as he had during our previous Pannonian reunion. "What are you doing here? Have you come for Crocodile Day? That's what I call it, anyway. I can't get my mouth round their lingo," he said, quoting Jocasta upon the arrival of Atia of the Julii to Egypt in the HBO/BBC television series Rome.
We went to our favorite Orientalist café for dinner.
Faruq said he was glad to get out of Berlin for a couple of days, as it had been very cold and he had been working very hard. He still loved it there, however.
We both enjoyed some delicious creamed spinach, and asked for a second helping.
We drank mint tea after dinner, like Arabs.
"Did you know that the Roman province of Mauretania was named after the Moors?" he asked.
I had never thought about it.
We strolled a bit on Andrássy út. Faruq recalled that we had spoken at length during the previous Magyar meeting about whether or not we were living in a Spätzeit.
"Now that I have children, I can't think that way anymore," I said.
"I will send the children many presents related to the glories of the German and Ancient Egyptian civilizations, to counter all of the Zionist propaganda to which they will be subjected," he said.
We walked back to the hotel.
We watched some bad German television before turning in. Someone was doing something nefarious in the ministry adjacent.
We ate a hearty breakfast the next morning, although it would have been heartier and wholesomer in Berlin, we noted.
Faruq went off to do more bathing.
My training ended a bit early, so I met him where he was having lunch, in a restaurant that we had also patronized one and a half years before. There was a very tall, pale, and attractive Hungarian man sitting at at table who had reduced Faruq to Gelee.
We walked around the main pedestrian street.
"k. u. k." said Faruq.
I went into a store to buy some clothing for the children. After I completed my purchase I went to meet Faruq on the men's floor. It was filled with virile young Hungarians. I felt confused and ashamed, clutching my baby sleepers and dresses.
We passed judgement on the casinos, which were clearly imported aus Osten.
"Asien... Asien..." said Faruq.
We went to the Great Market Hall (Nagycsarnok).
We bought nothing, although I eyed some folkloric costumes for children.
We ambled back along the Danube in the nippy twilight.
Although there were more empty storefronts than there had been previously, more buildings had been renovated than ever before.
Faruq explained the difference between a balcony, a French balcony, and a loggia.
There were signs of the older times.
"We have spent too much time along the Donauufer! We must hurry!" exclaimed Faruq. "I will miss my train back to Preußen! Hurry, Franz, hurry!"
We gathered his things at the hotel and went to the Budapest-Eastern Railway Terminal (Budapest-Keleti pályaudvar) on the M2 line of the bankrupt Budapest Metro.
I stood with Faruq as he smoked a cigarette in front of the station. There were many obvious members of the Roma minority, as well as young people who seemed to be recruiting for some sort radical nationalist paramilitary party.
The station was seedy, despite its relative beauty.
I disobeyed the warning signs and walked Faruq to his car. It was Czech.
We said our farewells. I was sad to see him go.
I took the metro back to Deák Ferenc tér and walked to the German fast casual restaurant chain offering Italian food for dinner. I sat at a table eating and reading The Slaves of Solitude by the famed alcoholic Patrick Hamilton.
My two colleagues from New York walked in and saw me sitting and reading.
"We are just getting some food to-go so we can keep working back at the hotel," one of them said.
Oh, I thought, sheepishly.
Eventually I went back to the hotel. I guessed I should work.
I decided to take a shower. The water was slightly brown.
After talking to the babies on the phone, I got under the duvet. The thrill of a full night of sleep was gone.
We had one last training in the morning, and then my two New York colleagues and my Hungarian analogue and I took a car to the airport. I fell asleep in the front seat.
The airport seemed melancholy, despite extensive renovation and new palatial size.
We sat in a restaurant looking out at the empty apron.
We boarded our British Airways flight to London. A monitor tracked our progress in a theatrical fashion similar to something I had seen on a Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul from Budapest a few years prior. I fell asleep again.
We landed. I had joked that I was afraid of London, since I had only been there a couple of times, and one of those times was during the Poll Tax Riots of 1990. London was nearly always being portrayed in a negative light in the media that I read or watched, with the exception of in a few romantic comedies.
"I am scared of this dystopian post-apocalyptic hooligan Islamist overpriced metropolis!" I said. No one responded.
After walking through miles of tunnels, we took the so-called Tube to our hotel.
It was a German or Austrian hotel, staffed entirely by Eastern Europeans.
We ate a late dinner at the hotel bar.
In spite of my fear of zombies, Islamists, hooligans, oligarchs, and closed-circuit cameras, I suggested that we go out to buy some sweet-meal and rolled-oat biscuits. One of my New York colleagues agreed.
It was much warmer in London than it had been in Budapest. As we neared the shop, my colleague slipped on a banana peel and fell to the ground. We hadn't anticipated that kind of danger! We ran back to the hotel.
Back in the room the BS 1363 single-phase AC power plugs and sockets never let me forget that I was in Britain. So exotic! I thought.
I watched some television in English, the supposed local language.
Because it was a German or Austrian hotel, there was an extensive breakfast buffet, although they included British items such as baked beans, baked tomatoes, and conservative tabloid newspapers.
I took a quick walk around the neighborhood before the car came to take us to our London office.
I thought of Mrs. Wilcox in Howard's End: Charles takes after me. He truly loves England. Not, of course, London. None of us love London.
London was much prettier and less dystopian and Islamist than I had expected.
We arrived at our office.
Shortly before we began the training, I realized I had left the fancy electrical adapter that Asaph had loaned me back at the hotel, having been bewitched by the BS 1363 single-phase AC power plugs and sockets.
When our training ended at around 12:30, I ran out to the Hammersmith tube station. I noticed that almost no one in London was speaking English; Russian, Urdu, Arabic, and French were much more popular.
The polite Eastern Europeans at the front desk handed me the adapter.
I ran back to the Tube, and then to the office.
We said goodbye to our legal colleague, who was heading to Turkey the next day, and left for the airport. I advocated taking public transportation, if only to avoid having to make change in British pounds with a cab driver.
The train was packed with boys in Hogwartsian jackets.
We arrived at the fancy Heathrow Terminal 5. The electronic signage indicated that we were too early to drop off our bags. I decided to be Israeli and try anyway. We each chose a queue where there was a friendly-looking staff person working. My departmental colleague checked in her bags with no problems.
As I got to the front of my line, the smiling subcontinental man was replaced by a beautiful woman in a hijab-compliant headscarf. I realized that the Israeli approach might not work on her.
"I'm sorry, sir, but it is too early for you to drop off your bags," she said in Estuary English.
I decided to try a mixture of obsequious politeness and semi-senile bafflement. "I don't understand... my colleague on the same flight just checked in hers... How could that be... What is happening...?"
After about five minutes of stammering she gave in.
My colleague wanted to drink gin and tonics before our flight. Owing presumably to Islamic influence, it was difficult to find a bar in the gigantic terminal.
We made our way to the gate at the appointed time. I noticed the future of religion.
I wondered if faith in infinite human progress would allow one access to such a room.
We were seated in an upgraded version of economy class. Since my Lenten disciplines had dropped to nearly undetectable levels, I went ahead and ate my chicken tikka masala, a dish a former Indian colleague had told me did not exist in India.
It was nothing like All Nippon Airways signature chicken curry, so beloved by (Jayson) Tyler Brûlé, I assumed.
It was surprisingly cold in New York. Owing to a miscommunication regarding my destination airport, I waited outside for 45 minutes, freezing.
The babies were sleeping when I got home. But I was so happy to see them!
The next morning I gave them their presents. The Girl grabbed her new dress and then fell asleep.
Later we took them for a walk.
Since I was well-rested, they seemed perfect.