Finding Tim

by Charlie

Episode 178

Diaspora

I started to write that we had assembled a fantastic sailing support team, but I quickly realized that that wasn't correct. Auggie and Perry had assembled a fantastic sailing support team; other than realizing that Auggie was going to be the key to Olympic metal, we'd had nothing to do with assembling the team. But, as I have noted several times in this story, the support team was outstanding, and certainly the best that I saw in my three years of watching 49er practices and races.

Sadly, it was now time for that team to break up. Tim and I wouldn't be doing any more competitive sailing, and the team was put together specifically to support the two of us in our quest for a joint Olympic medal. Auggie and Lynn wanted to get back to their lives as photographer and artist. Perry and Norman were ready to move on. David and Millie had no specific plans for the future, and I'm pretty sure that had the opportunity presented itself, they would've been happy continuing what they were doing for another three years. Gene and Curtis were in about the same position, but I think were glad to have the team come to an end so that they could continue working for Fred's Sports in a more conventional job. Goose made it very clear that he was eager to get back to the Bahamas where he hoped to find a partner. As he told us, "This has been a blast for three years, but watching the love displayed by you five couples makes me want to find my own."

The team was told to fly to Grand Forks with the group that was stopping in New Zealand, Tahiti, and Hawaii. They were to take part in the festivities in Grand Forks, and elsewhere depending on what developed, and then they'd reassemble in Sydney to close out the affairs of the team.

Before they headed back to Australia from Grand Forks Fred called the team together and thanked them for their work on behalf of Fred's Sports and Tim'n Charlie. He said what we all thought: that they were the best of the best, and that without them Tim and I would never have made it to Sydney, much less have won a gold medal. He also told them: "OK, you all have a lot of vacation coming. Let's say four months worth at your current rate of pay. Take your time going home from Sydney–you can go home via Europe and see what you like there, or you can go home via the Pacific and see what you like there. Keep your credit cards and Fred's Sports will carry your expenses. You have a double apartment in Chicago, and we'll keep it for you for a year after your vacation ends. After you get back to the U.S., come by the Fred's Sports Headquarters in Grand Forks and we'll talk about continued employment. Be thinking about what you'd like to do for us–don't be shy. And don't be shy about having a great trip home, you guys and gals have earned it, several times over. As for the boats, the Freddie will come to Grand Forks, where it's going to be displayed in our corporate headquarters. As for the Maddie II, I asked Auggie if he'd like to have it to sail in Madison and he said, 'No, I prefer the A-boats, and that's what they race in Madison.' So, Goose, I think you're the only one in this crowd that's likely to continue to sail in a 49er. The Maddie II is yours. Fred's Sports will retain title to the boat, but you can sail it as long as you like. Furthermore, the parts inventory that we've been carrying goes with the Maddie II. Since you're heading to the Bahamas, I assume that that's where you want the Maddie II. Perry, getting it there, and the Freddie to Grand Forks, will be the last task of your team."

And with that speech a grand partnership came to an end. It launched what I have called here the diaspora, as those incredible nine young men and women, and I'll have to say it, those incredible two old men, moved off to the next phase of their (our) lives, to be lived in a variety of locations.

Goose was simply overwhelmed. He knew that he wasn't just going to be dumped by Auggie and Fred, but Fred's generosity in shutting down the team was beyond his wildest dreams. He really had no idea what to do or where to go first. That was, in fact, true for several members of the team. It turned out that Auggie and Lynn knew exactly what they were going to do, and wanted to get started right away–so they weren't looking for places to go on their "vacation." The same was true for Perry and Norman, but they couldn't resist a little diversion on the way to Grand Forks to talk to Fred. However, they wanted to be alone for that "diversion."

Millie, David, Gene, Curtis, and Goose decided that they'd travel together for at least two, and perhaps three or all four, months of vacation. They thought about heading to Singapore, but realized that it was quite hostile to gays. Instead they headed for New Zealand with plans to spend at least two weeks there. Their next stops would be Japan, China and Korea. They decided to spend a week in Hawaii, a few days in San Francisco, and then head to their base in Chicago. From there, three or four months hence, they would work out their near term futures separately. So the boats were packed and the Freddie shipped directly to Grand Forks. The Maddie II was packed and put into storage in Sydney until Goose found his way to the Bahamas and requested that it be shipped to him along with the parts inventory. Before they left Australia for New Zealand they headed for Cairns for three days of scuba diving. David and Millie insisted that they take a day before they flew to New Zealand to visit Lady Bay Beach at Watson's Point, about 13 kilometers from Sydney. It's Australia's oldest and probably best known legal nude beach. David and Millie had visited once when they'd had some free time before the races started, and now wanted one more visit. They also liked the idea of the five of them visiting together. It must be noted that they were required to follow nudist beach etiquette which stated that clothing was optional, but that the obvious things one might do without clothing were prohibited, i.e. no lewd behavior. David and Millie assured the group that was one shortcoming of a nude beach that could be easily taken care of in a clothing optional hotel room.

Tim and I entertained the team at Dakota House the night before they headed back to Sydney. Millie, I think speaking for everyone, asked why they were all headed back to Sydney. I'd talked to Fred about all of the arrangements, so I could answer the question on his behalf. I told them that Fred wanted them to come to Grand Forks and be part of all of the events honoring Tim and me, because they were every bit as much responsible for our medal as we were. He also thought that they needed time to wind down, and close out their affairs, including their personal relationships, at a more leisurely pace. Thus the idea of bringing them home with the larger group and then sending them back to Sydney to close out, take care of the boats, pay the bills for the team and close out its affairs–all to be done at a leisurely pace. Their vacation would begin when the close out was complete.

Auggie and Lynn had very specific plans for the next few months. They declined Fred's offer of a vacation and went right to work in Sydney on their grand plan for an art book about the quest for an Olympic medal. Very soon after Auggie had been recruited to head the team, he and Lynn had decided that they wanted to create a book about the experience. Auggie was a photographer and Lynn an artist: they would jointly create a magnificent art book, featuring photographs (black and white as well as color), sketches, watercolors, and oil paintings. They would write the text, telling the story but keeping the text brief, as the art was to be the focus of the book.

They'd talked to Fred about it, and with his introduction, had approached the chief editor at the University Press of the Northern Tier, which served as the university press for a number of universities in the Northern Tier, including the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University. UPNT, as it was universally referred to, was Tim's creation, when he realized that none of the Northern Tier universities were able to support a university press on their own, but that there were many books quite relevant to the region, and growing out of the scholarship in the region, that needed to see the light of day. UPNT was quite successful, but like most university presses didn't turn a profit. Nevertheless, with about a dozen universities in the consortium that sponsored UPNT, the individual subsidy was quite reasonable. Tim's offer of free space on campus for offices assured that UND was the host university–much to our advantage. Tim was shrewd enough to realize that books are often cited by place of publication, and all UPNT books were, therefore, cited as Grand Forks, ND.

John Coe, the chief editor at UPNT, was delighted with Auggie and Lynn's proposal to produce a "coffee table" book about Tim and Charlie's quest for gold–though Auggie assured Coe that Tim would never accept the title Quest for Gold because he refused to talk about seeking a particular color of medal. Over the three years that the book was in progress, Auggie had to fight the battle of the title again and again. Absolutely, it could not be Quest for Gold. They tried all kinds of substitute words for gold, "a medal," "the prize," "Olympic fame," and assorted others. The book was finally titled simply Quest.

John Coe had immediately sensed that this might be a real winner for UPNT, and he assigned his best editor and graphics editor to it. They were Mildred Farmer and Jim Quiller. Mildred and Jim met with Auggie and Lynn every time either one of them came through Grand Forks for the whole time that Tim and Charlie were sailing. Photographs and paintings were catalogued, evaluated, chosen, deselected, selected again, and on and on. Mildred and Jim were exacting editors, and Auggie and Lynn were perfectionists with strong opinions. When Auggie and Lynn returned to Sydney for the closing out of the sailing team they took Mildred and Jim with them, along with a computer loaded with all of the text that'd been written and the graphics that'd been accumulated. They spent nearly a month banging out the final edit of the book. Then they headed back to Grand Forks and reviewed the whole thing, making lots of changes. Finally John Coe entered the fray and simply announced: "OK, you lot. You have one week. At the end of the week, I take what you have and send it to the printer. Period."

They forced themselves to reach conclusions and brought the volume to a conclusion a day ahead of Coe's deadline.

It was a fantastic book. The slip case cover showed Tim and Charlie sailing the Freddie in a high wind, their wonderful bodies laid out parallel to a choppy sea and so close to the water that they were getting wet. A diagonal line split the cover from the upper left to the lower right. To the left of the line the image was a black and white photograph by Auggie, to the right of the line the picture continued as a full color painting by Lynn. Inside were the most magnificent set of photographs and paintings you can imagine. Except for the cover, they didn't try to show the same image in two media. Rather, for each image they wanted to show they chose what they considered to be the most effective medium. In addition to the graphics, it told the story of a quest that grew out of the love of two men for each other. It explored how that love impacted the whole team, flowing over to Willie and Billy and their quest for Olympic medals. Neither Auggie nor Lynn was a professional writer, but Mildred was a superb editor and she held both of them to very high standards and didn't accept any text that wasn't beautifully, but compactly, written.

The end product was stunning, and it sold for the stunning price of $125 a copy, hardbound in a beautiful slipcase. Nobody had any idea how well it would sell, and the first printing was a very small 7,000. It eventually went through seven printings and almost a quarter of a million copies. It was the most successful book that UPNT ever published. It's success was largely due to its appeal to a number of very specific audiences: sailors, Olympics buffs, the UND community, and most especially gays and in particular gay athletes.

When Auggie had put his career as a photographer on hold to teach Tim and me how to sail, he was just beginning to be recognized as a professional photographer. Three years later, with the publication of Quest, he was famous as a photographer of the sea and boats. Lynn's career as an artist was well launched by Quest as well. The original art for the book was sold at auction in New York and the proceeds went to the University of North Dakota Faculty and Staff Salary Enhancement Endowment, and those funds were the largest single gift ever received by that Endowment. A second auction in Chicago of photographs and paintings from the three years of sailing that didn't make it into Quest, yielded enough money for Auggie and Lynn to build two beautiful homes: one in Grand Forks very near Auggie's parents, Sid and Cathy, and a second smaller one, in Madison, overlooking Lake Mendota. They became part of a very unusual breed: people that go south to Wisconsin for the summer!

Goose, Gene, Curtis, Millie, and David left Australia and headed as planned to New Zealand, Japan, China, and Korea. Sitting in a Seoul hotel at the halfway point of their four-month vacation, they decided that they were bored. Yes, the countries were interesting. Yes, they were places they'd never been to. Yes, they enjoyed each other's company. Yes, they were bored. Millie asked, "OK, let's think of some exciting place to go. Here in Korea we've come basically north from Australia–neither east nor west–so we haven't really committed ourselves to heading either east or west around the world to get to the U.S. So that pretty much means we can go anywhere we please. So where?"

"Timbuktu, answered Curtis."

"Is that a real place? I always thought of it as just some distant imaginary spot that kids dreamed about."

"It's real. It's in Africa, on the south edge of the Sahara Desert, but I'm not sure what country it's in."

Curtis said, "It was the most exotic place that I could think of–it just sort of came into my mind."

"Can you even get there? Is it going to involve riding camels?"

"Oh, I hope so."

"We only have two months, I wouldn't bet on a camel expedition in the

Sahara."

"For God's sake, get on the web and see where the place is, and try to find out if we can get there, and how."

"No. Find out where it is. Then we head in the right direction and find our way toward it. No working out all of the details in advance."

"We might not get there."

"So what? The fun is the adventure, and it'll be an adventure. Whether it ends in Timbuktu doesn't really make any difference."

"Well, it sounds a lot more exciting than looking at the Great Wall of China, or trying to see how close we can get to North Korea."

Millie asked, "Is everybody in?"

All four of the others said, "Yes."

Millie said, "I'm going to book five tickets to Nairobi on the first flight we can get. That's the eastern gateway to Africa; it's got to be the place to start."

She was right, and in less than two days they were sitting around another hotel, this time in Nairobi. They did take enough time to look around a little, and were even tempted by some kind of a safari. But they realized that if they diverted from their goal, they probably wouldn't make it. So they next found themselves on a Kenyan Airlines flight to Bamako, the capital of Mali. On arrival, they found a "first class" hotel that wasn't. But it looked nice on the outside, and they were able to get two adjoining rooms, each with a large bed–it didn't seem to be any of the standard sizes of bed they were used to. The room was almost clean, and the food in the hotel was edible. It didn't bode well for travel in the rest of the country. But, what the Hell, this was to be an adventure.

They found that they could fly on Air Mali to Timbuktu, but that seemed to take the fun out of things. It was also possible to drive to Timbuktu, over terrible roads, and at least one questionable river ford. The best information that they could get suggested that it was paved a little over half the distance, but the last about 100 miles (out of about 500) was unpaved, rough, and dubious at best. There was also an issue of safety, but their best information suggested that that shouldn't be a problem–at least right now.

It was flood stage of the Niger River, and travel up the river to very near Timbuktu was possible; though the harbor and canal infrastructure to get all the way to Timbuktu was in disrepair, so that it would probably be necessary to go by road (or possibly air) from Goundam–about fifty miles from Timbuktu. They learned that hiring a motorboat might be possible.

It was Goose that settled the matter: "What the Hell. We set off with Tim, Charlie and Auggie on a highly risky and dubious adventure and look where it got us. I say, let's go for it. We hire a car and driver, making sure that the driver's made the trip before. We'll see more from the road than the river."

Millie said, "I agree, but I don't see any reason to make the trip two ways. Let's book a flight back, giving us plenty of time to make it there. If we get there faster than expected and want to leave, we can change the flight. But let's have a reservation in place. We might be able to arrange river travel back, but that would simply mean canceling the air ticket."

"Where do we hire a car, truck, Jeep, Land Rover, or what?"

They started at the Land Rover dealership, if you can call it that. It was an old garage with a Land Rover sign, and they sold a few new Land Rovers. Their stock in trade was used vehicles, but they did sell new ones to various governmental agencies, the UN, and NGOs. They struck pay dirt. The manager of the place had to deliver a vehicle to Goundam, the last town of any size before Timbuktu. For a fee they could ride along, and he was certain that getting from Goundam to Timbuktu wouldn't be difficult, but if necessary, the driver would drive them there and bring the vehicle back to Goundam. The driver would get back by bus, jitney, or ride with a truck. It was all very informal, but it looked like it'd work.

Two days later they were off to Timbuktu. They covered the first half of the trip in a day of poor, but paved, roads, and spent the night in a guest house in the town of San, a surprisingly neat and substantial town. The next morning they insisted (money helped) that their driver drive them around town, and they visited the Catholic Mission, finding a priest that spoke good English and told them a little about the town and its history. They added to their store of useless information the fact that San was the center of bogolan production. Bogolan translates as mud cloth, and is made from cotton using fermented mud (don't ask how to ferment mud!). It's become part of the cultural identity of Mali, and is exported widely to various international shopping venues.

Their driver insisted that it was time to move, and they headed on to Mopti. Mopti was on the Niger River and several miles off the main road, but it was the only place in the immediate area where they could get a bed for the night (though they'd been told to bring sleeping bags and be prepared to sleep along the road if necessary). They were glad it wasn't "necessary." The next night was in Konna, and it was there that they would leave the main road (if main can properly to used to describe it) and head north toward Timbuktu–which they were learning was both a city and a political region–basically the Saharan part of Mali. The next day, their fourth on the road they headed over a dirt road to Niafunke on the Niger River. It was at Niafunke that they had to cross the Niger, and not on a bridge! If the river hadn't been in flood, they would simply have forded it, and hardly gotten the bumpers wet. But it was flood stage, and that meant getting a boat or barge to ferry them across. The town is on the north side of the river and they were arriving from the south, so their driver hired a little boat, sort of like a canoe, to take him across to negotiate for a larger boat.

He came back about four hours later in a very flat barge that was poled across the river by four men. It looked to the five Americans–well, you can call Goose whatever you please, the Bahamas are in the Western Hemisphere–like a very dubious proposition that it would float the Land Rover. But it did, and off they went. The polers made no attempt to cross the river directly with their load. Rather they let the barge drift way downstream and used the poles to slowly direct it to the far side of the river. About a mile downstream they found what they were looking for–a firm shoreline–and they were pushed ashore. The Land Rover had only a little difficulty getting to the road, and they found themselves in Niafunke.

They found a little guest house where they were able to get three rooms, one for the driver, one for David and Millie, and the rest in the third room. The host had assumed that Goose and the driver would be together, but they got that sorted out. Many times in Mali they'd run into the assumption that Goose was a servant or in some way separate from the party. Usually when it was learned that Goose was just one of the group the group was more accepted, but on a couple of occasions Europeans had been a little hostile to a mixed race group traveling together. The group just laughed and decided that this was not a battle they wanted to fight on this trip.

The next morning they covered the fifty dirt road miles to Gourdam which was the end of he line for the Land Rover and their driver, except that it'd been promised that he'd drive them to Timbuktu if necessary. It turned out not to be necessary. There was a strange little truck that had been fitted with about 12 seats in the bed. This made the round trip to Timbuktu daily, and they easily got five seats for the afternoon trip.

Timbuktu! Well, the thrill was in getting there, not in being there! First of all, it was hotter than Hell, and this was the cool season! Second everything was the color of sand. And, finally, everything felt like sand, which got into everything, including one's clothes. On the other side of the coin were some very interesting, traditional mosques, and a fascinating number of libraries. It turns out that Timbuktu had been a repository of a great many early Islamic manuscripts. The very dry climate had contributed to the preservation of these manuscripts, and in the late twentieth century they'd been "discovered" by the west. They were now the heart of tourism to Timbuktu.

In fact, they were quite surprised to learn that there was a constant trickle of tourists and that they'd become an essential part of the town's economy. There was now a choice of eight hotels, all fairly plain, but quite decent. Millie'd been quite persistent in trying to find out what had inspired tourists to come to Timbuktu. She found that they were about equally divided between those interested in the manuscripts and those that just wanted to see the city that was at the "end of the world." A few were interested in the desert or the mosques, but they were a tiny number. And, Millie had to count her party of five among those that wanted to get to the "end of the world."

Virtually all of the tourists they met had flown in and were flying out. Most seemed quite startled that Millie and her group had come by Land Rover, and none expressed an interest in going home that way. On the other hand, our intrepid group decided that they would try to get home by river boat, since the Niger was high. The easiest way to accomplish that was to go back to Gourdam and check there for a boat. It turned out that a passenger boat was expected in two days and would be heading back to Bamako the next day. Our five were on board for the eight day trip back to the capital. They all agreed that sitting on the boat for eight days, watching the jungle go by, with an opportunity to visit a dozen or so tiny river hamlets, was fascinating as well as relaxing. All agreed that they were glad they'd chosen to go by boat.

Back in Bamako they headed to the airport and booked the first flight they could get to anywhere in Europe. It turned out that that was Lisbon, and before the day was out they were en route to Portugal. From there they flew to London, where they spent a few days, and then headed on a direct flight to Chicago where they spent two days at their apartment, relaxing, cleaning up, and repacking. Then it was on to Minneapolis and Grand Forks. Their timing had been perfect, they arrived almost exactly two months after they'd left Korea. Though they'd visited a number of cities and countries, if you asked them how they'd come home from Australia, each of them would've answered "via Timbuktu."

Goose had said goodbye to his teammates and ended his trip in Chicago, his home in the United States. Fred had said that he could have it for the next year, and that took away any pressure to make a quick decision about his future. He'd told Fred and the team that he wanted to return to the Bahamas, but he wasn't sure. In the perfect world, he'd return to the Bahamas, preferably Freeport, find a gay partner who liked to sail, and spend the rest of his life in love with sailing and sex. But he feared that the reality of Freeport would be quite different. Most gays were in the closet and finding them was difficult–though in recent years the gay community had moved more into the open. Then there was the question of whether he could make a living sailing–presumably as a sailing instructor. And just who would he instruct? Beginning tourists? God, what an awful thought. Aspiring racers? Were there very many in Freeport, or even the Bahamas? He feared not.

OK, what if he stayed in the US? Perhaps Chicago. It wasn't even clear that he could get a green card so that he could work legally. His international job with the racing team was an exception, except that was over. And just what would he do in Chicago? Well, he could go to Florida where they sail year round, or perhaps Southern California, or Hawaii. He knew no one in any of those places.

As he pondered all of this, he moved between Grand Forks, where he was always welcome and could always find a place to stay, and Chicago. The death of his mother in Freeport forced him to return to the Bahamas, as least for the funeral and to make sure that his father was going to be all right. The funeral and mourning went OK, and was over blessedly quickly. His father would be fine, staying in his house, and, for now, Goose was living with him. In his free time he headed for the beach and visited some of his old sailing chums. To his amazement, he was greeted as a hero. Everyone had been following his exploits around the world, and especially in Sydney. They'd followed his racing success with Auggie. They were eager to have him show off in a 49er, but the only 49er in Freeport was owned by an American who had no interest in sharing with the "locals," by which he certainly meant, the "blacks."

Goose told them, "I have access to a 49er. I'll get it shipped here right away."

Right away, meant by air since it was still under the care of Perry's team. In four days it was in Freeport, along with the parts inventory, which they soon discovered was sufficiently complete that they could build a second 49er, and still have a pretty good parts inventory–Perry and Norman had had sufficient parts to sustain the entire Olympic fleet. His little group of friends sailed and sailed, and the others got to be almost as good as Goose. But they had other responsibilities, and eventually the group dwindled to four, which was exactly what they needed to sail two 49ers. They headed to Miami for the biggest 49er regatta in the region, and the two boats came in one, two. All of a sudden they were in demand–if they were available–to instruct/coach 49er racers. They responded, "Great, come to Freeport, and we'll teach you everything we know."

Overnight Goose and his three friends were sitting pretty in Freeport, collecting enough in instructional fees to support themselves, and doing exactly what they most wanted to do in the world.

Two of his three friends were married, and Goose employed the wives to run the administrative end of his school. That left the fourth member of the group, Arndel, unattached, just like Goose. Goose decided that it was time to take a risk. Sitting on the beach eating lunch, watching the other two each sail with a student, Goose said to Arndel, "You aren't married, or even dating anyone. Are you gay?"

"Why do you ask?"

"I'm hoping that you are."

"I take it that means that you are. Well, so am I. I've been wondering about you for some time, but I was afraid to say anything. We have such a wonderful thing going here, I was afraid I might mess it up."

Goose smiled, to himself and to Arndel, and said, "You didn't mess it up, you just made it a lot more wonderful."

The story doesn't end like you're thinking. Goose and Arndel did date–well, they did a lot more than date. But love never sparked. In time each found a new partner. In neither case was the new partner a sailor–both worked in hotels in Freeport. Goose and Arndel remained friends as well as sailing and business partners. Their school has expanded: they actually make the majority of their money instructing tourists, and simply giving other tourists sailing rides. Unexpectedly, giving tourists, especially college kids, a chance to hang from a Laser or 49er trapeze for an hour's sail was incredibly popular–and profitable. They have a number of instructors on their staff, but Goose and Arndel do the racing instruction. Their school still flourishes, and Goose and his partner drop in at Grand Forks every once in a while. He swears his most treasured possession is his copy of Quest–autographed by every member of the team! Oh, yes. The book competes with the original oil portrait of him, painted by Lynn, and featured on page 27 of Quest. It was a gift from Lynn and the entire team.

The rest of the Timbuktu travelers hadn't been in Grand Forks very long before Fred invited them to his office in the Fred's Sports building for "a little chat." David and Millie were first, and Fred was very straightforward: "You two did an absolutely marvelous job for Tim and Charlie the past few years. You were promised that if you did you'd have good jobs with Fred's Sports. So, do you have any idea what kind of job you'd like with this organization?"

Millie said, "David and I have thought a little. We loved what we were doing the last few years. We wish it could go on for a while, but we realize that it can't."

Fred said, "Why can't it? Well, Tim and Charlie are finished sailing. But Fred's Sports is moving into team sponsorship in a variety of sports. I can't be specific right now, but would you like to have a job like Perry–managing support for some team–not necessarily a sailing team?"

David said, "I think we'd love that."

Fred said, "OK, you're hired. Andy will simply continue you on the payroll. It's been three years, you'd better have a salary review. And you haven't been paid equally, because we simply continued the salaries you had when you joined the team. It's now got to move to equal pay for equal work. I'll leave that negotiation for Andy. Andy will find things to keep you busy until we work out just what team you'll be working with, and we'll go from there. Does that sound like what you were hoping for?"

"Only in our wildest dreams."

"Well, your performance on Perry's support team, and the performances of everybody on the team–including Tim and Charlie–were beyond our wildest dreams, so I guess we're even."

Fred called Andy in and told him what he had agreed to with David and Millie. It took Andy all of about two minutes to figure out where to use them. "You know, the Marauders are about to set off to Europe for this year's racing season. We haven't adequately supported them in the past. Would you two like to take charge of support for the Fred's Sports Road Racing Team?"

"Sounds wonderful; we got to know the Marauders in Sydney. They're a great group."

The meeting with Curtis and Gene went just as well, but more quickly. Fred had been thinking, and knew exactly how he wanted to use the two of them. He invited them in and said, "I have a job offer for you. I want you to take responsibility for developing Fred's Sports sporting teams. We have a cycling team, and had a sailing team till a few weeks ago. It would be nice to build on those successes. I want to get our name out there in everything from beach volleyball to water polo, softball to archery. I want Fred's Sports to be a household word among athletes and sports fans."

"It already is."

"I want it to be the only store people think of for sporting goods, camping goods, sports clothing, bicycles, sailboats, you name it. I want to move into sporting teams in a big way. We've already felt the impact of the Marauders and Tim and Charlie. You have a free hand, and while we don't want you to spend money at the rate that we authorized it for Perry, you have a pretty much unlimited budget to make this program grow. Now, you have an important question to answer. Do you want to set yourselves up in Grand Forks, or somewhere else? You have an apartment in Chicago, connections to Michigan. I think this job could be done from anywhere. Where do you want to live?"

Curtis and Gene looked at each other and both nodded their heads without saying anything. Gene answer Fred, "We'd love to be right here in Grand Forks."

"Wonderful. Consider it done. The first team you have to get rolling is the Marauders, who are off to Europe. David and Millie will be their support team, or will head their support team if more than two are needed–I have no idea. And remember, the Marauders have to be back in Grand Forks enough to support the cycling program of NTAC–so even though that may be costly, that has to be factored into their schedules. Work with Nels and Mary on that. I don't expect that to be a consideration on most of our other teams."

Curtis later said to Gene, "Fred's Sports sure as Hell must make a lot of money. Fred just handed us a blank check, and a tasking that will require putting a very large number on that check. God, this is going to be fun."

Gene mused, "Living in Grand Forks is going to be interesting. A lot of the team is here, except for David, Millie, and Goose–and it's likely that they will be in and out."

"What about Perry and Norman?"

"I think they're heading to the University here, but I'm not sure."

"Who would've thought when we were asked to do some life guarding for a kid named Willie Carson who was diving in Iron River that it would lead to this?"

"Push it back a little further. We started at Fred's Sports as added Christmas help back in high school. And now we have executive jobs at the headquarters in Grand Forks. And look at everything in between. It's breathtaking."

"You know what I'd like to do?"

"What?"

"Take a week and head back to Iron Mountain. We owe our folks a visit, and it'll be fun to tell them–and others–face to face about our new jobs. I don't want to be seen as rubbing it in, but I think we're by far the most successful graduates from our high school class."

"I think lucky is a better term than successful."

"You're right, but I'm still going to enjoy answering the question, 'So what have you two queers been up to?'"

"So am I."

Dear reader, let your imagination roam freely among those conversations!

And then there were Perry and Norman. In three years they'd met, fallen in love, become life partners, been support for an Olympic gold medal sailing team, joined the Gang, and were now set to seek their fortunes–somewhere, somehow. Actually Norman knew exactly what he was going to do, and Perry was set to help him get started. Perry, on the other hand, had no long term plans.

So we begin with Norman and the plans for a cooperative of chandleries around the world. Well, no, that's not actually where we're going to start. I'm not exactly sure how much had been begun on their business plans when this conversation took place, but it was early. I think it's better told here than in the middle of the story of their business success.

At Tim's and my invitation, Perry and Norman lived at The Hideout when they first came to Grand Forks after the Olympics. However, they'd both saved quite a bit from their salaries on the support team, and they had the money for a down payment on a house. With their ongoing jobs with Fred's Sports they had no trouble getting a mortgage enabling them to buy a house. At Fred's suggestion they enlisted Shel's help in buying a house. He called on his favorite real estate agent, and they very quickly had a house on the edge of town and outside of almost any flood plain that might become an issue–although in that corner of North Dakota there was no such thing as being completely safe from flood. And very soon after they moved into their new house Tim and I were invited for dinner–just the two of us. I suspected that with that very limited invitation, Perry had something specific on his mind, and I was right.

There wasn't a lot of furniture in the house yet, but they had a sofa and a couple of comfortable chairs in the living room, and an old table and chairs in the dining room. It was enough to make us comfortable that evening. Dinner was steaks grilled by Perry on a charcoal grill outside in the snow (I would've sworn he learned from Tim, but since he grew up in the UP he had to have learned it from Paul). Norman handled the rest of the meal from the warm kitchen. As soon as we sat down Tim asked, "OK, guys, what's on your minds?"

Perry didn't seem in the least surprised by that question, and was ready with an answer. "Uncle Tim, Norman and I have been talking about sex within the Gang, and he's uncomfortable with the idea of having sex with Gang members, especially the older ones."

"Like Charlie and me."

Norman put in, "No, when he says older he's referring to your parents' generation. But you're a pretty famous and important person, Uncle Tim–may I call you Uncle Tim?"

"Of course, I love it."

"Sex with you and Charlie just seems to be over the top, if you know what I mean."

"Yeah, I do. But the 'who' of sex isn't what's important. The question is 'whether.' Are you going to have sex outside of your relationship with each other? That's an important question that you have to give careful thought to."

Perry said, "You and Charlie do, and I think it's true for all of the Gang."

"Yes, it is. And all of us thought long and hard about that question. Your parents, Perry, very reluctantly moved outside their marriage for sex, and it took some considerable exposure to the antics of the Gang before they did."

"They aren't sorry."

"No they aren't. And neither are Charlie and I. But you need to think about the fact that a very large number of persons, gay and straight, believe that sex should be limited to one's life partner, at least after marriage–or in the case of gays, whatever form of life commitment they make."

"A lot don't live up to that standard."

"No, but a lot do."

I said, "Tim and I thought a long time about that question. However, I'll have to admit that while we were thinking we were fornicating with a lot of people. We finally decided that what we were doing wasn't evil."

Tim said, "Hell, no. It was fun. Still is."

Norman said, "Very early in our relationship we took a trip in Australia with Alston Gidding. He was gay, and we had a three-way ball on that trip. We don't regret a minute of it. But he was our contemporary, young, free as a bird, gay as a goose, a good friend. I wouldn't have any trouble inviting Auggie, or Shel, or others in that group to have sex–as long as it was completely open and above board. But you, Hal, Hal's parents, Jody's parents, whoa!"

I said, "OK, let's look at the issues. First, Auggie is married. You can't leave Lynn out. Are you two gay boys going to be comfortable with that? Shel has an older partner, Brian. What about him? What about Gene, Curtis, David and Millie, all of whom are older than you?"

Tim said, "There's another issue. You've met everyone in the Gang, but you hardly know most of them. You probably shouldn't use sex as the means of getting to know the Gang; rather you should get to know the members of the Gang and let that lead to sex."

I said, "However, you may find yourselves led into sexual situations with Gang members you don't know very well. It's OK to express discomfort and back off, but it's also OK to go with the flow."

Dinner was coming to an end. Tim said, "I think we should go upstairs for dessert."

Norman said, "Wow. And you just told us to go with the flow."

Tim said, "Indeed I did. You need to know something. I think that both of you are going to be students at the university before too long. While you're students it isn't acceptable to have sex with the President of the University, nor the Chancellor. So you'd better take advantage of the present invitation."

We all headed upstairs, to be greeted by a nearly empty master bedroom that featured a California King bed–with no headboard or footboard–right in the middle of the room.

Norman said, "I can't believe that I'm about to have sex with you two extraordinary people. I can't believe that you're interested in having sex with me."

Tim said, "Let me put you at ease. Charlie and I can't believe that you two young studs, both of you total hunks, are interested in having sex with two old men. It's all a matter of perspective. The only thing that counts is that everyone here seems eager for exactly the same thing. So lets go." As usual, Tim was the first one naked, but the other three of us weren't far behind. Before the evening was over we'd paired up every way possible, but there wasn't a lot of variety in the sex. Everyone seemed enthusiastic about oral sex, both in giving and getting, and that's about all we did. What an evening!

To return to my narrative: Andy, Fred, Norman, and Perry had been thinking and planning their new business venture for two years, often involving Norman's father Henry. Now they were ready to begin implementing their plans.

The first thing they had to accomplish was to sign up a lot of businesses like Crosse and Blanders Ship Chandlery. Fred's Sports was willing to buy out such businesses or invite them to become part of the planned cooperative. Norman and Perry's first job was to visit every ship chandlery in the United Kingdom and invite them to join the cooperative, offering them the buy out alternative. When they finished in England, Scotland, and Wales–it would take them almost nine months–they would begin on the East Coast of the United States. Their target date was one year ahead–October 1, 2001. Once a store joined the cooperative (and any businesses that Fred's Sports bought would keep their name and become a part of the cooperative, hopefully with the former owners continuing as management) the first task was to get a complete inventory, and once the cooperative was established the first task was to work on their plans for shared inventory.

It turned out that Norman was the perfect salesman. He knew the business, and knew the problems faced by all of these small retail outlets. He could easily show them the value of joining the cooperative–reduced costs through bulk buying and through smaller inventories. Each business kept its name, but had added to it, "In Association with Fred's Sports."

Norman's father, Henry, was the target of their first sales pitch. Of course he knew what was coming and had had a chance to decide that he liked the cooperative arrangement–it meant that he would continue as the eighth generation owner of Crosse and Blanders, and he was enthusiastic about adding "In Association with Fred's Sports" to their sign.

Together Norman and Perry designed the inventory system–which meant getting UPCs assigned to many products that were unique to boats and outside the UPC system. They were able to use the computer controlled inventory system that Fred's Sports had developed for its stores, adapting it to the needs of their unique plans for shared inventory. They had to work out rules and procedures as to which store got how much of the profit when an item was sold by one store from the inventory of another.

Perry also knew that they had to have a strong internet presence. He also realized that if the individual stores perceived themselves to be in competition with internet sales that it would be self-defeating. So all profits from internet sales went to the cooperative, and were shared by all of the stores according to a negotiated formula.

Best of all: it worked. Virtually every store they visited decided to sign up–either to join the cooperative or to be bought out. Most were like Henry Crosse: they wanted to continue running their own businesses, and saw the cooperative as a means of doing that. Only a very few decided to stay outside the cooperative and compete with it. In those cases, Norman and Perry avoided trying to establish a competitive store nearby, but eventually that would be inevitable. Those that remained outside, were given the chance of joining later and many did.

Within five years they were established in 14 countries, and had a virtual lock on the boating supply business. Fred's Sports didn't actually make a lot of money from the business. Of course, where it had bought and continued to own and operate stores it made its profit on those stores. Fred's Sports charged a management fee, and Fred's Sports warehouses in large cities often became inventory points, which shared in the profits from sales from their inventory. From Fred and Andy's point of view, they'd sewn up a sports industry that could've been major competition to them–in other words, their words, they'd protected their flank.

However, at three years down the pike, Perry announced that he was leaving the management of the cooperative to Norman, who was perfectly capable of handling the job by himself. This had been their agreed plan from the beginning, and three years had been about how long they thought it would take for the management job to be handled by one person.

Norman asked Perry, "OK, have you decided what you want to do with the rest of your life?"

"No."

"You know, it's been great fun working with you for these three years–well, really six years. Maybe we should let it go on."

"No, I told you from the beginning, retail sales wasn't my life ambition."

"But you don't know where you're headed with your life, right?"

"Right."

"So what are you going to do at 8:00 o'clock in the morning, the day after you stop coming into the Fred's Sports main office?"

"Stay in bed."

"Sounds great. Now, Perry, here's the deal. I make plenty of money in this job. We don't need the money. You need to find out exactly what you want to do in life. Take your time. No pressure. I love what I'm doing, and it's absolutely vital that you love what you're going to be doing. Take your time; think it out."

"Thank you, Norman. That's exactly what I intend to do. But in the meantime it's time to go to college. The second semester begins in about a month, and I intend to be enrolled at UND."

"Wonderful. My parents would be so delighted if I'd do the same thing."

"We can work it out so that we both get degrees and keep the business going as well. I said that I'm stepping out, and that's my intention. But I'll cover for you as you head to college."

"I'm not going to start right now."

"I understand that, but you can't put it off too long."

"I agree. Keep reminding me."

"I will."

I need to fill you in on one last couple: Junior and Louise. They weren't part of the sailing team, however their return from Sydney marked a change in jobs for them as the short-term positions they held came to an end along with the Sydney Olympics. When they got back to Grand Forks they scheduled appointments with a number of key sports related persons: Fred, Andy, Jim, Hal, Tim, Marty and a few others whose names would be new in this story. They were looking for ideas for sports-related careers. The idea of being sports agents came up several times, but they weren't sure that that would be able to continue to be based in Grand Forks if they decided to be sports agents. Regardless, it would involve a great deal of travel, and that wasn't the life they thought they were looking for.

It was Hal's wife, Sue, that came up with the idea. Hal had met with the two of them one afternoon, and at dinner he'd shared the conversation with Sue. She had responded, "Hal, for years I've thought that someone should write your story. Nobody has the time. Well, those two do have the time. They have access to you; they're smart; I'll bet they can write well. With the Gang to support them they'll be able to take a year and write the book, Hal."

Hal said, "I've already thought that the title should be Hal, The Story of a Klutz or maybe Hal, The Story of a Loser."

"Hal, that won't be the title of your biography. But let's encourage Junior and Louise to write it. If it's successful there's no telling where it might lead."

The rest, as they say, is history. The book title was Hal, A Son's Point of View, and it sold well. Sports biographies, a least outside of football, basketball, and baseball, do not get the doors of bookstores broken down. But it produced a decent income for Junior and Louise, and it led to other books and a happy career for the two authors.

And they all lived happily ever after–but not without further drama in at least some, if not all, of their lives.

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