Finding Tim

by Charlie

Episode 189

Houses

My name is Fyn Tavert. I was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and I grew up in the suburb of Edina, attending Valley View Middle School and Edina High School. In inviting me to write this episode of his story, Charlie told me that he wouldn't let me get off the hook and keep parts of myself to myself. So I have to add that in those two schools I never got a grade other than an A. Unlike some kids who seem to get As with little or no effort, I had to work my ass off to get those grades. I'm not really sure where I got the dedication for that, but somehow I did.

My parents were supportive, but they can't really take credit for my academic successes. They got used to my getting high grades beginning in elementary school, and I don't think that they ever realized that my report cards were all that different from my contemporaries. They certainly weren't aware that I studied hours more each week than virtually all of my friends. In fact, I don't think they were that aware of who my friends were. I was never encouraged (not really discouraged either) to bring my friends home, and the time that I did spend with friends was mostly at their houses.

I guess that, without knowing it, my parents can take a lot of credit for my grades, because the only television that we had in the house was an old black and white TV in the den off the living room. It was turned on for major news events, perhaps a World Series Game and not much else. It wasn't that I was prohibited from watching, it was just that the pattern was never established. My parents read, played games, or crafted. My mother was a superb knitter and my father an accomplished woodworker. The only time I was ever really close to either parent was when I worked with Dad in his woodshop. There I acquired skills that've been very important in my life.

The biggest influence on my life was my basketball coach, Randy Dilts, whom we all called Coach Dilts or just Coach. He was a middle aged bachelor, and his greatest joy seemed to be working with his boys–both from his biology classes and his basketball team. He had a cruiser on the Mississippi that could sleep six, and he had it filled with boys most weekends once the weather permitted. [Don't get any wrong ideas. He had a little cabin in the starboard bow area that had a single bunk. He always changed and slept there. We boys never went in there. There was never any question of hanky-panky.] I go by the school and say, "Hello," every time I visit Edina.

In addition to basketball I liked to swim and eventually got into diving. I was pretty good and won the city springboard championship my senior year of high school. When I looked for a college I thought of UND because I knew of Tim and his prominence there. I dived on the university diving team my freshman year and would continue that all four years at UND. Then, in the fall of my sophomore year, Coach started talking about the Olympics and told Arnie and me that we should be talking to Tim. You've already read the rest of that story. Charlie likes to talk about this whole story of his being a fairy tale that ends happily ever after. As for me and my little story, it certainly was a fairy tale, and it definitely ended happily ever after, at least as much of the ever after that I have lived through. It's now the summer of 2013 as I write this, and ever after has now run more than three decades.

Charlie would want a sexual autobiography, except that there really isn't anything to tell, and what little there is was told to Margie and Arnie in Episode 96–Milwaukee. The idea that I might be gay, or even bi-, never occurred to me in high school, or even in my freshman year of college. Then came that pressure cooker train ride with Margie and Arnie, and my sexual world was turned upside down. I'm kind of proud of myself that I was able to deal with the events of that train ride, and since. Considering my upbringing and experiences up to that moment in time, I should've been seriously offended by the idea of a gay relationship with Arnie. But it didn't seem like a bad idea at the time, and my reaction moved from "not bad" to "jolly good" in a very short time thereafter. I'll have to put that down to learning tolerance from my family and peers, and the fact that Arnie is just such a great guy that loving him is easy and natural.

In any case, my sexual experiences grew as Margie, Arnie and I became a trio, as the Circle solidified into a group, moved into its own house, The Roundhouse, and expanded its experiences throughout the Gang. Oh, man. But you've heard those stories. I'll be telling a few more in the course of this episode.

Charlie didn't recruit me to write this episode because of those sexual experiences. Rather, he wanted the story of the houses of the Gang told by someone who could really give you a tour of The Hideout, The Roundhouse (the home of the Circle), The Lighthouse (home of the Keepers), and The Wheelhouse (home of the Marauders). Why me? Well, it could've been either me or Murray, as we were the two who were employed to maintain the houses. The Circle employed Murray to take care of The Roundhouse and very soon after that Tim and Charlie offered a similar job to either Arnie or me to take care of The Hideout. I took the Hideout job and Arnie increased his hours at the Marty Center and the university natatorium, where we had both worked part time. Actually, both Murray and I actually work for Labor Services, Inc., the business of Tom and his dad which acts as the legal employer for many small businesses and individuals who want to avoid all of the problems of being an employer. It also allows little businesses to offer benefits equal to those of large businesses.

Soon after we were hired Murray and I got together and worked out a description of just what we'd be doing for each house, as it varied quite a bit. For The Roundhouse, where we lived as part of the Circle, we took care of the routine maintenance, and, in fact, over the years we got so good at maintenance that we almost never had to call in a professional–well, I guess we were professionals, but you know what I mean. We expected everyone in the Circle to keep their own rooms clean, and to clean up after themselves in the rest of the house, including the kitchen. If you cooked dinner, you also cleaned up. But the regular cleaning of all but the bedrooms fell to Murray and me, and we worked as a team, rather than his doing one house and me the other. At The Hideout we took care of everything, except that people that Tim and Charlie invited to live there for a while were expected to keep their own rooms clean. Short term guests were given hotel-type maid service.

On the outside, Murray and I took care of all the grounds, except that we rotated grass cutting through the entire group, and leaf raking in the fall was a task shared by everyone on the day of the Big Rake. When, at Shel's suggestion, Fred bought the house next door we added it to our duties as a gift to Fred. When it became The Lighthouse and the Lighthouse Keepers moved in, they took responsibility for the inside and we continued to take care of the yard. We offered to do the same for the Marauders at The Wheelhouse, and they accepted without hesitation. Since they were often gone for long periods when they were racing, they were unable to keep their yard up by themselves.

Murray and I talked quite a bit about the need for repainting and other redecorating. He reminded me that these houses had been completely redecorated when the group moved in, and would reach a point when they had to be entirely redecorated. We decided that we'd rather do it on a rotating basis, but that meant starting right away, and not waiting for things to look shabby. We counted the rooms in The Roundhouse and The Hideout and found twenty-five separate rooms to deal with. We decided that if we did three rooms a year we'd have them all done in about eight years, and that was probably a good schedule. Later we added The Lighthouse and The Wheelhouse and had to increase our pace to six rooms a year. We didn't do rooms in a specific order, but got the entire group to look at every room and decide which room most needed redecorating.

Once that was decided, the occupants of that room, or if it was a common room, the occupants of the house, got together and decided whether they wanted to change colors, and to what. We asked Tim and Charlie about The Hideout, but they told us to use our own judgement, as they expected to completely redecorate and refurnish it when Tim retired and they moved out of Dakota House. The redecorating process began on a Saturday when everybody invaded the room and carried everything out. Pictures were taken off the wall, and if they were going back in the same place the hook on the wall was circled. Curtains were removed. Any wall-to-wall carpet was taken up. Curtains and carpet–cut down into an area rug–were given to a social service agency that moved homeless persons into new apartments and helped them furnish them. We then painted a large area on a wall with the proposed new color, brought in a carpet sample and picture of the proposed curtains and had the users of the room confirm the color. It is interesting how often people decided to change–often just lighten–the color when they saw a large area painted. That afternoon all uncircled nails were removed, and the holes and all other nicks and damage to the Sheetrock™ were patched. Woodwork was sanded as needed. Switchplates were removed. Quarter-round at the floor pulled up. Sunday the patching was sanded and recoated, and any discoloration or stains covered with Kilz™. If the woodwork was stained or natural, it was finished next; otherwise the paint undercoat went on on Monday, first finish coat on Tuesday, second finish coat on Wednesday, along with first coat on the woodwork. On Friday the painting was finished. Saturday morning the new carpet went down and the curtains went up, and in the afternoon everything was carried back in. Everyone shared in the painting under our supervision, but Murray and I did most of the rest of the work, getting help when we needed it. It was a very cooperative group, and everyone willingly helped. It kept the houses in great shape. Every other year we'd put everyone to work painting the outside of one house, and that way they were kept up as well.

I'll tell one interesting story from all of this, because reading it may save someone a problem someday. On about the third or fourth room redecorating job someone, I won't say who, took down a picture that was to go back up in the same place. He circled the hook with a ball point pen before either Murray or I could stop him. We told him, and everyone, to always mark a wall or wallboard with pencil, not pen. We got a chorus of, "Why?" In answer we took a piece of cardboard and smeared it with wallboard finishing compound. After it dried I wrote my name on it in pencil and got someone else to write their name in ball point pen. We then put a coat of paint on it. My name, in pencil, disappeared under the paint. You could read the ball pen name. In fact, you could still read it six paint coats later. Ink simply bleeds through paint, virtually endlessly; pencil does not.

So how did we get rid of the inked name? It was only on a test piece of cardboard, but I showed them that a coat of Kilz™ was the secret. After the Kilz™ went on you could still read the name, because Kilz™ has very weak color. But it seals the wall, and the next coat of paint completely wiped out any trace of the ink. That is why we covered any discolorations or marks on the walls with Kilz™ before we painted. It works like magic. Remember, two things to keep off of walls are ink and almost any kind of tape.

You've read the story of Murray and Toppy going off to Crystal Falls, Manitoba, in 1988 to think about their future in the Circle. Well, a few years after that Murray heard me say something that suggested to him that I wasn't happy with the idea of being a maintenance man all my life. He picked up on that, and suggested that the two of us should head off for two days (or more if needed) at the same Crystal Falls, to think about our futures. I suggested that maybe our partners should come along, but he thought not. He believed that the real issue, for both of us, was whether we'd continue to be satisfied with the occupational roles we'd settled into. I agreed that needed discussing, and we planned a trip. We both had completely frank discussions with our partners about the trip, its purpose, and the obvious fact that we wouldn't be spending the night in a lovely bed and breakfast without a healthy portion of sex. Arnie and Margie thought it was a great idea, and pointed out that the sexual part of the plan was the norm for the Circle. She wondered why I'd even brought it up. I responded, "It's always better to talk than to assume. We get along because we keep no secrets." Both agreed.

Murray decided to leave nothing to chance, so he called ahead for reservations at the Cyrstal House bed and breakfast. He told me, "I know they'll have a room, but we want a particular room, on the back facing the sunset, with a king-size bed and a private bath. If anybody else is there, they'll want that room." It turned out that Murray was prescient. On arrival, we found that there were two other couples spending the night, even though it was a weekday in December. Mr. Fallworth, the proprietor, assured us that he had three rooms filled at the same time in December about once every third year. We were glad we'd made reservations and gotten the nice room that Murray and Toppy, and Tim and Charlie before them, had enjoyed.

But I'm a little ahead. We headed out from The Roundhouse, took a car.... Wait, I don't believe that anybody's told you readers about our arrangement with cars. As the Circle came together we didn't have cars. As students, living within walking distance of campus, we didn't need them. But we realized that running a house like The Roundhouse, and also taking care of The Hideout, was going to require a car, probably a station wagon. By pooling our money we were able to buy one, and we put it in the name of The Circle, Inc.–the same entity that owned The Roundhouse.

That solved the immediate problem of buying groceries, hardware, paint, and the like. But it soon became clear that nine young adults were going to need more than one car. It wasn't long before Al and Alex told the Circle of their plan to buy a car. Margie–always the thinker most likely to be outside the box–said, "Soon Fyn, Arnie, and I'll need a car, then Pat and Nate, then Toppy and Murray will want their own, because they'll feel guilty using the community car for personal business. We'll end up owning five cars, and maybe eventually we'll get to nine or ten. Where the Hell would we park them, and more importantly, how much of our finite amount of money would be wrapped up in them?"

"So what do you suggest?"

"We have one community car, let's buy another. If we find sharing two cars leaves some of us stranded at times, we'll buy a third. I can't believe, since we all walk to work, that three won't do us. We'll share the costs, just like the rest of the house."

That's what we did. When The Lighthouse was established we added them to the car sharing plan, and ultimately the Marauders were added. We'd buy a car when the pressure on the existing cars became too great. We finally found that seven cars were the perfect number to support the twenty-five residents of the three houses, and it's rare that more than five are in use at one time. About once or twice a year we all seem to want to go in different directions and we have to rent a car to add to the fleet.

You can't believe the process of getting twenty-five young adults, mostly males, to agree upon and buy a new car. First we decide what kind of a car we need: van (used to be station wagon), SUV, sedan, sports car (we always have one), etc. Then we all head out in small groups to narrow the field. We get reports back and narrow it down to three or four choices. Then all twenty-five of us head to the dealerships of those three or four. We all ask questions, those that want to test drive it, we stand and ponder it, sometimes even kick the tires. Then we go home and vote. Once we've decided we send Shel to negotiate the deal. Before he goes Shel checks out the market (now he can do that online), usually heads to Fargo to check out other dealers, and decides what we're willing to pay. He walks in to the local dealership and gets the salesman that has helped the entire gang–provided the group was happy with him. Shel's line is usually something like, "OK, cut the crap. You know we aren't going to pay list price. Here's what we'll pay. He names a number a few hundred less than we're actually willing to pay."

They always want him to put the offer in writing, but Shel always refuses. He says, "Here's what I'm offering for the car. Will you accept it?"

"Put it in a written offer."

"No. Will you sell me the car for that figure?"

"No, we can't go that low."

"Name your number."

Eventually they get close enough that Shel figures they'll accept his real final number and he makes the offer. It's almost always taken.

He still refuses to put anything in writing. He says, "We have a deal, fill out the bill of sale and any other needed paperwork, and I'll be back to close the deal later this afternoon."

"You need to sit down with our business manager to talk about financing."

Shel knows this is when they try to sell you a bunch of unneeded extras and he won't buy. "I don't need financing; it's a cash deal. I'm not buying anything extra, we have a price. I know you're going to add sales tax and registration. So I have the total. I'll be back late this afternoon. If everything is ready, including the car, we'll close the deal. If it isn't ready, the deal is off. See you then."

The final sale is the most fun. All twenty-five of us go, each with a pile of cash in our pockets. The bill of sale is requested, reviewed, and approved by Shel. Then the number is divided by twenty-five, and each of us puts exactly that amount of cash on the table. By tradition, the youngest member of the group drives the car home, along with the oldest: they are Shel the youngest and Al the oldest. Everybody else follows as we parade home, leaving a salesman shaking his head.

Back to my story. One bright Tuesday midmorning in December of 1991 Murray and I took the little Miata roadster from behind The Hideout and headed for our first stop, Langdon, North Dakota, and the Country Inn. Murray and Toppy had raved about their lunch at the Country Inn after their getaway trip to Crystal City three years before. Despite good intentions, none of our group had made the trip to Langdon for lunch since then.

The Country Inn lived up to the rave reviews that Toppy and Murray had given it. We wisely ordered the special of the day, which was fried fish and french fries. We ordered succotash to go with it, and 7-Up to drink. We liked Coke, but when we weren't with Tim or Charlie we preferred 7-UP. The fish was moist and tender. We raved about the fish and the cook came out to our table to thank us. He told us it was cod that they bought frozen. He regretted that he had to use frozen fish, but said that there was no consistent source of fresh fish available in this part of North Dakota. But he did demand good quality frozen, and got it from his supplier. He admitted that there were better kinds of fish, but he couldn't afford to put them on the special, provide a decent size serving, and keep the price reasonable. We told him that he'd reached an excellent compromise. Regarding the potatoes he freely admitted, "I copy McDonald's. In my opinion they make the best in the world, and I do my best to mimic them. Since the nearest McDonald's is over an hour away, people that agree with me come here for fries."

I replied, "I agree. The main reason I go to McDonald's is for their fries. And they were even better when they fried them in animal fat."

"I used to use a mixture of lard and beef fat, but health concerns moved me to a combination of vegetable oils. They don't taste as good, but I guess we have to admit that the docs may be right, we'll live longer if we avoid the animal fats."

Murray said, "Don't get my friend here started on healthy eating. He fries his eggs in bacon grease, and woe to anybody that suggests he ought not to."

"I agree with him, but I run a public restaurant, and right now the public is very health conscious. I can't fry in bacon grease."

I said, "Well, you do a fine job considering the limitations you have to work with. I think we'll try to arrange lunch here tomorrow or the next day, when we take our return trip."

"Where are you headed?"

"Crystal City, in Canada."

"You want to eat dinner at the Crystal City Supper Club, it's quite good."

Murray answered, "We know. That's where we'll be for dinner tonight."

"Tell Jim Watson, the chef, that Mickey says, 'Hello.' We're good friends. We have a mutual admiration society."

"We'll pass along your greeting."

At 2:30 we drove into Crystal City, went straight to the Crystal House bed and breakfast. We were greeted by Mrs. Fallworth and taken up to our room. She said, "It's a good thing you made a reservation. For some strange reason we're full tonight, and everyone wanted this room."

Murray asked, "Will we be able to keep it two nights, if we decide to stay that long?"

"Sure. Tomorrow night we're empty. That's the way of a small bed and breakfast."

"Perhaps by this evening we'll know our plans. Certainly by breakfast tomorrow."

"You're welcome as long as you like. We're always open. Come back for Christmas, and bring that Tim and Charlie with you."

"We just might."

"That'd be wonderful."

"Let me just ask, would you be comfortable if five or six of us piled into this room?"

"The room rate covers two persons. We have to add a surchange for each additional person in order to cover breakfast, hot water, and the like. How many you stuff in here is your business. We'll feed them breakfast and provide towels. We have some floor mattresses as well, if you need them."

"You're certainly a very hospitable establishment."

"If you aren't, you don't stay in business. Look, I know you folks're gay, and I suppose the question about a lot of people in the room implies more than just saving money on room rental. You've proven to be a very well-behaved group. Stay that way and you'll always be welcome."

"If we weren't well-behaved, Tim and Charlie would skin us alive–by long distance."

"Good for them. Well, welcome to Crystal House."

When she'd left I said to Murray, "OK, three questions."

"Shoot."

"Question one. Are you really thinking of staying two nights? Question two. Are you serious about Christmas? Question three. What the Hell are we doing here? It's time to let me in on your plans."

"OK. One, I think I'd like two days in this lovely place. But I don't really think our discussions are going to take two days. Two, this would be a great place for Christmas, or perhaps New Year's. Families get together at Christmas, but we have quite a few Gang members that don't have families in Grand Forks, or who are part of very small family groups. Three, we need to think about our futures as maintenance men. Are we happy in that role?"

"Do you want to have that conversation now, or wait a while?"

"Right now I want to fuck and be fucked. How does that sound?"

"Wonderful. You know, I don't think we've ever fucked each other. We've done other things, but not that. I'm eager."

We were quickly naked, and it looked as much like a wrestling match as copulation. Wrestling moves are more effective in that situation than diving moves, and after quite a bit of tussling on the bed, Murray got the upper hand, shoved my feet in the air, lubed both my ass and his dick, and shoved himself in. It felt great, and he soon came. I gave him the same treatment, but only because he let me, not because I won a wrestling contest.

We showered together, and then cuddled under a quilt on the loveseat, looking west across the plains. I said, "OK, that was great. But, goodness, the sun is setting and it's only 4:30."

"We've been driving north and we're approaching December 22. Days are short. Let's go to dinner."

The Crystal City Supper Club was as good as Murray had said it was. We asked if Jim Watson was cooking that evening, and he was. Soon he came out and said, "Hi, I'm Chef Jim. I don't think I know you."

"You don't. We had lunch at the Country Inn...."

"And Mickey told you to look me up?"

"Right you are. He said you two had a mutual admiration society. We're certainly on board with that. Lunch was wonderful, and your soup was great. We're assuming that the filet mignon will be just as good."

"Tell me exactly how you like it."

"Very red, but warm to hot."

"Exactly the way I like it. What do you like on it?"

Murray said, "A little salt and pepper."

"Wonderful. I make great sauces, but they shouldn't go on prime beef. I recommend the honey flavored mashed yams and cheddar-cauliflower. Both are house specialities. You'll like the house salad as well."

"Bring it on."

He did, and the meal was delicious. We talked over drinks–coffee for Murray and 7UP for me–well into the evening. We completely ignored the elephant in the room, talking instead about which Gang member was doing what. It was impossible to keep track of all of them. That fact led to a long discussion about the future of the Gang, which must inevitably grow as a new generation comes on. We had no answers, believing that the Gang would evolve to meet the needs of current members. We both agreed that it was so vital to all of our lives that it would continue for years, if not forever.

We walked back to the Crystal House and agreed on two things. We wouldn't try to have our conversation that evening, and we'd stay two nights, so that tomorrow we wouldn't feel pressed for time. We slept well, on our sides, facing each other, and gently fondling each other's dick and balls.

The next morning we had the Fallworths' wonderful breakfast, told them that we'd be staying two nights, and that we'd be in the room during the day and would straighten it up ourselves. We didn't need fresh towels. We headed up to the room, and I said to Murray, "Now talk."

Murray told me he'd heard me say to someone outside the Gang, "I guess I'm just a maintenance man." He seriously worried that that comment implied that I wasn't happy in my present role.

I had to think about that a while. When had I said that? It was during introductions at a conference, and people were saying, "I teach mathematics at the university," "I'm a social worker," "I'm a nurse," or "I run the foreign language laboratory at Northland College over on the Minnesota side of the river." I told Murray, I think I was just making a joke, like when Shel used to think it was funny to tell people he was twelve years old–it was true, but nobody believed him.

"How do you really feel about being a maintenance man?"

"I could ask you the same question."

"I'm going to think about myself, and talk about myself on this trip. But I'd like to hear your answer to that question."

"Well, to be honest, I think I'm comfortable with the job, but I guess I don't like the terminology."

"I think that sums up my feelings as well."

"Is that really the only problem? Thinking about what to call ourselves?"

"I'm not sure, but it's a good place to start. So if we aren't maintenance men, caretakers, janitors, or the like, what are we?"

I said, "If we try to describe the job, we're lost. We could be purchasing agents, landscape architects, building engineers, or the like, but those are either inaccurate or euphemisms."

Murray replied, "You know, the Circle is a corporation. It needs officers. One of us could be the President and the other the Secretary-Treasurer."

"You work for the Circle, I work for Tim and Charlie."

"Technically we both work for Labor Services, Inc., but there is also The Hideout."

"The Hideout isn't a corporation, it's just the name of a building."

Murray said, "Well, our building has a name, The Roundhouse."

"Maybe the title we're looking for is manager. I manage The Hideout and you manage The Roundhouse."

"And we both manage the gardens and yards of The Roundhouse, The Hideout, The Lighthouse, and The Wheelhouse. I think there is the secret to our continuing satisfaction with our jobs."

"The yards?" I asked.

"Yes, the yards. We've worked hard at making them look nice. We've added the tennis court, and we have the play area for the kids (who are now outgrowing it) and the barbeque area for the adults. But I think we ought to rethink the whole thing, and plan a real showplace, with a formal garden, and the recreational aspects carefully concealed."

"And we need to get the parking out of the way, but I'm not sure to where."

"Now you're thinking like me. It'll be a challenge, doing it right will take years, it'll be fulfilling; and best of all it'll continue our existing relationship with the Circle, the Lighthouse Keepers, and the Marauders."

"It's a done deal," I said. "Are we ready to go home?"

"No, let's think a little about landscaping. In particular, how do we handle parking the cars? There isn't room on the street, and nobody wants that."

"You know, we have three lots. We have two adjacent neighbors, and because the lots behind don't exactly match ours, we have four neighbors on the rear. I think all but one of those is broken up into student apartments. I'll bet for the right price we could buy a neighboring house. We could fix up the house as a single family residence and rent it–maybe some Gang member would be interested. But we could route a driveway through it to the very back of our lot. We could put a parking area back there for a half dozen cars, and shield it with a hedge so it wouldn't be seen from anywhere."

"I think that would work. We could carve the parking lot out of the rear of the new property, so our existing lots would stay in tact. Could we afford to buy a house?"

"Sure. The bank of Fred will finance it, and we all make enough money to chip in on the down payment. The rent should cover the monthly payments." However, we might not have to buy a house. We could buy a strip of ground of the back of one of the houses behind us, and purchase an easement to use their driveway to get to it. But I guess buying a house would be better.

"Now you're thinking like Tim."

"More like Shel."

"You're right about that. Well, now are we ready to go home?"

"I'm ready for a tryst in bed before we go for an early dinner. We'll head home mid-morning tomorrow and stop at the Country Inn for lunch."

Well, the best laid plans of...something or other. We woke up to an unexpected snowstorm, with the Provincial Police advising motorists to stay off the roads. We certainly weren't going to ignore that with the little Miata. We ended up stuck at the Crystal House for four days. The Fallworths' were wonderful hosts, and we found that they were bridge players, as were we. They were better than us, but not a lot, and we had a wonderful time for the four days, filling our time with bridge, sex, eating, and sleeping. Chef Jim at the supper club took great delight in cooking us wonderful meals, for which he'd only accept nominal payment. We've kept in touch with Jim and the Fallworths over the years, and each winter we take a couple of days to visit Crystal Falls. Only once since have we been snowed in, that time for three days, and we were delighted!

On our return we told the Circle, Tim and Charlie (owners of The Hideout), and the Lighthouse Keepers, and especially Shel, about our plans to buy one of the adjoining houses. Everybody was supportive, and Shel was assigned the task of negotiating to buy one. It turned out that the one home that wasn't occupied by students was directly behind The Lighthouse; it was owned by an elderly couple that were ready to move to a retirement home. The house was in poor shape, and they dreaded the task of getting it ready to sell. Shel's offer was a Godsend, and it came with an offer of twenty-five strong men and women who'd help the couple sort, toss, sell, and move their belongings. Beyond that we took the house "as is." And Shel, being Shel, offered a fair price for the house, and the couple didn't even think about negotiating. In three weeks we had permission to start work on the outside, and the couple was allowed to stay in the house as long as they needed to make the move to a retirement home. It turned out that the facility they wanted to get into had a waiting list, and it was three years before they moved. Shel didn't care, nor did any of us. As soon as the weather allowed we cut a new driveway through to the back of the new lot and put parking for six cars there. It was an easy walk across our back yard–through the children's play area–to our houses. Two of our cars would remain parked at The Wheelhouse for the Marauders–or others of us as they were needed.

Murray and I now had a large area, without cars or driveways, to landscape. We weren't unhappy with most of the back, with its tennis court, children's play area, and adult barbeque and relaxation area. The area between the houses and the front yards now needed a complete plan. Carl had a landscape architect on his staff, and Carl agreed to loan him to us to assist in the development of a plan. I had always dreamed of a boxwood maze, and we were able to integrate that into the plan at the far side of The Lighthouse front yard along with its side yard. In the equivalent area on the side of The Roundhouse we enclosed a small croquet court in boxwood–that way when you entered the front yards, the space was balanced with the two large, closed in boxwood areas. The yards were integrated, so that there was only one walk in from the street. It soon divided into three, leading to the three houses. This gave us four large triangular areas into which we arranged very formal gardens. Across the front was a holly hedge, with the species chosen to have sharp enough leaves to discourage entry except from the center front opening. I could go into great detail, and both Murray and I are quite capable to doing so if given the chance. Let me just say, it's a wonderful showplace, and all the residents love it–especially since Murray, I, and hired helpers (mostly students) do all the work. Of course, it took five years to turn our dreams into plans and then into reality.

Enough of Murray and me and our work on the houses. Let me tell you a little about life in the houses. Each was different, and developed its own personality. In The Roundhouse the nine of us continued a very similar existence to that which developed when we moved in as students. We cooked and ate dinner communally, rotating the cooking between the nine of us. A second person did cleanup. The tenth night of the rotation we ate out somewhere as a group. That ranged from McDonald's (seldom), to Jerry's (often), to the Dakota Steak House (less often), and finer dining in Fargo (seldom). We cooked breakfast (or skipped it) individually or as couples. (By the way, we very early on decided that we'd refer to our groupings as couples, even though one was a trio. We quickly got tired of saying "couples and trio" or writing "couples [trio]".) Most of us made a lunch and took it to work with us, though eating out at lunch was common. Since we quickly agreed that the only way to maintain the kitchen was to have all of the food in the pantry and refrigerator communal, the available food for lunch was unpredictable and varied. We all decided we liked that.

Remember that either Arnie or I, or both of us, had fathered two girls, Natalie and Jocey, in 1989 and 1992 respectively. As far as the Circle was concerned, the girls had eight fathers and one mother. They couldn't have been more loved, and with nine parents being their parent was never a burden. Babysitters, caregivers, trip chaperones, you name it, they were never in short supply. For parents' night at school, and similar activities, Margie and I would go. But for more open events the girls could count on at least a half dozen supporters, if not all nine of us.

The girls had one disadvantage growing up–they weren't part of a bunch of COGs. Natalie was five years younger than Milt, the youngest COG, and Jocey was six years older than Owen, Jody and Gayle's son, and seven years older than the youngest GrandCOG, Jay Bruder. So their friends weren't from the Gang, and that made for a different childhood than the COGs had experienced. However, they had good friends through the years, and their friends were always welcome at The Roundhouse. The girls had great fun from about age nine or ten on entertaining their friends in their own house–The Hideout. Raised in the environment of the Circle, they were as mature as the COGs, and we never worried about them over in The Hideout.

We developed one pattern at dinner that was as little unusual. It began one evening when we had a four-rib standing rib roast. Note that four-rib business. We quickly learned that all nine (and soon all eleven) of us liked to gnaw on a roast beef bone and there were only four. We'd face a similar problem dividing up two six-piece pies, one cherry and one apple, with seven preferring apple. How do you decide. We soon observed that we had two people in the group that were just too nice: Pat and Toppy. They'd hang back and let the choice item go to someone else. Finally Nate said, "Look, I've seen Pat and Toppy get the short end of the stick too often. Here's my suggestion. We get a magnet board and a magnet with each of our names on it. We put them up there–with Pat and Toppy at the top to start–and whoever is on top gets first choice in any food situation. Then their name goes to the bottom of the board." We all liked that idea, and have used the magnet board for that purpose every since–now with all eleven names. I will note, however, that the roast beef problem was mostly solved by having the butcher cut the bones of a seven-inch rib roast in half at three and a half inches. That gave us eight bones. The folks at the bottom of the magnet board didn't get one, but their names went to the top!

We were seven gay men, one straight man in a gay relationship, and one woman. We, at least seven of us, fit the stereotype perfectly–we were all neatniks. The house was always clean and neat as a pin. If a picture was crooked, it was a safe bet that someone would straighten it before they went to bed! Junk, even in wastebaskets, annoyed everyone, and the wastebaskets were likely to be emptied twice a day whether they needed it or not. There was never a dirty dish in the sink, but we did fall into a bad habit of not emptying the dishwasher when it ended. That job nearly always went to the first person to use a dish or glass and needed to put it into the dishwasher, which had to be emptied first.

Socially, we all got along famously. We did things together quite regularly, and not always as couples. For example, our tastes in movies grouped us differently than our regular pairings, and that just added to the fun of group living. We tended to take vacation trips with two couples, finding that traveling with six or nine could be a pain–especially since not many cars other than vans held six passengers. We always made sure that one vehicle in our fleet would carry nine passengers. For a while it was a VW Microbus, but that strained the engine too much with nine passengers. Then it was a Dodge Van. Now it's a four-seat eleven-passenger bus/van made by GMC. The Lighthouse uses it about as often as we do, and we have to be careful to let each other know our plans so that we don't conflict. The car fund pays for a rental when we do conflict.

The Lighthouse is a more natural living space than ours. They keep it clean and fairly neat, but it always has a lived-in look. Often after we visit there we come back and have a conversation that goes something like this:

"Their house always feels comfortable."

"Yeah, and they don't waste so much time cleaning it up."

"We could take a lesson from them."

"It'd be nice to be able to leave a book on the coffee table and not feel guilty."

"So why don't we try to loosen up a little?"

"Yeah, let's try it."

That would be followed by one person emptying a waste can that had two pieces of paper in it; another person going over to the pad of notepaper next to the telephone, tearing off the top sheet that had only a short note (now out of date) on it, and throwing it in the newly emptied waste can, and a third person lifting the lonely slip of paper out of the can and walking it to the large recycle box in the mud room. Oh, well, it'd lasted at least ten minutes.

The Wheelhouse was completely different. The first floor was usually quite neat. In contrast, their individual rooms upstairs looked like teenager pads. They all admitted that that had grown up in houses like that: their parents had kept the downstairs neat, their rooms were disasters zones. None of them saw any reason to change! OK, it worked for them.

I know, what you really want to know about is sex. Right? Don't be shy; admit it. Well, it's obvious that it was frequent and varied–that sort of goes with the territory within the Gang. However, lest you draw the wrong conclusions from all of the sex stories that have been paraded through Charlie's narrative, most of our sex was with our partners.

However, their was a reasonable amount of trading off, or combining into three- or four-person groupings. We also found that watching and being watched was titillating! A few non-partner pairing sprang up over time. The first was Pat and Margie, since we all, especially Nate, knew that Pat was more straight than gay, and he really enjoyed the chance to screw a girl from time to time. The rest of us liked to watch, and that seem to please both of them. On those occasions, Nate got invited to join one of the other couples, so he wasn't left out. As you know, Murray and I paired off more often than others, because we worked together so much. On those occasions, Arnie and Margie did fine without me, and Toppy liked to head off to join some other members of the Gang–in particular once they reached eighteen, he liked to screw around (literally) with both Shel and Auggie.

Auggie and Shel liked to screw around with each other, having started the practice even before either of them could ejaculate. As adults, they were extremely popular sex partners for a lot of the Gang. But where did that leave their partners, Lynn and Brian? It turned out that the answer was, "Happy as larks." First, they found they liked each other, and they enjoyed the fact that they were close to the same age. Both agreed that it was fun and exciting to be married to, or partnered with, a younger spouse. As others in the Gang had discovered before them, sex with a youngster can be quite exhilarating. But they found they enjoyed a partner of about the same age to be a pleasant change. Further, neither Lynn nor Brian were shy about finding partners elsewhere in the Gang as well.

As you know, the Gang doesn't have secrets and no subject is forbidden. As a result, I'm equally aware of the goings on, sexual and otherwise, at The Lighthouse and The Wheelhouse. Quite simply, things at The Lighthouse were just about the same as things at The Roundhouse. They didn't have the complication of a trio among their five couples. They reported that most nights they slept two by two with their partners, but variations weren't uncommon. They all agreed that they liked four in a king-size bed. The Marauders were different. Their gay pair, Coleman and Jake, slept together regularly. The other three boys were straight and enjoyed their nights–four in a bed–with Als. Coleman and Jake weren't very often into girls (pardon the pun). However, they firmly accepted Tim's notion that sex solidified the group. So, every three or four weeks, Coleman and Jake joined the other four in a grand orgy on their California king bed. They all agreed that the group was more important than their individual sexual preferences, and their "orgy nights" were, so they reported, wonderful. Except for their "orgy nights" their ventures outside their usual groupings were elsewhere in the Gang. I'll speak from personal experience that all of them could be very exciting in bed.

In January of the year 2000 Als asked if she could join us for dinner–she had an idea that she wanted to share. We were, of course, interested, and asked her to join us as soon as she liked. With dinner always prepared for nine, adding a tenth at the last minute was no big deal. In fact, it happened so often that we routinely fixed enough dinner for a dozen hungry eaters. Leftovers were always wiped out by someone the following noon.

Als began by pointing out that 2000 was a leap year. She went on to point out that it was an exceptional leap year. The rule was that century years were not leap years, even though they could be divided evenly by four. But every fourth century year was a exception to the exception, and was a leap year. 2000 was, therefore a leap year, because the number of the century could be divided evenly by four. All that was interesting, but it was beside the point. We suggested to Als that she should get to the point.

"OK, here's the deal. This is the first leap year since we moved in–the first since we were all a group. We all know we're a sexy bunch. I propose, and the Marauders are all in and behind me in this, that we start an quadrennial tradition that every February 29th be an orgy day. We'll get the Gang to give us exclusive use of The Hideout. We'll pull all the blinds in the place. We assemble there at 5:00 p.m. We'll all get naked, and have a grand time cooking dinner together (I'll get the food and plan the menu). After dinner we let nature take its course, with the whole house available for doing what comes naturally. The only rule is that sex should be with people from other houses than your own–though to form larger groups that rule will have to be violated. But no sex with your partners."

"Wow," was the first response, and it came from Pat. "That makes more girls available to me at one time than I ever get. Why just once every four years?"

Margie said, "I'm sure that the three girls next door in The Lighthouse would be glad to entertain you any evening you'd like."

"You're right, and they have. I still like Als idea."

We all did, and the idea got a similar reception at The Lighthouse.

So let your imagination run rampant regarding February 29th. We all assembled around 5:00 p.m. Als had already pulled down the blinds throughout the house, and thrown security bolts at the doors so that even members of the Gang couldn't disturb us. She was naked and reported that she had been since the middle of the afternoon, when she and Jojo began cooking. Once we had our clothes off we paired up with people from a different house and got a work assignment from Als. We got various assignments to help with the meal, but nobody was given any information about the main dish which was roasting in the oven. One pair set the dining room table for thirteen and another set up a table for twelve in the living room. We sat down to a shrimp cocktail appetizer and a wonderful tossed salad. It was time for the main dish and Als and Jojo brought in two huge platters, one for each table.

Set before us were two piles of rather roundish roasted pieces of meat. They looked more like an organ like a liver or heart than regular meat, which is muscle. Finally a light bulb went off in his head and Shel exclaimed, "Balls. They're testicles! Bull testicles, I'll bet. That's the only farm animal big enough to produce those."

We all looked at Als and Jojo, and they both just smiled. Als said, "We couldn't think of anything more appropriate for today. Testicles are eaten commonly throughout the world. In the West, mainly Montana, they're popular, though the preferred testicle is from a calf when it's castrated. They're fried and called Rocky Mountain oysters. But bull testicles are widely eaten as well. Also sheep, goat, almost any animal that humans use for food. I think you'll like them."

Well, it was an adventure in eating, but I'll have to admit that they weren't bad. If you like liver and other organ meat, testicles shouldn't bother you. Everybody tried one, but several (and I will allow them to remain nameless) didn't get past the first bite. Shel devoured about four. I ate two. Arnie and Margie managed one each, and said they were "OK," but without any enthusiasm. However, we all had to admit that they set the tone for the night to come.

The rules for the night were simply that saying, "No," was frowned upon but not forbidden, as the rule of the Gang was no one was to be pushed out of their comfort zone. We quickly concluded that everyone in this group had a huge comfort zone. We decided that every half hour we'd ring a bell and everyone was encouraged to change beds (or sofas, or blankets on the floor) and partners. The last bell rang at midnight and we all formed overnight sleeping groups. I ended up with Nels and Evan on a pile of pillows in the basement. It turned out that we had all somehow managed to avoid an orgasm to that point, and we were all horny as Hell. We arranged a three-way suck, and we all came very quickly and voluminously. I had Evan's dick in my mouth, and I could hardly swallow his cum as fast as he pumped it out. Then we all put our heads together in a three-way kiss, sharing part of our loads. We repeated the next morning, but this time I had Nels in my mouth. I'll report that Pat spent the night with Als, Mary, and Margie–one girl from each house–all arranged by Als.

We all agreed that it'd been an exciting and interesting night, that four years might be a little long to wait for a repeat, but that annually was probably sooner than we needed. In the actual event, I can tell you that we've been consistent with February 29th, but haven't repeated more often. We never repeated the testicle dinner!

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