Finding Tim

by Charlie

Episode 193

I'm Marshall Chalmers. I was born in Ishpeming, Michigan, where my mother, Elinor, was the head librarian at the Carnegie Public Library of Ishpeming. At the time of my birth, my father, Gene Chalmers, was managing a small restaurant in Ishpeming, but over the years he held a variety of jobs in both Ishpeming and Ironwood, Michigan. We moved to Ironwood when I was about age two, when my mother became the director of the Ironwood Carnegie Library.

With that move my father had to give up his restaurant job and went looking for a new job in Ironwood. Dad was a hard worker, but had no specific marketable skills. His fairly limited experience managing a restaurant had convinced him that that was not a occupation he wanted to continue. Quite simply, to manage a restaurant you had to be there at mealtime, and he wanted to be with his family at mealtimes. Mom agreed.

I have opened a can of worms–I'm going to end up telling the story of my parents teenage romance. But, I think it's a good story and it fits right in with things the Gang stands for. Mom and Dad grew up in Marquette, Michigan. Mom's father was on the faculty of the School of Education at Northern Michigan University. Her mother was a stay-at-home mom, raising four girls. It was simply a part of the family ethos that the four girls would go to college and either become professionals or marry one.

Dad's parents worked on the grounds staff of the university, and the family expectation, quite the norm for the UP, was that he would graduate from high school and try to get a good, solid, secure job like his father's at the university.

Both families, including the children, more or less assumed that their children would find husbands and wives of similar backgrounds. Of course, hormones aren't necessarily governed by such assumptions. My mom started elementary school in Norman, Oklahoma, but moved to Marquette in third grade when her father left his teaching position at the University of Oklahoma and took one at Northern Michigan. Dad grew up in Marquette and began school at the Hewitt Avenue School. In 1957 a new school, Sandy Knoll, was opened and beginning in third grade they both ended up there as students. They lived near each other despite the differences in their backgrounds, because both had parents that worked for the university. In elementary school they both noticed each other, but studiously avoided each other, as they did most (or all) members of the opposite sex.

Things changed little at Graveraet Junior High School, but by the time they were in Graveraet Senior High School (same building) Elinor had begun to notice Gene, but Gene was pretty oblivious to Elinor. In tenth grade Elinor made her move. The school had a Sadie Hawkins Day Dance, and Elinor asked Gene, who somewhat reluctantly accepted. She took him to dinner before the dance. As she had hoped that made him feel obligated to ask her out for a movie and late dinner a week or so later. I won't bore you with the details of a fairly typical dating sequence of the 1960's. In the summer after their tenth grade year things got pretty serious, and when they got back to school in the fall of 1965, they were going steady. (Perhaps today we'd put going steady in quotation marks, but not back then–it was common terminology.)

Things didn't change much during their junior year of high school, except that they were now in a lovely new building, the Marquette Senior High School (imaginative name, wasn't it?). They dated, or were together for some school function, at least one, and often both, weekend nights. It wasn't until well after Nettie and her family had pushed me into some pretty difficult discussions with my parents about sex, that I learned anything about their high school experiences. Remember, Elinor was the pusher in this relationship. When they had completed their tenth grade year and Gene hadn't made the slightest move toward a sexual relationship, Elinor knew that the first move would be up to her. It was the Fourth of July and they had been to the park for a picnic and a fireworks show. After the show, Elinor tugged Gene into the woods near the park and said, "Let's walk, and let's talk."

"OK. What would you like to talk about?"

"Us."

"What about us? We seem to get along pretty well. You aren't going to suggest we break up, are you?"

"Would that upset you?"

"Yes, it would, very much."

"Why?"

That was a tough one for Gene. The answer, of course, was that he was falling in love with Elinor, but he didn't have a clue. So his answer was, "I like you; I like being with you; I'd miss you."

"Well, I don't want to break up either. I want to go farther."

"How so?"

"Gene, we have been dating for about nine months, and not once have you made any advances on me beyond kissing."

"You mean, like trying to feel you up?"

"That's exactly what I mean."

"That wouldn't bother you? Is this an invitation?"

"Yes, it is."

"An invitation to what?"

"Let's explore that."

"You mean, right here, right now?"

"Yes." By this time they were well off the beaten path and anybody near them would almost certainly be there for the same reason they were. Elinor stood in front of him and kissed him, letting her tongue slip into his mouth, not for the first time. But, for the first time, her hand slipped between them and massaged his groin. His hand moved to her breast, and quickly their hands were more important than their lips and tongues. She took his hand in hers and brought it up under her blouse. She had deliberately not worn a bra–this was the first decade in which a teenage girl could get away with that if she had any breasts at all. Gene was eager, and Elinor could feel him getting hard as she rubbed his penis through his jeans.

As they stood their, Gene asked, "How far do you want to go? And, how far do you want to go tonight?"

"I want to go a long way, but not tonight. I'd like to move slowly. Let's walk home now, and I'll dream about where this might lead and what we'll do next. You can dream as well."

"When I dream, I'll masturbate. Do girls masturbate when they dream about doing things with boys?"

"We sure do. And you can bet I'll masturbate tonight."

It took a year. Elinor was the leader, and they moved, oh, so slowly. It was Christmas vacation before they were naked together. Unless you counted one time when Gene came in his pants when she rubbed his dick through his underwear, they weren't giving each other orgasms until the snow was gone the next spring. On the next Fourth of July he fucked her for the first time.

It was only then that Elinor started talking about marriage. But marrying Elinor scared the Hell out of Gene. Elinor was going to go to college, perhaps to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She wanted to be a librarian. He was hoping to get a job where his father worked–on the Northern Michigan University Grounds Crew. He had worked there two summers, and thought he could get a permanent job. While he could see himself marrying a librarian, he couldn't wrap his head around the idea that a librarian would want to marry a grounds crew laborer. It took him a while, and a number of false starts to say all of this to Elinor, but he did. She listened patiently, and she had to admit that her parents were telling her much the same thing, as they realized that the high school romance was developing into something more.

Elinor listened to everyone, but held her tongue. By this time she and Gene were having sex regularly, and she made sure that he used a rubber (1960's remember?) every time. Their sex was routine missionary, but both of them loved it, and grew to love each other.

It was Christmas vacation of their senior year. It had snowed, and both of Gene's grounds crew parents had been called in to school to shovel the place out. It snows a lot in Marquette, and if you don't keep up with it, it can get so far ahead of you that you can't catch up, so the shoveling continued right through vacation. Gene and Elinor had his house to themselves, and he was fucking her eagerly. They both came, and she said, "Stay inside me. Gene, I love you. I want to marry you. I want to spend my life with you, and I don't want any of this crap that a librarian can't live her life very happily with a laborer. I don't care if you work at all, as long as you're a good father to my children, and love me forever like you did just now."

"OK."

That was it. They considered themselves engaged. She had asked and he had answered. Then she said, "I'm going to go to Northern Michigan University so we can be near each other. I want to go to library school in Ann Arbor for two years; maybe you can come to Ann Arbor. If not, we'll have to be apart those two years. Let's announce our engagement to our parents very soon, and to the world after my first year of library school. We'll get married right after I graduate."

After she said that, she thought a while, and said, "Wait a minute. I take all that back. We need to plan all that together, not have me just tell you."

It was Gene's turn to think, and after a while he said, "Don't take it back. I think I'm very comfortable having you do the thinking in this family. That's why we're sending you to college."

That pretty much describes their lives from that time forward. Gene didn't want to quit his job with the university to go to Ann Arbor with her, so they were separated those two years, but together at every vacation and opportunity. (It's a eight-hour, 450-mile drive. They didn't make it too often.) They were married in a simple ceremony in Mom's Lutheran church in Marquette, with the reception in a university banquet hall. They drove to Niagra Falls and back for their honeymoon, and then headed the fifteen miles to Ishpeming, where Elinor would be the librarian at the Carnegie Library and Gene would look for work.

On their first night in Ishpeming, in a motel before they could look for housing, Elinor waited in bed for Gene to finish in the bathroom. She said, "No rubber tonight. It's time to breed little Chalmers." True to form, Gene thought that was a good idea, and he tossed the rubbers in the waste can. It took about four years before I was conceived, but I did come along in March of 1978. No sibling ever followed. I know my parents were disappointed, but they didn't like to talk about sad things; we were always a very upbeat family.

One of the things they didn't talk about was my father's work, or lack thereof. When he was working, he worked hard. When he wasn't, he worked just as hard at being a husband and father. After about a year in Ishpeming he got a job with the county highway department, but he wasn't happy. He then got a job in a small restaurant, and soon became the manager, as the owner wanted to gradually retire. That lasted until their move to Ironwood in 1980 when I was two. Dad took a couple of jobs in Ironwood, but none made him happy. He finally decided to open his own business of lawn care in the summer and snow removal in the winter. At first, he did all the work, but as he added customers he began to employ other workers, and before long he was able to limit his actual working to a normal 40-hour week. That's what he was doing when I so fatefully asked Nettie Weeks if I could borrow her homework.

My parents were good and loving parents, and I went through my childhood and teen years as a happy boy. I'm still a little amazed that my professional mother was as happy as she was with my less educated, laborer father. However, I think she understood that Dad's ability to love her, and later me, was far more important than education and job skills. I learned a lot from my dad, and the fact that algebra and literature weren't a part of it never made any difference to me. And, bless him, the fact that I wasn't interested in sports never seemed to make any difference to my dad.

I found out just how wonderful my parents were on that fateful night when, at our request, Nettie's parents, Paul and Amanda, invited my parents, Gene and Elinor, for dinner. We had a nice dinner, and Nettie and I were delighted that our parents all seemed to get along well. We took the occasion to tell both sets of parents of our mutual understanding that we were going to be married, but that we hadn't decided when to formally say we were engaged. I don't think that was news to any of the parents, and all expressed happiness with the plans. Following dinner we went into the living room to continue the conversation. I said, "There's one more thing that Nettie and I want to share with you. Nettie's on the pill, and there's good reason for her to be. We have been sexually active for a little while now."

I was pretty sure that I had just lighted the fuze on a bomb, when Mom completely surprised me with, "The only thing that surprises us about this conversation is that we're having it. We're not learning anything we didn't know."

She let that sink in a little while, and then continued. "Marshall, we knew that almost as soon as you did. Remember, this is small town America. There are no secrets here. Helen Carter was in Dr. Peterson's other examination room when you visited him. She couldn't wait to get home and call me on the telephone with her latest gossip: You and Nettie were visiting the doctor together. She was sure that Nettie was pregnant! I was sure she wasn't, and I told her so."

Dad chimed in with, "A few days later I was having lunch with Ed Bowers at the diner. He works at the drug store and had seen Nettie's prescription go through. He couldn't wait to kid me about it."

I said, "And so you knew all about it, but never said anything?"

Mom said, "Marshall, when we grew up, parents and children didn't have this kind of conversation. Your father and I depended on rubbers, condoms today, that he got out of the machine at the gas station restroom. The idea of talking to our parents about it never occurred to us. We're completely delighted that you're comfortable sharing this with us. We assume that this isn't new to Paul and Amanda, since they're hosting this gathering and must have known what was coming.

"Amanda and Paul, I think that Gene and I are jealous of the relationship you have with these kids. But if they felt they could share with you before sharing with us, it's because of the relationship that you have developed over the years with Nettie, and which we haven't developed with Marshall."

Paul said, "That's partly true. It's also true that it's the girl that has to get the prescription. And it's also true that Marshall, with just a little trepidation, was willing to have this conversation tonight."

Gene said, "I have just one question. Marshal, where did you ever get the nerve to go to the doctor with Nettie. I don't think I could do that with Elinor today."

"Nettie and her parents thought I should. It was incredibly embarrassing, but I just made up my mind, just the same as I had made up my mind that we were going to have this conversation tonight."

Elinor said, "Nettie, you've been a wonderful influence on Marshall. Thank you."

"I love him very much, you know."

"I know you do. Again, thank you."

I said, "There's one more announcement we have to make. It's new to all of you, but I don't think that it will surprise Paul and Amanda."

Mom asked, "What's that?"

"Nettie and I are going to go to college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks."

Mom said, "I know the University of North Dakota. They've risen in everyone's estimation recently. They have an amazing President. His name is just Tim. But why are you thinking of going there? The University of Michigan is better, you'd get in-state tuition, and I'm sure you both could get in."

Nettie said, "The answer is Tim."

"Tim? What's your connection to Tim?"

"It's a long story. I call him Uncle Tim. He's been a close friend of my father's since they were in high school. Dad met him at a wrestling meet in Ann Arbor."

"I didn't think Tim was a wrestler."

"He's not, but one of his closest friends is. They were a group of eight that got connected at a camp in the UP, called Camp White Elk."

Dad said, "I've heard of it. They have a reputation for having a lot of Olympic athletes. Since they don't have an athletics program, it's hard to figure how that happened, but it did. I think the marathoner, Hal Bruder was at Camp While Elk."

I said, "He's one of the group of eight. They all live in Grand Forks and are the nucleus of what they call the Gang. Paul and Amanda are part of it, even though they don't live in Grand Forks."

Paul interrupted with, "We plan to retire there. And Marshall has the story straight. Nettie's a child of the Gang, and almost all of them have gone to the university there."

I said, "And I'm eager to go with her."

Dad said, "Marshall, we can't afford to pay out-of-state tuition in North Dakota."

Paul spoke, "Gene, there are going to be a lot of things about the Gang that you and Elinor are going to have to get used to. Nettie will try to tell you as much of the story as she can–some things are simply not shared outside the Gang. But right now, let me explain one thing. Finances are never an issue in the Gang. Fred Milson–the real-life Fred of Fred's Sports–is a key member of the Gang. He has set up trusts that insure that members of the Gang are never limited by financial considerations."

"I can't accept charity."

"It's not charity. Nettie would be devastated if Marshall couldn't go to school with her. So the Gang will ensure that Marshall can go to school with her. You'll meet Fred someday–at Marshall and Nettie's wedding if not before–and you will see that a vast number of people have found themselves in your position, and Fred simply won't take, 'No,' for an answer. It's really useless to argue."

Nettie said, "The Gang even has a mantra for your situation. It's, 'Buy the damn shoes.'"

Elinor asked, "What on earth does that mean?"

I said, "I know the answer to that one. It comes from the idea of buying expensive running shoes for Hal when he was just beginning to run. It doesn't really mean, 'Accept the gift.' It's more like 'Do the right thing, and isn't it obvious what the right thing is?'"

Paul said, "And in this case the right thing is not to let pride get in the way of an outstanding educational opportunity for your son."

Dad said, "I think I'm being ganged up on."

Mom said, "Indeed you are. So buy the damn shoes."

Dad said, "Are you sure you can get into the university? They may have out of state quotas."

Paul said, "They'll get in. Kids, just send in your application and put the letters TTT at the top."

Mom asked, "TTT? What does that mean?"

"It means, 'Talk to Tim,' and the application will go straight to his desk. Don't let anyone ever tell you that who-you-know isn't important. Remember, he's Uncle Tim to Nettie."

Our four years in college were wonderful years. We spent the first year in a coed dorm, in rooms on the same floor. We weren't publicly engaged; we just let everyone figure out that we were an "item" and let it go at that. With The Hideout available, we had no need to ask our roommates to disappear for an evening or afternoon. Indeed, until late spring when Nettie's roommate got a steady boyfriend, neither of our roommates was inclined to be absent from the room, nor to ask us to be. That spring Nettie's roommate was very glad when we'd be gone for an evening or all night, and we always provided plenty of advance warning so she could take advantage of the vacant room!

By Thanksgiving of our freshman year we had pretty much decided that we wanted to get married the following summer. We'd either get a married student apartment or rent a small apartment near campus. But living in separate rooms didn't seem like a good four-year plan. That Christmas we flew home to Ironwood and talked with our parents about wedding plans. We decided to formally announce our engagement during that vacation–it would appear in the Ironwood Daily Globe shortly after Christmas and we'd have a chance to share the good news with our Ironwood friends. Our college friends would find out when school resumed in January.

The question we had to answer was when and where to get married, and what would the wedding look like? We gathered our parents together for a second time to ask their opinions on the forthcoming wedding. Amanda immediately started the conversation, saying, "Look, I know that it's traditional that the bride's mother has a lot to say about the wedding, and that she and the bride basically plan it. And her father pays for it. However, we think that this is a special case. Marshall and Nettie are planning to live in Grand Forks–in fact they're already living there. Paul and I are going to retire there and will be very close to them. In many ways we're gaining a son, not losing a daughter. Gene and Elinor, that isn't true for you. Marshall has already moved away, and though I know that he and Nettie will stay close to the two of you, in many ways you really are losing a son. We think this wedding should be your show. How would you plan the wedding?"

Elinor seemed surprised and said, "That's incredibly gracious of you, Amanda. We're going to miss Marshall. Maybe we'll have to retire to Grand Forks as well, but I really don't think that's going to happen. A wedding? OK, I'll share a dream I've had for years. I'm not even sure that I've ever shared this with Gene, but it's always been in my mind. I always thought it was a pipe dream, because Marshall would go off and marry a girl on her turf."

I said, "Mom, tell us your dream."

"I'm not sure I should; it isn't the most logical idea."

Amanda said, "Please share with us, Elinor."

"Gene and I were married in a little Lutheran church in Marquette. The reception was a small affair in a hall on campus. I loved that little church. I first went to it in third grade, right after we moved from Oklahoma. I was confirmed there, married there, and Marshall was baptized there. My dream is that he could be married there."

Nettie jumped right in. "I love it. But look out, Elinor, because from that simple dream Marshall and I are going to build a new reality."

I had to wonder what Nettie had in mind. I had no thoughts whatsoever about a wedding in Marquette.

Nettie continued, "Marshall, isn't it about a three hour drive from here to Marquette?"

"That's about right."

"OK, we get IT up here."

"Nettie, what is IT?"

"That's right, you've never been in IT, have you? It's a big Greyhound SceniCruiser, fitted out as a motor home. Tim and Charlie own it, but it's for the Gang. The wedding party can head over to Marquette in IT a day or so before the wedding for the rehearsal, rehearsal dinner, and all that sort of thing. Then we'll charter a big bus and invite all of our friends from Ironwood to meet the bus at eight in the morning on our wedding day. They'll get to Marquette by 11:30 and we'll schedule a 12:30 wedding in the Lutheran church. Then we'll go to a park, preferably on the lake, and have a big picnic reception."

I got into the spirit of it and offered, "I'll bet there's a charter excursion boat that we could get for a sunset dinner cruise before we all board the bus and motor home and head back to Ironwood. We should be able to get everyone back by midnight or 1:00 a.m. I think that means that the wedding has to be on a Saturday."

Gene said, "Wait a minute. Elinor was talking about a little wedding in a little church, something very simple, like ours."

Paul entered in, "When Nettie's involved it's never going to be simple. Elinor can plan the wedding, and Nettie can put the reception plans together. Everyone will be happy."

"Who's going to pay for this? My God, that all is going to be expensive."

"If the Gang is involved, and the plan in reasonable, then we never talk about money. It'll be there. However, in this case, Amanda and I will be able to take care of it."

"I'm feeling guilty," exclaimed Elinor.

"Oh, no," said Amanda. "We're so happy you shared your dream with us. And Nettie's right, it isn't going to be hard to make it come true. The wedding will be wonderful."

It was. We quickly learned that the capacity of the church was about sixty-five, if you crowded people in. Add another few of the wedding party standing up front and that was it. Fifty people would come in the bus from Ironwood. There were three couples that Gene and Elinor want to invite from Marquette. That limited us to about twenty Gang members coming from Grand Forks. We'd take a week to honeymoon on IT, slowly getting across Wisconsin and Minnesota. We'd have a big bash for the entire Gang and college friends right after we arrived in Grand Forks. In the actual event, we had the wedding the second Saturday before Labor Day, and the event in Grand Forks on Labor Day, when most of our student friends were back in town, or could easily arrange to be.

What more can I say? A good time was had by all. Despite the fact that we should have been belted into a seat on IT, Nettie and I rode home from Marquette in the bedroom on IT. We had a bottle of champagne, got a little tipsy, but not so tipsy that we couldn't make sure the condom was in place; we weren't ready for little Marshalls.

I'm sure that we were a disappointment to Tim, though he never once hinted. We each had a solid B average, but we were never interested in that straight-A stuff. We both agreed that college should be fun, as high school had been. The one problem with that is that when we graduated in 2000 we had no idea of what we wanted to do with our lives.

Charlie showed that comment to Tim and he insisted on inserting the following: "You were not a disappointment to me at all. As I've said elsewhere, dedication to the degree practiced by Willie, Billie, Hal, me, and a few others is probably a sign of mental illness. I would've been disappointed in your grades only if you had set out to do better and then hadn't followed through. You came to college for a good time, and you had a good time. Wonderful. I hope that UND managed to put a little knowledge into your heads while you were here; I think we did."

Following graduation a number of things came together for both of us. I had majored in communications with a minor in computer science/systems analysis. I didn't want to become a computer nerd for the rest of my life, but it was very clear to me in the 1990s that computers were going to be a major part of everyone's life. I also got involved in gaming–all kinds, board games, role-playing games, computer games. I joined many others in virtually getting addicted to some of the popular computer games of the period. Nettie would only tolerate so much of that, and then she'd drag me away from the computer. Usually her bribes were sexual, but not always. They did work.

In casting around to try to figure out where I was going with my life after college, I considered putting together my gaming skills and interests with my computer skills. PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants, or Personal Data Assistants, for those of you who used the term a lot in the first years of the 21st century and never knew what they were an acronym for) were becoming popular, if not ubiquitous, having started with the Organizer in 1984, followed by the first really useful ones, the Apple Newton in 1992 and IBM's Simon, in 1994. The first Palm came in 1996. That year Nokia started combining them with a mobile phone, and the SmartPhone phenomenon was started. I thought that game development for SmartPhones would be a highly profitable but competitive field. However, I was confident, and I knew I was early in the game.

It seemed to me that three skills would be needed to develop popular games: game design, artistic skills, and programming skills. I could provide only the first. However, I was pretty sure that Lynn could provide the artistic skills needed, and that Bud could handle the programming. Bud graduated a year ahead of us, and had started a computer consulting business. Jennie helped him, and would join the business full time when she graduated, as would Max.

The three of us joined forces as Forkian Games, and I set to work trying to design a game that would work on a SmartPhone. I made a couple of attempts, for which Lynn drew some cute little characters. Bud and Jennie programmed them into an app for the new Palm Kyocera 5035, Palm's first combination of a PDA with a telephone, which came out in 2001. We sold a few, gave away a lot more, and were a little disheartened. However, it was a good learning experience. Then I came up with a new game, BirdBrain®. Lynn created a whole flock of wonderful bird images to use in the game, and Bud, Jennie and Max did the needed programming amazingly quickly. We put out a free beta version, and it just sort of took off. We got the glitches out, shut down the free beta version, and made the app available for 75¢. It's been out for five years, and we've created an app for virtually every SmartPhone platform. I can't believe our success. In those five years we've sold 4.9 million apps. Do the math. And it's still selling like hotcakes. And we have added Part 2, and Part 3 (working on Part 4) as new apps. They're 50¢ each if you own Part 1. What a hoot! I'm in my twenties and I can retire! I don't plan to, but who knows whether there's any chance of my coming up with another game even a quarter as successful as BirdBrain®?

Nettie wasn't sure in which direction she wanted to travel. She had majored in biology but wasn't sure that she wanted to pursue that. She did note that going on and getting a master's or Ph.D. in biology would put off making a decision, but if she wasn't going to really become a biologist, that seemed a stupid move. She decided to pick the brains of a number of the Gang. She decided to start with Max, who seemed to have a pretty relaxed view of life. She took him out to lunch at McDonald's. She would never have picked Mickey D's, as Max called it, but he insisted. She asked, "Max are you trying to save me money?"

"Oh, Hell no. I like Mickey's and it tends to keep the conversation short. All the advice I can give you can easily fit between chomps on the best fries in the world."

"OK, Max, where am I going in my life? I haven't a clue."

"That leaves things pretty open. [Chomp.] Can you narrow it down at all? [Chomp.]"

"I'm not sure I want to pursue a career in biology–my major. I don't want to pursue a, 'Do you want fries with that?' career."

"[Chomp.] My dear. [Chomp.] There's no rush. Take your time. [Chomp.] All things will become clear in due course. [Chomp.]"

"That's it?"

"Nettie, that's very sage advice. I usually charge $250 and hour for that quality advice–and I charge for every fraction of an hour. [Chomp.] Take your time; don't hurry, or you'll make a bad decision. [Chomp.] Those fries were good; since you're flush with money, buy me another box."

She talked to Tim, Charlie, Hal, several of the COGs, well, former COGs, and most ended up close to where Max was, but none put it quite so succinctly. The she got to Shel. Shel, of course, wanted dinner at the Dakota Steak House, and he got it. She posed her question and his answer was as immediate, and as succinct as Max's, but quite different. "Dear, get off the pill, get yourself fucked, get pregnant, be a mom."

"Isn't the modern woman supposed to have a career?"

"Careers are for women who know exactly what they want to do. To try to dream up a career for the sake of having a career is a foolish mistake. Marshall seems to know what he wants to do, and he could make a lot of money out of his games."

"Not for a while, for sure. If I'm not working, how do we eat?"

"That's a silly question in the Gang. I'll tell you what. I'm loaded. I'll loan you $25,000, interest free, until Marshall makes so much money that you can pay me back."

"Shel, be serious. I, we, can't take your money like that?"

"Why the Hell not?"

"It isn't right."

"Letting me fuck you this afternoon isn't 'right' either. But I'll bet you're going to. Oh, yeah, I asked Marshall this morning for permission, and what do you think he said?"

"Oh, Shel, you're so far out of it."

"I know. It's what I like best about me. Now if it makes you feel any better, how about I simply pay you $25,000 for a good fuck this afternoon."

"That makes me a two-bit whore."

"Not a two-bit whore. An elegant consort. But this is silly; I'm not going to pay you for sex; it's a loan. And I'll bet I can get the sex for free. But my point is that the Gang has its own standards of what is 'right' and helping each other financially is part of what is 'right' about the Gang." With that Shel got out a checkbook and wrote Nettie a check for $25,000. He put, 'loan,' in the Memo line, and said that was all the paperwork he wanted. He said, "I won't fuck you this afternoon until we've gone to the bank and you've deposited that thing. And I know that you're incredibly eager to have my long thin bone driven inside your lovely vagina. I'll do anal if you prefer."

"Shel!"

Do you believe that the kid had that kind of a bank balance?

So here we were with a little over $25,000 in the bank, a very tenuous business plan, a decision to go off the pill, and Shel giving us advice on the best positions to insure that a fuck led to a baby. What did Shel know? But one has to assume that Shel knows what he's talking about; he is, honestly, almost never wrong.

We took his advice in all respects. Nettie went off the pill in October of 2000. The doctor pronounced her fecund in late November and pregnant in January, with a due date of October 4, 2001. Arrival, October 3, 2001, a delightful baby girl whom we named Allison and always called Allie.

Just under two years later, August 28, 2003, to be exact, Allie's brother Simon arrived. His arrival coincided with the debut of BirdBrain®, and within a year we knew that our financial future, and that of our children was secure. It was time to go househunting, and for that we were advised to talk to Shel.

Shel's first question was, "Have you thought of joining the commune that Max and Milt are in? Your business partner, Bud, is part of it, and his office is on the grounds. Do you work out of that office?"

"No, Shel, I work from home. Everything thing is passed between Lynn, Bud, and me by email, it might be helpful to be nearby, but I don't think that Nettie and I are ready for communal living."

Shel replied, "Well, you know that Brian and I are part of the Lighthouse, and we really find it fun. But it does take a certain personality, and a willingness to yield to the will of the group."

Nettie said, "Shel, I don't picture you as willing to yield to anybody or group."

He replied, "Just ask Brian. Except in matters of skating, I yield to him and to the group in The Lighthouse. It makes life easier. But I don't want to push that lifestyle onto you two. We have plenty of Gang members here in Grand Forks that have their own homes. Being part of the Gang doesn't require you to be part of a commune. So. You're interested in a house not far from The Playhouse, is that right?"

"The Playhouse?"

"That's what Tina and Merle's house has turned into, and it's the name they've adopted. There aren't many houses out that way, but there are some nice lots. Let's get Carl and head out there. He'll design the house of your dreams, and help you pick the perfect lot to work with."

Less that a year later we were walking into our dream house–a sprawling one-storey, one room house, if you can believe that. It had sort of been Nettie's fantasy since childhood, and she shared the idea with Carl sort of as a joke. He seized on it immediately. The idea was to build a huge, one room house, with large pillars holding up the roof. The pillars were very carefully placed to provide the basic shape of the "rooms." But the "rooms" were created not with walls but with carefully selected pieces of furniture. The living space, or "living room," was central with the kitchen to one side, separated by a eating counter. Next around the perimeter of the house was a dining area, separated from the rest of the house by a breakfront china cupboard, and several other similar pieces. An intriguing set of furniture was a collection of four corner cupboards, all in very different styles, that made a corner of the dining area, kids' play area, living area, and TV lounge. Moving around the house you came to a guest area, Simon's area, a shared study area, Allie's area, a storage area, and then the master bedroom. You can't really have open area bathrooms or closets, so they were in spaces around the outside perimeter, between a number of large picture windows. The whole thing was a completely irregular hexagon. Between the pillars and very tall furniture, you couldn't see from one room to another for which vision was inappropriate. So, for example, the kids could both see into the shared study area between them, but not into each other's rooms. You couldn't walk through the house in straight lines, because that would've allowed those inappropriate views, rather you had to move around pillars and furniture to get around the house. All surfaces were sound-dampening, and we carefully placed white noise speakers that could be turned on when privacy was important.

Our biggest concern about the house was that if we didn't like living in it–it was admittedly very, very strange–what could we do with it? Carl, who found designing both the house and its furnishings to be a delightful challenge, assured us that he'd put appropriate support beams in place so that we could come back and install normal walls if needed. They never were. We loved the place. It created a togetherness for the four of us that could never have been accomplished if we were separated by doors and walls.

The big lesson that we had to learn was to respect each other's privacy. In an ordinary house, you're responsible for your own privacy: You shut doors, even lock them; and you depend on walls. In this house, privacy was completely a matter of other people respecting your need for privacy. There were no doors or walls. People could walk into your space at any time, and for privacy you had to depend on their not doing that without warning or permission. We all quickly learned those lessons, and even our children when they were very young learned to respect our privacy, and expected us to respect theirs. They aren't teenagers yet, so we'll have to find out whether that works as they get older, but experience with the COGs suggests that mutual respect is not hard to create–as long as it's truly mutual.

Oh, yes, houseguests–especially from outside the Gang–found the house to be a real challenge. A few couldn't deal with it and would move to a hotel by the second night!

I'll leave to your imagination the way the house lent itself to sexploitation by the Gang!

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