Episode 209 - Turin,
This is Marty. If you know your Olympic history, you will guess that this episode is about the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. And, guess what, you're right. So then why is Marty, who runs a gymnastics program, writing about a winter Olympics?
The answer to that began one morning in early 2005 as Fred and I were eating breakfast. He was up earlier than me that morning, and when I came downstairs I found a lovely bacon and eggs breakfast waiting for me. Fred had just sat down to begin to eat his bacon and egg breakfast. At age 86 Fred didn't try to eat as much as I could, and did, at age 54, so he had only one egg and less bacon and toast. But he had much more coffee than I had orange juice!
I asked, "What's the occasion. I don't usually eat this fancy a breakfast, and I know that you almost never do."
"I would say that we have something important to discuss, but I'm not really interested in having a discussion. So, I'll just say that I have something important to tell you."
"I'm all ears, but it sounds threatening."
"No, no. It's just that I know you're going to argue, and I don't want to argue about this. So just listen."
"Again, I'm all ears."
"Marty, I'm getting old. I'm 86, and I'm soon going to be winding down if not conking out."
"Just listen. I'm not too worried about my body running down, that's inevitable, and I can deal with that if my mind works well. But there's the rub. There's no guarantee that my mind will continue to work well. For all I know the 'senior moments' that I have more frequently may actually be the harbinger of serious mental decline. Or they may be perfectly normal episodes that everyone expects to experience more frequently as they age. However, it's very possible that my mind will go before my body, and that I'll experience mental decline into senility before my heart stops ticking. And that is a serious problem for me, everyone that loves me, and everyone that's part of the financial arrangements that I've made as a rational, fully capable adult."
"Fred, you're a long way from that stage, believe me."
"I wish that you had the knowledge to say that with some authority. But you don't, and neither does the smartest doctor. I could get just as good an answer from a witch doctor or fortune teller. The fact is that none of us know when we're going to fade out, physically or mentally.
"So I've taken, and will continue to take, steps to prepare for that eventuality, whenever it comes. And this is where you come in. From now on, starting right now, you are Fred Milson. I've drafted a complete power of attorney that gives you authority to do anything that I can do, with one exception that my attorney insisted be included: you cannot change my will. In everything else you're now to act as Fred Milson.
"Charlie, Tim, Andy–those are the three key people–are no longer to come to me for instructions or permissions. If they do, and they will, they'll be told to talk to you. Fred Milson will speak only through Marty Holtzer. You, Marty, will have to decide if you want to discuss something with me. I'll always be available to consult and advise, but through you, not directly with anybody else. That way, when I do decline, there will be no change in procedure for anyone but you. You'll have to decide when what I say is rational and when it isn't. You can listen to me, and then decide that I don't know what I'm talking about, and go give completely different directions to Andy or others. You have that authority, based on this power of attorney and these oral instructions. And I'm adamant about this. I trust you implicitly, but I may not if my mind slips, and you're to take the instructions from me now as superceding anything I might say in the future. The power of attorney is crafted so that I cannot rescind it without a full-blown competency hearing to show that the recission is made by me acting rationally."
"Fred, you can't give me that kind of authority."
"Oh, yes, I can, I have, and if you love me, you'll accept it. And if you're unable to carry out that responsibility, then my attorney has back-up authorities for Charlie, Tim, and Hal. I'd have Andy on the list, but his position in the company gives him a conflict of interest."
"Where do Charlie and Tim fit into this?"
"We have a strange legal relationship. There are two huge blocks of non-voting Fred's Sports stock, one held by the endowment of the university and the other held by a trust to support the Gang. Expenditures from both are controlled by Tim and Charlie. There are provisions for successors at the time that Tim and Charlie can no longer function. However, neither Tim nor Charlie will direct that a dime of that money be spent without talking to me. I'm not going to wean them from doing that. But I can insist that I speak through you, not directly. Mind you, I've never once not fully supported any of their suggtestions for spending the money. In fact, I think they're entirely too conservative–especially with the Gang money. That's allowed the corpus of the trust to grow substantially, and they may never figure out want to do with the money. I'm sure that you'll have the same reaction to their spending proposals that I have, but you must respectfully listen, consider the suggestion carefully, and then say, 'Of course'."
"What about Andy?"
"Andy and I have a similar arrangement. He has full authority in the corporation, but he doesn't act without talking to me. Now he talks to you. I do get a little more involved with corporate decisions than with university or Gang decisions, but Andy and I have never been unable to craft a course of action that was pleasing to both of us. And, finally, the bulk of the voting stock of Fred's Sports is held by Andy, you, and me, with Tim and Charlie as minor stockholders, more for symbolic reasons than anything else. Included in that power of attorney is a full proxy for you to vote my voting stock."
"Fred, I don't know what to say. I love you very much, and I guess I am willing to undertake this responsibility, but are you certain?"
"I'm certain. Now I have one simple question."
"Will you marry me?"
"Are you serious?"
"Absolutely. It's now legal in Massachusetts for two men to marry. However, a court ruling there in regard to an old law, has made it impossible for most other Americans to travel to Massachusetts to get married. However, the law has changed in Canada, and Ontario is leading the Canadian provinces in allowing same-sex marriage. I love you very much, Marty, and I don't think that our relationship will change a bit if we get married. And it's questionable whether our Canadian marriage would be recognized by the state of North Dakota. But it'll be recognized by us and by the Gang, and that's who counts."
"Are you going to invite Tim and Charlie, and others, to go to Canada with us?"
"The way you phrased that question, it appears that I have a, 'Yes,' answer to my main question."
"Oh, yes, Fred, yes, yes, yes. But what about others?"
"I've talked to Tim and Charlie. For a variety of reasons, including not wanting to start controversy at the university, they're going to wait until they can get married in North Dakota. It's hard to say how fast this movement is going to go. I think that Tim and Charlie will be able to get married here in their lifetime, but perhaps not in mine. I think it would be fine to ask the other same-sex couples in the Gang if they'd like to go to Canada and get married with us. And I'll bet the whole Gang'll come along to be witnesses."
"It sounds wonderful, Fred. I love you so much."
We made a list of the same-sex couples in the Gang, and I include a list to help your memory:
Tim and Charlie (University of North Dakota)
Fred and Marty (Fred's Sports)
Franklin and Phil (Original Gang)
Jeff and Dick (Camp White Elk)
Toppy and Murray (the Circle)
Al and Alex (the Circle)
Nate and Pat (the Circle)
Will and Jimmy (Forester, physicist)
Perry and Norman (Sailing support)
Shel and Brian (Skaters)
Nick and Evan (Cavers)
Allen and Carle (Mathematicians)
Curtis and Gene (Sailing support)
Jake and Coleman (Marauders)
Roger and Mitch (Artist, physicist)
I should add the following bisexual groups who certainly involve same-sex coupling, but the laws of bigamy would prohibit marriages even where same-sex marriage was legal:
Andy, Jim, Amy, and Kara (Original Gang)
Arnie, Fyn, and Marge (the Circle)
Als, Jojo, Jinx, and Adrian (Marauders), but their sexuality was undcertain
Three of the couples responded affirmatively to our suggestion that they join us for a marriage ceremony somewhere in Ontario: Toppy and Murray, Perry and Norman, and Allen and Carle. I'm quite certain that Franklin and Phil would've joined in, except that they felt it was inappropriate for any of the original Gang to get married before Tim and Charlie. Each of the other couples had their own personal reasons to decline at this time, and we respected all of their decisions. However, we invited the entire Gang to come to the wedding, and nobody was even slightly inclined not to attend.
Our next decision was where and when to have the wedding. It seemed clear that it would take us a while to settle on the where, so we sent out "save the date" invitations to the entire Gang. The weddings would be on Saturday, June 25, 2005, somewhere in Ontario. Save the days, June 24 to 26!
There were several possible locations in Ontario: Kenora was the nearest Ontario town to North Dakota, being the first town traveling east on the Trans-Canada Highway from Manitoba. It was a 280 mile drive taking about five hours. Kenora airport couldn't handle a plane that could transport the Gang. The two other cities closest to Grand Forks were Thunder Bay and Sault Ste. Marie; both had airports that could meet our needs, and both were beyond reasonable driving range. If we wanted to fly commercial, the best destination was Toronto, but that would still involve an airplane change, regardless of whether we left from Grand Forks or Fargo. But with the number of people involved, flying commercial didn't really make sense.
So it was either charter busses to go to Kenora or charter a plane to fly to Thunder Bay or Sault Ste. Marie. "It's up to you, Marty."
"Fred, the question is whether you'd prefer a five hour bus ride or a three hour plane ride–four hours if we went to Sault Ste. Marie."
Fred thought a minute. "The advantage of the plane is that we could all get in one plane. The advantage of the busses is that we'd have transportation when we got there. If we chartered a plane, we'd still have to charter busses to get around. Besides, I like the idea of staying as close to home as possible, and I love the beauty of western Ontario. Maybe we don't have to go to Kenora. Is there a park along the Trans-Canada that's closer to Manitoba?"
I spent some time studying maps and found the spot. In the Kenora district, but well west of Kenora, the Trans-Canada goes by Deception Bay of Lake of the Woods. There's a development there with houses, marinas, and minor development. It looked like a promising spot. So I suggested to Fred that we take a day and drive over there and take a look. The snows and rains of March and April would make doing that before May fruitless, so in early May we took a day and set out. It was a lovely trip. We easily found the development along Deception Bay, and located a lovely spot overlooking the bay. It was undeveloped land and we learned it was owned by the local municipality. A quick inquiry and we learned that we could use the space (we warned them it'd be about 150 people), but we had to bring tables, chairs, everything, and make sure everything, including all our trash was carried out. They'd send a policeman to make sure that all the locals knew we were legal, and to make sure we did carry everything out.
The invitations were issued, in the name of all four couples that were to be married. The group would depart by chartered bus at 7:00 a.m. of January 31, 2015. At that time there were 123 living members of the Gang. However, Murray, Norman, Allen, and Carle all wanted to invite their parents and a few friends, and Fred wanted to invite a few of the senior officiers of Fred's Sports who were located in Grand Forks. The total was 157. We chartered three fifty passenger busses and hired a professional driver to drive IT. One of the four couples to be married rode in each vehicle, and we moved around the bus as we rode, and traded busses at stops, so that each of us could talk to all the guests. A caterer's truck followed along with the tables, chairs, and meal.
We crossed the border at about eight in the morning. In the post-911 world it requires passports and patience to cross the border into Canada. But we got it all accomplished in about forty-five minues and we were on our way. We drove straight north to Winnipeg where IT picked up Bill and Art, who'd accepted our invitation to join us and had closed their antique store for the day to make it possible. Then we headed east on the Trans-Canadian Highway until we were almost to Kenora and stopped beside Deception Bay. It was just after one, and we were all very hungry. Barbeque fires were started and while they burned down we all went down to the side of Lake of the Woods. I'd arranged for the minister of the Kenora United Church of Canada, which had been ordaining gays for years and marrying them as soon as it was legal, to meet us and perform the ceremony. He was delighted.
It was a simple ceremony, done just once, and at the appropriate time each couple in turn said their vows. There were no "Best Men"; it was agreed that everyone present would be "Best Man" or "Best Woman" for everyone. The only thing special was the marriage certificate. Charlie had inquired as to the legal form that could be used, and found that considerable variation was possible. Our marriage certificates were signed by the couple as participants, Rev. Marquiss as "Clergyman," and by 155 "witnesses". After you signed you were invited to eat your fill of beef and pork ribs, roast chicken, baked beans, potato salad, pasta salad, tossed salad, and a huge variety of very sinful desserts. Drink choices were Coke, Diet Coke, (hard) cider and ice water–this was, after all was said and done, a Tim and Charlie show. They winked at the cider. It was a meal that we would pay for with a week of starvation.
Then we loaded into the busses, after carefully combing the grounds to insure that we hadn't left a bit of litter, including any that'd been there when we arrived. The cop on duty thanked us for our care in cleaning up and for the wonderful lunch to which he'd been invited. We took a brief ride through the "downtown" of Kenora, and then headed west to Manitoba. By dinner time we were in Winnipeg. We took the Perimeter Highway around to where the highway headed south to Grand Forks. From that point we headed just a short distance north to the Four Points Hotel, where I'd arranged a simple supper buffet in their banquet room. This had been where we'd picked up Bill and Art, and they ate with us and then drove home in their own car. We headed south, getting home about ten at night–the American Customs people having cleared us through the border fairly quickly.
Nothing had changed in the relationship between Fred and me, and everything had changed. It's hard to describe the impact of being married to Fred instead of just "living with" him. It seemed to solidify the arrangement, to legitimatize it. Fred expressed the same feeling to me. And as we saw them over the next few weeks, all of the other newly married couples expressed similar feelings.
However, something else had changed in the relationship between Fred and me. He was now insisting that I act as him in all public matters. And he was adamant. He insisted that Tim and Charlie talk to me and not him about the use of the Gang trust funds; he insisted that Andy talk to me and not him about Fred's Sports issues. In that regard he did relent in one way. He would agree to a "strategy meeting" that involved the three of us. He no longer would go to the Fred's Sports offices on a daily basis, though he did retain an office. He insisted that it was time that Andy run the place, and that was that. He also insisted that it was time to start grooming Andy's successor, as he'd groomed Andy.
Andy asked, "Do you have someone in mind?"
"Indeed I do. There are three obvious candidates."
"Obvious? To you maybe, but I'm not sure to me."
"Well, let's begin with, I'm a nepot."
"A what?" asked Andy.
I said, "Fred, I think the word is nepotist, one who practices nepotism."
Andy said, "You don't have family to give favor to."
"I most certainly do. How do you think you got the job; pure nepotism? My family is the Gang. Has been since Tim invited me in. It's the most wonderful invitation I've ever received. Changed my life. Well, I built this business. Never went public. It's completely privately held. If it were a public firm, I couldn't favor the Gang over other qualified candidates. But it's private. Just as I can decide where my money goes, I can decide who's going to run the company. Now, who are the obvious candidates?"
"Well, I think almost all of them could do the job. Gary's done some good work for us. Norman is certainly succeeding with his chandlery coop. Someone else?"
"Who was the brains behind the chandlery coop?"
"It was Perry, wasn't it?"
"I'm pretty sure so. I've talked to Norman's father, Henry. He says that the whole idea was Perry's. He had to sell both Henry and Norman on it. He also worked with Norman until it was up and going. Right now he's finishing an MBA at the university, and enjoying life with Norman, when Norman's in town. When Norman is off on coop business...."
I finished for him, "He's boffing everything in town–to use Max's term; and that's appropriate, because it's been Max that encouraged him."
"Bingo. And you and I, Marty, have been beneficiaries of that encouragement. Perry's quite a man."
Andy said, "He's visited our house as well. So has Norman for that matter. So you have your eyes on Perry to run Fred's Sports?"
"He's smart as a whip. He's proved himself in two very difficult situations: the sailing support team and the coop. I'd like you two to talk to him. I'm not at all sure that a job with Fred's Sports will tempt him. But being the successor to his Uncle Andy in running Fred's Sports will. Andy, you'll be sixty in a couple of years. By then it'll be time to begin sharing authority, like I did with you."
"If I know Perry, his goal will be to compete with Walmart as the world's largest retailer."
"It's time somebody kicked their ass. And wouldn't it be wonderful if it could be done by a corporation that's unionized and is often held up as a model corporate employer. I'm more proud of that than I am of the size and profitability of Fred's Sports."
"By Walmart standards we aren't a highly profitable company."
"We make more money than you, I, and the whole damn Gang can spend. I know, the Walton family contains something like seven of the richest people in the world. Their money doesn't make them one bit happier than me. They can think in terms of a billion here and a billion there, and I can only think in millions. What the Hell is the difference, just three zeros?"
Andy said, "Fred, you're something else." He turned to me, "Well, Marty, shall we take Perry to lunch some day this week?"
Fred said, "Tomorrow."
Andy said, "We get the idea, Fred. Tomorrow, if he's free."
"Just tell him to be free."
That's another story. I soon found that with this new position of alter-Fred came a new responsibility: Get the Gang to the Olympics. In dumping the job on me he assured me that the personnel resources of Fred's Sports were available. That costs that could legimately be charged as a public relations expense to Fred's Sports would be paid by the company; the rest would come out of the Gang trust. To sort that out, I should just work with the Fred's Sports tax accountant.
The winter Olympics were scheduled for Turin, Italy, February 10 to February 26, 2006. The first thing I learned, from Andy, was that housing had already been taken care of. The Mauraders had been in Turin sometime the previous year and David and Millie had, of course, been with them. They noticed a new mid-sized hotel under construction and investigated. It would open in late 2005, in time for the Olympics. It would be managed by the same management team as the hotel David, Millie, and the Mauraders were in. Millie sought out the manager and asked, "Have you begun to take reservations in your new hotel for the weeks of the winter Olympics?"
The answer was that they intended to open the book very soon, as soon, in fact, as the tourism office was ready for them. Millie asked, "How many rooms will there be?"
"One hundred and sixty."
"How would you like to rent the entire hotel for ten days before the Olympics until two days after?"
"You're kidding me, of course."
"Not in the least. As you know, I work for Fred's Sports. They always host a large group at the Olympics, and, if your rates are reasonable, would like to rent the entire hotel. It would provide privacy that they cannot get any other way. My suggestion on your rates is that you charge us your normal rates, without the bulk discount that would be expected, but without the inflation that you would expect during the Olympics. For the ten days ahead of the Olympics we'd expect a 25% discount."
"You're authorized to make such an arrangement?"
"I will be with one telephone call. If you're gonig to say, 'Yes,' just hand me the telephone."
A quick phone call to Andy, who was delighted–often he had to get involved in searching for housing for Fred, and everything was arranged, including the 24-hour buffet. David and Millie were, once again, heroes with the Fred's Sports top level management. It was that kind of initiative that guaranteed that they would always have good jobs with Freds Sports.
With food and housing taken care of, there wasn't much for me to do other than arrange transportation. However, to do that, I had to have some idea of how many people would be going. There were about 125 Gang members, various athletes–the number not yet determined–and their families, the coaches at the Fred, and another dozen or so that Fred, I, Tim, Charlie, or someone would invite. That might run to 200. But with 160 rooms, and the doubling up that was common with the Gang, we could handle double that number. I had to decide whether to just leave the rooms empty, or figure out whom to invite to go with us. I started to ask Fred, and then I realized two things: first, he'd made it clear that he really didn't want to be asked. Second, it was as obvious as the nose on his face what his answer would be, "Fill the place up."
That was easy; we invited all the full members of the Fred who engaged in Olympic sports and were at least age fourteen. (I decided that I wasn't going to be responsible for baby-sitting kids thirteen and under.) Believe it or not, there were 85 of them. When I told Fred he thought it was a wonderful idea. When we issued the invitations through the Fred, there was sort of universal disbelief, but we soon made it clear that we were serious about their joining us. We still had room for more, and the Gang was invited to issue invitations to those they'd like to join us. We told them that we'd get the word out quickly when we ran out ot space.
I decided that 420 was going to be our maximum, and to my amazement it turned out that it was very easy to charter a Boeing 777 that would carry that many. I checked with the hotel and found that their dining room, where we'd have the buffet would seat 214. With meals offered around the clock, it didn't seem like a limit of 214 would be a problem. As for tickets to various events, we'd just buy a huge total number of tickets, including all events and it'd be first-come first-served each day, except that when we had members of our group competing, we'd have to see that key persons had tickets before we allowed first-come first-served ticket distribution in the morning.
After looking over all of the plans it was very clear that this was going to be one Hell of a party. I also realized that I had one important base to cover. I called the hotel and asked what kind of a bar and alcohol service they had in the hotel. They had a bar off the lobby and another on the top floor. Also, alcohol was served in the dining room and by room service. I explained that our group had minors and that alcohol could be a problem. I said that I wanted all alcohol service stopped during our stay. The two bars were to be stocked with a wide variety of soft drinks and that these should be available all day and night. Since alcohol is a high profit item for a hotel, they were reluctant to agree. However, we easily negotiated a deal on the soft drink service that covered their loss on alcohol. With that in place, I felt confident about the coming trip. However, I did go one step further. I contacted Dick and Jeff and asked for the names of a few of their best counselors, particularly those that'd worked with teenagers. I quickly traded a free trip to the Olympics for counseling services from eight of Dick's best. They couldn't believe their good fortune, and were quite willing to be counselors for the teenagers from the Fred. It turned out that the Fred kids were very well behaved and the counselors had little to do but enjoy themselves, but both I and quite a few parents felt more secure knowing that the eight counselors were keeping track of their kids.
I could arrange housing, transportation, meals, tickets, counselors, and deal with all kinds of logistics. It was up to the Fred to produce the athletes.
Of course, Shel was numero uno. He was being very closed-mouthed about his planned Olympic programs, but he was practicing constantly. His spins were breathtaking and he tossed off all varieties of quads like most skaters do double toe loops. There wasn't any question of his qualifying for Turin, and probably not much question of his getting a medal. If it weren't for Tim, I'd say there wasn't much question about the color of the medal. The kid was just that good.
I asked Brian and Ham for a rundown on other Fred members that would be headed for the Olympic Trials. I'll admit that I'm pretty wrapped up in the gymnasts over at the Marty Center, so I was a little startled at the list they rattled off.
First of all, all of the Fred medalists from Salt Lake City were still competing in their sports: Shel, of cousrse, in figure skating; Joan Phipps–having married Gary she was now Joan Phipps Oldfield–in long track racing; Shelly Morton in short track racing; and Fran Howell–now Fran Howell Morton–in figure skating. With just those four the Fred was going to be a major player in the Trials and very likely in Turin as well.
But there were others. It was by no means certain that any of these would make it to Turin, but they were eligible for the Trials. Acutally, they'd all make it to Turin, because they'd be invited to be part of the Fred's Sports party, even if they didn't qualify.
Meet Randy Watkins and Sissy Baird. Randy and Sissy were local Grand Forkers and had been in school together all their lives. They were age three when the Fred opened and they and their families immediately joined as recreational skaters. At age four they'd joined as training members, which meant participation in all appropriate classes, a private locker, unlimited use of the ice, both the recreational rink and the other rinks as they were available. The training membership was designed for skaters who (or whose parents) intended to become serious competitive racers or figure skaters. Randy and Sissy were pretty good and were well supported by their parents. At age eleven they'd become full members of the Fred, which meant that in addition to the benefits they got as training members, they now had individual access to all of the top level coaches of the Fred. As far as I'm concerned, it's the best program on earth for becoming a top level skating competitor. As the 2006 Olympics approached Sissy and Randy were seniors at Red River High School, and could be found early most mornings, virtually every afternoon, and most evenings skating at the Fred. Over the years they'd played at racing and solo figure skating. But right from the beginning they'd seen themselves as a pair. They were pretty good ice dancers and had had some success in ice dancing competitions, but they were much better at pairs figure skating, and since their tenth grade year they'd concentrated in that event. They were very good, and their competition history had earned them an invitation to the Trials. Boy, were they eager.
The Fred also had racers with eyes on the Trials as well.
Meet Sean O'Hara and Marco Cavallo, short track racers with perfect daredevil personalities–exactly what was needed to win highly competitive short track races. Sean was in his second year at the Fred and Marco his first. Both had been top level racers in high school, and had decided to move to Grand Forks and work on their racing full time. They planned to go to college following their racing careers. Sean was from Minneapolis (he had attended Tim's alma mater, Southwest High School); Marco was from Baltimore, where he'd grown up in "Little Italy" and attended Archbishop Curley High School in Baltimore. Both had participated in skating programs at local rinks since they'd learned to skate as preschoolers. When asked how he'd decided to come to the Fred to skate, Marco had simply said, "The word is out, this is the best place to improve your skating, especially if you want to go to the Olympics." Sean had listened to that answer and simply nodded his head in agreement. Marco continued. "The word is out. If you have any talent you head to Grand Forks, you work your ass off, you get to the Olympics and very likely you get to stand on an Olympic podium. People don't really know what the secret is here, or at least they don't know how to duplicate it, but they sure know it's here. And so I'm here."
Shel heard that answer and decided right then and there that he had someone new to adopt. Sean had lived alone in a little apartment in town his first year. Shel had, of course, befriended him and included him in all sorts of activities in addition to his skating. Shel would've found a better place for him to live, but Sean and his father'd signed a year's lease on an apartment for him before Shel could get involved. When Marco arrived in town, looking for a place to live, Shel had suggested that the two room together. He also suggested, with Charlie's permission, that they might rent one of the rooms in The Hideout. They could use the kitchen downstairs, and, Shel noted with glee, they'd meet all kinds of interesting people coming and going in the house. So Sean and Marco joined a long line of young people who'd lived in The Hideout, beginning wtih Fritz and his renters, Tim and Charlie, Billy and Sara, and numerous others. The rent was, as I'm sure you guessed, ridiculously low..
Very quickly, Sean and Marco, along with Shelly, had become the top short tracks racers at the Fred. Whenever there was a race that included the three of them, they quickly left everyone else behind and it quickly became a three-way competition. Shelly, the oldest and most experienced, was usually the winner, but not always. The three were good, and they quickly realized that racing together was the most effective practice for the three of them. Watching them practice was a favorite activity for almost everyone visiting the Fred. All three had plenty of regional and national race experience, and they all easily qualified for the Olympic Trials.
It didn't take long for people to think that Sean and Marco might be a pair in more ways than one. Fran took it upon herself to visit The Hideout one evening and ask some blunt questions about sexuality and sex. Both boys somewhat reluctantly admitted that they were gay and having a good time together. The reason for their reluctance was that they did not, at least as yet, think of themselves as being in a committed relationship. Yet, they were having sex and weren't sure how people would think about that. Fran set them straight about attitudes about sex and sexuality! She also suggested that Shelly'd like to join them from time to time. She assured them that their escapades on the ice might be improved by escapades off the ice. And she assured them that Shelly had his wife's enthusiastic support in such activities! Escapades off the ice ensued shortly thereafter.
Since the Fred housed one of only two indoor long tracks in the nation, any racer that wanted year-round long track experience knew that it could only be had in Grand Forks or Milwaukee. That assured that there were always a large number of long track hopefuls as members of the Fred.
The long track Olympic trials consisted of three groups of skaters: those that practiced in Milwaukee, those that practiced in Grand Forks, and everyone else. The "everyone else" group was by far the smallest, consisting of two Americans who practiced in Canada, one who practiced in Minneapolis, but only in the winter, and two from Lake Placid, where there was a year round outdoor refrigerated rink, that managed to be usable most of the time (snow had to be cleared in the winter and no amount of refrigeration could maintain good ice on a warm summer day). Of course, skaters without year-round long track availability could still skate and race on short tracks and recreational rinks to keep in shape.
Meet Ivan Jorstad, Fredie Covington, Nicole Abbott, and Rydia Croft. These four were the best of the top long track skaters at the Fred, and the most likely to secure places on the Olympic team. Five others had also qualified to go to the Trials, but had little expectation that they'd make it onto the US Olympic Skating Team.
Ivan was a tall, blond Norwegian, who sounded like he'd been raised in Chicago, which he had. However, he'd grown up on Logan Boulevard, right near Logan Square, the heart of the old Norwegian district in Chicago. He spoke fluent Norwegian, which he'd learned from his parents, even though they were three generations away from the "old country." He attended the Norwegian service at the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church on Logan Square regularly. His family and community just assumed that he'd be involved in winter sports, and he was a cross country skier, ski jumper, hockey player and speed skater. By the end of high school he'd pretty much decided that his sporting future would be in speed skating. That decided, he aimed for Grand Forks, joined the Fred, enrolled at UND (in that order), and was now, in the fall of 2005, a junior and a lead skater.
Fredie Covington didn't talk about himself much, and it turned out that the reason was that he'd grown up in an incredibly privileged family in Washington, DC, and didn't want that to be his image at the Fred. His grandfather was one of the founders of Covington and Burling an incredibly successful law firm, now with offices across the US and Europe. He'd attended the exclusive Sidwell Friends School in Bethesda, Maryland, following in the footsteps of a number of presidential children. His family hadn't been enthusiastic about his going to UND, Harvard being the family school, but accepted that he'd never fulfull his Olympic dreams at Harvard. In North Dakota he preferred to just be a skater from Washington, and was glad that virtually nobody (except Charlie) had heard of Covington and Burling. When he met Charlie for the first time, Charlie made the connection with Covington and Burling, but promised to keep mum. And, no, Fredie with one 'd' is not a mispelling. His name is Frederick, and that's what his parents called him. They agreed to accept his nickname, and even use it, if he'd agree to use the unique spelling. It was one of many compromises between him and his parents that led him to North Dakota. We realized, very quickly, that that was North Dakota's gain. He was a sophomore in the 2005-2006 school year.
Nicole grew up in San Francisco, learned to skate at an early age, and convinced her parents to send her to high school at a boarding school in Milwaukee, where she could use the indoor long track at the Pettit National Ice Center. After four years there she wanted a change. She liked her coach, but didn't feel that she was being pushed to her limits, and while she realized that ultimately she had to push herself, she also felt that a change of coaches and venues would be a good idea. The only alternate venue was the Fred. Her parents were totally supportive, and here she was, now a sophomore at UND, and hoping to go to the Olympics. She worked hard, skated like a bat out of Hell (Shel's description), worked relentlessly, and demanded that her coaches drive her like they were herding cattle. She raced Shel, and by her sophomore year she could usually beat him around the long track, even when she took the outside and he took the inside. He pronounced her, "A sure winner."
Rydia was a UND senior from Montgomery, Alabama. She was African-American, and had had a pretty tough life living in the Deep South. As she put it, "Imagine me, a black girl, attending the Jefferson Davis High School. And life there was pretty much like you might expect it to be.".
Despite limited opportunities she studied hard, rose to the top, and read something about the Milson Scholarship program at UND. Her high school advisor had never heard of such a scholarship, and told her not to bother. But she wrote a very appealing letter to "The Admissions Office of the University of North Dakota." The letter was impressive, and it got passed around the Admission Office until it reached the Director's desk, who passed it along to Chancellor Charlie, who passed it on to President Tim. Who called the young lady on the telephone, had a thirty minute interview, and invited her to apply for admission, putting the famous TTT at the top of her application. He told her, "Don't worry about the scholarship, I'll take care of that. Just get in a complete application." She did, and you can write the rest of the story without my telling you..
Fredie wasn't happy in the UND dorms, even the quiet dorm where he lived. Sidwell Friends may be a school for the elite, but it was very demanding. He'd learned to study, and take life quite seriously. That'd also been the expectation of his family, and on that point he didn't need to compromise with them. Life in the UND dorms was simply too frivolous. He asked two or three people that seemed to know their way around the Fred about possible housing alternatives. When for the third time in a row he was told to, "Talk to Shel," he took the advice and talked to Shel.
Shel, not one to mince words, simply said, "You have plenty of money, right? Or at least Daddy does. Fred Milson, for whom the Fred is named, and certainly the richest man I know (unless you are) says that something is only a problem if it can't be solved with money. That's certainly true of your housing situation."
Fredie, wisely, decided not to mince words with Shel. "If a suggestion is reasonable, my father'll fund it, I'm sure. We have a deal, I get college here on my terms, and I can skate as long as I'm competitive. Then it's off to Harvard Law. It really doesn't matter how good UND Law is, I'm off to Harvard. And I think I'm going to like being a lawyer, though I can't see myself at Covington and Burling."
Shel said, "OK, here's the deal. Typical of any college town, rentals near campus are both crummy and overpriced. However, you can buy decent houses around the campus for quite reasonable prices. They get bought up for rentals, but the remodeling costs and the maximum rental that you can get puts a ceiling on the value of the houses near campus. So, invite Ivan, Nicole, and Rydia to share the house with you. They'll refuse at first, but between Fred, me, and Tim we'll talk sense into them. The four of you will have a ball in a house somewhere between campus and the Fred, and it'll be good for all of you. I assume that your father'll own the house, and it'll sell for what you paid for it when you graduate. I might even buy it."
"Buy a house? That doesn't make sense."
"Oh, yes, it does. And you'll find that a lot of parents are finding that it's a good way to house college kids. Of course, they have to be mature enough to handle the responsibility of a house, and not make it just an off-campus bar."
"That wouldn't be a problem, and my parents know it. I'll talk to my father."
Shel got a telephone call that night from father Covington. "Is this Shel Oldfield?"
"Yes. Is this Harry Covington?" I guessed.
"You seem to be as sharp a young man as my son says you are. Fred Milson says the same thing."
"You've been checking up on me."
"Indeed I have, or at least my administrative assistant has. He says that Fred Milson says you can be trusted and depended upon. In fact, Milson seems to think you're one remarkable fellow."
Shel said, "A remarkable fellow. I like that. Well, you're either calling with questions about my proposal that you, or Fredie, buy a house, or you're calling to ask me to proceed to guide Fredie in such a purchase. Which is it?"
"I spoke personally to Fred this evening, and he says to just put the whole thing in your hands and get out of the way; that you've purchased houses for him in that way, and staying out of the way is the only way to do the deal. So, how much money do you need?"
"Two questions, Harry. [Nobody ever said Shel lacked balls.] First, do you want to buy the house outright, or get a mortgage? Second, in whose name will the house be titled?"
"I don't want to mess with a mortgage, and in Fredie's name. I don't want to own real estate in North Dakota."
"OK, you won't need more than $250,000 and probably much less. Be prepared to wire it when I call you. Does that work? Fredie will probably need some additional money for some remodeling, but the whole thing shouldn't exceed my top figure."
"Can you vouch for these other kids you've suggested might share the house with Fredie?"
"As much as I can for Fredie to them. I'm sure they'll all work out well. They won't be paying rent, but they'll share in the utilities, food, and so forth."
"I'll leave that all up to you and Fredie. I like the way you work Shel. And I understand you're going to get another gold medal in Turin. I sure hope that Fredie gets something and gets Olympic medals out of his system."
Shel asked, "You know the 2010 Olympics will be in Vancouver. Will you support Fredie sticking with skating until then, if that's what he wants?"
"I'm not sure just what Fredie's told you about me. But for starters, just observe that he's at the University of North Dakota, not at Harvard, and is being fully supported in his Olympic dream. This conversation's certainly shown you that he has my full support–and that of my wife as well, I want you to know. His dream is certainly not my dream. But Fredie is his own man, and I want him to be. Yeah, he has to negotiate with me to do the crazy things he wants to, but he makes his case and wins the negotiations. Like this house, you don't hear me kicking and screaming. You have a level head, Shel. You just keep pointing him in the right direction and I'll support Fredie and you. We have a deal that he's going to Harvard Law. I think he really wants to be a lawyer, but I'm equally sure that corporate law would kill him. Hell, it may kill me. Don't you dare tell him this, but if, when the time comes, he wants to go to a different law school, I'll support that. In fact, my sources tell me that your Charlie runs one Hell of a good school out there. So, Shel, take care of my kid. And tell me where to wire the money. Thank you for your concern for my son. I feel a lot better about North Dakota having talked with you and Fred."
It wasn't the conversation Shel had expected, and he decided that it would be best if most of it were not shared withi Fredie.
By the next night Fredie was the shell-shocked owner of a run down Victorian of the same era as, and two blocks down the street from, The Hideout. Rydia, Nicole, and Ivan had been invited to be housemates, and had been remarkably easy to persuade. Free housing is hard to turn down, and all of the four knew each other and thought sharing a house would be fun.
Shel had seen the For Sale sign a week before, and was ready to have Ms. Caruthers arrange for them to see the house. This was his first house purchase without the involvement of Fred, but he figured that Mr. Covington would do as a replacement. Fredie liked the house, and Shel could see its possibilities, even if Fredie couldn't. You know the rest of the story. The house needed a lot of painting and clean up, but it was ready for the four skaters to move in by the time they had to be out of the UND dorms in June. Fredie was able to take it in stride; the other three spent a good part of the next year pinching themselves to be sure it wasn't all a dream.
Shel sent Max and Auggie for the next step in the orientation of Fredie, Ivan, Nicole and Rydia. Shel told Max and Auggie to, "Clue them in on the full meaning of love and support." He then told Fredie to invite Max and Auggie for dinner and be open to what they had to say.
Fredie and Ivan had met Auggie only a couple of times, and none of them knew Max, but they'd come to trust Shel and invited the two to dinner. In America one cannot just pretend that race isn't an issue in social relationships. The fact that Rydia was African-American didn't seem to make much difference to Fredie, Ivan, and Nicole, but Shel thought it might be a good idea if Auggie was part of the "Love and Support" lecture. While Auggie had experienced very little prejudice, he was aware that his father had in his early dating days in Grand Forks. He could be very sensitive to the position that Rydia found herself in.
The dinner was interesting. They had a roast beef dinner, and Max had the audacity to ask, "Do you eat this well all of the time?"
Nicole answered with, "When we want to eat well we send Fredie to do the grocery shopping. I don't think he understands the concept of hamburger, and spaghetti and pizza are outside of his experience. We do eat well, but this beef is special. Shel said that you guys were special, so we decided that you needed special food."
Auggie said, "My God, Shel thinks we're special. That's news. I thought that Shel only thought Brian was special."
Rydia said, "Shel and Brian are so cute together. It's really too bad that Olympic figure skating doesn't have a men's pairs event."
Max said, "That's a great segue into the subject of the evening: pairs."
"Pairs?" asked Ivan.
Auggie said, "Let's not try to be subtle, Max. We're here to talk about love and support, specifically love, and specifically the physical aspects of love, more commonly known as sex."
Nicole exclaimed, "This conversation has taken an unexpected turn. What're you talking about, Auggie?"
"You four, as members of the Fred, and four of its top racers at present, are the most recent in a long succession of Olympians in Grand Forks and this university. It began with Tim and Charlie, and Hal, Jim, and Paul, in Mexico City. It has included divers, archers, gymnasts, wrestlers, cyclists, swimmers, marathoners, fencers, skaters, and sailors. I think they've won about 150 medals. It's an incredible record. It's not all one athletic program, but the athletes are all connected. They all combine superior talent, incredible determination, and the willingness to accept and give love and support. They'll all do anything for each other. You four are learning the value of that kind of relationship as you live together in this house. And I'm certain that it isn't all just a one-way street in which you take advantage of Fredie's father's money. You support each other in many ways, and I'll bet you've never heard Fredie say something like, 'I'm paying, so it goes my way'."
Rydia thought for a moment and said, "No, we haven't."
Fredie said, "I wouldn't dream...."
Max said, "We know you wouldn't. And Shel would never have worked out this housing arrangement is he thought you would."
Auggie continued, "But there's another aspect of love and support. Love and sex. Physical sex."
Ivan said, "You're suggesting that we ought to be having sex together?"
"Well, that's a little blunt, but, yes, that's what I'm suggesting. You four need to be deepening your relationships, drawing sustenance from each other, giving and receiving love and support. In so doing, the artifical boundaries that our society has erected around our bodies can be set aside."
"Free love?" asked Nicole.
"Well, that term gets tossed around. Who knows what it means? Generations of Olympians here in Grand Forks have found that the deepening relationships that sex allows can support athletic success."
This discussion went on for a couple of hours, until finally Max said, "It's late and time for us to go. Think about this conversation. Talk among yourselves, and then make your own decisions about your relationships. Our purpose tonight wasn't to set you in a particular direction, but to free your thinking about the relationships in this house. We will repeat the rules that virtually all of us have found helpful: Talk first; respect people's comfort zones; don't mess with kids; and don't produce babies."
"Just that simple." said Rydia.
"Just that simple," said Auggie, and Max nodded his head affirmatively.
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