Finding Tim

by Charlie

Episode 211 - Aftermath

This is my story, and while I'm willing to share authorship, ultimately I'm responsible for moving the story along and making sure you have a general idea about what the whole Gang is doing. That's right, this is Charlie, and I hate to admit it, but not much of real interest has been going on in the Gang other than the Olympics. The sports pundits, the American press, and even the University of North Dakota campus (which has come to expect this sort of thing) were stunned by the success of our North Dakota athletes. They weren't really a defined group, so it took a while for NBC to tumble to the fact that every one of the North Dakota athletes had gotten a medal, and that their medal total was a staggering fifteen and that that was more than half of the medals that the United States team won. And I can't resist noting that if North Dakota has been a nation, it would've come in sixth.

Once the pattern was discerned, it didn't take NBC and the sports press long to come talking to Tim about what was going on in North Dakota. Tim loved it; it gave him a chance to wax on about his two favorite subjects: the glories of the University of North Dakota and the importance of love and support in sports as in all human endeavors. And, he couldn't resist suggesting that walking in all that North Dakota wind had a very salutary effect on the body, especially the muscles–especially when walking upwind! He also managed to convey the importance of the support that was provided by North Dakota's largest retailer, Fred's Sports.

So where did the lives of our athletes lead when they came back to Grand Forks, finished with the visit to Washington and the Oval Office, ran out of invitations to appear on talk shows, and, for the students among them, went back to life in the real world of classes, homework, and exams?

I'll start with Shelly and Fran Morton. Shelly'd had wonderful success at Turin, with three medals; Fran had gotten one, the maximum she could achieve as a figure skater. They agreed that after two successful Olympic Games, it was time to retire and get on with life. Shortly after they'd made their retirement plans known, Shel, Ham, and Marty invited them to dinner at Marty and Fred's house. After a lovely meal, Shel announced, "You know, we didn't invite you here just to eat. This is part of a carefully planned recruitment effort on the part of the coaching staff of the Fred. We want you both to join that staff. Our existing top level coaches are aging, and will soon be retiring. We need new blood. We're prepared to make you substantial financial offers to join our permanent coaching staff."

Shelly and Fran were startled. They hadn't really worried too much about their future careers after skating. If they'd had be honest with themselves they would've admitted that they hadn't felt much pressure about the future, because they knew from history that the Gang was their safety net. But an offer like this was completely unexpected. Fran feared that the offer was simply the way that Fred had organized support for their future, rather than an offer of a real job at the Fred. She tried to express that concern, but Fred interrupted her: "Let me make one thing clear. I've stepped aside from making decisions regarding Fred's Sports and the Fred. Those decisions are now Marty's responsibility, along with Andy at Fred's Sports, and Shel and Ham at the Fred. But I'm still alert and aware of what's going on, and I want to assure you, absolutely and without any doubt, that the efforts of these three to recruit you to their coaching staff are genuine. You're needed and will find a fulfilling career at the Fred." We accepted with alacrity.

Shel was quite vague about his future plans. He simply said, "Well, I'm happy messing around every day at the Fred. I'm not sure about future skating competition, maybe I'll be tempted, and maybe I'll retire from competition, but never from skating. I'm sure that the Fred'll be glad to have Brian and me around. The details will be worked out when they're worked out." Well, Marty saw to it that Shel was added to the staff of the Fred, in an undetermined position. We all knew that someday he would be officially the head of the place, in the meantime, his leadership was unofficial, but virtually absolute.

Joan Phipps had two Olympics under her belt and four medals. A bronze in Salt Lake City and two bronze and a gold in Turin. She flatly declared that her Olympic career had ended, and that from then on all skating would be recreational. She and husband Gary talked and agreed that it was time for motherhood. He was making plenty of money at Fred's Sports where he was, essentially, a troubleshooter. That role had intruded on their married life from time to time as Gary was asked to deal with problems at stores across the country, and once in England. Joan's skating schedule kept her from going with him, so those assignments meant short separations for them. Now, having given up competitive skating, she was able to travel with Gary, and it was exciting to explore new cities and parts of the country. Motherhood would come, and that would change their lives, but Andy had assured Gary that when traveling became a problem for the family, a more settled position in Grand Forks would be found for him.

The future for Randy and Sissy was virtually locked in. They were seniors at Red River High; they'd graduate in June; they'd attend UND in the fall; and they'd continue as full members of the Fred, and continue their skating careers, probably leading up to another medal in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. With a silver medal in Turin, they certainly had their heart set on gold in Vancouver, despite Tim's dictum. A number of Olympians had talked to Tim about the desire for gold, especially after winning a silver or bronze medal. Tim admitted that he had to alter his position for repeat medalists. Sure, go for gold. There really isn't a difference between doing your best to get a medal and doing your best to get a gold medal. The difference, he always warned, is whether another bronze, or another silver will be a source of additional pride or of disappointment. He simply couldn't abide the idea of being disappointed to win any Olympic medal. At least in the case if Sissy and Randy, that was exactly where they were. Who wouldn't want gold? Who could be disappointed being a two-time medalist, even if the medals weren't gold?

With Olympic medals hanging around their necks, Sean and Marco had fulfilled their Olympic dreams. They had, in their opinion, reached the pinnacle in skating. It was time to reassess their lives. They'd come to the Fred to skate, and had put off college to devote full time to skating. In Grand Forks they'd found each other, excelled at skating, and each gotten a bronze Olympic medal. They decided that their life together now took precedence over skating, and that their life together needed to involve going back to school. They decided that they'd attend UND, entering in the fall of 2006. Until then, they'd get some kind of job to put aside a little money, and would continue their skating, but would let it move from being the most important thing in their live to being third. Number one being their love of each other, and number two being their university studies.

With some trepidation they shared these ideas first with Shelly and Shel. They were a little afraid that their decision to downgrade their emphasis on skating wouldn't be well received by the two avid skaters, Shelly and Shel. To their relief, they were fully supported in their plans. Shel said, "Look, we all know that skating isn't a reasonable career choice for very many people. It means either coaching or traveling the exhibition circuit, which can be deadly. Your plans don't exclude the Vancouver Olympics; you'll have to see how that works out. But getting yourselves into college makes perfect sense. Now, I can help with two things: first, we need to share this with Tim and Charlie and get them to let you continue to live at The Hideout; second, the man with jobs here is Fred, except we no longer deal with Fred, we talk to Marty and Andy. I hope you like retail sales, because I see that in your near term future."

Sean and Marco didn't know quite what to say. They were just the latest examples of how the Gang functioned to make life work for its members–or future members, which Sean and Marco surely would be if they stayed around Grand Forks after college.

Shelly got straight to the point as well, "So, when are we going to get wedding invitations from the two of you? As you know, marriage is as simple as a trip to Canada, or to one of several states in the U.S." Neither Sean nor Marco were ready with an answer to that question, but it got them thinking. I'll leave them thinking about that and turn to our quartet of long track skaters.

Their return to Grand Forks was quickly interrupted by a trip to Washington when President Bush issued the traditional invitation to the Olympic medal winners to join him in the Oval Office. Everybody knows that politics rules everything in Washington, and the visit was intended to allow some of the nonpartisan glow from sports champions rub off on the presidency. On the other side, as any Olympic medalist will tell you, a visit to the Oval Office is a thrill in itself, regardless of the politics of the current occupant. The president took a look around at the group and said, "I understand that North Dakota sort of dominated our Olympic efforts this time around. How many of you are from North Dakota?" When twelve skaters raised their hands he was a little startled. He counted the twelve and then asked, "How many medals did you all win?"

The response of, "Fifteen," was met with, "My God, that's more than half the American medals. Well, this isn't about North Dakota, though I think I ought to send the EPA to test the water out there, but about a great American effort. And special congratulations to the women's hockey team, which again can say that they've medaled in every Olympics since they had women's hockey." He'd been well briefed, and had something good to say about everyone, including everyone from North Dakota.

They got back to Grand Forks about nine in the evening, and it was almost ten before the four long track skaters got to their house. They'd just had airplane food for supper, so they headed for the kitchen and gobbled up what they could find to eat. Then they headed to bed. It was winter and the house was cool, so they crawled–naked, of course–under a couple of blankets in the big California King bed. It was Ivan that started the conversation. "Well, folks, we have a big decision to make."

"What's that? Right now the only decision I'm working on is whether to sleep on my right side or my left side."

Ivan continued, "I'm serious. We need to think about whether what we've been through the last month is a beginning or an ending."

Rydia asked, "You mean, are we going to retire from skating?"

Ivan responded, "More than that. We've all become deeply involved in the Fred and skating. But more importantly, our lives have become almost inextricably bound together. As we move forward, is disentangling our lives what we want to do? Or not? And, if not, then what is this the beginning of?"

Fredie, obviously trying to avoid the serious implications of Ivan's question, replied, "You know, you shouldn't end a sentence with a preposition."

Ivan was ready, "You know, Winston Churchill said, in what's certainly an apocryphal reply to a comment like that from a young reporter, 'Young man, that is an impertinence up with which I shall not put.'"

Fredie said, "I'm defeated. After that, I wouldn't know how to disentangle our relationship."

Nicole interjected, "Ivan, what're you suggesting? That the strange relationship that we four share might continue after our skating careers?"

Rydia said, "I think that's exactly what he's suggesting. Right, Ivan?"

Ivan: "I'm not sure, but I guess that's where my thinking is leading me."

Fredie: "Let's start by just thinking about our skating. We're all Olympic medalists; do we want to keep our skating up for another four years so that we can possibly be repeat Olympic medalists?"

Nicole: "I think there's more to life than skating. I'm not sure that I'm ready to devote the next four years to skating, especially after I graduate from college. Rydia, you graduate this year. What're your plans?"

Rydia: "I haven't got any. I guess I'll go job hunting. I don't know whether I'll be looking down South, maybe in Montgomery, or up here somewhere."

Fredie: "You know that between the Fred and this group, you could stay here, go to grad school at UND, and continue your skating."

Ivan: "Even if we don't continue to skate competitively, Rydia can stay here and go to grad school. I know that can be worked out."

Rydia: "Listen guys. I've taken just about all the charity I can take: four years of college, living in this house, the fabulous trip that my family got to Turin. I have to start earning a living."

Fredie: "Fuck that word charity. Something that's mutually beneficial isn't charity. Not for the university (which loves to have Olympians), not for Fred (who loves to support Olympians), and not for me (who can't stand the idea of living alone in this house)."

Ivan: "I think that what I was getting at when I started this conversation was, do we want to break up this foursome? And if we don't want to, how do we work it out so that we don't have to? Clearly we can extend its life for four more years by aiming for the Vancouver Olympics, but that simply pushes the question four years down the road, and might make breaking up the foursome–if that's what we decided to do–even harder."

Fredie: "When you put it that way, no, I don't want to break up the foursome, but I'm not sure how to avoid it."

Nicole: "I agree."

Rydia: "You guys're the best thing that ever happened to me. I don't want it to break up. But I agree with Fredie, do we really have a choice?"

Ivan: "Damn right we do. If the four of us don't want to disentangle our lives, then we simply need to figure out how to go forward together."

Fredie: "I think we need to sleep on that. But having decided that we really don't want to get emotionally disentangled, I want to get physically entangled. With you, Rydia. May I fuck you?"

"Hell, yes."

Nicole said, "Ivan, I think that leaves you and me. Fuck me good and fuck me hard."

The next morning all four had to get back to classes at the university; they'd missed quite a few and needed to play catch-up. Of course, it wasn't really that difficult for them to catch up, because with the Olympics behind them they could take a break in their skating and let the time saved go to studying.

It was several days later, at dinner, when Fredie restarted the conversation about their future. Without any lead-up he said, "OK, we were trying to decide whether to try to disentangle this foursome, and if not, how to pull that off. Have I got that right?"

"Yes."

"Can we start with the premise that we don't want to disentangle?"

"Yes." That was from all three.

"OK, there seem to be two issues. If we're going to live as a foursome, just how will that work? What'll our public face be? How will we relate internally? Second, I assume that we'd like to remain in Grand Forks? What will we do to make a living?"

Ivan said, "Something tells me that you've been thinking about this, and are about to suggest answers. Right?"

"Right. Let me start by saying that I had a conversation with my father yesterday. About law school. My deal with him was that after I got skating out of my system I would go to Harvard Law School. My question to my father was, 'Are you going to hold me to that?' His reply fooled me. He said, 'I gave that idea up a long time ago. Ask Shel, he knows. But I figured if it wasn't important enough for you to ask, you might as well go to Harvard. You asked. I think I'm glad; I'm not at all sure that Harvard Law is ready for your unconventionality; Harvard College, maybe; Harvard Law, no. I guess you'd like to go to Charlie's law school, right?'

"Of course he was right. I got brave and told him that the three of you were simply wonderful, and I wanted Mother and him to come and visit us in Grand Forks as soon as possible. They'll be here in about two weeks, to spend a weekend. They'll be staying in our guest room."

"My God, are they ready for this house and its sleeping arrangements?"

"I hope so. We're going to find out. That's why I invited them."

Ivan said, "You still haven't answered your own two questions."

"OK, here goes. I suggest that we simply keep on living in this house. I own it, I suggest that I deed it to the four of us jointly, so it truly is 'our house.' At some point we need to have a couple of marriages, so that our public face is two married couples sharing a house. Not the norm in our society, but do we think anybody really cares? As for jobs, we get degrees; we do grad school or professional school as appropriate; in due course we get jobs and pay our way in the world. In the meantime, both my father and Fred would be very upset if we didn't ask for love and support, in this case financial support."

Nicole said, "My God, you make it sound so simple. It can't be that simple."

Rydia said, "Yes, it can. We haven't used the word, but clearly we've grown to love each other very much, and Fredie has just mapped out a way for us to live out that love. I'm in."

"What're your parents going to think?"

"They're still trying to puzzle out how and why I got a scholarship, a place to live free, support for skating at the Fred, and their trip to Italy simply blew their minds. They won't ever really puzzle it all out, but if I'm happy and being taken care of, they're going to be happy."

Nicole asked, "What about you, Ivan, and your parents?"

"The only problem for them in all of this is that there isn't some nice little Norwegian girl somewhere in the mix. But in their heart of hearts they've known for some time that was just a pipedream. As for the rest, they'll go with the flow; at least I hope they will. You can believe they'll be glad it's happening in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and not in Chicago, Illinois."

Nicole said, "As for me, I grew up in San Francisco, the center of unconventionality. I've lived away from home for six years, with high school boarding school in Milwaukee and two years here. We've kind of grown apart. If I'm happy, they're going to be happy. But don't expect them to be around Grand Forks much. I was kind of surprised they went to Italy with us, but who'd turn down a free trip to Europe?"

That all agreed to give it a go. As soon as they shared the idea with Shel he said, "You have to visit Jim, Andy, Kara, and Amy." A dinner at the foursome's house was arranged, and Fredie, Nicole, Ivan, and Rydia were flabbergasted to realize that there was a group of four in Grand Forks that was already doing what they were talking about, and making it work. As they talked, they realized that the big difference between the two groups was that all four of the new foursome planned to be open with their parents. Kara and Amy had to admit that they had never been with their parents.

A little later a conversation at dinner raised two as yet unanswered questions for the group: Who would marry whom, and when? Where were they going with their skating?

Rydia responded, "I'm not sure about the skating, but I can answer the question about who's going to marry whom."

Fredie said, "Just like that; you know the answer."

"Just like that, buddy boy. You're going to marry Nicole, and Ivan is going to marry me. You want to know how I reached that conclusion?"

"If he doesn't, I do," said Ivan, and the others nodded agreement.

"OK, Fredie is madly in love with you, Ivan. I think he's more gay that he thinks he is. And with the arrangement we're anticipating, he'll get plenty of chances to make wonderful love to you. Remember what Amy, Kara, and company said, 'It only works if everyone is equally in love with everyone. There can't be a combination that you avoid.' But I don't think the public face of a gay marriage will help us in this world, and it won't answer parentage questions as children arrive. Now, Fredie, don't take offense at this, but you have a slightly hard time making love to a black girl."

"What do you mean?"

"Admit it, Fredie. You grew up in a very white environment. The blacks you came in contact with were either domestic employees or token Negroes. And people usually used the word servant and the n-word in those phrases. I'm almost certainly the first black person you've had a close relationship with. Fredie, you do a wonderful job; I love you for it. And your talking about spending you life in this relationship is simply fantastic. But that's on the intellectual side. On the emotional side there are still some mixed feelings. That's OK. Your intellectual side suppresses them, and they dwindle. But don't try to pretend they aren't there."

"How can you be so certain?"

"It's really very simple. When we make love in the dark you're vastly more passionate than when the light's on."

"And that doesn't bother you?" asked Fredie.

"Not in the least, especially if you're honest about it, which you seem to be. In my life I've never dealt with three more accepting and less prejudiced white persons in my life. I love you all for it. You are very exceptional people, especially to a girl from the deep South. On the other hand, Ivan seems genuinely attracted to my black body, especially the area between my legs. We make a logical pair. And just for your information, I happen to know that Nicole really has the hots for you, Fredie."

Nicole said, "Not to sell the others short, but she's right, Fredie."

Ivan said, "Well I guess that's settled. Do we move on to when?"

Nicole said, "As long as we're students, the four of us can live here without raising an eyebrow. When we move beyond being students, I think marriages will be in order."

"What's our future as skaters?"

Fredie replied to that, "There are no World's this year because it's an Olympic year. So we can relax during the coming semester, and ease off on our practice schedules. Summer or fall we need to decide if we want to continue serious competitive skating, which could be just for the next one, two or three World Championships, or through the Vancouver Olympics. I think that as long as we remain students we'll be able to combine skating with career goals. After school, who knows? But we don't need to decide now."

Next up for the foursome was the visit of Fredie's parents. Fredie had warned the group that this was the big test for his relationship to his parents. He had decided that he was going to be a part of the foursome, regardless of the reaction of his father and mother, but deep down inside it was important to him to maintain a loving relationship with his parents as well as his three new partners.

The big weekend arrived, and Rita and Harry Covington arrived at the airport late on a Friday afternoon. All four skaters were on hand to greet them, driving one of the communal vans that the various Houses owned. Harry asked, "Fredie, where did you get this van?"

"It's one of a whole fleet of cars that a group of us own. There are several houses along the street where we live, The Roundhouse, The Lighthouse, and The Wheelhouse. There are twenty-something people total, and they have found that by sharing they can get along with seven or eight cars instead of somewhere between ten and twenty if they were owned by couples or individuals. We were invited to buy into the deal; they let us in cheap, but we pay our share of the upkeep. And the deal is that you always return a vehicle with a full tank of gas."

Rita said, "It makes sense, but I can't imagine our friends in Washington being part of a scheme like that."

Harry said, "I think we are going to see a lot this weekend that we can't imagine our friends in Washington being a part of. Am I right about that, Fredie? I kind of gathered that this trip was to...I was going to say shock us, but I think that's the wrong word. Perhaps you intend to inform us about your lifestyle out here."

Fredie said, "I like the word inform and I hope it won't be shocking."

Rita said, "But it might be, is that right?"

Ivan asked, "How easily are you shocked?"

Harry said, "Good answer. We'll just wait and see."

They got to the house and Fredie and Ivan carried their suitcases up to the guest room and left them to freshen up. They soon came downstairs and Rita said, "I'd love a tour of this house. I am impressed with the architecture, and it seems to be in very good condition."

Fredie said, "We had it fixed up quite a bit before we moved in. Let's give you the tour." They headed through the dining room and butler's pantry to the big eat-in kitchen. Fred continued, "The basement is just storage, though it could be turned into some kind of recreation room." Then he tested the waters by adding. "That would be great for kids."

Neither Rita nor Harry bit.

Then they headed upstairs. There was no way to avoid the implications of the second floor, and Fredie bravely led them into the master bedroom, saying, "This is the master bedroom and that's our bed."

Silence reigned. For quite a while.

Then Rita said, "Well, I guess if we're going to be shocked, this is the point in the tour where it will happen. Right?"

Rydia said, "Right."

Harry said, "After all the talk of love and support that I heard in Turin, from just about everybody connected to you skaters, this is neither surprising nor shocking. However, I guess I'm nosy. Do you pair up the same every night, or do you play musical mattresses?"

Fredie decided that, since his father had opened the door, it was time to get it all out in the open. He replied, "We mix it up regularly, and we explore all possible combinations."

Rita said, "That means you and Ivan...."

Ivan said, "Yes."

Rita said, "Thank you for being open and honest with us. Nothing is harder for a parent than knowing your child is keeping secrets from you."

Harry said, "OK, I think there's more. Out with it."

Fredie said, "We hadn't really expected to have this all out in the first hour that you were here, but here goes. The four of us have decided that we want to spend our lives together–right here in Grand Forks, in this house. I am going to marry Nicole and Ivan is going to marry Rydia, but our night arrangements aren't going to change. And just so you know, there is another foursome very similar to this living in Grand Forks and part of Tim and Charlie's Gang. You are going to hear more about the Gang this weekend, but essentially it comprises almost all of the people that were along in Turin."

Rita turned to Harry and said, "OK, Harry. I think I win the bet. I came closer that you did in predicting what we'd find here. But even I couldn't have dreamed this up."

"You're right. You win. OK, kids, we know you are worried about what we are going to think about all of this. So here's the bottom line. You, Fredie and all of you, have to be responsible for your own lives. If this is the route that you all have decided to follow, neither Rita nor I plan to stand in your way. Rita and I have speculated for two weeks now about why it was important to Fredie for us to come out here now, and what it was that you wanted us to learn about. We speculated, and as you can see, Rita came closer than I did. Though neither of us included the gay sexuality as part of our speculation. But we also decided one thing more before we came. We were going to support our son. Fredie has been a wonderful, reliable, responsible son, student, and citizen. We couldn't imagine him being involved in something that was not completely wholesome, if somewhat unconventional. And, Fredie, I'm right, I would much rather have you at law school in North Dakota than in Boston. The Boston Brahmins are not ready for you. Neither is Washington. If North Dakota is, they're welcome to you, and you're welcome to North Dakota. And we'll support you any way we can.

"Now there's one thing to add to that. I hope that Fredie hasn't rubbed your noses in it, but he comes from a fairly wealthy family. Now you're all part of that family. It's going to take you a while to get used to it, but you're all now fairly wealthy young men and women. Your foursome simply won't work if you're not on an equal financial footing."

Nicole said, "Fredie has never flaunted his wealth. It was Shel...."

"I've talked to Shel, and we were glad to meet him in Turin. He's quite a character."

"It was Shel that made Fredie admit that he, or his father, could afford this house and let us all live here rent-free."

"I understand. We'll you're all on an equal footing now. You all have the same Daddy Warbucks, and you will all get the same allowance that Fredie gets. Don't be disappointed, it's not as big as you might think. When you get married, you'll get substantial wedding gifts."

Fredie saw his father acting exactly the way he hoped and prayed he would. He loved is father and was utterly delighted with the way both his father and mother had come through. The other three were completely floored and could hardly speak. Rydia got it right, first. She ran over to Harry, hugged him, kissed him on the cheek, and said, "Thank you, Dad.'

Nicole followed, and Ivan headed for Rita. It was quickly a six way love fest, followed by a roast beef dinner that Nicole had prepared earlier in the day and had left in the oven while they headed to the airport.

The rest of the weekend was spent with everyone hearing the stories of all of their lives, and heading out to visit The Lighthouse, The Roundhouse, and The Wheelhouse. The arrangements in the three "Houses" didn't even seem unconventional after their discussions with Fredie and his foursome.

As soon as that weekend passed, Shel decided that it was time that the four become Gang members. Everyone agreed, and it was also agreed that Jim, Andy, Kara, and Amy would be the old members who were supposed to connect the new members to the Gang. The formal joining ceremony took place in April, and Fredie, Rydia, Ivan, and Nicole joined in a ceremony at their home, as they got numbers 128, 129, 130, and 131 inscribed on their very naked buns by Franklin. Then Shel took over the ceremony and said, "OK, this house is now part of the Gang housing complex. You need to talk to Murray and Fyn about grounds maintenance here; I'm sure they'll be eager to help. But, what're you going to call the place? We have a Roundhouse, a Lighthouse, a Wheelhouse, and a Playhouse. What're you going to call your house?"

After all the trouble Milt, Max and the others had settling on Playhouse, we were startled at how quickly this group came up with a name. Ivan said, "How about Icehouse?"

Nicole and Rydia both indicated approval. Fredie said, "I like that. What do you think Shel?"

Shel said, "It's great. And you guys have set the record for the speed at which you named a house for the Gang."

And that, dear reader, brings me to the most spectacular aftermath of the Turin Olympics that the Gang could've imagined.

Everyone had been back from Turin for just a few days when Perry got a call from Auggie inviting him to a steak lunch at the Dakota Steak House. Perry responded with, "I don't suppose you're going to give me an advance hint about the reason for this extraordinary bit of generosity. Steaks for lunch, no less."

"You are exactly right; not even a hint. And at lunch you're expected to order a small steak not a porterhouse."

"Fred would never restrict someone like that."

"No, he wouldn't. But I only sell photographs. Fred sells almost everything; he's got much more money to throw around."

They met for lunch the next day, and both had very reasonable steak sandwiches and Cokes to drink.

Auggie began by saying, "I'm sick. I have a pretty serious fever."

Perry replied, "For that one sees a doctor; one does not go out to lunch and eat steak and fries."

"Perry, you, not the doctor, are the cure. Well, perhaps not the cure, but at least the treatment."

"Will you please stop being silly and try to make.... Wait a minute. You have a fever. I'm the treatment. Are you telling me that you have Olympic fever?"

"Yes."

"Oh, my God. It's catching. You watched those twelve kids come back from Turin with medals, you started thinking about all of the Gang members who are Olympians, and now you think it's time for you to join the club. Right?"

"Exactly."

"How do I fit in, as if I couldn't guess."

"So guess."

"Since photography isn't an Olympic sport, that leaves sailing. You need a crew to your helm on a 49er. Right?"

"Right."

"No."

"What do you mean, 'No.'? Surely you'd like a little old Olympic medal for yourself, after all you did to help Tim and Charlie get theirs."

"I didn't do any more than you did, and I don't think that's the reason you want to sail in the Olympics. It's not payback; it's Olympic dreaming, Olympic fever. You must have a pretty bad case."

"And you won't help?"

"I didn't say that. I said I wouldn't crew. I'll do for you exactly when I did for Tim and Charlie. I ran the best damn support crew in the entire Olympic fleet."

"I invited you to crew so we could both get medals."

"I may get Olympic fever some day, but not yet. I very much enjoyed running the support team for the best boat in the Olympics. I'll enjoy doing it again, and I know Fred's Sports will bankroll the whole thing. Fred, Marty, and Andy'll be delighted."

"Where am I going to get a crew?"

"Oh, Hell, Auggie. You know lots of good sailors. For someone with sailing in their blood, a chance to be sponsored by Fred's Sports for two years would be a dream come true. Who might you ask?"

"You. But if it's not going to be you, and I wish it were, it's going to be Freddie Keeler."

"Who's he?"

"The first sailor I got to know in Madison. He was a student at the U, and hung around the Mendota Sailing Club. He sailed with me on my first sail on Lake Mendota. Later he took my competition sailing class at the club. That's how I know he'll be perfect as my crew."

"That was about a dozen years ago. What makes you think he'll be available?"

"He's got sailing in his blood, as you said. He'll make himself available."

Perry said, "You talk to Freddie. I'm going to see if I can reassemble the old crew–they all work for Fred's Sports–and I'm going to talk to Goose. You need another 49er sailing with you to keep you sharp. Tell Freddie that practice will start in the Bahamas as soon as we can all get there."

"Good old take charge Perry. Gee, it feels like the good old days. Now look, Perry, you have to take complete charge of all this. You have to take my role and your role from the days of Tim and Charlie."

"I can't direct your sailing."

"Oh, yes you can. You're a good sailor, and just as we didn't permit Tim or Charlie to run that show, you can't let me run this one. Athletes, even very good ones, need coaches to run the show. So, Coach, are you in?"

"I'm in. And you may regret what you just said. You know, I can say, 'Push it,' as loudly as you can, and mean it."

That afternoon Auggie called the Mendota Sailing Club and asked for a phone number for Freddie. He'd become a full member since he graduated from the university, and was frequently around the club. He was a high school history teacher, a career chosen with a desire to remain in Madison and sail whenever possible, including all summer. Auggie called him that evening.

"Hello."

"Freddie, it's Auggie Madison."

"Auggie, good to hear from you. I haven't talked with you since I raced on your crew last summer. What's on your mind?"

"I have a proposition for you."

"What kind of a proposition?"

"Sit down and listen carefully. You are hereby invited to crew on a 49er for the Fred's Sports Sailing team's bid to represent the United States at the Beijing Olympics."

"You said, 'crew.' Does that mean that you're going to be at the helm?"

"Of course."

"How's that going to fit in with my teaching schedule?"

"Not at all. You'll have to get a leave of absence. Are you married, family responsibilities, a house to worry about?"

"I'm still single. I lived with my parents for a while after school, but now I have a small apartment. If I give up my job, how do I eat?"

"On the Fred's Sports team you won't get a salary, but all expenses will be paid, and I can assure you that they are very generous in figuring expenses. I'm sure that they'll pick up the apartment rent while you're on the team."

"You're serious, aren't you? When do we start?"

"As soon as you can get away without jeopardizing your relationship with the school district."

"I should give them several weeks notice, but they might get a replacement sooner."

"When this is over you can go back to teaching, or a job with Fred's Sports is guaranteed. I'm sure they could find a way to keep you sailing every summer, if that's what you wanted."

"Auggie, how do you have this in with Fred's Sports?"

"They owe me a big one for coaching their last sailing team of Tim and Charlie."

"Were you involved with Tim and Charlie when they got their gold medal?"

"I was their coach. And we'll have a support team headed by the same guy that ran support for Tim and Charlie, probably the same exact team."

"What's first, after I get free?"

"A trip to the Bahamas to teach you to sail a 49er. It's easy and fun. You'll have a blast. Then somewhere in the southern hemisphere for good competitive racing. The qualifying races to be the US 49er team for Beijing will begin this fall and go on for most of a year. Then, assuming that we become the American boat, we'll be sailing constantly all year leading up to the Olympics."

Later we heard the story of dinner that evening with his parents: "Mom, Dad, guess what? I'm quitting my job–or getting a leave of absence–and going sailing in the Bahamas."

"What's that, Freddie? What do you mean you're quitting your job?"

"Remember Auggie Madison, the sailor?"

"I think everybody remembers Auggie. He's still around here a lot in the summer, I think. Is he involved in this sudden madness?"

"He sure is. He's going to be helm on the 49er that Fred's Sports is sponsoring to compete for the U.S. slot in the Beijing Olympics. He's asked me to crew. No salary, but all expenses paid by Fred's Sports, and if the schools won't rehire me, Fred's Sports will."

His father said, "Well, I know you love sailing. And I can't believe Fred's Sports would be involved in this if they didn't think there was a good chance of making the U.S. team. That's about two years of almost constant sailing. If anything will work it out of your blood, that ought to do it. Send us a postcard from the Bahamas. I guess sailing in the winter is all down south, like Australia and Argentina. Send us lots of postcards."

His mother added: "I think Auggie was age twelve when he came to Madison to sail. That must've been tough on his parents. I'm glad that you're in your thirties and don't have to get my permission. I might've been dumb enough not to give it."

"Oh, Mom, you were always a good mother. But I couldn't do at thirty things that I saw Auggie do at age twelve–including finding a girl, courting her, proposing, and getting accepted. Working with Augge for two years is going to be heady stuff."

Perry headed to Marty, whom he knew was making all decisions for Fred. "Marty, I think this is going to be more of a production than sponsoring Tim and Charlie. First off, China's going to be much more complicated logistics. And to woo Goose away from the school he runs isn't going to be easy."

Marty interrupted. "Look, Perry. You know full well that Fred would be fully supportive. He trusts you implicitly, and you proved him right in all ways the last time around. While Fred, Andy, and I would like to be kept in the loop, we'll support your plans without question or hesitation. Both you and Auggie have earned–many times over–the full support of Fred's Sports for this adventure. But let me ask you one question, why are you doing support instead of sailing with Auggie?"

"First, you have to believe how good it makes me feel to hear you say that. My next call is to Goose in the Bahamas, I hope he's going to be sailing one of his boats with us. Maybe Fred's Sports will have two boats in the Olympics, one from the United States and one from the Bahamas. As to your question about sailing. Auggie did invite me to crew with him. It was tempting but I turned him down, telling him I'd again manage support. I really like the support role, and I got fair recognition for its importance and for the fantastic job the whole team did. I told Auggie that I didn't have Olympic fever, though I might in the future. But I honestly think the real reason was different. I'd like an Olympic medal, but I'd like to win it with Norman. Auggie moved first this year; it's his turn. But you'd better be ready to sponsor Norman and me next time around."

"You know we will; not just we will, but we'd be honored to."

The call to Goose yielded unexpected results. Goose was very familiar with the ways of Fred's Sports sponsorship of sailing teams, no expense was spared that might possibly contribute to success. Goose told Perry that he and his sailing partner, Arndel, would love to come and sail with Auggie and Freddie. Would their domestic partners, Kelin (Goose's partner) and Nidal (Arndel's partner) be welcome to join them from time to time?

The answer to that was obvious. Then Goose told Perry, "We have a slight problem. I have two English students, Angus Mallory and Trevor Nelson, who've been sailing with us for about eight months. They are excellent sailors and are looking to get good enough for world level competition. We all expect them to be ready by sometime this summer. But they really need to continue intense work with us from now until then."

Perry said, "Bring them along. We'll have three sailing pairs from three countries. While they're sailing against each other in races, they'll be competing for slots on three different national teams. It sounds like fun, and I'm sure Auggie will be glad to join in their instruction. Goose, how come you and Arndel haven't competed in the Olympics for the Bahamas?"

"That's easy, no money. The sailing federation in the Bahamas simply doesn't have the money to field a team, and no individuals do. If Arndel and I sail in the necessary preliminary races and meet minimum Olympic performance standards, we'll be the Bahamas team."

"Fred's Sports would've been glad to sponsor you, you should've asked."

"Well, to be honest we thought about it, but we had a business to run. We still do, but it's developed enough that it can thrive without us for a while. But the school won't be in a position to teach top level competitive racing until Arndel and I are back."

"Tell me about Angus and Trevor."

"Very upper crust–that's how they can take more than a year off, pay high fees, rent an apartment, and be my students. Very smart–both are Cambridge graduates in some kind of science. Utterly delightful–except for their very upper class accent you'd never know they didn't work as office clerks. And very gay–and, yes, we're all adults and we've explored all possibilities with them and our partners. When they first came here they signed up for about three weeks of sailing. I'm pretty sure they had figured out that Arndel and I were gay, but I think they thought we were domestic partners as well as sailing and business partners. In any case, by the second week they'd let us know their relationship and things went on from there. I really doubt they'd still be our students without the extra curricular activities."

Perry said, "The next two years could be interesting."

Of course, Andy told Perry that he could have David, Millie, Curtis and Gene, provided he could persuade them to join his renewed support team. All immediately agreed. Curtis said, "The old saw is, 'You can't go back again,' but you're proving it wrong. Why on earth would I not want to repeat the best three years of my life?" He was speaking for all of them. Andy assured them that it would be Gary's job to worry about their replacements in the Fred's Sports system; they were now to concentrate entirely on the job with Perry.

As for Norman, the co-op venture in ship chandlery was going well, but he couldn't leave it alone for more than two years. He and Perry quickly agreed that he'd move back and forth between being part of the support team and heading up the co-op. In fact, they were pretty certain that his travel with the sailing team would lead to new contacts for the co-op. And, of course, the sailing team would buy everything they could from members stores of the co-op, spreading the business around whenever possible.

This improbable group assembled in Freeport, Grand Bahama Island, Bahamas, by early April, 2006. The sailors were: Auggie, Freddie, Goose, Arndel, Angus and Trevor. The support team was Perry, David, Millie, Curtis, Gene, and Norman when he could be with them. Spouses who would join them from time to time were Lynn, Kelin, and Nidal. The whole team leading up to the Sydney Olympics totaled eleven full time. We had the potential of being fifteen strong and found that we were that quite often.

Auggie was concerned about Freddie, who had no experience sailing a 49er nor hanging on a trapeze. Auggie knew he was an excellent sailor, but didn't think his first experience with a 49er should be as the least experienced 49er sailor out of six. So he and Freddie headed to the Bahamas three days before the sailors were to assemble, the same time that Perry and his support crew assembled. He took Freddie out in a 49er and showed him the ropes. As Auggie was sure he would, he mastered the trapeze and the whole 49er experience with ease. Auggie had chosen his crew well.

Auggie and Freddie were sailing the Freddie which had been Tim's and my boat. It'd been on display in the main Fred's Sports store in Grand Forks ever since it returned from Australia. Goose and Arndel were sailing the Maddie II, which Fred had given to Goose, following the Sydney Olympics. Angus and Trevor were sailing the Perry, the boat that Goose and Arndel had assembled from the spare parts inventory from Perry's support team. He and Arndel had named it the Perry because of that history. Perry would immediately start building a new parts inventory and acquiring a fourth 49er. As he pointed out to Auggie, "The last time around the Maddie II could be the extra boat, because you and Goose didn't have to sail at any particular time. However, we now have three competitive teams, and none of them can be asked to stand down so that someone else can sail. I just hope that one extra boat is enough; I guess it will be if our parts inventory is deep."

Auggie said, "You're in charge Perry. I know that you and your team will keep ahead of everything. Remember, you don't report to me this time around, I report to you."

"I still value your opinion, and always want to hear it. I don't promise to always follow it."

"Good for you. Somebody has to be willing to tell me off from time to time."

Everybody assembled on a beautiful Sunday morning in Freeport. Perry didn't picture this meeting as a sailing meeting, more of a getting-to-know you meeting. Partners and spouses were invited and all came. Perry wasn't exactly sure how to handle this first meeting. He didn't want it to look like the old team was reassembling with a few new people; he wanted everybody to think of it as a completely new team. He wanted the history of Auggie being the chief honcho and all of the focus on one sailing pair, Tim and I, to be put behind them. He decided to start with the idea that everyone was new to everyone except in the case of spouses and sailing pairs. He mixed them up and sat everyone in a circle, asking each in turn to give a little autobiography. At random, he started with Millie. She told of working for Fred's Sports in Michigan and getting this fabulous invitation to join Tim and Charlie's sailing team which was being sponsored by Fred's Sports. She talked about how everyone on the team seemed to be paired with someone except her, David and Perry, and Perry was gay. She said that she and David figured out pretty quickly that they'd make a good pair.

At that point Lynn interrupted and asked, "Perry, don't you want her to tell about David and her favorite pastime as we went around the world?"

Perry saw opportunity knocking. Even though he knew that the newcomers to his group had interesting sexual histories, he was wondering how to get the subject out in the open so it could be discussed. Unknowingly Lynn had solved his problem–probably thinking, as Perry, that this couldn't be allowed to become the elephant in the room.

Millie caught on quickly, "Oh, you want to know about David's and my beachcombing activities."

Curtis said, "You did a lot more than beachcombing."

Goose, who of course knew the history, said, "I think Arndel, Angus, and Trevor, as well as Kelin and Nidal, would like to hear some of the details."

Millie continued, "David read about topless and nude beaches in South Africa and we sort of dared each other to visit one. Well, hey, they're fun, sexy, and a real blast. And you don't spend an afternoon on a nude beach and come home with sagging libido. Great afternoons are universally followed by even greater evenings."

Perry added, "And Millie and David led the group to several nude beaches over our three years together. She's right, nudity's a blast."

Freddie jumped in, "You went as a group to these beaches. All of you?"

"We did indeed."

Freddie went on, "Can I guess that group visits to nude beaches weren't the only group sexual activities for your team?"

"You can guess, and you'd be right."

Goose said, "So what're the rules for this group?"

Perry said, "All of us here, except the Bahamans and Freddie, are part of a group of friends that calls itself the Gang. You'll learn more about that group as you get to know us better. It's centered in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and has well over a hundred members of several generations. The group fully supports Tim's belief that love and support are essential for all kinds of success in life, including athletic success. And that love may, or may not, be sexual. They have some hard and fast rules, and I think they should apply to this group as well."

"What're those rules?" asked Arndel.

"The first rule is talk first. That may seem obvious, but it isn't. Second, you never push anyone past their comfort zone. That doesn't really mean physical force–that isn't an issue–it means that once you know someone's limits, their comfort zone, you don't push beyond, no begging, no 'If you'll do this, I'll do that', you know what I mean. The next rule is really moot for this group: No adult-child sex. All of us are adults. And last, and this is really important in this group: It's OK to ask or suggest any kind of sexual relationship (unless you know you're pushing a person's comfort zone), and it also OK to say, 'No,' for any reason."

Nidal asked, "Are you suggesting sex with other than your partners?"

"Yes, but only if it's inside your comfort zone. Of course, as you become more familiar with this group, your comfort zone may enlarge. That's OK; it's very common."

"And you think that was part of Tim and Charlie's success in Sydney in 2000?"

"Tim and Charlie will tell you that it was. They're absolutely right."

Kelin summed it up with, "God, this is going to be quite an adventure. Goose, my love, this isn't new to you, is it?"

"Oh, no."

"You could've given me a clue."

"I wasn't sure what was going to work out this time around. I was single then. But remember, you aren't going to be pushed out of your comfort zone, and that means that I'm not going to do anything with anybody that'd make you uncomfortable."

Perry added, "And, to be perfectly clear, nothing will go on that you'd be uncomfortable telling the whole group about, including your partner."

Freddie said, "Well, just to get it on the table, I'm gay and available."

Perry said, "OK, Freddie. Why don't you spend the night with Norman and me? Later, we'll entertain Lynn and you and Auggie can get to know each other better."

Freddie said, "Wow."

Arndel said, "Wow, indeed. Nidal and I are going to have to think about this a little, but as I am sure you know, the four of us from the Bahamas have had our little games."

Perry said, "We're going to be together for more than two years. Nothing has to happen in a day, or a week, or a year. We're just laying out the boundaries."

"It doesn't sound like you, or we, have boundaries."

Norman spoke up, "Oh, yes, they do. You have no idea how important the rules about talking first, and comfort zones, and feeling comfortable saying, 'No,' are. You'll see. Even if you're very sexually active, you'll find those rules important."

The conversation slowing turned to sailing matters, and the logistics of the team for the next couple of years. Nidal said, "You're talking about a couple of years, but that means you expect everyone to qualify for the Olympics."

"OK, let's be realistic. We're pretty certain that Goose and Arndel are going to represent the Bahamas. I'd very surprised if Auggie and Freddie don't represent the United States. I haven't seen Angus and Trevor sail, and I have no idea of their competition, but we can be certain that it'll be more formidable than Goose's. But here's the deal, Trevor and Angus. Sail with us, be a part of the team, do your best, and we'll keep you with us all the way through the China Olympics, even if your aren't sailing in the Olympics."

Goose asked, "Do you have the authority to make an offer like that?"

Auggie said, "Indeed he does. Fred's Sports isn't going to be second guessing Perry. He's the boss, and their man on the scene. Be nice to him."

The next two days of sailing went very well, except that Auggie was disappointed in the lack of difficult wind and weather. Perry told him, "Be patient, things'll get worse, this is a good time to let everybody get comfortable with the boats and with each other."

Auggie had to admit the truth of that, but he accepted it grudgingly. However, he also knew that he had no control of the weather, no matter how much he fretted over it.

Perry was fretting over a different issue. Tuesday evening, after the Bahamans had headed home and the rest had settled into their hotel, Perry told Auggie, "We've got to get out of Freeport, and probably out of the Bahamas. We'll never become a group while four of our sailors and their partners head home and leave the rest in a hotel. Where shall we head?"

Auggie said, "I agree. Well, it's still cold weather in the north. We either have to stay in the tropics, probably somewhere in the Carribean, or really head south. We'll have to head south to find competition anyway."

"Any suggestions as to where?"

"It's your decision, but I think I'd head south. How about Montevideo, Uruguay. I've never been there, but I understand that it has a great sailing season. Send one of your crew down to check it out, and if they can make good arrangements, we'll head there."

"I like that idea, but we lose time if it doesn't work out. I'm going to ask Norman to check out Montevideo and Millie to check out Valparaiso, Chile, on the Pacific side, we'll head to one and maybe both."

Norman and Millie headed out the next day, flying together to Buena Aires, and separately to Uruguay and Chile. By the next day both reported on a great sailing scene, a good marina for their boats, and nice hotel accommodations. It was a flip of the coin, but Perry decided on Montevideo, and two days later they were sailing on the Rio de la Plata, the arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates the south coast of Uruguay from the north coast of Argentina. Everyone had come except Kelin. Goose and Arndel had decided that they needed to keep their business covered in Freeport, and that for the time being either Kelin or Nidal would stay at home. They also decided that it was time to train one of their instructors in managing the office so that they could all be away from time to time.

Then Perry broke up the group, sending Norman off to find and purchase one or two additional 49ers for the team. He headed to England, managed to buy a new one from Covington and a used one from a colleague of his father's in Portsmouth. The Fred's Sports sailing team now had a fleet of five 49ers and a parts inventory that would've been the envy of most ship chandlers. Norman called Perry from England and asked, "OK, lover, I have two 49ers, one new and one in excellent condition. What do I do with them? Should we store one here as backup and keep the other with us as we move around?"

"Hold them in England for now."

"My father can keep them in his warehouse; it has a lot of spare room now that he's been able to reduce his inventory by being part of the co-op."

"They can stay there until one is needed, or until the first time we're involved in a critical race. Then I want them both with us."

"Both?"

"Absolutely. They're back up against disaster, and it's possible that we could lose two boats at one time. Do you want to be the person that tells one of the teams that we haven't got a boat for them, but we do for Auggie, or Goose. I'm willing to take a chance on the risk of losing three boats at once, but not two. The only way we'd lose three would be in some kind of natural disaster like a typhoon, and that'd take out a lot of others as well as postpone the racing."

"So where do you want me to head now?"

"New Zealand. The New Zealand Open is in four weeks in Auckland. We need to be set up there. And I guess we need those two 49ers there, as that's a critical race for us. That'll give all three teams a chance to qualify for the major races in the coming year."

"Is everybody going to be ready?"

"I hope so. I think the only question is Trevor and Angus, but they're pretty good. I'm not real optimistic about their making it to the Olympics. There's a lot of good competition in England."

"I'll leave those concerns to you and Auggie. I'll head for Auckland and get things ready. Shall I wait there, or come back and join you in Montevideo?"

"The bed feels empty at night. Come on back as soon as you can."

We'll leave them there in Uruguay getting ready for the big race in New Zealand, getting to "know" each other better, and wondering how life could possibly get any better.

Talk about this story on our forum
Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily. Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. If the email address pastes with %40 in the middle, replace that with an @ sign.]