It's Fred again. Charlie gets me to write an episode from time to time. Tim just wants me to write checks!
In any case Charlie came by to visit Marty and me the other day and asked me to write another episode of his story. Well, I really have two stories to tell, but we agreed that both could probably be told in one episode.
Both stories are of events that took place during the rush leading up to the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. One April afternoon I got a telephone call from Tim. "Fred, I have a man here in my office that I'd like you to meet. Are you busy? Could you come over here?"
"Sure, Tim. I don't suppose that you'd care to give me a clue what it's all about."
"I would, but it's entirely too complicated; just come."
Twenty minutes later I was in Tim's office being introduced to Henry Hopper Hooper IV. After the introductions, Tim said, "I think I'll let Hank tell you his own story. It's quite fascinating. I have a meeting that I simply cannot miss. Jennifer [his administrative assistant] has moved it into the conference room. I'll be back in under an hour. Hank won't have any trouble filling an hour telling you his story."
I asked Mr. Hooper, "He calls you Hank?"
"Everybody does. My great-grandfather was Henry. My grandfather was Hank. My father was Henry. I'm Hank. My son in Henry."
"Might I suggest that there hasn't been a lot of creativity in names in your family?"
"And, of course, you'd be right. But each succeeding generation has agreed that if we're going to take Henry's money, we ought to take the name. It gave him great pleasure to watch his name passed down. It especially pleased him to have his grandson called Henry. He started the Hank tradition with his son."
"I'm sure that there's more to the story than your name. I'd like to hear it."
"Well, there is a lot more to the name; I'll get to that. My great-great-grandfather was Harrison Hooper, born in 1840 and almost a contemporary of Andrew Carnegie who was born in 1831. Born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, at age 14 he went to work for the Sewanee Furnace Company, then of Nashville, as a coal miner. He was a hard worker and smart, and was soon a foreman, then mine superintendent. A mine accident damaged his foot, and he walked with a limp all his life. This may have saved his life, in that he didn't serve in the Civil War, but stayed with Sewanee Furnace through all of their trials during the war. Following the war the company was reorganized, and he became president, of the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company.
"At about the same time Gorman Hopper was taking over from his father as the president of the Gorman Steel Company of Birmingham, Alabama. In 1870 the two men, Hooper and Hopper, merged their companies. As was not unusual at the time, the merger was followed shortly thereafter by the wedding of Sarah Hopper, younger sister of Gorman, to Harrison Hooper. The natural outcome of this union was the birth of Henry Hopper Hooper in 1875. By 1895 Henry Hopper Hooper, Jr. was born. Before the turn of the century both Harrison Hooper and Gorman Hopper had died, and Henry Sr. took control of the company, moving its headquarters to Birmingham, which had become the center of their steel operations.
"Just to complete the story I should note that Andrew Carnegie founded Carnegie Steel in 1870 in Pittsburgh, and in 1901 merged it with several other steel companies to create US Steel, the largest steel producer in the world. Their closest competitor was the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company.
"In 1907 Henry sold the company to US Steel and retired, a very wealthy man, being, along with his son, Hank, the sole heir of both families. He was all of 32 years old. His passions became charities and stamp collecting. He never rivaled Carnegie as a philanthropist, but he was virtually unrivaled as a stamp collector, because he was willing to use his fortune to build his collection.
"He collected virtually all stamps, but his speciality was geography. He loved stamps with maps, parks, mountains, flags and the like. He created what he called his "Stamp Atlas of the World." It was organized by continent (he recognized seven including Australia and Antarctica) and oceans (he recognized five including the Arctic and the Antarctic). All islands were associated with an ocean, so that Great Britain, Ireland, and Newfoundland were associated with the Atlantic Ocean, not the continent they were adjacent to. Organized that way, he used stamps to portray the geography of the world, and featured every stamp-issuing government in the history of the world. Hank carried on the tradition, dealing in rare stamps as well as collecting.
"Henry Hopper Hooper III was born in 1922, and his son, me, Henry Hopper Hooper IV, was born in 47. Not long after, my father had a stroke and still lives, not much more than a vegetable, in a nursing home in Birmingham.
"Henry Sr., lived to the ripe old age of 94, dying in 1969, two years before his son. With my father out of the picture, I became the head of the family and the curator of the stamp collection. The problem is that I have absolutely no interest in postage stamps. The whole idea of collecting the things seems silly to me. However, I want to honor my grandfather and great-grandfather by finding a suitable home for their beloved collection."
I spoke for the first time in more than a half hour of listening to his story. "So you're looking for a home for the collection at the University of North Dakota, am I right?"
"And Tim thought that was simply a wonderful idea, and said something like, 'I know just the man to figure out how to make that happen.' And I was called."
"That's just about it, word for word."
"Well, why this university? You don't seem to have any connection with North Dakota, or even anyplace north of the Ohio River."
"Well, I don't want to just donate the stamp collection to some museum or university. I want it to be the center of a program. I'd like to endow a Chair of Philately, creating the Henry Hopper Hooper Distinguished Professor of Philately."
"And at that point you got laughed out of several university president's offices."
"That's about right."
"How did you end up here?"
"I'd been sharing my experiences with a old friend. One day he showed me an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about Tim. After reading the article I decided that it might be worth a trip to North Dakota to talk to Tim. Here I am."
"And Tim, of course, didn't see anything silly about the idea of a Professor of Philately."
"Right you are."
"Did he suggest what department it might be in?"
"Yes. He said that with Henry's interest in geography on stamps it would be appropriate to put it in the geography department. But he envisioned an art course featuring art on stamps, a history course-several history courses actually. Tim is a bubbling fount of ideas."
"Indeed. So why am I here?"
Just at that moment Tim returned, heard my question, and answered, "To bring me down to earth and lay out a practical solution to integrating this collection into the life of this university."
I said, "Well, first of all there needs to be a museum. We'll have to build it. We can find land on the campus-even a very valuable stamp collection doesn't need a huge building." I looked at Hank, "I assume that you're talking about providing the money necessary to make this whole thing happen."
"Of course. There's going to have to be an endowment established to insure the future integrity of the collection, and maintain its currency by purchasing current stamps."
"And that takes people."
"Well, endowing the chair will cost $2.5 million. You'll need a museum curator, same cost. You'll need a couple of support staff, another $2.5 million. A similar amount for acquisitions. $7 million to construct a building. Another million to endow operating budgets and two million to pay overhead costs to the university. That's $20 million. Do numbers like that deter you?"
"Does the plan I just laid out sound reasonable?"
"Add another five million, half to support program and half to enhance the building, which will have to house the collection and the staff. There needs to be a nice classroom in the building, probably a seminar room as well. We want the students to come to the stamps for their classes."
Tim said, "Well, we seem to be in general agreement. Would you like the university counsel to draw up an endowment agreement, or do you want to use your attorney?"
"I'll have my attorney review what your team prepares. How soon can we make this happen?"
"How soon do you want it to happen?"
"I can't believe you're making this so simple. I'd envisioned a long drawn out process, after I'd found a willing university."
Tim said, "Neither Fred nor I believe in long drawn out processes. However, you want the attorneys to do the job right the first time. We need to give Carl and Associates, who do most of the architectural work for the university, time to design the museum, offices, and classroom building. They are very creative architects; you'll love their design."
"I'm familiar with the firm. They designed a building that I donated to the University of Tennessee. I was most impressed with Carl and his team."
I said, "Carl is Tim's brother, and one is just as impressive as the other."
"So that's the connection. How interesting. I'll enjoy working with Carl again."
The first thing I did after I left Hank was to call the Vice-President for Development at the University of Tennessee. After explaining who I was and what had just been proposed to Tim, I asked, "Is this guy for real?"
"To the tune of a $30 million dollar buildiing for which he provided about 2/3 of the funds in exchange for it being called the Hooper Building."
"Did he talk to you about the stamp collection and a Professor of Philately?"
"But you weren't buying it?"
"I would have, but not our President. He thought he'd get laughed at for having a Professor of Stamp Collecting. He said that the next thing would be a beer can collection and a Professor of Brewing."
"Tim wasn't inclined to turn down $25 million."
"$25 million. It amounted to that?"
"To the dollar."
"I am not sure that I am going to tell my boss. It would make him sick. He envisioned a little museum in the corner of a classroom building with a Professor holed up with his stamps, coming out to teach a seminar to a bunch of oddballs twice a week."
"I'm glad I work with a guy who thinks biggen than that. Well, thanks for the background. We are going to do business with Hank Hopper Hooper."
Carl and his staff designed a beautiful building. They began with the premise that the building, along with most of the university, stood in a flood plain, albeit one that was considered to be greater than a hundred year flood plain. That didn't alter the fact that the university had been flooded once since Tim's arrival and come close a couple of other times. So, the first floor, like the first floor of The Carl was only an arrival foyer. Visitors would be able to choose between an escalator, elevator, or a grand stair case to take them to the second floor where classrooms and offices were. The museum was on the third floor, which not only removed its valuable collection from any possibility of flood damage, but substantially reduced security issues.
Henry's most valuable stamps were sealed in glass cases filled with neon, an inert gas. These could be easily moved, stored, or displayed, providing for constantly changing displays. One wing of the third floor, consisting of about half of the display space, was devoted to the permanent display of the "Stamp Atlas." Each geographic area had its own display area, and there was a rack of slide out holders for the sealed display cases. These presented each country by itself.
The Henry Hopper Hooper Distinguished Professor of Philately would have the most magnificent office on campus, give or take Tim's or Charlie's in the law school. That position was going to be a plum, and Tim was determined to attract just the right person. He was under no pressure to fill the position immediately, and both he and Hank Hooper agreed that no hire should be made until they'd found just the right person. The museum curator had to be brought on board more quickly, as there was a museum to supervise and a collection to move. They started with Clay Morrison, the curator at the Smithsonian responsible for it's stamp collection, with included the well-known collection of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Money, the chance to be completely one's own boss, and to have responsibility for one of the greatest stamp collections in the world, could not entice Clay Morrison to move from Washington to the wasteland (his word) of North Dakota. After our stint in Washington, Tim and I could understand that, but we were never sorry for our decision to move back to North Dakota.
Morrison did have a recommendation for us. Randall Cardin would be perfect for the job. He was currently an editor of the Scott's Catalogue, but would love to move to a job where he handled stamps directly, but there were precious few such full-time jobs in the world. He'd missed getting a curatorship at a midwestern museum because he was gay. Well, neither he nor Randall could prove that that was the reason, but Morrison insisted he was the best qualified applicant, and the questions of a couple of members of the search committee suggested serious homophobia. Morrison said to Tim, I suspect that that won't be a problem for your search committee. Tim just chuckled and immediately invited Randal Cardin to Grand Forks for an interview.
Randall had a M.F.A. in graphic arts, but had switched to history for a Ph.D.-those being his two great undergraduate academic passions. His real passion, however, was postage stamps, about which he was an enormous fount of knowledge, and was able to share it in a fascinating way. Tim realized at once that he was more suited to the faculty position than the curator position. Tim's offer was to hire Randall as the curator and assign him two tasks: to establish the museum (it was still in the design stage, and he would be working with Carl and Associates), and then to hire his successor, so that he could become the Henry Hopper Hooper Distinguished Professor of Philately. It was an offer no philatelist could refuse, and Randall Cardin proved the rule-and not by being an exception to it. Scott's parted with him reluctantly, but realized it was a wonderful opportunity for him. They only asked for two weeks notice, so he was on board in Grand Forks by Thanksgiving, 1992.
When he arrived Tim put Randall into the master bedroom at The Hideout. He was soon joined by his partner of many years, C.J. They went apartment hunting immediately and found an apartment on the second floor of a garden apartment development. It wasn't great, but it would take care of their needs for the first year while they made up their mind about where they'd like to live. In particular, they were uncertain about becoming involved in the maintenance and upkeep of a house; perhaps they'd like to be permanent apartment residents. They weren't sure.
In any case, they were an openly gay couple. While few people were openly hostile to gay couples-after all, Tim and Charlie, and others of the Gang had been around quite a while-many people weren't eager to do much socializing with gay couples. So the Gang, especially its gay couples, went out of the way to be friendly to Randall and C.J. and to include them in our socializing. Inevitably somebody raised the question of whether Randall and C.J. were open to socializing sexually. There were not. I've forgotten who asked-I think it may have been Toppy-but whoever it was got the word out quickly that they were "off limits." We were afraid that we might've offended them, but they assured us not. Living in New York, where the Scott's editorial offices were located, made it inevitable that they would receive sexual invitations, and they'd learned how to politely turn them down.
We talked about it some, and the general conclusion was that, unlike the other gay couples in and near the Gang, it seemed that Randall and C.J. were likely to stay monogamous.
Randall and C.J. appreciated the friendship of members of the Gang, but slowly built up their separate group of friends, among the university faculty and the small but enthusiastic serious stamp collecting community in Grand Forks and Fargo. Before long a new curator for the Hopper-Hooper Museum of Philately was hired, a very competent, very straight, Anton Fries. Anton was outside of the Gang's social circle, and only related to Tim and Fred, and only professionally.
So why tell this story? There are dozens of little stories like this, of how Tim was willing to think outside the box-a phrase just becoming popular then-and make things happen at UND that often couldn't happen elsewhere. By establishing what we believe was the only professorship of philately in the nation, if not the world, UND acquired a stamp collection appraised in the millions, and a $20 million endowment which supported the program completely and provided about $ 100,000 a year in administrative overhead, against specific costs borne by the university of less than half of that (janitorial services and utilities). And the money would rise with the stock market. Of course, the dollars and cents were important, and the gift wouldn't have been accepted if scarce university funds had had to be used to support it-you couldn't justify a chair in philately paid for from public funds. But it added a new dimension to university life, and certainly gained us credibility with the stamp collectors of the world. Over the years we would learn that this was an important community to have support you-collectively they had lots of money and were willing to give of their time as well.
One cold January morning I sat down at my computer to check my email. In those days there wasn't any spam; for while there had been instances of spam on the ARPANET-the spam messages went to lists of recipients numbered in the hundreds-Internet email spam wouldn't begin until 1994. In fact there wasn't much email at all, because there weren't many people with internet access except through university computers. That was changing, as individuals were now able to buy internet access and get email addresses. We didn't realize in January of 1993 just how explosive the growth of the internet was going to be, nor how soon it would be upon us. As I looked at my inbox, I saw a message from Sheldon, the foursome's youngest child. I liked Shel, as he liked to be called, and knew that he was one of the most precocious children around. He'd just had a tenth birthday, and you would've thought he was a very mature 16! His message was very simple, "Uncle Fred, I'd like to talk to you. I'll stop by your house after school. If you aren't there, I'll go by the Fred's Sports offices."
I wondered what it was all about, but I certainly wasn't going to get my curiosity satisfied before Shel arrived, which he did promptly at 3:15. He must've run from school. I easily forget that ten year olds run almost everywhere.
"What's up Shel? Would you like something to eat or drink?"
"I'd love a glass of milk."
"Coming right up."
"He gulped the milk down and relaxed."
"You know the big house next to The Hideout?"
"You mean The Roundhouse?"
"The other side."
"Yeah, I know the house. It has a bunch of college students living in it. They got a little rowdy last year, and we talked to the landlord. I think this year's group is much better behaved."
"It's for sale."
"Is it? I wonder If the new owner will continue to rent it to students. Probably. It'll probably be bought as an investment, and student rents will pay off the mortgage."
"I think you should buy it."
"Really? Is that why you've come to visit?"
"I like visiting, Uncle Fred. But this time I came to talk about the house."
"Why do you think I should buy it?"
"For one thing, it would protect The Hideout, which is where Tim and Charlie will live when Tim retires from the presidency."
"Good point. Somehow I don't think that's the main reason you want me to buy the house. Am I right."
"OK, I'll bite. What is the main reason?"
"First we need to talk about two groups of people."
"You know who the Cavers are?"
"You mean Marty's top gymnasts?"
"Right, there used to be nine of them, but now there are twelve. They're becoming a very tight knit group. At least the original nine are all going to UND, and they're beginning to talk about staying together after college, like the Circle did."
"Shel, how do you know this?"
"I keep my ears open, and I ask a lot of questions. I'm good friends with Nels, who's the youngest of the original nine, but in many ways their ringleader."
"Yeah, that's what Marty thinks as well. Nels is a very interesting young man. He got engaged to Mary in ninth grade."
"That was almost three years ago, and they're as committed to each other as they ever were. They're serious, they're going to get married sometime during their college careers."
"OK, I know who the Cavers are, and I think I see where you're headed with this house business. But who's the other group?"
"The Skaters. That's my term. They don't call themselves anything. But the five Olympic skaters are becoming a pretty tight group."
"Yes, and you're pretty much a part of it, aren't you?"
"How do you know that?"
"To quote someone I know, 'I keep my ears open, and I ask a lot of questions.' The word is that you have a crush on Brian."
"I don't have a crush on Brian. I'm in love with him. Little kids have crushes."
"And you aren't a little kid?"
"No." He was almost angry, but he kept a smile on his face.
"How old are you, Shel?"
"But you're not a little kid?"
"Being a little kid is a state of mind."
"So if you're not a little kid, what are you?"
"How about, 'young man'?"
"And you're in love with Brian?"
"Does he know this?"
"Does he love you?"
"Not yet. Or at least he hasn't figured it out yet."
"Do you see a lot of him?"
"Every day, we practice together. He's really my coach, though technically Mr. Spivey is coach for both of us."
"OK, Shel, put in the last piece of the house puzzle."
"Sure. One or both of these groups may need a house, like the Circle needed a house. We, well you, ought to get the house next door to The Hideout now while we, you, can."
"That's OK, Shel. You can say we. Why don't we go take a look at it?"
"You mean it?"
"Don't act surprised, Shel. You would've been surprised only if I'd said that I wasn't interested in the house."
We drove over to the house. There was the For Sale sign out front. We knocked on a couple of doors and talked to two or three of the students that now lived in the house. It'd been cut up to make five student apartments that housed two each. Two of them had little kitchens, two did not, and one had access to the original kitchen in the house. The students had no idea about the landlord; they paid their rent to a local Realtor. It was the same person whose name was on the For Sale sign.
Shel and I drove over to the real estate office and talked to the Realtor. The house was for sale, as is, for a fairly reasonable price. The agent was pretty honest about the condition of the house, and warned us that the students had leases until May 30, and couldn't be put out. She also pointed out that her contract as the renting agent extended to May 30 as well. I thanked her for the information and Shel and I left.
I told Shel that we needed to talk to the Circle, Tim, and Charlie. He asked, "What for?"
"Shel, the house needs to be maintained. Somebody has to act as landlord to all those college students. It needs to be remodeled back into a house. It needs a manager. Fyn takes care of The Hideout and Murray takes care of The Roundhouse. It really isn't a full time job for either. I think they'd take on caring for the new house as well. But we have to check with them and their employers, the Circle and Tim and Charlie."
"OK, that makes sense," replied Shel.
Of course, it was all right with all of the above. I was going to help with Fyn and Murray's pay, but that offer was refused. All of the Circle agreed that since I'd helped them buy The Roundhouse, this was a way that they could partially pay me back. Buy the damn shoes! I accepted.
I sent Shel back to talk to the Realtor and told him to work out the arrangements; I'd sign the contract when it was set. I think I really did it to tease the agent. She'd been pretty unwilling to talk to Shel, even though I'd tried to let him do the talking. I thought I'd see how she did when she only had Shel to deal with. I was pretty sure he could hold up his end of the negotiation.
His report on the conversation was a hoot. After about five minutes of getting nowhere with her, Shel had finally said, "Look, Ms. Caruthers, Mr. Milson and I are ready to buy the house, and I'm talking for both of us. Since I'm not of legal age, Mr. Milson will be signing all the papers, and the transaction will be in his name. But I'll be speaking for him, and I'm authorized to do so. If you can't deal with that, I'd like to talk to your manager."
He'd timed the speech well, and he'd said it fairly loudly. The manager heard it, and heard the name Milson. He walked over and said, very quietly, to Ms. Caruthers, "I think you might like to talk to this young man."
She did, reluctantly. By the time they were finished, Shel had established our (really his) offering price at 90% of the asking price, and had stipulated that the seller would provide for the house inspection, termite examination, and several other things that are often the responsibility of the buyer. He said, "Good, how soon can you draw up a contract?"
"About an hour."
"Mr. Milson will be here to sign it."
I sent Shel ahead to read it. Shel made them redo a couple of pages because he wasn't happy with the boiler plate. Then he waved me from where I was waiting in the car and I signed it without reading it. Poor Ms. Caruthers had never negotiated with a younger, or tougher, negotiator in her life!
About two hours later Ms. Caruthers called and told me that the owner would.... I cut her off. I told her that she should call Shel in the evening, he was now ice skating. She got Shel on the phone that evening and told him that the owner had counter offered at the midpoint between his asking price and Shel's offer. Shel had said, "What you're saying is that he's refused the offer we made, is that right?"
"He's made a counter offer."
"He's refused the offer we made, right?"
"Not technically. He either signed it or refused it. Am I right that he didn't sign it?"
"Well, then it's off the table. However, as a concession, we'll leave it on the table another 24 hours. He shouldn't even think about a counter offer. Our offer is on the table, and it's the only one being discussed."
"Aren't you going to take the offer to Mr. Milson?"
"No. As I said, our offer is on the table. The counter offer isn't."
The next morning they accepted our offer, as written. I would've taken the counter offer. I think Shel would have if Ms. Caruthers had taken him seriously from the beginning. I asked Shel how he'd been willing to risk losing the house, when getting it was so important to him.
"Oh, Fred, we weren't risking anything. Except for you and me, and the Gang, no one is interested in that house except to rent it to students. The price was too high for that to be a good investment, at the rents landlords are able to command in that neighborhood of Grand Forks today. To sell it as an investment he would've had to lower his price at least another $5,000 below our offer. The seller knew that. I knew that. He wasn't going to turn down our offer. And the only way you're going to get any kind of a return on your money while you rent that house is to accept the free services of Fyn and Murray as managers."
Ten years old! I told Shel that he was going to grow up and be the top labor negotiator for the U.A.W. He told me he thought he'd do better with the Teamsters! I told Jim about the whole thing and he said, "You should try negotiating bedtime with him!"
The next thing I knew Shel was talking to Fyn, Murray and Carl about remodeling plans for the house. Soon I was presented with a remodeling design that was going to cost me a little more than what I'd spent buying the house. I didn't bother to protest, and just told Shel to go ahead.
As we approached the real estate closing, several things came up in the various inspections that should've been covered by the seller. Shel was now as generous as he'd been stingy in the original negotiation. He said we were willing to take the place "as is," giving back about half what he'd saved in the original hard-nosed bargaining. It was very clear to me how the seller had achieved that: he had treated Shel as a principal and not talked down to him. What fun it was to watch Shel operate!
Shel asked me if he could tell Fyn and Murray to make a single landscape plan for the three houses, and I told him he could. He then told me that the added back yard would enable Fyn and Murray to include a tennis court in the overall design; would I pay for it? You don't seriously think that I had an alternative, do you? The tennis court is still there today, being well used!
I was a little concerned about Shel's relationship to Brian. I stopped by the rink (I still can't get used to having a building carry my name, so I call it the rink; everybody else calls it the Fred.) and asked Brian if I could take him to dinner. He was delighted, and I gave him a choice between Jerry's and the Dakota Steak House. He went for steaks. At dinner he said, "Mr. Milson, I have to believe that you have something on your mind, not just a good dinner with one of the skaters."
"You're right, Brian, I do. But let's hold that conversation for after dinner, back at our house. Right now, enjoy your steak, and be assured that our proposed conversation isn't going to cause you any trouble."
We did enjoy good steaks, and then walked to Marty's and my house. I started the conversation with Brian by telling him, "Shel tells me he's in love with you; he says you know it. Just where do things stand?"
I cut him off. "Call me Fred, please."
"Fred, Shel's an incredible kid. He's made it very clear that he'd love to have sex with me, suck my dick to be specific, but he knows it's off limits. He says we'll have to ogle each other and dream until he's eighteen."
"Well, are these feelings reciprocal?"
"Goodness, Fred. I'm a young gay man. Shel is a gorgeous boy, talented as Hell, sexy as Hell. I'm being honest here; I'd love to take him to bed. But he's off limits. Way off limits."
"I understand he likes to shower with you. His locker is near yours. Can you deal with that?"
"Shel says that since it's out in the open we can both deal with it. I know that I'm not going to start anything physical, and I really believe Shel when he says he won't."
"I think you can trust Shel on that; and Shel thinks he can trust you. But it seems to me that the present situation is putting you both, especially you, in temptation's way."
"I suppose it is. But Shel really enjoys skating with me. He's learning a lot. And honestly, he pushes me. He throws 100% of himself into every move. Working with him, I do the same."
"Well, I have two other questions. First, Shel's dreaming that you and he will be partners in eight years. Are you thinking in those terms at all?"
"I don't think so. Not now. But if we skate together over the next few years as we have so far, well, who knows? A lot of romances have started at the rink."
"Do you have any sex partner now?"
"So masturbation is your only release?"
"You're as up front about sex as Shel, Tim and Charlie. I have a hard time believing this conversation. I don't think I've ever talked to anybody about masturbation, except in the abstract."
"You didn't answer the question."
"Yes, only masturbation."
"Are you open to other options?"
"Marty and I would love to take you to bed, but I'm afraid that we have an unacceptable conflict of interest."
"You and Marty? I'm a little confused. Are you and he ... partners?"
"Yep. It isn't a secret. He's the third great love of my life. The first two were my two wives."
"But you have relationships beyond.... Hell, I'm not sure just how to put it?"
"The answer is, 'Yes.' We're very open in our sexual relationships. I'm not going to suggest names, as that sort of thing is private."
"Why do we have a conflict of interest?"
"I'm in a position to affect your status at the Fred, and you get substantial financial benefits from the Fred."
"Oh, that's silly. We certainly don't have any relationship that would establish a legal conflict of interest-I'm not an employee. I simply don't believe I have anything to worry about, nor do you. You were about to invite me to be with you and Marty. I'd love to go."
He came. Oh, that's a bad pun, but true in both senses. Marty may be younger than me, but he was 41 at the time, just a week or so away from his 42nd birthday. When I brought Brian home, Marty was thrilled. But he said to Brian, "You aren't much more than a teenager; what a delight for a middle aged guy like me. But you can't be interested in Fred and me."
Brian replied, "I don't want this to sound bad, but I haven't had sex with anybody but myself since high school. I've been so involved with my skating, and haven't found any gay skaters. You guys both look mighty enticing. You're both good looking men. I understand that we're looking for sex, not romance, right?"
I told him, "Well, partly right. We aren't inviting you to have sex for sex' sake. We've both gotten to know you and like you. We feel that we have a good basis of friendship to underlie a sexual relationship. We may be jumping a little fast, but you're horny, and we need to protect Shel!"
"Shel doesn't need protecting! Believe me."
"We know that. Nevertheless, dealing with Shel will be a lot easier if you have your own sexual outlet. Now let us see what Shel's already been privy to."
"Well, it didn't take any brains to see what Shel saw in Brian. He was gorgeous! A beautifully developed and muscled body. A long, slender penis hanging in front of a fairly tight, smooth scrotum and very round testicles. He didn't seem in the least embarrassed disrobing in front of us, or standing there showing off his beautiful equipment.
Marty said, "My God, Fred, what are we going to do with this?"
Brian said, "May I offer a suggestion?"
"Lead me to a bed. One of you get on my chest and shove your dick in my mouth; the other push my legs up in the air behind the first guy, and shove your dick into my ass. Two for one."
As we led Brian to our bedroom, I said, "Marty, you take the mouth and I'll take the ass. Whoever comes first gets to suck Brian." Well, Marty had more than thirty years on me, and he came first, as I expected. He waited, not long I will say, for me to come, and then he dove for Brian's dick. Brian's response was almost instantaneous. Marty took it all, but kissed us both, sharing the fruits of his labors."
Brian said, "Well, when I got your dinner invitation I never expected it to end like this. It was fabulous."
Marty said, "It doesn't have to be over. Can you spend the night? There's room in that bed for three of us. Believe me, we know that from experience."
"Brian, please understand, you're much more of a treat for us than we are for you. Of course, we're serious."
"You underestimate how much of a treat this is for me. I told you my last experiences were in high school. That doesn't mean they were real happy experiences. I just had the best sexual encounter of my life. And you're talking about extending it into the night! Wow. Holy shit. Damn. I'd love it."
I said, "Well, we're all properly dressed for bed, but I suggest a shower first. Our shower isn't quite a nice as Tim's but it will hold three."
"What's so special about Tim's shower?"
"Sometime tell him or Charlie that you've heard about their shower and would like to experience it. I think you'll get an invitation. No telling what it might lead to. And you're not a student: no conflict of interest."
"Why do you keep talking about conflict of interest?"
"When we have a conflict of interest, then my being involved in a sexual relationship with you can be considered harassment. It's both criminal and could make me liable for damages."
"I don't believe we have a legal conflict of interest; and your invitation certainly wasn't harassment; quite the opposite, withholding it might be called harassment!"
"Tell me about your relationship to the other top skaters."
"Well, there are five of us, plus Naomi and Artie. I'm pretty sure that Jack, Julia, Naomi and Artie are getting involved sexually; I know that Jack and Julia are, and they claim their dancing is improving because of it. Jersey and Merry have figured out that their most obvious sexual outlets are each other, but I don't think they're there yet. You know about me."
"But other than sex, are you all sort of melding as a group?"
"I think so. Nobody is pushing it, but we do a lot together, and we sure see a lot of each other at the Fred. Amazingly, Shel seems to be along with us quite often. His parents seem to let him do what he wants. I can't believe that he has the independence he has at age ten. I certainly didn't."
"You didn't have those four as parents."
"Well, Andy and Amy, but Jim and Kara are around a whole lot."
"I'm guessing that there is something unsaid here. Am I right? Shel's talked several times as if Jim and Kara were his parents."
"Well, if you stay close to Shel, you'll figure all this out eventually. Shel doesn't have the slightest idea who is father is. Amy is his mother, but the four-Andy, Jim, Kara, and Amy-are a true foursome, and either Jim or Andy might be Shel's father. They're all his parents. But for public consumption, his parents are Andy and Amy."
"Wow. So does he have the independence that he does because he plays one off against the others, or do they just not have time to be good parents?"
"Oh, God no. They're the best parents in the world. I'm sure that they know every detail of your relationship to Shel. They just trust Shel to make his own decisions. As the youngest of the four children of the foursome, Shel grew up very fast. Unless it was in a fist fight, Shel can hold his own with any teenager. And very few should risk taking him on in a fight. You know from skating with him how strong he is."
"He can lift me over his head and skate around the rink with me."
"I'm not surprised."
"So we have this ten year old kid, he thinks and acts like twice his age; he's as strong as kids nearly twice his age; I have to believe that he's that smart as well; but he's stuck with societal rules that say his sexual relationships cannot be with those twenty-year-old contemporaries. How does Shel accept that?"
"Remarkably well. His parents have made it completely clear that if he gets involved sexually with somebody much older than he, he's putting that person at serious risk. He simply can't do it. Shel says he understands and he won't. We all believe him."
"He has certainly respected boundaries with me; though he has pushed them fairly hard."
"He comes from a long tradition of pushing boundaries, while also respecting them. Expect your boundaries, and your buttons, to be pushed regularly by that kid. Enjoy it. He can be a lot of fun."
"You're making me think that just maybe I ought to plan to wait eight years for him."
"Ask Tim about his forty months."
"Another story I'll need to hear at some point?"
"There are lots of good stories about people in Grand Forks. There's a group called the Gang. Shel's parents are part of it. But Shel can't join till he's 18, and if we invited you to join before him, he'd kill us all. Slow painful deaths."
"Yes, Marty and I are part of the Gang."
"I assume Tim and Charlie as well."
"Of course. You've gotten a lot more information tonight than I'd planned to share. But Shel's a good judge of character. If Shel trusts you, and he certainly does, I do, too. But please keep a lid on some of the stuff you've learned this evening."
The conversation had flowed right through our shower, drying off, and crawling into bed. Marty said, "OK, enough talk. Tonight we cuddle and go to sleep. You're both fair game in the morning."
The next morning Marty maneuvered me onto my back and got my legs in the air before I was fully awake. He fucked me, but saw to it that I came before he did, and he withdrew. Then he did the same to Brian, but orchestrated virtually simultaneous orgasms. He told Brian, "I'm going to come and watch you skate today; I expect to see substantial improvement!"
I asked Brian how Shel was doing as a figure skater. "Oh, my God. He's terrific. He won't be quite old enough to go to the 1998 Olympics, but he be ready for World's that year. I'll be very surprised if he doesn't make it, and place high. He's already talking about it. He knows he's good, and he's planning his development to target 1998. I've never seen a kid so goal directed."
"Remember, you're one of his goals. Can you deal with that?"
"It's going to be fun."
"Keep us posted, Brian. And join us in bed whenever you think you're growing horns."
I should note that with Marty's and my urging, Judy, Jerry, Sid, Cathy, and most of the Circle, being the youngest members of the Gang, went out of their way to help Brian with his horniness problem.
As you certainly have figured out, it's impossible to tell this story in straight chronological order. We'll be picking up the story of Willie and Hardie in the next chapter, but I will add here, that those two were very "helpful" with Brian's "problem."
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