This is Marty, and this episode is going to have to start with a mea culpa, which you'll read as I report my conversation with Tim. It was shortly after the London Olympics where Dag had won a bronze medal for his performance on the pommel horse. I dropped by Tim's office at the university–actually he had two offices, one in the School of Education where he was now Professor Tim rather than President Tim, and the other in the office that Prexy had occupied as President Emeritus, and here he was simply called Tim, which he preferred. Tim had been reluctant to occupy that office, saying that he only needed one office, but Liddy had insisted. She told him, "You got a lot of mileage out of Prexy when he was President Emeritus, and I intend to get the same out of you."
Tim and Charlie laughed over one problem that entailed: Tim now had two offices and one desk, and Charlie had one office and two desks. At first they considered having Tim use one of Charlie's desks, but they decided against that, and Charlie's second desk was moved to their home. Tim moved his wonderful desk to the Office of the President Emeritus, and used whatever desk was available in the School of Education. While he was very proud of his desk, and sometimes you see him walk around it and gaze at the inlaid medals, the old desk he inherited in the School of Education didn't bother him at all.
In any case, my visit was to Twalmly Hall and we talked across the grand Olympic desk. I poured out my unhappiness at Dag's lack of greater success at the London games. I wasn't there to complain about Dag, but to confess that I thought that the Marty Center, and specifically me, Marty, had failed him.
Tim said, "Marty, he's a fucking Olympic medalist. That's one Hell of an accomplishment!"
"I don't think that Seth, Nels, and a bunch of other Cavers would agree with you,. He had an early start, the best coaching, natural talent, worked his butt off, had the love and support of the Cave, and only got one lousy medal. As a gymnast at the Olympics he could've gotten eight. You got seven; Hell, you got eight in Munich. Nels got three in Barcelona, and Seth got three in Atlanta."
"But a lot of others just got one; only a few two. What's wrong with Dag doing that well?"
"He should've done a lot better, and I think it's my fault."
"While I'm not sure that I'll agree with your analysis, I'd like to hear why you think it's your fault."
"Dag was so young we treated him special, particularly with regard to sex."
"You sort of have to treat a eight year old special."
"It was a mistake. I had special conversations with the Cavers about Dag, so they singled him out as different, i.e. younger, when they started talking about sex in the locker room. The whole atmosphere made him out as a little different."
"And you think that carried over to his athletic performance?"
"I do. I'm quite certain of it. In fact, you proved that was so when you arranged the love and support for him in the week before his final performance in London."
"But the issue there was the fact that he was married (something he did, not you, I might point out) and the other Cavers left the sex for Darlene."
I interrupted, "And they did that because when it came to sex, he'd always been special. I even came over here to talk to you and Charlie about the legal issues of his sexuality. He knew all that was going on, and it kept him psychologically out of the mainstream of he Cave. And it affected his athletic performance. Yeah, he's good. Especially on the pommel horse, but he could be a lot better."
Tim thought for a minute and then asked, "OK, two questions. First, what should you have done differently? And, second, what're you going to do now?"
"I'm puzzling about both of those. That's why I'm sitting in your office right now. I need help. You found the short term fix in London; what's the long term fix?"
"That question presumes that a fix is needed–that something was done wrong."
"Tim, that's what I believe, and I do think we need a fix."
"OK, let's think about what could've been done differently. Basically, you say that you, and the other Cavers at your behest, treated Dag differently because of his age. This exceptional treatment particularly pertained to how he related to the sexuality of the Cave. Obviously, there were other things done differently in his regard: a nine-year-old can't be treated physically as if he were sixteen...."
Again I interrupted, "Actually, Tim, we could treat the little nine-year-old as if her were a teenager–he was just that good. He hadn't been part of the Cave for a year before he was the best gymnast in the group. Remember, in London he got our only gymnastics medal."
"OK, but let's get back to sex. Clearly if treating him as an exception wasn't the way to handle his introduction to the sexuality of the Cave, the alternative was to treat him as if he were a typically aged Caver, about age twelve or thirteen. What would've been different? If you'd said absolutely nothing to the other Cavers they would've found they had a nine-year-old Caver in the locker and shower room with them, watching them play around with each other. Are you trying to tell me that they wouldn't have come to you for some guidance? Let's explore this further. If a sixteen-year-old boy had come and asked if it was OK for him and the new thirteen-year-old Caver boy to go home together and suck each other off, would you have answered the same way as you would if the younger of the two was nine years old? I don't think so."
"Wrong. I've had questions like that over the years and I have a standard answer, and it would apply regardless of the ages involved. I'd say that it is my understanding that Cavers have a very open relationship with their parents. Both of you should be asking that question of your parents, and if you aren't ready to do that, then you aren't ready to do whatever you're asking about with whomever you're asking about."
"OK, you got me there. So I guess what you're saying is that you should've treated the whole situation as if Dag were fourteen, and when questions arose, you'd handle them pretty much without regard to age. That works as long as you never put yourself in the position of approving of, or condoning the sexuality of the Cave. The parents know the rules, the rules include an open relationship with the parents, and question go to parents not to you."
"But you didn't. You called the group together and made it clear that the little nine-year-old was a special case. And that, in itself, undermined the ability of the group to give love and support to Dag."
"I don't know that I'm buying it, but you make a reasonable case. You may be right. So, where do you go from here?"
"Tim, that's what I'm asking you."
"OK, OK. I got it. We're both on thin ice here, and we have no idea how deep the water is beneath the ice, but we have to go forward. OK, here's my suggestion: I think we have three really terrific kids in the Gang that may be able to give us some insight here. I'm thinking of Auggie, Willie, and Shel. They all have been absolutely fantastic in leading new Olympians to fantastic success. I might note that Charlie and I are recipients of that leadership as Auggie took us to a sailing gold medal. Let's get them together, along with Charlie, you, me, and Darlene. Darlene may have some important insights. I have a hunch what the conclusion of that group will be, but let's listen to them toss the problem around."
The group was assembled at Tim's house for dinner that Friday night. But here I need to pause the story and fill in a little blank in Charlie's larger story. When Tim and Charlie first moved into their house nobody was into naming houses. When they moved to Dakota House their former house became The Hideout. But that name moved to the street behind as a new house became The Hideout. That left the most important house for the Gang without a name. Tim and Charlie tackled that problem shortly after they moved in. They got a bunch of us together. I have no idea how they decided whom to invite, but they made sure that someone was there from each of the houses that had gone through the naming process.
Following a great dinner, cooked by Tim and Charlie I might add, they asked for help naming the house. They took it for granted that The Roundhouse, Icehouse, Playhouse, Lighthouse, and Wheelhouse naming tradition would be followed, along with the capitalized "The." We were all asked to toss out possible names. After we got by such gems as whorehouse and madhouse we tried to make some serious suggestions–though Charlie had a sort of gleam in his eye when he heard madhouse. Clubhouse was suggested as well as townhouse, penthouse and workhouse. Tim and Charlie threw out penthouse and workhouse immediately.
Tim said, "What if we follow the form but not the meaning. That might give us roughhouse or powerhouse." Nobody liked those. Tim continued, "There may be others like that, but I have no idea how to find them. I'll also toss in schoolhouse and storehouse, but we don't live in a schoolhouse, we work in one. I don't think storehouse works either."
Toppy put in, "So where are you?"
Tim immediately said, "I know; does anybody else?"
JoJo asked, "What do you mean? If you have a name in mind, then of course you know. But you said that like you were reading someone's mind. I guess you mean Charlie."
"Tell them, Charlie," said Tim.
He replied, "Tell them what? I'm not naming the house."
"Oh yes, you are. If you don't know it, then you will if you think a little."
"I have no idea.... Wait a minute. You saw me giggle a little at madhouse. That doesn't mean I want to live in a madhouse."
"Oh, Charlie, you're so transparent, at least to me."
"You really think I'd like to name this house 'The Madhouse'?"
"No, I don't think that. I know it. I know you all too well. You'll love going around telling people you live in The Madhouse with Tim. And I think I'll enjoy telling people that I live in The Madhouse with Charlie."
And so the house was named.
Back to another dinner, this one with Dag's support group. Tim asked me to lay out my mea culpa, and I did, basically repeating the entire conversation with Tim. He helped fill in the blanks in my memory of his contribution to the conversation.
Tim then said, "OK, we'd like to toss the ball to you all."
Darlene said, "I can't believe this. First, the incredible help you gave Dag in London, and now this dinner. I'm really beginning to understand both the Gang and the meaning of love and support–at least the meaning of love and support when used by Tim. I have no idea what you all are going to conclude tonight, but just your being here is wonderful. Thank you. And that's from Dag as well, but he doesn't yet know what's going on. I had to tell a little white lie to get out of the house for dinner tonight."
Auggie said, "Well, I think there's more to it than this, but I think the first step simply has to be to share all of this with Dag. He needs to really know what kind of support he has behind him."
Willie put in, "He needs to think back to his early experiences in the Cave and try to figure out whether there's anything to all of this. If he doesn't think so, then I'm not sure that any of this is going anywhere."
Darlene said, "I'm trying to think back. You know, in London Tim didn't focus on Dag's experiences with the Cavers, but on the impact of our marriage on the love and support offered by the other Cavers. That got rectified, and I'm sure that changed attitude will continue."
Marty said, "Well, that's true. But I really think it's more than your marriage. Right from the beginning he was singled out in a way than none of the others were."
Shel noted, "Yeah, as if an eight-year-old doesn't stand out in a crowd of middle and high schoolers. I've been there, done that. Little kids stand out. They make their way or they don't. Dag has. Hell, he even found a wife before he was a teenager."
"He was sixteen when we married."
"Yeah, and he figured out that he was in love with you just after midnight the night before, you decided to get married about eight in the morning, and pulled it off that afternoon. Darlene, he had his eye on you from the first day he walked into the Cave, if the reports I've gotten from other Cavers are true, and I'm damn sure they are."
Marty said, "Are we off the subject?"
Shel continued, "No, we aren't. Dag's athletic life is all wrapped up in his love life. Good thing, too. Without Darlene he'd be carrying around one of those silly Victory Diplomas instead of a medal. And this is one time when I'm going to completely agree with Tim, who give's a shit about the color."
Marty said, "I don't care about the color, but the quantity was below what we would've expected, based on his performances during the four to eight years leading up to London."
Tim said, "Marty, is it really fair to hold my success up as a goal for Dag, or anyone?"
Willie jumped in, "It sure as Hell is fair. Look at Billy. Look at me. Look at the sailors that followed you and Charlie. Look at Seth and Nels battling it out for gold on the high bar. Tim, you're damn good, but we should always be holding you out as a realistic example, not as an unreachable dream."
Charlie said, "You know that's right, kid."
Tim said, "I'm chastened. OK, it is realistic to say that Dag should've done better, and therefore reasonable to ask the two followup questions, Why didn't he do better? And, What does he do to do better in Rio?"
Shel said, "Too much time has been spent on the first of those questions. It's the second that's important."
Willie said, "Step one is to get this same group together with Dag and go over the entire thing. He's bright and pretty self-aware. I think he could tell us right off whether we're on the right track. After that discussion, we can talk again: maybe with Dag and maybe without him. We'll have to see."
There was a lot more conversation, but not much was added to the overall knowledge base about Dag. It was agreed that Willie's suggestion for step one was the right one, and they agreed to meet again a week later. Darlene insisted that we all come to Dag's and her apartment for dinner. After several had asked if that was too much for her, she assured everyone that they had plenty of room to feed eight and that she and Dag were quite capable of fixing the meal. Then she hit them with, "Do you always assume that little kids can't cut the mustard?"
Tim closed the conversation with, "Message received."
A week later we feasted on Cornish game hens, wild rice, and asparagus–clearly intended to put us in our places. Tim's comment was, "Once again, message received. And boy was it good. I'd like to be put down like this at least once a month!"
The conversation repeated what'd been said the week before. Dag's reaction was simply, "I'd like to think about this for a while. But one thing is clear: all of this has to be shared with the entire group of Cavers. You're essentially talking about how we all relate to each other, and especially how they relate to me. Well, they have to be part of the conversation."
Again, the conversation went on quite a while, again not adding much to the knowledge base. Dag did acknowledge that the fact that everyone was so concerned, and willing to devote their time and effort on his behalf, was enormously affirming to him. But he was unable to promise that would be reflected in his gymnastic performance.
"Fair enough," said Marty. "I'll get all the Cavers together after school one day next week. We repeat this entire conversation for the third or fourth time, and we'll see what comes of it. I'm cautiously optimistic."
You can probably recite the gist of the conversation with the Cavers as well as I can, and I was there. Again, nothing new was added. Several of the Cavers went out of their way to thank Marty for his obvious concern for his gymnasts. They all promised to keep Dag in the group in all respects, and Darlene as well, but Dag and Darlene didn't really have a sense that they had in any way been left out.
The next event was initiated by Shel. He came by the Marty Center after school hours and asked for Dag. Marty let him go downstairs and find Dag. Shel had never been in the Cave before and was delighted to get a tour. He was well aware of the locker room arrangement, but was glad to see it for himself. However, the only person he saw change in the locker room was Dag, who put his street clothes on again in order to go with Shel–he knew not where.
They got upstairs and Shel said, "Let's take a walk. We'll head down towards Jerry's and if we feel like dinner, we'll eat. If not, we'll just have soup."
As they walked Dag asked, "OK, Shel, what's on your mind/"
"You, and all this business coming from Marty and Tim."
"What about it?"
"It's all bullshit!"
"What do you mean?"
"What part of, 'It's all bullshit!,' don't you understand? Do you think it makes sense? Or are you inclined to agree with me that it's all bullshit?"
Dag thought for a long while; they walked more than a block in silence. Then he said, "I think you're right."
"Of course I'm right. You have to take account of the age of a kid when he's tossed into a group like the Cavers. Marty was just doing his job. Not to have had the conversations he had would've been irresponsible. And, I've asked around. You fit into the cave quite easily. For years I was the little kid around the Fred. And you'd better believe that a lot of people were warned that sex with the little kid was off limits. The little kid got told the same thing. I didn't need to be told, but telling me in no uncertain terms was the right thing to do."
"OK, is Marty right that I should be doing better than I am."
"Did you get six or seven medals in London, with a least two of them gold?"
"You know the answer to that."
"Then Marty's right, you aren't living up to your potential."
"So where do we–I guess I mean I, go from here?"
"What's the right question?"
"It begins with 'Why?' I think that ends it as well."
"I'll bite. Why? Why am I not living up to my promise?"
"What makes you think I know the answer?"
"Because you came by the Cave, dragged me on this walk, and set up the question very carefully. I heard the, 'Bullshit!' part; now let's get down to business. Why?"
"There isn't any fire in your belly."
"That's it? Just that simple. No fire in the belly."
"Just that simple. There's no fire in your belly."
"That's a matter of how I feel, how I think. How do you know that I lack fire in the belly?"
"Did you get a bunch of medals in London?"
"Is everybody right that you had the talent, love and support, practice time, yadda, yadda, yadda? Well, were they right?"
"You know the answer. Yes."
"Ergo, no fire in the belly. Let's explore that a little. You came to the Cave as a most exceptional eight-year-old. You knew going in that you were going to have to practice like Hell to get anywhere. You'd been doing that since you were two or three, so that wasn't a big deal. You were going to have to get along with a group of kids much older than you in the Cave. Hell, you'd been doing that since you began to be a tumbler. Here was this two-year-old kid keeping right up with the five-year-olds. And loving it. And getting along with those kids. Well-accepted by them."
"How do you know all this?"
"Same thing happened to me. I'm right, aren't I?"
"Of course you are."
"While the rest of the world would look at your situation and say, 'My God, look how hard that kid has to work. I can't believe his parents (or coaches, or teachers, whomever) expect him to do that. When does he play? When does he have time to be a little kid?' While the world thinks that, you are, in fact, loafing down easy street. This is simple. Long hours practicing? Nothing new. Tough new gymnastic moves? Bring 'em on. Older kids to keep up with? Naw, they have to keep up with Dag, and they can't. Easy street. That about right?"
"You know, you've been there. So how did you rise above it?"
"Fire in the belly. And, I'll admit, I had love working for me. I knew that I wasn't going to capture Brian unless my skating challenged him. I had to get our relationship beyond my being a little kid. Doing jumps that he couldn't do settled that in a big hurry. How did I get better than him? Fire in the belly."
"Just what do you mean, 'Fire in the belly'."
"It's that absolute determination that you are going to do better on the next move, the next jump or spin. For you, on the next vault, the next routine, the next dismount. If you can do a triple, add a twist. That kid just did a two and a half something or other. I'll bet I can to that. Maybe a triple. Everything can be done better. You can go higher,. You can be more graceful. To use circus lingo, which Tim likes, you can be death-defying."
"You really live like that, don't you Shel?"
"Goddamned right. And from the way that you asked that question, it's clear that you don't. I'm right. No fire in the belly. So there's your answer to, 'Why?' They next question is, 'What're you doing to do about it?' You'll note I didn't say, 'we', and I didn't say, 'Marty', and I didn't say, 'the Cavers'; I said, 'you'. What're you going to do about it?"
"Sure. Start by inviting Darlene into this conversation. She really loves you, and she'll understand exactly what I'm talking about. Then take a week or so off. Just the two of you. Go south where it's warm and you can get outside. Talk it out. Think it out. Fuck it out. I honestly don't know whether someone can will fire into the belly. I was born with it, I think. So was Tim. On the other hand, Charlie wasn't. It was his love for Tim that lit the fire. My love for Brian certainly put some fuel on my fire. However, in your case, you didn't have to fight for Darlene. She walked into your life just like your God-given talent just walked in. No fire-starter there. Some people crave Olympic gold. Some really want to be the best in the world at something. That's why we have that silly Guinness Book of World Records. Nobody give a shit about who can take the most clown balloons, blow them up, and make a funny animal in ten seconds. But somebody got his name in the book. World's Best. You can bet that most of the people whose names appear in that book had fire in their bellies. I don't know where they got it. But who works years to be able to say they spun a top longer than anybody else unless they have fire in their belly? Damn few."
"But there isn't any formula, right?"
"Right you are, kid. You either got it, or you don't. But some people, like Charlie, figure out how to light it. No, that's not it. Charlie knew how to love, but it was love that lit the fire. It wasn't conscious on his part."
"So Charlie did it for Tim. Who do I do it for?"
"That's a lot to think about."
"If you have to think very long, nothing will get lit. Take Darlene and get the Hell out of town. Let me think where you might go." Shel was silent a minute. "Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia. It's summer there now. Ask Perry and Norman. They had a life-changing trip to Darwin. Maybe you can, too."
"How in the Hell do I pay for a trip to Australia? And for two?"
"That's easy. This is the Gang. Nobody in the Gang lacks for money."
"I'm not a member of the Gang."
"You're close enough." With that he got out his cell phone and dialed Tim. "Hi, Tim." Dag looked like he wanted to crawl into a hole.
"Yeah. It's Shel. I'm standing here outside of Jerry's with Dag. We've been talking about his little problem. I suggested that he and Darlene take a week-long retreat to Darwin, Australia. There's ticket and hotel money somewhere for this, isn't there?"
"Thanks, Tim. We'll see you."
Dag asked, "What was that all about?"
"Arranging your trip. You and Darlene both got VISA cards from Fred's Sports for the trip to London. Andy has those in his desk. Tomorrow morning you drop by Fred's Sports headquarters and pick up the cards. Tim'll talk to Andy about covering the expenses. Oh, yes. Don't protest. Don't ask stupid questions. Politely and sincerely thank everyone, but don't try to turn down this phase of love and support."
Dag called Darlene and told her to get down to Jerry's, dinner was waiting. At dinner Dag started to raise objections. "What about school, my principal expects me to be there?" "Darlene has classes." "What do we do in Darwin?" "Where do we stay?"
Finally Shel turned to Darlene and said, "Tell this boy to calm down. It'll all work out, and we'll have the two of you on a plane by tomorrow night. Stay in Darwin as long as you think you need to." To Dag he said, "You either light the fire or say, 'Fuck-all,' to gymnastics."
"OK, I got the message." To Darlene he said, "Darlene, it seems we're about to take a trip half-way around the world. I think we spend the night with Perry, and Norman if he's in town, and first thing in the morning we start making arrangements. It's Friday night here; that means it's already Saturday in Darwin, I think it'll be Sunday or Monday before we can get there, but we're on our way."
Darlene replied, "May I point out, buddy boy, that you're all of sixteen years old and won't be spending the night with Perry and Norman. You get me, just me."
Dag countered, "I never said anything about sex. But we really need to get the lowdown on Darwin. If we don't, what's the point of going that far. We can be in some warm, pleasant city by flying to Texas–San Antonio, perhaps. We need to learn why we're flying to Darwin."
Meanwhile Shel had called Perry. Norman was in town. They'd love to have visitors. And, yes, they understood the importance of Dag's age. "You didn't need to remind us."
"Tim wouldn't have forgotten to remind you; I was just following his example."
"You win that one. Send them over. I take it they've been fed. We have Cokes, though if they're staying the night I probably wouldn't mind violating the alcohol laws."
Well, it wasn't Dag's first taste of wine, but close to it. He enjoyed his glass of Chablis and had the good sense not to push his luck and ask for another.
Perry started the serious conversation by innocently asking, "So, why are you here?"
Dag replied with, "I'm not really sure. Marty, Tim, and others are concerned that I didn't do as well in the Olympics as I should have. They have more or less decided that the reason is that I've been treated as a little kid."
Darlene added, "That's oversimplified, but essentially correct."
Dag continued, "Shel says that's bullshit. He says I lack fire in the belly."
Perry asked, "And he thinks a trip to Australia will light a fire in your belly."
"No, that's not it. He wants me to get away with Darlene and think it out. Only after he proposed that did he suggest Darwin. He said you and Norman had a life-changing experience there, maybe it would work for me. Then he sent me over here."
Perry said, "OK, I get the picture. I don't think he gives a damn where you go, but he wants it to break your routine, stretch your boundaries."
Darlene said, "Australia is certainly not part of our routine, and it's outside of our current boundaries. How do you and Norman fit in?"
Norman said, "I don't think we're important in all of this. We can make some suggestions about Darwin, but the job is up to you two."
Perry said, "I don't agree. I think we're part of the plan."
Norman asked, "Are you thinking we might go to Darwin with them?"
"I'd love to, but these kids need to get off by themselves."
"Then how do we fit in?"
"First, they need to hear our story; they need to know why Darwin is a special city for two members of the Gang. Two lovers, I might note."
The story was told. It wasn't as complicated as some of the Gang stories and it only took about half and hour. Dag's reaction was, "I certainly understand why you two have a soft spot in your heart for Darwin, Australia."
"OK, here's the deal: there's a great hotel there called the Darwin Central Hotel. It's managed by Alston Giddings and his partner, Jeremy Foster. We know them well; in fact, we were the ones that got them together. They'll be great hosts and will give you all the information you need to know about what to do in Darwin and northern Australia. I'll call them and tell them what's up, and you just put yourselves in their hands."
Darlene said, "I'm staggered. First, Shel called Tim and without any explanation at all got him to approve money, from some source, for a trip to Australia–no questions asked. Then we're sent here and told that the managers of a hotel in Darwin, Australia will guide us. Does the Gang have tentacles everywhere?"
"Not everywhere, but a lot of places. And you'd only be guided to places where love and support are available. Tim believes that love and support are the keys to everything."
"And you're saying that we'll get Tim's kind of love and support from this Alston and Jeremy."
Perry said, "Absolutely. And there's one other thing to add to this conversation, and you can make of it what you will. The age of consent for sexual relations in New South Wales is sixteen. The exceptions to that don't apply to you."
Norman added, "There's a public nude beach near Darwin. And several private nudist resorts. Honestly, I don't think you want to make this a nudist retreat by going to one of the resorts, but do try Casuarina Beach; its near Darwin and can be reached by bus. It can also be reached by bicycle; in fact buying or renting bicycles in Darwin might let you move around easily."
Perry said, "That assumes they want to stay in Darwin. Alston may suggest a trip into a wilder area. Let's not plan the trip for them."
Dag said, "I think I get the idea, but the purpose of the trip is to either light a fire in my belly, or admit that it isn't there and isn't going to be. I'm not sure that the trip being proposed is going to solve my problem, but at least it sounds like a fabulous trip."
Darlene said, "Every time I get involved with the Gang sex raises...."
Perry interrupted, "Don't say ugly head. Yes, it's likely to raise its beautiful head. I'm sure that's what you were going to say."
Darlene continued, "Well, guys, sixteen isn't the age of consent in North Dakota. Too bad, you're both wonderful hunks and Dag and I would love to explore that, but we'll wait till he's eighteen."
"Since you're married you don't have to wait until then to explore each other, and we have the perfect guest room to do it in, king-size bed and all. We'll see you in the morning."
Shel arrived at eight ready to take them on a whirlwind tour to get their credit cards, deal with schools, get tickets, buy some needed clothes and things, and get to the Fargo airport by dinnertime, with McDonald's meals in their bellies. Off to Denver, Los Angeles, Sidney, and on to Darwin. Dag was right, it was late morning on Monday when they landed in Darwin.
They took a taxi to the hotel, and as soon as they gave their names to the hotel clerk they became V.I.P. guests. The Manager, Alston Giddings, came out and introduced himself, and personally showed them to their very nice room on the top floor. He advised, "Don't sleep this afternoon, it will simply further mess up your internal clocks. Walk around town, get lunch somewhere, be back here about four, take long showers, and join Jeremy and me for dinner in the dining room about five-thirty. We'll talk then, and you can get a good night's sleep."
Dag looked at Darlene and said, "Those beds look mighty tempting, but I think he's right. Let's take showers and then look around the town." They did, but their motion around town was definitely slow motion. They found the Australian version of fast food and ate just as slowly. The waterfront was interesting, the ocean lovely, the companionship delightful, and the overall afternoon pretty lousy. Another round of showers as Alston had suggested revived them somewhat and they headed down to the lobby to meet Alston and Jeremy.
As Dag told me about the conversation later, the most interesting thing about Alston and Jeremy was that they didn't see anything particularly strange or unusual for the two Americans to take a week or so for a trip halfway around the world to consider their futures, or their feelings about athletics. That sort of drop-out-and-see-how-it-goes approach to life is as common in Australia as it is uncommon in America. Dag wondered, but was never really sure, if Shel had that in mind when he proposed Australia. Since Shel rarely misses something like that, I would have to believe that to be the case.
Dinner with Alston and Jeremy was something else. Alston wanted to spend the entire dinner talking about all the exciting things one could do in Australia, based in Darwin: into the Outback, down to Ayers Rock, go along the coast, sail, never leave the room and fuck all day (Darlene was a little surprised at that one)–never once mentioning the purpose for which they'd come, despite Dag's explaining that to him and trying to keep him on the subject. To no avail; Alston, usually abetted by Jeremy, was determined to plan a week-long play vacation.
Finally Darlene mentioned that Norman had talked about a nude beach near Darwin.
Jeremy picked up on that right away. "You mean Casuarina Beach. That's fun, but there aren't a lot of people there, so you don't get quite the thrill you get at the beaches near Sydney."
Alston simply said, "What a good idea. We'll send breakfast to your room about eight, and expect you in the lobby about nine. We'll all go out to Casuarina Beach together. Now, you're tired tonight, so no sex, and certainly no sex in the morning before we go to the beach. The beach is fun, but you won't be having sex there. Tomorrow afternoon or evening, depending on how long we stay at the beach, well, look out. By the way, Perry told me that he told you that the age on consent here in the Northern Territory is sixteen. He didn't pass on that information without a purpose in mind. Jeremy and I are hoping for two things tomorrow morning: first, that you two are as glorious without clothes as you are with them, and second that a romp on Casuarina Beach will put you in a good mood for an evening with the two of us."
Darlene said, "Wow."
Dag said, "Wow, too. But I'm not sure just how this relates to my acquiring fire in my belly for Olympic wrestling."
Alston said, "Well, let's start with fire in your belly for sex. In particular sex with me."
Dinner was soon over. They headed for their room and quickly found that all predictions were correct. They fell in bed without even thinking about anything but sleep. They were awakened by a bellboy bringing a full breakfast. They'd slept naked, and Dag had simply pulled a towel around himself to answer the door and let the bellboy in. As soon as he left Darlene snatched the towel off him. He protested and said, "We aren't supposed to have sex this morning."
"No, but I think that Alston hopes we might heat up a little. I'm hungry and I don't want anything blocking my view as I eat." They ate on the little balcony that faced the ocean, noting that there were no high buildings from which they could be observed. For a number of reasons it was a lovely meal.
They met Alston and Jeremy in the lobby, and soon they were off in Alston's car to Casuarina Beach. Casuarina Beach's nudist beach is simply about a kilometer of beach designated as "clothing optional" in the middle of a bigger public beach. It's a wide, sandy beach, with a lot of wave action from the sea and tides. No sign could last down on the beach, so the signs of where the nude section of the beach is are way back from the sea. They're easy to miss. Beach walkers who don't realize there's a nude beach nearby, often are startled to find nude bathers on the sand as they walk along the beach. For some of the walkers that could be offensive, for others it could be a lot of fun!
But there weren't very many bathers or walkers that morning. There were enough that Dag and Darlene–on their first experience on a nude beach–found themselves totally embarrassed several times before they got used to the situation. The embarrassment started when Alston and Jeremy, clearly not on their first visit to the beach, calmly laid out their towels and took off their clothes. They then sat down and stared at Dag and Darlene until those two finally got the hint and slowly took off their clothes as well. Dag, who had both the inexperience of a teenager and the libido to go with it, found himself hard as a rock and trying to hide it, while Alston grabbed his hand to prevent him from hiding it.
Alston laughed. Jeremy said, "Just lay down on the towel, on your back, hands behind your head, legs spread, and let the sun work a little."
Dag said, "I'm not sure I'm up to that."
Alston said, "Sure you are. Just do it."
Jeremy said, "But not too long, or those Northern Hemisphere white bodies will burn to a crisp."
They were soon relaxed under an umbrella, and Dag's hard-on was just a memory. But one that returned every time one of the other three teased him about it. The whole business was easier for Darlene. First, there simply isn't that much to see of the genitalia of a nude woman, and, of course, nothing rises and falls with the libido of a woman–nipples standing out simply don't compare!
Jeremy and Alston weren't about to let them off that easy. "Come on, let's walk to the limits of the clothing optional area, it's not far."
That was Jeremy. Alston added, "Yeah, it's see and be seen time."
Dag and Darlene weren't given much choice, and soon they were parading up and down the beach. There weren't a lot of bathers, but those that were there were glad for the opportunity to have a closer look at the two young bathers. It was particularly embarrassing when they passed folks from the larger beach, walking along in their swimsuits. Sometimes they were startled to see the four nudists, sometimes seemingly titillated, and one couple seemed truly offended. After they passed, Jeremy said, "People aren't adequately warned about the rules of the beach, and the lack of signs doesn't help. But all of the information on Casuarina Beach tells about the clothing optional section."
Back at the hotel the four had dinner in the hotel dining room. The meal was delicious (a small steak in Australia would defeat most reasonable Americans) and the conversation interesting. Dag allowed the other three to avoid the elephant in the room until dessert, when he said, "I suppose the big question is where are we all going to spend the night and what are we going to do while we spend it. But before we get on that topic, I'd like to talk about just what we might be doing for the rest of our stay in Australia, and then think a little about how that might make me a better gymnast."
Alston was ready with answers. "OK, your little friends Shel and Perry had a long conversation with me while you were winging your way here in an airplane over the Pacific. Shel talked about 'lighting a fire in your belly'–clearly an American expression, but it didn't take long for me to know what he was talking about. I'm less sure of why he thinks Darwin is the answer, but I'll try to convey his thoughts. He thinks you need to get away from your environment which is shaped by the Cave (whatever that is) and the other Cavers. He wants you to be able to look back on that environment and contemplate both leaving it and dominating it. He thinks those are your choices, and you shouldn't even think about coming home until you've made up your mind. In the meantime, in his words, 'Have a ball'."
"So where and how do Darlene and I have a ball?"
"Well, it starts in your room tonight as Jeremy and I join you. Tomorrow I'll introduce you to Tommy Bristol, an outstanding Outback guide, who has a well-equipped Land Rover, all the other equipment you'll need, and knows his way around the Red Center (that's the huge area around Ayers Rock), and will guide you there for a five day trip. It's all arranged; approved by Shel; scheduled with Tommy; with departure scheduled for 7:00 a.m. the day after tomorrow. Tomorrow night we play musical beds, change partners, and repeat tonight's adventure. Sound good?"
Darlene asked, "Do we have a choice?"
"For the night adventures, of course. For the trip with Tommy, not unless you're willing to incur the wrath of Shel."
"No one is stupid enough to incur the wrath of Shel. And not because of fear of Shel's wrath, but because Shel has the uncanny ability to always be right on target."
"Good. Jeremy and I have about a half-hour of hotel business to attend to. We'll see you in your room right after that. Shel says I shouldn't pull any punches, so I won't. We don't expect to see any clothes on you when we arrive. I have a master key, so you won't have to get off the bed to let us in."
What's to tell about the night? Between coming in the door and getting to the beds Jeremy and Alston lost all their clothes. Alston headed for Dag's bed while Jeremy headed for Darlene's. The only word to describe the events of the evening is seduction. Dag and Darlene were seduced by two masters. As they drifted off to sleep Jeremy wondered, "Am I sure I'm gay?"
Alston thought, "My God, to be sixteen again!"
Darlene thought, "Variety is the spice of life; and to think he's gay!"
Dag thought, "Alston is a man with fire in his belly, or at least his dick."
The rest of their trip to Australia went just as well. They had a wonderful adventure in the Outback, guided by Tommy Bristol who certainly lived up to his reputation as a guide. Nothing was said by Dag about fire in his belly or anything else about gymnastics. Darlene decided that she'd be silent on the subject and let Dag bring it up when he was ready.
Back in Darwin the day after they returned from their trip with Tommy, Dag suggested breakfast in their room at the Darwin Central Hotel. Darlene sensed that something was coming from Dag, but she waited for him to open the conversation. About halfway through a delicious, but silent breakfast, Dag said, "I get it."
Darlene: "What does that mean?"
"I know what Shel is talking about when he says, 'Fire in the belly'."
"Can you explain?"
"No, I really can't. Shel tried to explain what he meant. Perry seems to understand. But it's not a bunch of words that need defining. It's a gut feeling, a state of mind."
"Is your gut telling you that you have fire in the belly?"
"It's not that simple. I thought I had a real passion for gymnastics, a drive to be an Olympian, a serious competitive spirit. Yet Shel says I didn't have fire in my belly. So I've been thinking about what was missing in the years of practice that I've been through."
"I'll bite. What was missing? We wouldn't be having this conversation if you hadn't come to some kind of conclusion."
"You're right. It's simple. I wasn't at the top, but I was content. Somebody with fire in their belly is never content."
"I thought contentment was important in life."
"It is, but that's not what I mean. Sure, I'm content with my situation, my place in the Cave, the extraordinary support I've gotten from everybody. Just think about this trip when you think about love and support. But I've been content with me. Never again."
"So, is it time to go home?"
"Yes. Let's have dinner with Jeremy, Alston, and Tommy tonight, if they're available, and then let's spend the night with Jeremy and Alston. We'll book flights for tomorrow just as soon as tonight's plans are firmed up. If we have to put the flights off a day or so to have the dinner and evening as I envision, then we will."
"OK, now for the big question. Did we need to come all the way to Australia to figure this out?"
"Not necessarily Australia, and not necessarily travel. But Shel understood that I had to break the mold; think on a different plane. He perceived this trip as a way to accomplish that. There certainly would've been other ways. But one argues with Shel at one's peril. I certainly wasn't in a position to think this through. And Shel was right, the others were on the wrong track in thinking that it was their treating me as a little kid, when in fact that's exactly what I was. The problem was me, and Shel saw that. I don't know if I'm fixed, only time will tell. But Shel was right, and I understand what he was talking about. And I'm returning home with a different mindset."
Darlene summed it up: "Gee, I wish they'd figure out what needed fixing in me and send me to, perhaps, Patagonia to have it straightened out."
"I want to go with you on that trip. But there's one problem."
"You're perfect just as you are!"
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