I (Charlie) will pick up the story from here. Simon kept his fellow GrandCOGs fairly well informed, so that after he'd shared as much as he had with Marie and her parents, the GrandCOGs were in the loop. A couple of years older, May Hassett realized that there was a lot Marie needed to learn, especially from the point of view of a girl. She was Hardie's daughter, and was aware of some of the issues that he'd encountered when he entered the Gang after not growing up a COG.
So one day, not long after Marie's night in the one-room house, May suggested that the two of them have dinner together. In fact, May suggested that they cook dinner together in The Hideout. Marie was delighted, and they went to the local supermarket (May was driving age), got the fixings for a good meal (Marie choose pork chops), went back to The Hideout where they cooked and ate. May told her, "Simon's really inviting you to be part of the GrandCOGs, even though you don't technically meet the criteria. We've known you for a while, and we want you to know how welcome you are. We not only trust Simon's judgement, but we've gotten to know you and love you."
She went on, "Don't be afraid of that word love. We use it and mean it, but not romantically or sexually. To us, it describes a close relationship that is more than like and implies more of a commitment than like. You're not joining the Gang, but you're making a similar commitment. There's one key difference: you aren't making any kind of long-term commitment; but for right now you're one of us."
Marie responded, "I don't know whether to be honored or fearful."
"Neither, just happy and involved."
"I gather that you--do I say 'kids,' 'GrandCOGs' or how do you talk about yourselves; 'GrandCOGs' is a mouthful?"
"I know it's sexist, but I think that most of us would say, 'guys'."
"OK, I gather that you guys're involved with each other sexually."
"That would be true. We grew up together, in an environment that didn't think sex–at least responsible sex–was evil or out of the ordinary. I'll bet that most of the group had twiddled Simon's dick by the time he was two, and we still do. Except that when he started getting serious about you he cut that out. Until he could have the right conversations with you, he didn't think it was fair to you to be twiddled by us–or more than twiddled."
"But you all never have intercourse, right?"
"That's about all that's off limits, but that's the one thing we never do."
"You're an amazing group."
"You'll probably get some invitations from the group, but I don't think anybody will suggest anything unless Simon's there or they've previously talked to Simon."
"Is that a rule?"
"The Gang, and in this case it includes the GrandCOGs, tries to avoid a lot of hard and fast rules. But there are a number of informal ones. And so I guess it's a rule that you talk to the partner or spouse before you invite someone to a sexual relationship."
"You mentioned other rules?"
"I'd be surprised if you haven't already encountered this, but it wouldn't have been stated as a rule."
"You always assume that a member of the Gang is telling the truth. That sounds obvious, but social custom in most of the world pushes you to say things like, 'Oh, that's too much trouble,' or 'Are you sure?' In the Gang if it was too much trouble it wouldn't have been offered. If we weren't sure, we wouldn't have extended the invitation."
"I know what you mean, Simon's said things like that to me. I often say, 'You don't really want to go to all that trouble, do you?' He gets a little annoyed and says, 'I wouldn't have made the suggestion if I didn't want to go to all that much trouble'."
May said, "It's a Gang thing. They, well we, like to catch people saying things like that. He isn't really annoyed. But if you're going to fit in, that's a faux pas to avoid."
"Thanks for the tip."
May continued her lessons, "You'll grow into being one of the guys; in fact you already have. But there's one thing I'd like to talk about in more detail, because the contradictions involved tell a lot about the Gang and its children."
"The Gang is schizophrenic. They strongly affirm two contradictory relationships between children and adults. You saw Simon's parents relate to him virtually as an adult. Children of the Gang are never talked down to, I don't think there's a parent that's used baby talk with their kids. Decisions about the kids lives are made with the kids, and as much as possible by the kids."
"That certainly seemed to be the case with Simon and Allie. So, what's the contradiction?"
"Sex. Remember, their hard and fast rule is no adult-child sex. How do you treat children as adults except in this one very important area?"
"Does this cause problems?"
"Not really, the kids get used to it, and most understand it. But think of this–and it isn't unusual every four years: The Gang sends two athletes to the Olympics, one is sixteen or seventeen, another is eighteen to twenty. The teams aren't large, so often you have these kids rooming together. But no sex, kids! It runs counter to everything that Tim teaches about love and support. They're very good about letting kids bend the rules, but bend only, never violate. Shel will swear the he never touched Brian's dick before he was eighteen, but he neglects to tell you that all that was keeping him from touching Brian's dick was a thin layer of latex provided by his glove! I'll admit, that was the rare exception."
Marie continued, "I know that Simon's parents treat him very much as an equal. My parents have been pretty good about that, as I think back on it. To what extent is the Gang really exceptional in that regard?"
"It's not just how they talk and relate. Parents really let their kids function as adults as much as possible."
'Billy and Sara let Willie go to high school in northern Michigan because he thought the diving coach was better there. Willie found the home to live in, and made a complete success of the whole thing.'
"I've heard that story, are there others?"
"Lots. Think about Auggie. At age eleven he decided that he wanted to sail all summer in Madison. His father took him down there and he was introduced to the Mendota Sailing Club, but it was before the boats were launched for the year. He went back, by himself on the train, showed off his sailing skills and became a dock boy there for the summer–age twelve. And he quickly proved to be the best sailor in the place.
Then there was Shel who was buying real estate for Fred at age ten."
"What real estate?"
"The house he now lives in; they call it The Lighthouse."
"Shel bought that?"
"Well, he found it was for sale, convinced Fred to buy it for some future use, did all of the negotiating, and ended up part of the group that lives in it–along with husband, Brian, whom he fell in love with at age ten."
"What did his parents think of all of this?"
"They watched, smiled, and thanked Fred for his support."
"And, give or take a latex glove, Shel and Brian didn't have sex for eight years."
"And that's the Gang's schizophrenia?"
"It's interesting, but I think I can deal with that. Simon and I don't have a bothersome age difference."
The pork chops had been wonderful, the conversation interesting, and it went on till fairly late. Then May drove Marie home. When she got out of the car Marie said, "Thanks, May; I hope we can be close friends."
Simon loved to play ping-pong. The ping-pong table in the basement of The Hideout had attracted him from the time that he was tall enough to stand at the end of the table and hit the ball over the net. By age ten he was able to beat all comers from the GrandCOGs, and by age eleven none of the Gang stood a chance with him.
Marshall and Nettie watched his skill develop and realized that he had the talent and skill to be outstanding in the sport. Did he have the drive–Shel's "fire in the belly?" If so, they needed to be thinking about love and support. Well, the love was there, but just how to support him? He wasn't going to get any better than he was without good coaching and opponents that could challenge him. They learned that the Y had a small program which put together a team and played other teams in the area, but it meant a lot of travel, because there wasn't another team in Grand Forks. However the Y had the best (really the only) ping-pong program in town. But it had to do for Simon at ages twelve and thirteen.
By ninth grade, when he was fourteen, it became clear to everyone, especially Simon, that he was going to have to find tougher competition and coaching, if he was going to progress. And he was eager to progress. Marshall found that there was a club program in Fargo that he could participate in, and there were other programs in town that provided good competition for the players. Someone drove Simon to Fargo after school three afternoons a week and every Saturday or Sunday when they had competitions. There were plenty of Gang members more than willing to drive Simon, but he realized that the competition in Fargo wasn't at a level that could lead him to national competition.
By the next year, it was clear that either he had to be content with being a very good regional player or find a higher level program that could, with the right effort (on his part) and support (on everybody else's part) move him to national competition.
A little research found that the nearest such program was in Minneapolis. Not only were the Minneapolis Table Teens a top ranked program, but there was enough other competition in the Twin Cities that they had good competition available locally.. But Minneapolis was a little over 300 miles away, almost a five hour drive via the Interstates. The airlines could get you there in an hour, but you lost a lot of time in the terminal, and they didn't have flights just when you wanted to go.
Nettie and Marshal talked a lot about Simon's future with table tennis, always including him in the discussions. A few years before they had talked about moving to Minneapolis for a few years, including the possibility that only he might move to Minneapolis like Willie had moved to Iron River. At least Minneapolis would be closer to home and would be much less of a wilderness than Iron River. But Simon, then age twelve and starting seventh grade, wasn't happy about leaving home.
This discussion got repeated each summer as they looked a plans for the coming year. After one of their conversations in the summer before his tenth grade year, and second year playing ping-pong in Fargo, it was Simon who said, "Let's talk to Shel!"
Marshall replied, "Why would we talk to Shel? I don't think he has the solution to your problem."
Nettie said, "I don't know. Why Shel, Simon?"
Simon replied, "I'm not sure. But I hear a lot of stories about Shel and how he's solved the problems of a lot of Gang athletes. If you don't want to, may I talk to Shel?"
Marshall replied, "Of course, and you don't need our permission. You can talk to anybody you like about ping-pong. We just don't want you to get your hopes up too much."
Simon did talk to Shel. We tend to think of Shel as a little boy–the kindergartner that read adult novels, the elementary school kid who negotiated house purchases, the eleven-year old who fell in love with Brian. But Shel was now thirty-seven years old and definitely not a little kid. You'd hardly know it following him around. He ran the Fred, but was much more at home on the Fred's ice. There'd always been a small, but very good, management team for the Fred, and they'd known for years that if Shel expressed an opinion on something that the powers that be, Fred and Marty, would back Shel. But they also knew that if they ran a good program they wouldn't come crosswise with Shel. When Shel retired from competitive skating and become officially the director of the Fred, the relationship didn't change. Shel didn't want to be too involved in day-to-day management, and to the extent that he could avoid it, he did. He still kept busy: skating, loving Brian, supporting up-and-coming skaters, etc. And with Shel the "etc." covered a lot of bases.
Simon found Shel at the Fred the afternoon following his conversation with his parents. He laid out his problem to Shel: the closest table tennis program that would challenge him was in Minneapolis and he was in Grand Forks.
Shel asked, "So, what's the problem?"
"How do I go to school in Grand Forks and participate in a table tennis program in Minneapolis."
"Find a fast way to get back and forth."
"So, what am I going to do, fly? I don't have wings."
"Airplanes have wings."
"Yeah, Shel. But there isn't a flight sitting on the ground in Grand Forks just waiting for me to get there after school. They don't schedule airlines like that."
"Who said anything about airlines. You're going to need a private plane, probably a jet."
"And just where would I get that?"
"You wouldn't. Fred's Sports would."
"They'll just go out and buy a jet plane so that little Simon can get to table tennis practice. Sure."
"Well, one thing would have to happen first."
"You need to get Fred's Sports to be your official sponsor. Let's go talk to Perry."
So Shel and Simon set off for Fred's Sports headquarters, only a walk away–a fairly long walk but that didn't both either of them.
Shel talked to Perry's secretary and was very quickly let into his office. Shel looked around. "Not quite the palatial digs befitting the CEO of a major company."
"As you well know, Shel, this was Fred's office, furnished pretty much like he furnished it. Even though Andy is still very much a part of Fred's Sports, he insisted that I take this office when I became President."
"Well, I have a couple of suggestions for you. Ask your question, Simon."
Simon had been prompted on what question to ask. He asked, "Would Fred's Sports be willing to sponsor me as a competitive table tennis player?"
Perry immediately replied,"Of course we would, as Shell full well knows and has told you. But aren't you a little young to need a sponsor?"
Shel said, "Now it's my turn. You know, I've been telling you that Fred's Sports needs an executive jet for some time now."
"And I always answered, 'Why?'. Oh, my God, Simon is your answer to that question, isn't he, Shel?"
"You catch on quick, Perry. With a brain like that it's no wonder that Fred and Andy picked you as their successor."
"Just exactly where does the young table tennis player that Fred's Sports is sponsoring have to get in such a big hurry that he needs an executive jet?"
"Minneapolis. He needs to go to school here and be in Minneapolis for after his after school ping-pong at least two days a week. Then get back here in time to study and go to bed. God knows where he'll eat dinner. Weekends he'll need to be there at least one day, probably for most of the day. Does that sound about right, Simon."
Simon's head was spinning, but he did grasp the situation and enthusiastically said, "Yes."
Perry picked up the phone on his desk and called Andy, who happened to be in and came over to Perry's office right away. Perry said to Shel, "I know this was all your idea, so you explain it to our Chairman of the Board."
Shel laid it out quite succinctly. Simon wanted to be a top ranked table tennis player. There was no program in North Dakota that would challenge him. The closest was Minneapolis. To get back and for was going to require very fast connections, i.e. an executive jet. As Simon's sponsor, Fred's Sports needed to get an executive jet and damn quick, the school year would soon be underway.
Andy looked at Simon and said, "At this point I ought to ask you if you think you're good enough to warrant that kind of treatment. But I won't for two reasons: first, only somebody with Shel's ego would dare to answer that question in the affirmative; second, you wouldn't be here if Shel didn't think the answer was, 'Yes,' and I trust Shel's judgement in such matters. Those who don't trust Shel's judgement very quickly regret it." He turned to Perry, "I presume that you didn't call me in here to ask for permission, but to inform me that Fred's Sports is about to buy a executive jet, and that it woujld be available to our executives, including me, to use, provided our needs didn't conflict with Simon's schedule on the airplane. Right?"
Shel had rattled Perry's cage about a jet several times before. It was probably because Shel would've liked to have one available for himself and the Fred from time to time. Perry'd said, "No," but he'd known that it wouldn't be that long before Shel would have a reason that Perry had to agree was important enough to warrant a jet. Here was the reason, standing in front of them, real flesh and blood. I might point out that this particular collection of flesh and blood was almost in total shock. But he was slowly getting used to the idea, and the more he thought about it, the better it sounded. School in Grand Forks; ping-pong in Minneapolis. And an executive jet!
Shel had a sixth sense for what people were thinking. He said to Simon, "This could give you an ego trip that could blast you out of any chance of being an Olympian. If you let riding to ping-pong practice in a jet plane go to your head, I'm going to tell Perry to sell the damn plane. Understood?"
"Understood, Shel. And Perry. And Andy. But, my God, I don't believe this."
Shel replied, "Neither will your parents, but it'll soak in. Nettie was a COG, and Marshall fits in perfectly. Your problem is going to be the other ping-pong players in Minneapolis, who aren't going to understand how any kid in high school could fly around in a jet airplane, unless he was fantastically rich–which you aren't. You, Simon, are going to have to deal with that, because the three of us in this room aren't going to be there, nor are your parents . For the first month or so, that's going to be a much bigger problem for you than playing table tennis."
He turned to Perry, "What do you know about actually getting a plane? I presume it means hiring pilots, getting hanger space, licenses, and all kinds of stuff. And it's going to cost a lot. Am I pushing Fred's Sports too far?"
Perry smiled and said, "Now you ask that question, after Simon's virtually been told he's going to be riding to practice in a jet plane. But I know you, Shel. You knew the answer to the question before you asked it."
"I wanted Simon to hear the answer."
"Well, yes, Fred's Sports can afford it. And it'll be useful for the corporation, not just for it's only sponsored table tennis player. By the way, Simon, I'm virtually certain that you're going to be the only kid in that Minneapolis program with a corporate sponsor. You've got a problem. It might be a good idea to keep silent about the sponsorship, but telling about it might explain the airplane. Well, Simon, that's your problem. Shel can make suggestions; I can buy the airplane; your parents can be supportive, but you're going to have to deal with your peers–both in Minneapolis and here."
"I'll make it work; I promise."
Shel turned to Perry, "How quickly can you make this happen?"
"By the time school starts; that's in about two weeks, I think. It'll take a month or two to get the airplane. Both Honda and Cessna make nice models that'll do for our purposes. Buying new takes forever, but there are always pre-owned ones available–you never talk about used airplanes, certainly not about used jets; they're pre-owned. Until then we'll get a charter in here three days a week. We might just find that cheaper than owning the plane, but then it wouldn't be available for other things. You know, I'm not above enjoying a ride in a Fred's Sports executive jet."
Andy said, "I wonder what Fred would think."
"Fred would have conflicting views," mused Perry. "He'd think it was gross extravagance–he flew in economy when he flew. On the other hand, he spared no expense on the Gang, especially the athletes. Look at what he spent on those Olympic sailors. Bottom line, he would've reacted to you, Shel, just the way Andy and I have. Full speed ahead."
Shel asked Simon, "How are you getting home today?"
"I'll call my mom and either she or Dad will come and pick me up."
"I'd drive you home, but I don't have a car here."
Perry picked up his phone, dialed, waited for the answer, and said, "Nettie, come pick up your table tennis player at Fred's Sports HQ. He's just been signed on as a Fred's Sports sponsored competitive table tennis player. [pause] Not now, Nettie. We'll let Simon tell you all about it."
Nettie came, picked up Simon and Shel at the curb in front of the Fred's Sports building, dropped Shel off at The Lighthouse, and headed home. "What's all this about? A Fred's Sports sponsorship?"
Simon could hardly control himself, but managed to say, "Let's see if Marie can join us for dinner tonight; stop by her house and we'll see."
It was soon Marie's dinnertime, but her parents agreed to let her join Simon's family; it was clearly important to Simon. He refused to answer any questions until everybody was together at the dinner table. When they got home Nettie rushed dinner as much as she could and they all sat down to a filling spaghetti dinner. Marshall spoke first, "OK, Simon, Mom tells me that you have a big story to tell us. Start telling."
Simon had debated whether he should just tell the story of his afternoon, beginning with talking with Shel, or whether he should try for a little shock value. He decided to shock. "Fred's Sports has signed me to a corporate sponsorship as a competitive table tennis player; I'll be joining the Minneapolis Table Teens, practicing after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and most of Saturdays; I'll get to Minneapolis those days by flying in the Fred's Sports corporate jet. By this time next year, I hope to be nationally ranked in junior table tennis; with luck leave the 'junior' off."
"Somebody say something!"
Nettie caught her breath and said, "You were going to talk to Shel. I guess you did. And Shel magically arranged this with Perry and Andy in a matter of a very few minutes. Is that right?"
Marshall said, "When we said you could talk to Shel, this wasn't exactly what we had in mind."
Nettie said, "Buy the damn shoes."
Marie asked, "Just exactly what does that mean, 'Buy the damn shoes? I've heard it used before."
Marshall said, "I've heard the expression, but I've never really understood it till now. It means, quite simply, don't argue, just do the right thing–and if 'Buy the damn shoes,' is appropriate to the situation, then the right thing is obvious. In this case, the right thing is to call Perry and thank him for the generosity of Fred's Sports." He picked up the phone, called Perry, and said exactly that.
Perry replied, "I'll bet the phrase, 'Buy the damn shoes,' has been uttered in your house recently. Whoever said it, said the right thing at the right time. Give my love to Simon. And tell him to get his participation in the Minneapolis Table Teens squared away–right away."
That took a phone call from Simon to the Minneapolis Table Teens. It took place the following afternoon.
MTT: Hello. Table Teens.
Simon: I'm a pretty good table tennis player and I'd like to participate in the Minneapolis Table Teens program. Who should I be speaking to?
MTT: Me. I'm the program manager, Ralph Smith.
Simon: So how do I enroll in your program?
MTT: How good are you? This isn't a beginner program. I can recommend a good one for you.
Simon: I think I'm pretty good, but I guess you'd have to watch me play and make your own judgement.
MTT: That's right. When can you come by? We're here afternoons every day. You know, this is a pretty expensive program, and we have scholarships for only the most extraordinary players.
Simon: How about Thursday afternoon? About three?
MTT: What's your name? What grade are you in?
Simon: Simon Chalmers, I'll be in tenth grade.
MTT: That's about the middle age of most of our players; most started younger than you. You still want to come by and show your stuff?
Simon: I'd love to, Mr. Smith.
MTT: We'll see you in two days.
Nettie'd been listening, but had said nothing during the call. Now she asked, "How are you going to be in Minneapolis on Thursday at three in the afternoon?
Simon replied, "I'm hoping I can get a ride with you or Dad. Otherwise, I'll have to ask my corporate sponsor to help me get there."
"I'll drive you to Minneapolis."
Thursday morning he and Nettie headed for Minneapolis. As they drove Nettie asked if Simon wanted her to come into the MTT with him. He thought a while and said, "Yeah. I like to be independent, but it's obvious that they aren't going to enroll me in their program without a parent's permission, release of liability, you know, all the paperwork."
"I know. I promise to stay in the background until you need me. But I think a teenager walking in by himself might seem strange to these folks."
"Not as strange as when they ask for my address."
Nettie chuckled. "I'm going to let you deal with that one. This whole thing was your idea."
"Shel was just the facilitator. You'd found the Minneapolis Table Teens all by yourself, and simply hadn't figured out how to join up."
The Minneapolis Table Teens had a very nice facility in an office/warehouse park on the edge of Minneapolis. Luckily for Simon–and probably for no one else in the history of MTT–it was quite convenient to the airport. Simon walked in, exuding confidence, and asked the first person, another teen, but older than Simon, where he could find Mr. Ralph Smith. His mother had followed and simply watched from a distance.
The young man didn't seem hostile, just suspicious. "Who wants Mr. Smith?"
"I'm Simon Chalmers; I have an appointment with him."
"Oh, you're the kid that's coming to try out. Mr. Smith's in that office; I'll be your first opponent."
By this time Ralph Smith had walked out of his office and joined them. "Hello, Simon. I'm Ralph Smith, but everybody here calls me Smithy; don't be an exception. And, yes, Frankie here is expecting to be your first opponent. He's not our top player, but one of the better ones. If he beats you, that doesn't mean that you can't join the program. We've got other guys you can play against. But if you can hold your own with Frankie, we won't waste your time, or anybody else's, with other opponents."
Simon had brought his paddle in a little case. He got it out and said, "I'm ready."
Smithy looked at the paddle. He said, "A paddle tells a lot about a player. You obviously play a hard and fast game. So does Frankie–honestly he has to broaden his tactics if he going to improve."
Simon said, "That certainly true for me. Honestly, that's why I'm in Minneapolis, I need better coaching."
Smithy continued, "And, that's a very high quality, expensive paddle. You obviously take the game seriously."
"I certainly do." Simon had realized that his comment about Minneapolis might raise immediate questions, and he would rather them see him play before he talked about travel arrangements. "Frankie, are you ready."
"You know I'm going to beat your ass, right? No new kid's going to beat my ass."
Simon simply walked over to the nearest empty table, picked up a ball and asked, "Volley for serve?"
Smithy said, "No. Simon, you serve first."
Simon did. It was a perfect serve, hard, fast, just over he net and bouncing on the far corner of the table. Frankie was completely unprepared for that, and didn't even get a paddle on it. Smithy just smiled. Nettie's heart pounded; she knew this was make or break for Simon's dreams. If he didn't get accepted into MTT, his Olympic dreams probably went up on smoke. No one else but Simon had any idea of what was riding on this match.
His next serve was almost as good, but this time Frankie was ready. He slammed it back to Simon, who got a paddle on it, but missed the table with the return. The next two serves ended up with each player winning one, after short volleys. By this time the two boys were beginning to get the feel of each other. Simon's fifth serve was good, returned well, and led to an extended volley. By this time a lot of the players around the room were beginning to watch the match. Frankie took the fifth point, and it was his serve. Score 3-2.
The volleys got longer, the score stayed relatively even, and it might've continued that way. If it had, Frankie would've won with a score of about 21-17. But Frankie got frustrated. How the Hell was this kid going to come in here and beat him? No way! And, as Tim would tell you in an instant, that kind of thinking is a sure path to losing. Frankie missed a couple of slams that, had they hit the corner they were aimed for, would've given him points. Simon remained cool as a cucumber, and placed his shots with brutal accuracy. Simon won the match 21-19.
Simon walked around to Frankie, shook his hand and said, "We're going to have a lot of time for rematches. This was important to me, I couldn't afford to give an inch. I've never played against an opponent as good as you. That's why I want to join MTT."
Nettie watched this very carefully. Simon had done his best not to rub in the loss. She told us later, "I could see Frankie's mind churning. He had two choices, make an enemy or make a friend. I think he realized that if he made an enemy, he was likely to come out the loser in the long run. He replied to Simon, 'I think we're going to have a lot of rematches, I hope I can win one now and then'."
Simon answered, "I know you will. You hit a lot of balls at me that I couldn't touch. I think we'll both win our share."
Smithy had watched the interchange just as closely as Nettie. He certainly realized that it'd be important for his program that these two get along, and it looked like they would. He turned to Simon, "I don't think there's any question that you have the talent to join MTT. I assume that this lady who's been watching you perform is your mother."
Nettie stepped up and introduced herself. "I'm Nettie Chalmers, and I'm his mother, and for today his chauffeur. We assumed that you'd need a parent to sign for him to join your program."
Smithy and Nettie shook hands, and he added, "And, I assume, write the check for the program fees."
Nettie said, "No, Simon'll take care of that. He understands that the deposit on joining the program is $1,000. He's prepared."
Smithy said, "That's certainly unusual. I suspect that there may be other unusual things about Simon."
Simon had been listening and said, "I guess that we'd better get the paperwork done. Then I'd really like to play some table tennis."
They went to Smithy's office where Simon filled out the enrollment form. It was a fairly simple form, and at the bottom required Nettie's parental signature in two places: one for the enrollment and one for the liability waiver. He passed the completed form to Smithy.
Smithy looked it over, found the address, and asked, in a remarkably unperturbed voice (Nettie added later), "You're from North Dakota?"
"And just how are you going to go to school in North Dakota and participate in the MTT after school?"
Simon said, "I'm very glad that this conversation is taking place after you saw me play. It doesn't make the explanation quite so fantastic." He took the check he'd been carrying out of the pocket of his paddle bag and handed it to Smithy. It was a Fred's Sports check, made out to the Minneapolis Table Teens for $1,000. Simon said, "I know it's unusual for a fifteen-year-old, but I have a corporate sponsor as a competitive table tennis player. They're very much in hopes that I'll be a successful competitor, and will represent Fred's Sports with both athletic success and a positive image. Fred's Sports will arrange for me to get to your program, three days a week–including one weekend day–using their airplane."
"How in the dickens did a fifteen-year-old convince Fred's Sports to sponsor him?"
"I don't know how much you follow Olympic sports. Grand Forks, North Dakota, and the University of North Dakota, have a spectacular history of Olympic successes. That started years ago with Tim, Charlie, and two others in the Mexico City Olympics. In continues today. And Fred's Sports has been a key factor in that success, providing funding, building practice venues, sponsoring programs and individuals. You don't produce Olympic athletes unless you start them young. So supporting young athletes is routine for Fred's Sports. I'm the most recent addition to their stable."
Smithy thought for a minute about that and said, "What you're telling me is that your sights are set on becoming at Olympic table tennis player, nothing less. You aren't down here to have a good time with players that can challenge you in a way that nobody in Grand Forks can; you're here as part of a calculated drive to the Olympics. Have I got that right?"
"Exactly. Tim will tell you that you need three things to be an Olympian: talent, drive and support. I think I have the talent; we'll see. I know I have the drive. And Fred's Sports is the key part of my support, at least for right now."
"You know Tim?"
"Well, I've seen your talent; it's going to need a lot of development, but that's why you're here. What about drive?"
"There are a lot of Olympic medalists in Grand Forks, and I know them all. Shel Oldfield, holder of four gold medals for figure skating, talks about 'fire in the belly.' It means total devotion to the Olympic goal, or whatever your goal is. Let me assure you, there's fire in my belly."
Smithy listened to this and said, "I don't think we've ever had a first year player on one of our top teams. I think you may be a first. That'll be settled in our local competitions. By the way, do you play doubles?"
"I haven't. Getting one opponent in Grand Forks has been difficult. Getting three was out of the question. But I'd like to try."
"OK, when do you start?"
"I'd like to when school starts in a little over a week. We'll be experimenting with travel arrangements, so all I can say now is I'll get here as early in the afternoon as possible."
"I'm looking forward to having you here. I think you're going to shake things up–in a good way."
Simon said, "Right now only you know about my home town, sponsorship and travel arrangements. Let's keep it that way. I'll let people know as it becomes appropriate."
"Works for me," said Smithy.
They left his office and went back to the large warehouse area where ping-pong tables were spread out all over. Smithy said, "OK, who wants to challenge our new recruit, Simon."
A lot of people volunteered, and Smithy invited a young woman, at least a senior in high school, to take him on. Smithy knew what he was doing; she beat him 21-16. Clearly Simon was going to be a strong player, but not the dominant force in MTT. At least it would take a while for him to reach that plateau.
By six o'clock things were breaking up and Simon and Nettie headed toward home. They decided to break up their trip with dinner on the road, choosing to eat at Culver's which is right at an exit off the Interstate in Alexandria, Minnesota. Culver's, a regional fast food and ice cream restaurant, was a kid favorite. So while it wouldn't have been her favorite, she took Simon to Culver's, realizing that no matter how grown up he could act, he was still a kid. He may have been a kid, but he realized that Culver's wasn't his mom's first choice, and he thanked her more than once for choosing Culver's.
Their conversation centered on the events of the afternoon. Nettie said, "Both Smithy and I were watching very closely as you spoke to Frankie after you beat him. You did beautifully, Simon. And Frankie took his cue, and decided that you two should be friends, not enemies. Smithy breathed a sign of relief when he heard Frankie's reply. He has a lot vested in not have his top players be enemies."
Simon said, "You know, we're never going to have the relationship that the Cavers, and other groups in Grand Forks, have. But I'll do my best to keep peace."
Nettie said, "There are going to be players who are very jealous of you. If you make their top team, you'll have to displace someone. He won't be a happy camper. If you want to have a good experience at MTT, and have the athletic success you want, you're going to have to work very hard at the interpersonal relationships at MTT. That can be a tough job, I hope you're up to it. It shouldn't be the job of the new kid, but you're the one that has a lot to lose here. I suspect that within a month everybody will know how serious you are about the game and just what your ambitions are. I doubt there's anybody else that's thinking of national championships, trips to China, and the Olympics. So you're the one with a lot at stake. It's going to be up to you to constantly work on not making enemies or disrupting the program. Think you can do it?"
Simon said, "Thanks for the warning and advice. I hope that I'll succeed."
Simon was very lucky; except for a science lab on Friday afternoon, his last class of the day was a study hall. His principal was glad to release him early on Tuesday's and Thursdays so he could get an early start on the trip to Minneapolis–a trip that totally surprised the principal. But when he heard Simon's plan he said, "You must be part of that bunch that's led by Tim and Charlie."
Simon allowed as much, and thanked the principal for the Tueday and Thursday excuses. Perry arranged for a young man who worked in the downtown Fred's Sports store to pick up Simon at school and take him to the airport. The young man got mileage for the trip (which helped him keep gas in his old car) and a break from standing on the selling floor. The car could drive on the tarmac right to the plane, and Simon was off. The second pilot called ahead to the airport and requested a taxi that took Simon directly to the MTT. He was there by 3:15.
Frankie saw him get out of the taxi and assumed that he'd come from school. He asked Simon what school he went to, not realizing that this really was the $64 question.
Simon smiled at Frankie and said, "I'm not sure you're going to believe this answer. I go to Red River High School."
"Never heard of it."
"It's in North Dakota."
"I live in Grand Forks, North Dakota. There isn't a top level table tennis program in Grand Forks so I'm going to fly down here three days a week to be a part of your program."
"I don't have wings, so I ride in an airplane."
"I'd really like for you to believe that I was kidding. That I actually just came over here from Edina. Maybe you could just spread that rumor."
"Flying from North Dakota to play ping-pong. That doesn't make sense."
"Someday, when we're competing on a Sunday instead of Saturday, I'll come down on a Friday and you can ride home with me, spend the day Saturday, and fly back with me on Sunday. There are a lot of people there that you'd love to meet. I think then you might understand me more. Until then, could we nurture the Edina rumor?"
Frankie did nurture the rumor, and told everybody, "The kid's from Edina, but he doesn't seem as stuck up as most of the Edina kids I know." (As if Frankie knew many kids from Edina.)
Simon made it his business to be pleasant to everybody, never put down a player he beat, insured that he lost enough games that he wasn't excessively resented, and got better and better.
You have to understand something about ping-pong. There are two very different styles of play: hit 'em hard, fast, and accurately vs. play the angles, or more specifically put spin on every ball you hit so that it doesn't go where your opponent expects. Left to their own devices, players generally gravitate to the hard and fast game. It's fun and takes skill, but it's a skill that can be acquired with practice, practice, practice. On the other hand, spin is a more specialized skill and it really has to be taught. Simon didn't have a teacher in Grand Forks. He did at MTT.
The real fun in ping-pong matches it when a skilled hard-hitter comes up against a spinner. That happened big time during the ping-pong diplomacy of the Nixon years. The Asian game, especially the Chinese, was highly controlled spins. The American game was fast and furious. Spin usually wins, because every hard hit is returned in some unexpected way, and the fast and furious hard-hitting game becomes impossible.
Simon quickly learned the truth of that as he met the skilled spinners of MTT, Rather than get frustrated, it was an incentive to learn a completely different aspect of the game. He dug into the challenge with a vengeance. It's not an easily acquired skill, but he kept at it with the help of the good coaches at MTT as well as the help from the older skilled players. He proved to be a quick learner, and was soon competitive with the best in the program. He was competitive, but he still lost more than he won against the top players.
Frankie was following along the same path, but he didn't have quite the determination that Simon had–he hadn't grown up in the shadow of people like Shel, Auggie, and others. Simon liked Frankie, and tried to encourage him. He decided that the best way to encourage him was to expose him to a bunch of Olympic gold medalists and others seeking that status. That meant following up on his invitation to Frankie to visit him in Grand Forks.
He started by asking his mother if he could invite Frankie for the weekend. Nettie replied that she thought that she should talk to Frankie's mother or father before the invitation was extended; after all, they didn't know Frankie's family at all.
Simon talked to Frankie, found out that he lived with his mother and stepfather–his parents had divorced years before and his father was out of the picture. Frankie told Simon, "I thought I'd better tell you that, because my name is different from my parents'. I'm Frankie Mills; my parents are Phil and Donna Pilton." He gave Simon their phone numbers; they each had cells, as did Frankie, but no land line.
That evening Nettie called Donna Pilton. The two mothers hit it off well from the beginning. Donna told her, "Frankie's been telling us about Simon; we could hardly believe he flies here from Grand Forks to play table tennis. Frankie says he's really serious about the game."
"He is, indeed. And he's really gotten to like Frankie. I take it that they're at about the same skill level."
"Frankie says he's better, but that Simon's gaining on him fast."
"Simon wants to invite Frankie to visit us next weekend. Simon'll fly down Friday instead of Thursday, the boys can fly here together, spend Saturday, and fly back Sunday in time for the afternoon tournament."
"I know Frankie will be thrilled."
The next day Simon and Frankie made all the arrangements, and Friday evening after practice they were off. Simon didn't want to miss his last period science lab on Friday, so he arrived at MTT an hour later than usual.
Frankie's mother usually picked him up after practice so on Friday she picked up the boys and drove them to the airport. At the general aviation gate Simon would normally have had to give the tail number of the plane to be admitted, but he was getting recognized and was just waved through the gate. He directed them up to the Fred's Sports plane, an eight-passenger pre-owned Honda, that flew six passengers and two pilots. It'd been painted with the Fred's Sports name and logo and looked fantastic. The two pilots in white uniform shirts, but no coats, greeted them. Simon invited Mrs. Pilton to climb aboard and look around. The cabin was comfortable, but not real large. Four seats swivelled and were as comfortable as anything in your living room. The fifth and sixth seats backed up to the rear wall, behind which was a lavatory and storage. Up front was a little galley and the pilots' cabin. Frankie and his mother were startled at the luxury! Simon sensed their reaction and said, "You cannot buy a private jet that isn't luxurious; by the time you pay for the plane, the cabin furnishings just come with the package."
Soon Mrs. Pilton was driving away, Frankie and Simon were settled in their seats, and they were off. As soon as the pilot turned off the seatbelt sign, Simon got up and fixed Cokes for the two of them, and brought some cherries to eat from the cabin. He told Frankie, "Shel set the rules, and the plane has fruit but no sweets when I'm aboard,"
"It's a long story. You'll meet Shel tomorrow, or maybe this evening. He sort of arranged this whole airplane thing."
Not many high school students get to fly in executive jets, and Frankie was no exception. He looked around the cabin, out the window, and at Simon, who was completely relaxed, munching cherries, and looking back and forth between Frankie and the clouds which were now below them. He was going to say, "Pinch me," to Simon, but decided that was too trite. He just smiled at Simon and drank his Coke.
It's just over 300 miles between Minneapolis and Grand Forks and the Honda jet flew at about 450 miles per hour. It was a quick trip unless there were take-off or landing delays in Minneapolis. In just under an hour they were on the ground and Nettie was picking them up. She hadn't seen the new Fred's Sports jet before, and got a tour of the cabin. Until just a week ago they'd been flying in a chartered jet, while Perry was working on purchasing the new plane. She was as impressed with the interior as much as Mrs. Pilton had been.
She told the boys that they were having a late dinner at The Lighthouse, and that Marshall, Allie, and Marie were already there. Shel was the host for the evening.
The whole Lighthouse gang was there to greet Frankie. If you're an athlete, or follow sports at all, the folks at The Lighthouse were quite a thrill to meet. Simon introduced them, noting their Olympic medals: Shel Oldfield (figure skating, gold), Brian Bert Oldfield (figure skating, gold), Willie Carson (diving, gold), Hardie Hassett (diving, gold), Connie Lenner Hassett (gymnastics, silver), Nels (gymnastics, gold), Mary Simmons (gymnastics, silver), Nick Downing (gymnastics, bronze), and Evan Dilton (gymnastics, bronze).
Frankie shook everybody's hand, but was really speechless. Then Sally came up, gave him a little hug and said, "I'm the black sheep here, no medal. But I get to sleep with Willie every night, and believe me that's as good as any old Olympic medal." Simon immediately apologized for leaving her out, but she waved him off, saying "Hey, Frankie came here to meet Olympians, and he sure did."
Frankie greeted them all as group, and thanked them for the dinner invitation. Then he went over to Shel and said, "I understand that you're the person I should thank for arranging for Simon to play ping-pong with me in Minneapolis."
Frankie was floored by Shel's reply, "Simon tells me that I need to apply my magic powers to you, so that the two of you can go to the 2024 Olympics together."
Now Frankie really was speechless. Simon came up and said, "You know, all you need is a little more fire in your belly."
Frankie was still speechless.
The dinner, cooked by Shel and Sally, was wonderful, featuring venison steaks from a deer that Jimmy Keelson (the archer) had provided. It took Frankie a while to get over his awe, but eventually settled down and proved to be an excellent conversationalist. More than once when the 2024 Olympics were mentioned he would look at Simon, who just smiled.
That evening it took Frankie a little while to get used to the house without walls. He realized that he was right next to Allie, with only a couple of pieces of furniture between them, but that it was expected that he and Allie would have complete privacy. He decided, quite correctly, that it was important that he respect that. That didn't startle him half as much as the discovery that Marie was going to spend the night with Simon. Simon had decided that he'd better "let it all hang out" on this visit; keeping secrets from Frankie seemed like a bad idea.
Since Simon didn't drive, Shel appointed himself as chauffeur and host for the next day. He had invited Allie to join them, thinking that it might be nice for Frankie to have Allie with him since Simon had Marie. Years later Shel would swear that he had no further intentions! They had a delightful day, visiting the Fred, the Ralph (hockey rink, remember?), Marty's Gym, the NTAC velodrome, and the various UND facilities including the natatorium. Then they went to the Fred's Sports headquarters, met Perry, were shown around briefly (there isn't much to see in a corporate headquarters, except the sailboats on display in the lobby), and then taken to lunch at Jerry's by Perry. Perry made sure that Frankie was seated next to him. Perry quizzed Frankie about school, sports, his table tennis, his possible interest in trying to compete nationally, and much else besides. As the table was being cleared and they were waiting for dessert Perry said to Frankie, "When you think you have the fire in your belly to compete in the Olympics, Fred's Sports would be willing to sponsor you."
Frankie was floored. He'd never thought in terms of national competition or the Olympics. Clearly somebody else had, and that could only be Simon. Did Simon really think he was that good; and did he really think he had the determination, the fire in the belly as Simon termed it, to get that good. It started him thinking. Evidently Perry was willing to accept Simon's evaluation–that was extraordinary in itself. He thanked Perry for the offer, and told him that after spending time with Simon he'd really have to think about it.
That afternoon they visited Tim and Charlie in Tim's President Emeritus office. He was duly impressed with both the famous desk and with Tim and Charlie. Tim told him, "I understand that people are beginning to talk about national competition and the Olympics. Remember, you have to be a little bit looney, off-kilter even, to think in those terms. It's a total and brutal commitment. Think twice before you let them persuade you." It wasn't the advice he'd expected from Tim, but he considered it carefully over the next few weeks.
Dinner that night was at the Chalmers. Just the Chalmers family, Marie and Frankie. Frankie learned a lot about Simon's life and his friends. He was told about as much about the Gang as any outsider was told. He was duly impressed. The discussion continued after dinner, and finally Frankie got up his nerve and asked, "Mr. and Mrs. Chalmers, I can't believe that you're comfortable with Simon and Marie spending the night together in your house."
Nettie answered, "Well, I'll admit we are a little ahead of the rest of the world. But Simon and Marie are very attracted to each other. It was going to lead to sex sometime or other. We just decided that it was better for them to do whatever they were going to do in the safety of our home and not in a much more public and unsafe space. They think they're in love; we'll see. In the meantime they've promised not to make babies and stay safe. We're comfortable with that."
Marie added, "And so are my folks, but it took them a lot longer than Simon's."
Nettie and Simon took Marie home after dinner, noting that Marie's parents did like to see her from time to time. Simon immediately said, "I spend as much time at her house as she does here–this weekend is an exception."
Nettie admitted that was true.
While Nettie and Simon took Marie home, Allie and Frankie had a chance to be alone and talk. Frankie was a senior and Allie was a junior, but that didn't stop her from thinking that Frankie was a very nice boy. Frankie was having the same thoughts. Allie told Frankie, "I hope you can come back from time to time. Maybe I could hook a ride in Simon's airplane and visit in Minneapolis."
Frankie was enthusiastic about that idea. Allie pulled him into her bedroom area, held him tight and kissed him. She said, "I wish you could spend the night in here but it's too soon. Someday."
Simon returned, and Frankie immediately asked him, "What's all this business of my trying to go to the Olympics?"
Simon answered very simply, "You could be an Olympian if you wanted to. But if that goal doesn't totally dominate your life from now until 2024, you won't be an Olympian. Only you can do it. The people here trust my opinion that you have it in you. They've tried to show you the path. So have I. Now only you can decide. Just one word of advice: you can't stroll down that path, you have to run pell-mell down the path, no holding back."
"That describes you, doesn't it, Simon?"
"Yes, and I'd love a companion, but only a no holding back companion."
"You're in tenth grade, and I'm a senior. I'll be going to college next year. How do we go down this path together."
"Shit, that's simple. You go to college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. We have a plane available to get us to table tennis wherever we need to be."
"I'm planning to go to the University of Wisconsin, if I'm admitted. I also have applications in at Michigan, and of course the back up, the University of Minnesota, but I really don't want to go to college in my home town. I'd have to think about UND."
"It's off the beaten path, but UND is a very fine school."
"You've given me a lot to think about, Simon."
"I know Allie's hoping that you'll choose that path."
"What do you know about me and Allie?"
"She told me that she was, what was her word, thrilled when you kissed good night last night."
"I know why nobody worries about doors in your house. Everybody knows what everybody else's doing, regardless of doors!"
Frankie and Simon spent Christmas vacation together, half in Minneapolis and half in Grand Forks. During their time in Grand Forks they traveled as a foursome, Simon and Marie, and Frankie and Allie. About half way through the week in Grand Forks, Simon said to Frankie, "You know, Allie would be open to you joining her in bed at night."
"She told you that?"
"Not in so many words, but I know my sister."
"So, I just slip around the wardrobe that's between us and climb in bed?"
"No, that wouldn't get you anywhere. The rule here is to talk first. So this afternoon talk to her about sex, and ask her if she'd like you to come around the wardrobe."
Like most teenagers, for Frankie the idea of talking first to a girl about sex was a little difficult, but he suggested that they take a little walk in the afternoon, and he got of his nerve, "Simon thinks that you might like a visit from me tonight."
"And he told you to talk first, I'll bet."
"That's right. Is he right, would you like a visit tonight?"
"Yes, but it isn't that simple. In my family we don't have secrets. Are you up to having this conversation with my parents?"
"My God, it was hard enough talking to you. Your parents?"
"You'll find they're very easy to talk to."
"With Simon and Marie there?"
"They've been through it. It was a year ago; Simon was fourteen. You're a big seventeen, you can handle it."
At dinner it was clear that Allie was taking no chances that Frankie would chicken out. She started the conversation with, "Daddy, Frankie wants to ask you something."
She had, in fact, alerted her parents to what was coming, so Marshall was ready. "What's your question, Simon? Are you about to ask for the hand of my daughter in marriage?"
Frankie was speechless for a while, but realized that Allie and her father were opening a door for him. He got out, "I don't think that Allie and I are ready to talk marriage. But I did ask her this afternoon if she'd like me to join her in bed this evening."
Nettie said, "OK, Frankie, that wasn't that hard, was it?"
"It was harder that you can believe."
Marshall said, "I do believe, Frankie. And understand, Allie's insisting that you talk to us was her idea, not ours. She figured that if you couldn't handle this situation, then you couldn't handle her. OK, here's the answer. Allie, Simon, and all their friends have a rule. They will not have intercourse until after high school. My question to you, Frankie, is, 'Can you respect that rule? Absolutely.'"
"Yes, sir, I can."
"I just have one suggestion for the evening: the guest room bed's a queen, and Allie has a single bed."
Nettie quickly changed the subject to let Frankie out of a very difficult situation for him. That night, after the house was quiet, he walked around the wardrobe to invite Allie to the queen bed. She was laying on her bed, quite naked and quite inviting. She looked up at Frankie and said, "Go back to your room, lose those pajamas, turn down the sheets, put the lights on low, lay down on the bed, and you won't have to wait long."
She gave him about three minutes and then she followed him around the wardrobe. He was spread eagled on the big bed and hard as a rock in anticipation. Allie lay down beside him, rubbed his penis a little and tickled his balls. But she said, "We'll go slow. Let's talk. Tell me about you sexual history."
"There isn't much to tell. I dated a girl last year. We made out in my car a few times, hands all over."
"Did you come?"
"Yeah, once. Sue was really put off with my cum on her hand–I don't know what else she expected if she kept rubbing my dick. That was our last date."
"Anything with any other girl?"
Frankie was very silent.
Allie said, "Don't be embarrassed, I've had sex with both boys and girls. Gay sex isn't a sin."
"One of the players at MTT was gay, but in the closet. He was a senior last year; he's in college now. He came on to me two years ago. That may be the wrong term. He was very kind and gentle in his approach. He invited me to his house after school on a day we didn't have practice. He told me he was gay and hoped we might play around a little. I was intrigued and said OK. We played around. Off and on all year. Do you want details?"
"That's up to you. Details can be erotic. You're getting me hot."
"That first afternoon, when I said OK, he quickly stripped his clothes off, came over to me and unzipped my fly, reached in and squeezed my dick. He asked me if I was comfortable and could he keep going. I told him he could, and I lost my clothes so fast I hardly knew what was happening. Then he said, 'I'd like to suck your dick. Someday I'd like to fuck you, but it's too soon.' He did suck my dick–it felt great–but soon stopped and said, 'You can do anything to me that you'd like. Hands, tongue, mouth, I'm yours.' I didn't really know what to do, but he'd sucked me so I sucked him."
Allie asked, "Did he come in your mouth?"
"Yes. I knew he would–that's what boys do."
"The question is, 'What did you do then?'"
"You mean did I spit it out or swallow it?"
"He saved me having to decide. As soon as he came he said, 'Kiss me and I'll take my cum.' I did, and we really kissed. I think before it was over I'd swallowed as much of his cum as he had."
"And then he sucked you?"
"Yes, and it ended in the same kind of kiss."
"How often did the two of you get together?"
"Maybe a dozen time last year."
"Did you fuck each other?"
"Yes. He clearly wanted to, and I let him. I preferred oral. I only fucked him once."
"Frankie, you're a really brave boy to tell me all this. I'll just tell you that the group of kids I grew up with started sex play very young. Boys and girls all together. There's very little I haven't done, except fuck. In two years, if were still together, maybe we can lose our virginity together. But let me just say this: It's considered axiomatic in our crowd that there's a little gay and a little straight in everybody. I'm not in the least bothered by your gay experience."
"When you asked the question I thought that the sooner I let it all hang out the better it'd be for our relationship. Now what would you like to do tonight?"
Allie answered by taking his dick in her mouth and sucking fiercely. But she stopped before he could come and said, "OK, I'll say to you what your gay friend did, 'You can do anything to me that you like; I'm yours'."
Frankie was overwhelmed; his previous experience with one girl had stopped far short of this. He'd never been with a naked girl before. He started by sort of climbing on her and kissing her deeply. She responded in kind. That went on for a while and then he moved down and sucked her tits. She clearly liked that and put her hands on his head to press him tightly into her. Then she said, "Your previous time with a girl you didn't even get her clothes off. You want to start with my genitals and use your eyes and fingers to see what's there. Then, if you want, you can use your tongue to give me a climax. Then, buddy, you'll get yours."
He did all of that. It ended with them pulling up the covers and falling asleep.
The next morning Simon and Marie came into their room and Simon said, "You forgot to turn on the white noise last night. You two had quite a night. Welcome to the family, Frankie."
Later Frankie said to Allie, "I didn't even think about the white noise, though you did explain it to me when I first toured the house."
Allie said, "I thought about it."
Frankie thought a little about that and said, "Oh! No secrets in your family, are there?"
The day after New Year's Frankie said to Simon, "Let's visit Perry at Fred's Sports."
When they got there and got to Perry's office, Frankie very quietly asked Perry if Fred's Sports was stilling willing to sponsor him as a competitive table tennis player? Perry said, "Yes," and Frankie's life would never be the same.
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