83. Dennis Bleckner, Beach Bum

At the Beach

Dennis might seem a bit of a chucklehead, at least at first. He started working beach concessions at 13 years old for his cousin, Sammy. They rented little sailboats to people visiting the beach for the day. Only a few knew how to sail. So, Dennis started to give sailing lessons. He learned by doing and by 15 he was pretty good. At least, he knew more than the people he was teaching. He was not such a good learner in school. He hated school. He loved to talk to people, but he couldn’t talk in class. He loved being outside. But he couldn’t be outside during school, except during gym class which he hated most of all. He did not care for kickball, baseball, or touch football. And in junior high and high school, there was something about taking a shower with other boys that creeped him out. So, as soon as he was old enough to drive, he figured he’d start a business that got him outside, let him be with other people and, most of all, was away from school. The sailboat business – and the sailing lesson tips especially – gave him a small pile of money. He knew how to save. Even though, teaching girls in skimpy bathing suits how to sail would be a dream job for a lot of guys his age, he didn’t date. “Too busy getting rich,” is how he explained it. While he loved working the sailboat concession and doing the sailing lessons. He didn’t own the business. And it was only for a couple of months a year. He needed something of his own. And pretty much year-round. So, right after he got his driver’s license at 16, he quit school and put all his savings into a food truck. His parents went nuts. They knew he wasn’t going to make their dreams come true by going to college and getting a “real” job. Fortunately for Dennis, his sister, Claire, would give them that pleasure. But this food truck thing – everyone agreed, that was crazy! And, just as his parents and everyone else predicted, Dennis’s first two months with the food truck were a disaster. He got a few summonses for speeding and for selling food without a license. He almost burned the truck down at least once. And had no idea how to handle food. But he learned. He took cooking classes at night and became a first-rate short-order cook. And more important, a pretty good businessman. But, by the time he was 18, Dennis began to see that the food truck business had its limits. Repairs were expensive. The hours were long and backbreaking. Fine when you are a kid. Not so good a few years later. And you could only make so much money. It was that kind of thinking that got him into franchising and into becoming a millionaire by the time he was 28. It also got his parents thinking maybe Dennis is not such a loser after all. The thing is they really didn’t get it until Dennis was written up in the local newspaper as the entrepreneur of the year. They were as surprised as anyone. Dennis didn’t go into fancy clothes. He dressed pretty much like the beachbum he was in high school. He lived in a small apartment in a commercial part of town. And he drove an old pickup. So, now seeing Dennis as a successful adult, they wanted to know why Dennis wasn’t married. His sister, Claire, who had a very nice accounting job, already had two kids. Dennis didn’t really have a good answer. Not for them. Not for himself either. “I just never seemed to get around to dating much,” is all he could say. That is, until one evening about a year ago, down at the beach. He had been visiting his old haunts, seeing how the guys at the sailboat concession were doing and just wandering around. He ended up sitting by himself on a bench, looking at the surf, when a guy sat down next to him and started to talk. It was dark. Dennis really didn’t know what happened next or how it happened, but he ended up back at this guy’s apartment and he was never the same again. Dennis still hasn’t told his parents that he is gay. He doesn’t really quite get it himself. But he’s learning. He’s been back to that bench on the beach more than once over the past few months.

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