Past episodes Reader's Guide to the Nostrum Universe Nostrum Correspondence Corner
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Have you read this week's epistle from Jules?
"We need to cheer you up," Amnea Nutmilk says as she hands Tarnish Jutmoll a glass of white wine. "This is a full-bird Montrachet. Guaranteed to do the job."
He takes a sip. "Excellent!"
"But of course."
"I assume you drink this with all your publishing cronies at your fancy lunches."
"Are you kidding? Most of them just drink eight-dollar bottles of gas-water. Nowadays everyone in publishing is so sober it makes you just ache for the era of the three-martini lunch."
"You're not old enough to be part of that era."
"How nice of you to notice. I just missed it, more's the pity. There were giants on the publishing earth then, drunken giants though they may have been."
They are sitting in the living room of Amnea's house. Chesney is fussing at the fireplace, trying to get a blaze going by stuffing endless wads of newspaper underneath the logs. It is the Friday night of one of the few weekends of the year when there is no forensics event.
It's hard to believe there is such a weekend.
"We never had three-martini lunches in the teaching business. I don't think kids wouldn't think much of their teachers if they stumbled in from the cafeteria in a drunken stupor."
"I've had a few teachers who've done that," Chesney says. He is sending more smoke into the room than up the chimney.
"Not at Bisonette?" Amnea asks in alarm.
"At Lodestone," Chesney says. "You remember Mr. Pecksniff."
"The English teacher?"
"The teacher from England. He kept a cup of tea on his desk at all times, definitely filled with whiskey. You could smell it a mile away."
"I can believe it," Amnea says. "On parents' night he spent the entire period staring at the ceiling and rambling on about nobody reading poetry anymore and kids today thinking that Keats and Yeats are a brand name for a muffin mix. Very wierd person."
"A very drunk person," Chesney corrects her. The fire is now burning well, with bright flames licking upward and the smoke streaming into the chimney where it is supposed to stream. He stands back and surveys his handiwork.
"This Englishman of yours is not still teaching, is he?" Tarnish asks.
Chesney shrugs. "As far as I know, he is."
"Modern education," Amnea says. The microwave buzzes in the kitchen. "Do you want to bring in the hors d'ouevres, Chesney?"
"No. But I will." He goes out to the kitchen.
"He's a good kid," Tarnish says after he is gone.
"He is," Amnea agrees.
"How does he like Bisonette?"
"He doesn't really miss his old friends, because he has debate, and he pretty much sees them as much as he always did. And it's easier than Lodestone, so he'll rank higher. That will help for getting into colleges."
"Where is he applying?"
"All the usual places. The Ivies."
Chesney reenters the room, carrying a tray of bite-sized quiches.
"And what school is your first choice?" Tarnish asks as he takes one of the quiches.
"Princeton. My father went there."
Tarnish raises an eyebrow. Amnea and Tarnish do not talk much about Chesney's father. Now does not seem a good time to begin.
"So why do we need to cheer you up?" Chesney asks, sitting down in the wicker chair next to the now roaring fire and referring to the words his mother used as she handed Tarnish his wine.
"Two more weeks and my team is through," Tarnish explains. "The end of forensics at Nighten Day."
Chesney whistles softly. "That's hard to believe," he says. "You've had speech and debate since the dark ages."
"And even earlier. The team was already in full swing when I got hired on, and that was longer ago than I care to remember."
"Right at the twilight of the three-martini lunch era," Amnea says.
"I can't imagine debate without a Nighten Day team," Chesney says wistfully.
"If you can't imagine it, think about how I feel." Tarnish takes another sip from his wine glass. "Two more weeks."
"There's nothing you can do?" Chesney asks.
"Short of coming up with twenty thousand dollars or so a year, not a thing."
"So you won't have the Snowball Tournament this year."
"The Snowball is a thing of the past."
"Maybe we should go back to the Monadnock, then," Chesney says.
"What's the Monadnock?" Amnea asks as she reaches over for another quiche.
"Bisonette used to have a tournament right around the same time as the Snowball," Tarnish explains.
"Back when they had a debate team," Chesney adds.
"I didn't know Bisonette ever had a team!" Amnea exclaims.
"It was a million years ago, Ma. All the kids used to drink martinis."
"Why didn't anyone tell me about this? Like the principal, for instance."
"I don't think Val Lewton was around then," Tarnish says. "This was way before his time."
"But not before yours."
"Nothing was before my time."
"Well, if you're not going to have the Snowball, maybe Bisonette should get its act together and revive the-- What did you call it?"
"All right, the Monadnock."
"You don't want to do that, Amnea."
"Why not? We could take over the weekend of the Snowball. Everyone that would have gone there will come here."
"You have no idea what it takes to run a tournament."
"It can't be all that hard."
"Oh yes it can." Tarnish turns away from her and sinks back into his chair, staring into the distance ahead of him. "Everything that can't possibly go wrong, will go wrong immediately. As for everything that can go wrong -- don't even think about it."
"Like everything. I've been to tournaments where they forgot the food, and five hundred hungry forensicians were isolated on a high school campus five miles from the nearest restaurant in a blizzard. I've been to tournaments where the computer broke down and the entire event had to be recreated by hand; we waited nine hours for the next round to be posted, and all the time they kept telling us, Ten more minutes, Ten more minutes. I've been to tournaments where parent judges have been taken out on stretchers. I've been to tournaments where the weight of the Policy tubs broke through the ceiling and the entire building had to be condemned. I've been to tournaments where all the doors were locked, and no one had a key for six hours. I've been to tournaments where the water main broke, and no one could flush the toilets for three days." He turns back to her. "Running a tournament is like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, only more violent."
"Tarnish, you've been running a tournament for years."
"And it hasn't been easy. I've had my share of problems."
"Like Myra Moon?" Chesney whispers softly.
Tarnish spins around. "The Myra Incident did not take place at the Snowball," he says to the boy, his voice menacing.
"What is the Myra Incident?" Amnea asks.
"Nothing," Tarnish says, visibly trying to get his temper under control.
"All right," Amnea says. "Don't tell me. But still, I think we should revive the Monadnock. We need a local January tournament if there isn't going to be any Snowball."
"If you really want to do it, I'll help you. The first thing you'll need is approval from the school."
"Then let's do it. We'll work everything out together."
"You'll live to regret it, Amnea."
"If I can run Metro New York every week of the year, I can run a simple tournament on one weekend."
"If you say so, my dear. So," he asks, "what are we having for dinner?"
"So what the hell is wrong with you?"
"Don't-a swear at the dinner table," Grandma Buglaroni says, plopping down a big bowl of meatballs in tomato sauce.
"The audition didn't go too well," Ham Junior says.
"So you're not the next Dustin Hoffman, then?" his father asks.
"There have been a lot of Dustin Hoffmans since the first Dustin Hoffman, Dad."
"Don't argue with me. Always pick, pick, pick. Mr. Perfect all the time. Who the hell do you think you are?"
Grandma plops down another bowl, this one of spaghetti. "Shut up. Eat." She pushes the bowl toward her stepson.
"You got any wine, Ma?"
"I got-a wine." She goes back into the kitchen.
"So you didn't get the part?" Ham Senior asks.
"I didn't get nothin'. I guess I'm not much of an actor."
"I could have told them that."
"If Hammy wants-a to be an actor, he can-a be an actor," Grandma says, returning to the room with a half gallon bottle of red wine. She pours out a glass for Ham Senior.
"I'll have some milk, Grandma," Ham Junior says.
"You couldna asked when she was already out there."
"Leave-a the boy alone," Grandma says. "Can't-a you see he's upset. He wanted to be an actor."
"And I wanted to be Bill Gates. You're breaking my heart."
"You don't-a do nothin' for the boy, not ever."
"He's my son, Ma. I don't have to do anything for him."
She shakes her head. "If it-a wasn't for me," she grumbles, walking back into the kitchen for the milk
The telephone rings.
He listens to the voice on the other end.
"All right," he says.
He listens some more.
And one last "All right. I'll take care of it."
He hangs up the phone.
"Who was that?" his wife asks.
"Business," he replies.
"Must you keep that phone with you at the dinner table?"
"It's my job."
She shakes her head. "Always with the job."
"The day you decide you don't like this house anymore, I'll call it quits. Okay?"
"All right, all right."
They go back to eating.
Will Amnea Nutmilk pull off the Monadnock?
Will the three-martini lunch be introduced in high schools around the country?
Does Grandma Buglaroni add a philistine's pinch of sugar to her tomato sauce?
What is the business of Tom Starbuck, and will it ever relate to the world of forensics?
Does Liz Rogers have the softest voice in Cambridge?
Close your eyes and count till you plotz in our next episode: "Fashions of the Times, or, The Physicians Guide to Anorexia"
Go to the next episode due Mar 3, 1999.