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?
Quilty, New York, that is. A rich suburb of Manhattan.
A very rich suburb of Manhattan.
The train ride from Quilty to Grand Central Terminal in New York takes exactly thirty-two minutes, making this community perfect for the well-heeled city commuter. The average house price is four hundred and eighty-six thousand dollars -- if you can find a house for sale -- making this community perfect for the well-heeled suburban gentry. There are no apartment buildings. There are no co-ops, and no condos. If you wish to live in Quilty, you have to make a serious commitment to, at the very least, a central-hall colonial with three baths and a deck overlooking your neighbor's central-hall colonial with three baths and a deck overlooking you.
The town itself is quaint, little changed from how it looked when it was founded almost a hundred years ago. A series of small brick buildings with matching facades comprise a pharmacy (we have your son's Ritalin right here, Ma'am), a hardware store (the cheapest barbecue for sale is priced at $369 dollars, but most Quilty buyers would scoff at a false bargain such as an outdoor cooker unable to feed the entire Armenian army at one sitting), a book store (specializing in oversized art volumes and special orders and an uncanny ability to know that you'll really like this one, Mrs. Katten, let me order it for you, you'll have it in three days, your reading group will go crazy over it), a gourmet shop ripe with the aromas of French cheeses and Greek olives and Italian meats, with fresh breads trucked in every morning from a suspiciously cultish monastery somewhere outside Albany, a wine shop where, to give you an idea of the clientele we're talking about, the imminent arrival of the autumn's annual nouveau beaujolais is derided with a haughtiness bordering on class warfare (although we will have a few cases on hand because, well, you know that you just can't fight tradition, but the rain that makes the beaujolais even barely drinkable did wonders for the claret this year and I understand that the sugar is at just the right level and we do have futures available, Mr. Lohengrin, if you're interested), and one of the few single-screen cinemas remaining in the northeast (showing not new films but classics, usually in a language other than English, and often in black-and-white; popcorn is not for sale, but one can purchase a decaf capuccino and a small biscotti, that will be ten dollars, thank you very much).
Surrounding the downtown is a small ring of necessary venues such as gas stations and supermarkets, relieved by a healthy smattering of restaurants and one unremitting saloon of no pretensions where no one knows who goes in there or how it has survived all these years. Next come the houses, fanning out from the center of town on lots of ever-increasing size until one reaches the virtual mansions of the outskirts of Quilty, where the town is separated from its neighboring villages by a combination of woods and river and main highway that almost completely hem the town in.
No one goes into Quilty by accident.
No one who doesn't live there remains who isn't invited.
A very, very rich suburb of Manhattan.
On one corner of the outskirts of town, near that main highway, is Quilty Preparatory School. Quilty Prep. It is a public high school allied with no university, but its founders considered the name Quilty High to be too... banal. Quilty Prep, on the other hand, wreaked of wealth and ivy and untold strings of polo ponies, if not exactly of common sense. So Quilty Prep it was, and Quilty Prep it is.
As befitting a town like Quilty, where the average income is somewhere in the mid-obscenes, the school system is one of the best in the country. The teachers are among the highest paid, and the students are among the smartest, benefitting from a combination of the push of over-achieving parents and access to the cream of the crop of instructors, and just possibly a genetic predisposition to grow into the type of person who can afford to live in Quilty. If any proof is needed that Quilty is different from, say, Nighten Township, suffice it to say that the average SAT composite score in Nighten hovers around 1200, while in Quilty it positively does loop-the-loops at over 1400, and that includes the slackers, such as they are. Percentage-wise, Quilty sends more students to Ivy League universities than any other non-magnet school in the country.
Smart and rich.
And a couple of them are even good-looking.
Quilty Prep is the school that has everything. To wit: a two-thousand capacity auditorium with state-of-the-art lighting and sound and plush reclining seats with plenty of extra legroom; two olympic-sized swimming pools; one-to-one student-to-Pentium-II computer ratio; mall-style food court cafeteria including deli, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Greek and Italian kitchens; every Advanced Placement course recognized in the United States; a school gift shop selling signature Quilty merchandise from scarves to rings to hats to binders to sterling silver salvers; Starbucks coffee in all three of the teachers' lounges; junior year exchange program with L'ecole de Mes Etoiles in the 12th arrondissement of Paris. Quilty Prep: the school that has everything.
Everything, that is, except a debate coach.
"I put the sign-up sheet in the office so that you'll go to the office and sign up," Bob Cratch explains to the novice who is standing over him in the cafeteria interrupting him as he prepares to launch into the quiche of the day.
"Can't I just tell you I want to go?" the novice asks.
"You can tell me, but I have no intentions of remembering it. I don't even intend to listen. Sign up on the sign-up sheet." He shakes his head and turns to his lunch companion, who is busily working his way through a plate of dim sum.
"Like I really want to go to Algren," the novice continues, "even if it is just varsity and junior varsity. I can debate junior varsity."
Bob Cratch looks at the ceiling and sighs loudly. "Are you deaf? Or are you just astoundingly thick-headed? Put your name on the sign-up sheet. If there's enough slots, you'll get to go."
"The thing is," the novice persists, "no other novice deserves this as much as I do. I've won novice and j.v. divisions already and it's only--"
"Melvish," Bob Cratch's lunch companion says to the novice, calling him by name, "would you please find some other place to be?'
"You've got to agree I deserve to go, Abelard. I definitely deserve it more than any of the other novices."
Abelard pierces a white bun with a chopstick. "You deserve to go away and leave us alone, or you'll never go to another debate tournament again."
Melvish turns back to Bob Cratch. "I'll sign up," he says. "Just remember, I really deserve to go."
"Then go," Bob Cratch says.
Melvish goes, heading toward the serving area.
"He drives me crazy," Bob Cratch says to Tom Abelard. "He never shuts up and he's always in your face."
"Don't let him come to Algren. He'll drive us all crazy."
"If he signs up, he'll probably come. I do have to be fair."
"That's the trouble with you, Bob Cratch. You're way too fair. I would drop his ass like a hot buttered parsnip."
"That's why I'm the team secretary and you're not."
"You can have the job. You couldn't pay me to take it. How's the quiche?"
"Excellent. Morels and watercress, just a hint of sage to bring out the high notes. How's the dim sum?"
"Excellent. As always."
Having no coach brings up a number of issues for any team, one of the most important being the requisite paperwork to insure that a team finds out about, registers for, and shows up at tournaments. The secretary of the Quilty team is the person responsible for all of that, and the secretary is always chosen by annual election. Bob Cratch is a perfect choice for the position: he is serious without being joyless, and he is capable of maintaining accurate records, a talent that eludes many adults and is almost non-existent in adolescents. Or at least in serious but not joyless adolescents. Even Bob Cratch's appearance is serious but not joyless: tall and beefy with his blond hair in a Marine buzz cut, bright red flannel shirt over faded carpenter pants, giving off the sense of an apprentice lumberjack. This is his second year as secretary, and in that time he has never missed a registration deadline and never failed to obtain the maximum number of slots for his team, which is extremely important because, coach or no coach, Quilty Prep has one of the largest forensics teams in the state, spread over LD and Speech but excluding Policy. According to Tom Abelard, the only reason they don't do Policy too is that they don't sell plastic evidence tubs anywhere in Quilty, because most parents in Quilty would rather die than purchase that much plastic in one fell swoop.
"If the evidence tubs were mahogany," Abelard once said, "you wouldn't be able to keep the Quilty parents away from them. We would out-veil Veil of Ignorance, with Toulouse-Lautrec and Manhattan Lodestone both thrown in for good measure."
Tom Abelard, Bob Cratch's best friend, is the lead debater on Quilty's LD team. Like Bob Cratch, Abelard is a senior, and both have already sent in their early applications to Yale, where they hope to room together. Abelard is the team's topic theorist, the one who divines the real meanings behind the resolutions, bringing his wisdom down from the Sinai of his own lofty analysis to share with Golden Calf worshippers that are his fellow LDers. They may sneer at his interpretations and choose to follow their own paths, but in the end it is always Bob Cratch who makes it furthest in the elimination rounds, with enough Combat of Conquerors limbs to qualify a small army. But it is not Abelard's debating skills that set him apart not only from his teammates but from the majority of debaters with whom he comes in contact. It is another quality altogether that make this short, curly-haired teddy-bearish Quilty student remarkable. Tom Abelard has what can only be described as animal magnetism. He is not the smartest person in the world, nor the nicest, nor the best looking, but the opposite sex is attracted to him like weevils to the cotton bolls.
"You want to get some dessert?" he asks Bob Cratch, pushing his chair back and standing up, tray in hand. "The tiramisu looked good."
Bob Cratch shakes his head. "I think I'll just have a capuccino. Half caf."
"You got it."
Abelard walks over to the tray deposit person, who bows his head and tugs at his forelock as Tom approaches, then takes the boy's tray, wipes it, and places it on the conveyor belt. Did we mention that, even though Quilty Prep doesn't have a debate coach, it does have serfs and indentured servants? Abelard moseys over toward the dessert bar, turning a few female heads along the way.
"I'm going to go sign up now," Melvish says, walking past Bob Cratch's table, his own tray in hand.
Bob Cratch crosses his eyes. Can he graduate soon enough to get away from Melvish?
Does the introduction of Quilty at this late date mean Nostrum will start bashing a whole new group of students?
Will Melvish get to debate at Algren?
Will Abelard remember that Bob Cratch wants a half-caf capuccino?
Is there any reason other than name-dropping for the use of Quilty?
Speaking of which, in the immortal words of Dorothy Parker, are we waiting for the other name to drop?
There's no chance of finding out in our next episode: "Tiramisu: code name for Tyranny Sue, the dominatrix of the dessert cart?"
Go to the next episode due April 7, 1999.