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?
This is not a step that Amnea Nutmilk takes lightly.
Tarnish Jutmoll has done his best to explain the complications of running a debate tournament, but there was a half-heartedness to his attempt at dissuasion. Amnea sensed that, deep down, Tarnish would miss his own Snow Ball tournament so much that he would be more than happy to accept the responsibility of helping her revive Bisonette's Monadnock Event. But she was not deaf to his arguments. A tournament requires tabulation, rooms, food, school and parental support, an endless supply of slave/student labor, and the tacit agreement of the debate community to show up. Lack of any one of these elements will lead to disaster. And even if everything goes well, there is still the incredible commitment of time and energy that goes into the planning of the thing: it may take two days to play itself out, but it takes months of organization to make it happen in the first place. And no amount of planning can prevent the disasters that are unforeseeable.
"And you've only got about two months, if you start right now," Tarnish had said.
"I know how to organize," she had responded, "and you know how to run a tournament. Together, we'll manage."
"More like, together we'll cope."
"Manage, cope, it's all the same." She paused. "Except management pays more."
So now it is Monday morning, and she has come to plead her case to Principal Val Lewton, whose original commitment to her reviving the debate team was less than overwhelming. Oh well, she thinks as she walks up the front steps of the building, Paris is worth a mass.
She stops. Is it Paris, or France? It's been a long time between history lessons.
A kid in a hooded sweatshirt cuts in front of her, flicking away a lighted cigarette butt as he opens the front door.
France. Definitely France. France is worth a mass.
She trails indoors in the path of the hooded smoker.
"Is Mr. Lewton in?" she asks at the front desk.
"And you are?" The secretary is thumbing through a thick pile of mail.
"Chesney Nutmilk's mother. I'm the debate coach."
"I didn't know we had a debate team."
"Oh, yes. My son, plus a couple of others. Gloria Fudless, Warner Padrewski, Jon Marcellus."
The secretary regards her with wide eyes. "Interesting group. Yeah, he's in there. Just knock first."
She knocks, he says come in, and she does.
"Good morning," the principal says, looking up at her with curiosity. He is wearing the same reading glasses from his first meeting with Amnea, and there is that same leer in his eyes that she originally found somewhat less than one hundred percent standup.
"Good morning, Mr. Lewton. I don't know if you remember me. I'm Amnea Nutmilk."
"Ah, yes. Chesney's mother. The potential debate coach."
"The actual debate coach."
"You haven't submitted any bills yet." There is suspicion in his voice.
"We haven't generated any. Soon, no doubt."
"Remember, your budget is limited."
"But not non-existent. Which is why I'm here, actually."
"I can't raise your budget."
"I'm not asking you to. How long have you been with the school, Mr. Lewton?"
"Twenty years, give or take the odd sabbatical."
"Then you'll remember the Monadnock Event that used to take place here."
"I remember it very well. It was quite a large tournament, back in the old days when we were big in forensics."
"Well, I would like to revive it."
His head rises so that for the first time he is looking at her through rather than over his glasses. His eyes look like a pair of overcooked sea scallops. "Are you sure?" he asks.
"Quite sure. The team at Nighten Day is disbanding, and they won't be having their tournament this year, so I can take over their weekend, and run the tournament with the assistance of their coach, Mr. Jutmoll."
"I didn't know Nighten Day was disbanding."
"Ah. There you are."
"Actually, there I aren't. You can't disband our team. We only have four people, and we've only debated once, and it only cost twenty dollars, and we haven't been billed for it yet. I don't think we've quite busted the Bisonette budget at this point, Mr. Lewton."
"It costs money to run a tournament."
"I am well aware of that. But a tournament makes back that money, and then some. We can make a few thousand dollars if everything goes correctly."
"I'm not all that excited about this," he says. His appearance does not belie his lack of excitement. "When do you want to do it?"
She tells him the dates in January that originally belonged to the Snow Ball.
"That's a snowy week."
"The Autumn's already over, and no one debates in the Spring. So in January you do run the risk of snow."
He takes a quick look at his desk calendar. "The school building is available. How many rooms would you need?"
"I'm not really sure, to tell you the truth."
"You're going to have to find out, and fairly soon."
"I know that."
The principal folds his arms. "Are you sure you understand the magnitude of this undertaking, Mrs. Nutmilk? I know that you are a successful businesswoman, but this is not a business. This is a school. You'll have to organize the custodians, the parents, the teachers, the students, the other schools--"
"Mr. Lewton." Her voice is low but sharp, and it cuts him off. It is the voice she uses in the office when she has heard enough. "I assure you that I can handle this. As long as I have your agreement and support."
He wets his lips. "If it works, it will make money for the school. If it doesn't work, it won't lose any money. On that basis, I can support it." He extends his hand across the desk, and smiles.
"What do you mean, money for the school?" she asks, not taking his hand.
"The money that comes in," he says. "It will go into the general activities account."
"Not a unique debate account?"
"We don't have a unique debate account."
"Just a question. How much do you think a tournament like this can make?"
He shrugs. "We used to make two or three thousand on the Monadnock in the old days."
"Do any of the other teams or activities have fund-raisers? I mean, the activities that are in that general activities account."
"Some of them, yes."
"What kind of activities?"
"Car washes, bake sales, that sort of thing."
"How much do they make?"
"How much do they make?"
"Yes. How much do they make?"
He breaks eye contact. "A good car wash can make almost three hundred dollars."
"I'm going to make three thousand dollars, Mr. Lewton. We are not talking car wash here. I think we should be on a separate budget line. Separate from other activities."
"You intend to be entirely self-supporting?"
"No, but neither do I intend to support the tiddly-winks team with my efforts on behalf of the debate team. And something tells me I don't think you were going to suggest that."
The leer is back full force. "You are a convincing debater yourself, Mrs. Nutmilk. I will separate the debate team from the other activities." He reaches his hand over the desk again. "Deal?"
She takes it. "Deal."
"The secretary will give you some forms in order to requisition the school building. If you have to order things, especially trophies, things that have to be done in advance, we'll work out purchase orders with the merchants. We pretty much deal with all the local merchants around here for this sort of thing, so they're used to us. They know we're good for the money."
"Thank you very much, Mr. Lewton." She stands.
"Thank you, Mrs. Nutmilk," he says, also standing.
She is fully aware that if she offers him the slightest encouragement, he will hit on her. The old goat! She doesn't know if she should feel flattered or insulted.
"Good-bye, Mr. Lewton."
"Good-bye, Mrs. Nutmilk."
You don't go to school for the food, in the same way that you don't go to Miami for the ice skating.
Some schools are built in the middle of towns or cities, and students come and go as they please, popping out for bagels or cigarettes or Starbucks or wherever their vices lead them. Other schools are built as outposts on the frontier, educational forts defending against the barbarianism of ignorance at the furthest reaches of their supporting suburb. The school buildings are five miles from the next piece of civilization, usually a Dunkin Donuts or a hardware store, and students are forced to remain within those academic confines for the entire day, come flood or famine or general feeblemindedness. And if it's famine, the source is the school cafeteria.
We'll let feeblemindedness speak for itself.
The Old Yeller building of Nighten Day School is centrally located in Nighten Township, but its proximity to delis and pizzerias and a Taco Bell is not put to any culinary advantage. Once you arrive at Nighten Day in the morning you stay at Nighten Day until the last bell of the afternoon (unless you are lucky enough to come down with a fever detectable by the school nurse, whose skills only marginally include the ability to take a temperature). Which means that every day the entire student body must face the benefice of the Nighten cafeteria groaning board.
Today's special is a well-balanced grouping of pizza, french fries and Italian bread, all three of which are apparently considered vegetables in the eyes of the Nighten Day school board.
Is it any wonder that most students brown-bag it?
David Brillig and William Hand are sitting together at lunch for the first time in weeks. They are discussing the relative merits of the films of Mike Myers, with William holding out for Austin Powers against David's avid support of the original Wayne's World, when they are joined at their table by Kumar Juvaswami carrying a tray bearing four milks and the bag with his lunch.
"Hey, guys," he says as he pulls himself into the chair across from them.
David's jaw is hanging open. "I thought you said you had the flu."
"I was misinformed. It was just some kind of stomach virus."
"You feel better now?"
"Fit as a fiddle. Almost." He opens his bag and extracts a thick tuna fish sandwich on cinnamon raison bread spread with kosher dill pickle slices and dripping tiny globs of taxicab-colored mustard from the edges.
"So when can we get back and work on our Duo for the Moly," Kumar asks David as he takes a bite of his sandwich.
"Sullivan and Gilbert." There is mustard now on the right corner of Kumar's mouth. "You forgot already?" He wipes his mouth. "I'm really looking forward to this. I mean, this will probably be the last time I'll ever get to participate in a tournament, and working with you, I might actually take tin. I'm like really psyched. While I was sick I kept going over it; I think I've got it memorized cold."
David and William exchange glances. Kumar was supposed to be sick; he was supposed to be knocked out by the flu. That was why Mr. Jutmoll reteamed David and William.
But no one has bothered to tell Kumar.
"Uh..." David cannot look Kumar in the eye. "I hate to say it, man, but, uh, Mr. Jutmoll assigned me and William to work as a Duo and do that piece."
Kumar stops chewing.
"We all thought you were sick," William adds.
"That means you two are a team again?" Kumar asks.
William and David both nod.
"Kumar!" Of all people, Tarnish Jutmoll is now standing beside their table. "I thought you were sick."
"I got better."
Jutmoll nods. "Very good. Well, see you at the meeting then." The white-haired coach walks off toward the teachers' cafeteria, where legend has it that a cordon bleu chef prepares daily specials that can only be imagined on this side of the closed door that separates the professorial wheat from the studential chaff.
"Damn!" Kumar says, standing up.
"Don't go," William says.
"I'll see you at the meeting." He picks up his tray and walks swiftly toward the exit.
"I don't believe that happened," William says. "He wasn't supposed to get healthy again."
"Nobody bothered to tell him that."
"And Jutmoll doesn't even seem to realize it. Did you see the way he acted?"
"He'll probably remember before the meeting."
"What are we going to do? You already promised to go with Kumar."
"And Jutmoll made the two of us promise to go with each other."
"Welcome to the Bahamas."
"You can say that again."
The two friends sit at the table staring sullenly into space until the ringing of the bell reminds them that they have miles to go before they can confront this situation.
Will the local merchants really want to do more business with Bisonette Technical?
Is it France, or is it Paris?
Will William and David iron things out with Kumar?
Is Keanu the one?
Is Nixon the one?
Is Keanu Nixon?
Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy next episode: "You Go, I Go, We All Go for Fargo, or, Do the Coens have another brother called Zen?"
Go to the next episode due April 14, 1999.