Past episodes Reader's Guide to the Nostrum Universe Nostrum Correspondence Corner
Subscribe to Nostrum Home
(New to Nostrum? We recommend starting at the beginning.
Totally lost? Find out who's who in the Reader's Guide or track the "Ref #" links to the previous scene with those characters.)
Have you read this week's epistle from Jules?
Braun Saxon sits down in the booth of the restaurant across from his two best friends from the office. They have been spending the last few days swimming upstream against the demands of creating an advertising campaign for a new brand of disposal diapers with the improbable name of Humpty Dumpties, and they are near the borderline of their collective sanity. There is only so much one can offer in the way of benefits to the product, and only so many ways of remaining tasteful in an area of such intrinsic indelicacy. They immediately seize on the only solution -- however temporary -- to their problem.
"I'll have a Sam Adams," Braun tells the waitress.
"Make that two."
"Make that three."
She smiles and heads over to the bar, leaving the three advertisers to wait in dry anticipation.
"The thing is," Braun begins, "I am getting extremely tired of babies. If I never see, hear or smell another one of the little demons, it will be too soon."
"I thought I'd put diapers behind me," one of his companions says. "My kids are well past the toilet training phase. Hell, my son just bought his first laptop."
"How old is he now?"
"Eight. Paid for it himself out of his allowance."
"You must give him an awful big allowance."
"Not really. It's only a two-hundred-fifty-megaherz machine."
The beers arrive in frosted glasses, and for a moment the three men drink quietly, savoring the unique combination of cold and bitter.
"So how's Brett?" one of the men asks eventually in an attempt to strike up a new area of conversation that doesn't include babies' bottoms. "I haven't seen her since she went down to the Yucatan. She's back now, isn't she?"
Braun turns away, looking up the aisle rather than at his companions. "Braun and I have sort of... split up," he says softly.
"What happened? I always thought the two of you were, well, in for the long haul."
Braun shrugs again. "Things happen, you know?"
There is silence for a few minutes. Nothing deadens conversation among male work colleagues more than the revelation of personal problems.
"We'll probably get divorced," Braun finally says, after taking another drink from his glass.
"That's too bad," one of his companions says, not sure if it is in fact too bad, or if it is perceived by Braun as a good thing. That is one of the differences between men and women; if Brett is sitting somewhere now with her colleagues admitting that she and Braun are splitting up, she is immediately going into all the gory details, from the moment she met Braun years ago up to and including the tossing of the fatal leg of lamb. Men, on the other hand, do not discuss their personal lives freely. This is not because such discussion would be perceived as a sign of weakness, as some observers have theorized; the truth is, men simply don't have a clue about what is going on in their personal lives, a fact which most of them will freely admit, so why bother discussing it, especially if there was a Knicks game on last night? Men evaluate their lives only when their significant others push them against the wall, commanding them to discuss what is usually termed their relationship.
On hearing the word relationship, most men simply nod in agreement until the conversation is over, while they replay the Knicks game in their minds shot by shot.
"It's not really that bad," Braun explains. "There is someone else."
"Another man?" Every husband's worst fear.
"Another woman," Braun corrects him.
"Another woman? Already?"
Braun tilts his head and makes eye contact with his friends again. Now that he is narrating that his manly conquests are continuing unabated despite the loss of his first mate (spousal, not nautical), he can look the guys straight in the eye again. He smiles knowingly.
"How did you do that so fast?" As contentedly married men themselves, they cannot imagine striking out again on the playing field of singleness, must less succeeding at it.
"Well, she was sort of the problem between me and Brett in the first place."
Braun has come full circle in only a few moments, from the poor schlub whose wife has dumped him to dashing lothario who dumped his wife.
"Where did you meet her? Who is it?"
"Oh, a local kid. I met her when Brett was in Mexico. The problem with Brett was, she found out about it."
"Whoa!" There is a sense of ironic admiration in the response to this admission of infidelity. Theoretically the male animal is supposed to be polygamous by nature, but the average male is in fact a relatively moral character who sticks with his wife and who may enjoy the occasional fantasy but has in reality gotten steadily more overweight since his wedding day and is physically exhausted by his job and is beginning to lose the hair on the top of his head while all of a sudden there is hair growing out of his ears, and the last thing he is going to do is go out on a date, 1) because he could never do it without his wife learning about it tout de suite, and 2) he can't get a date anyhow, and 3) he doesn't want to have to go through all those conversations about relationships with either the wife or the girlfriend. Or maybe, as suggested, he does have a sense of right and wrong, and therefore is not planning to run for President.
"She's sort of young," Braun says, playing to what he sees as the admiration in the eyes of his companions.
"San Quentin quail," one of them says, laughing.
Braun laughs in reply. "I think she's eighteen by now," he says, finishing off his beer.
"So how old is she?" one of his friends asks.
Braun's eyes narrow. "Like I said. Eighteen. Or if she isn't, she will be soon. But I'm pretty sure she is."
Two empty stares return his questioning look. "Eighteen? I thought you were kidding."
"You are kidding. What do you do, play Barbies with her?"
"What is she, a high school kid? Do you have to get a hall pass from the teacher to go out with her?"
"She is perfectly legal, and smart, and gorgeous!" Braun says, a little too loudly. A few heads turn at other tables.
His friends are momentarily silenced.
"And now that she's going out with you, she can go see all the R-rated movies she wants to."
"And she can drive at night on her learner's permit."
"And you can buy the Happy Meals without being embarrassed."
The two companions break out in uncontrolled laughter as the waitress returns to their table.
"Can I get you guys another beer?" she asks, a big smile on her face reflecting their mirth.
Unable to speak through their laughter, they nod and point to their glasses.
Braun sits stony-faced, wishing he had never brought up the subject.
At the Nighten Day after-school speech meeting, the is no sense of dismay that this is their penultimate get-together before their final tournament. Tarnish Jutmoll attributes this to the polyanna factor of the adolescent psyche: it is not that they have forgotten, or that they don't believe it, but that they simply don't act as if they remember or they believe it. By virtue of sympathetic magic -- their pretending that it won't happen, and that the budget will somehow be reestablished -- it will be prevented from happening, and somehow twenty thousand dollars will magically appear on their line of the ledger of the school budget. Jutmoll wishes he shared this polyanna factor, but he believes that it evaporates with the passing of the years. By the same token, back when he used to wear Roy Rogers pajamas he lulled himself to sleep fantasizing about inheriting vast sums of money or incredible superpowers. Now all he needs to do is read two pages of John Rawls before falling unconscious for the duration.
To each age its own fantasies. Children fantasize of magical wonderlands, adults fantasize of Rawlsian capital-L Liberal wonderlands. It's still wonderlands.
They are all here today: Mark and Noah, the extempers; Ashley Ambrose with her "Finances" Original Oratory; the reunited William and David; Cartier Diamond with her little pet, Mordred Prentice; and, surprisingly, Kumar Juvaswami in his green fedora.
"I thought you were sick, Kumar," Jutmoll says.
Kumar nods. "I was, Mr. Jutmoll."
"Are you feeling better now?"
"Oh, yes. Fine, thank you."
"I was under the impression that you would not be well enough to attend the Blessed Moly."
"Oh, I can go. I feel fine. Really."
Jutmoll looks at William and David, who are sitting at adjacent desks. "I hate to say this, Kumar, but I reassigned your Duo piece back to the golddust twins."
"I know, Mr. Jutmoll. I can do my HI piece instead."
"You're all right with that?"
"Oh, yes. Fine, thank you."
"And how are you two doing?" Jutmoll asks in WIlliam's and David's direction.
"Okay," and "Good," are their unenthusiastic replies. Well, Jutmoll thinks, at least they're back together. He is unaware that they are truly a team again, and their real problem is the displacement of Kumar.
Jutmoll looks around the room, until his eyes land on Mordred Prentice. He is sitting in the desk behind Cartier Diamond.
"And what about you, Mordred? Will you be performing for us this weekend? It is your last chance to do something before the team disbands, after all. You might want to enter just one tournament as sort of a token gesture before it's too late."
"I don't know Mr. Jutmoll. I really don't think I can have anything ready that quickly."
"I know what you mean," Jutmoll replies. "Two years isn't much time to put together a whole ten minute piece. How about extemp? I'm sure Mark and Noah wouldn't mind sharing their evidence tub with you. Do you ever read the newspapers?"
Mordred shakes his chubby, red-faced head. "I do watch 'Entertainment Tonight' a lot on television."
Jutmoll glares at him blankly.
"And, uh, oh yeah, I watch the weather channel with my dad a lot. He's a big weather fan."
Jutmoll reaches a decision. "Mordred, you are going to do extemp this weekend. Maybe you'll get lucky and they'll have entertainment questions."
"I don't know, Mr. Jut--"
"You will meet after school Thursday with me and Mark and Noah and we'll prep you."
"If you don't do this, you won't come to the Moly with us." To do whatever it is you do for La Diamond, Jutmoll adds mentally.
Mordred sinks into his chair. "All right."
Mordred nods. "Thursday."
Ashley Ambrose has her hand up. "Yes, Ashley?"
"I've been working on my piece," she says brightly. "Would you like to hear it?"
"In a minute. How about you, Cartier? Are you ready for Saturday? Maybe you could run through your piece for us today."
She tilts her head and gives the slightest of nods. "Okay," she purrs.
Jutmoll is going to miss Cartier when the team disbands. After over three years he still has absolutely no firm idea what is going on in her mind, although he suspects that there lie monsters beyond his ken. Having her around is like having a jewel-encrusted relic from a lost civilization: you can't fathom its meaning, but you cannot stop looking at it.
"I'm going to need a judge for the Moly, by the way. We still haven't worked that out. Any volunteers?"
"I'll provide a judge," Cartier says before anyone else can get their mouths open.
"You?" Jutmoll asks. She has never provided a judge before. The presumption is that judges will be pulled from the ranks of the parents, and if Cartier is a mystery to Jutmoll, the concept of her parents is a mystery wrapped in an enigma with extra onions and hold the mayo.
She cocks an eyebrow at him. ""Me," she replies.
"Okay. Eight o'clock bus on Saturday."
Jutmoll turns and begins writing some notes on the blackboard. Behind him, Mordred Prentice taps Cartier Diamond on the shoulder.
"I thought your parents were out of town," he whispers to her.
"They'll be back before the weekend?"
"So who's your judge, then?"
"A friend," she replies. "A good friend."
She turns back and pretends to pay attention to Jutmoll's discussion of eye contact with judges. In fact, she looks him straight in the eye.
But she is not seeing Tarnish Jutmoll.
Will Braun's friends report him to the local authorities?
Will the waitress keep those Sammies coming?
Will Kumar's HI be a hit?
Will Cartier's judge really show up?
Will they ever lift the ban on hatchbacks in China?
Wayne Gretzky says auf wiedersehen in our next episode: "The 1999 Chevrolet Dyslexia, or, the car everyone is talking about."
Go to the next episode due April 28, 1999.