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?
Kumar and David are sitting together on the bus.
"This is really strange." Kumar is looking out the window. "I don't know what to say."
"All you have to say is, Let's do it," David replies.
"You're okay with this?"
"Sure. It's fine by me."
"You don't want to go down in glory with William for your last tournament?"
"I'll go down in glory with you."
"But you and William go way back, like to kindergarten. It's not just taking tin; there's meaning there."
"William and I had some problems. As friends, I mean. And we've worked them out. That's the important thing as far as he and I are concerned. I enjoyed working on this piece with you. It was originally our piece. I think it's right that we should be doing it together."
"What's William going to do today, if he's not at the Moly?"
"He'll probably go back to sleep. That's what I'd do if I were him."
"Sleeping on a Saturday? Not a bad deal. I envy him."
"Don't envy him too much. We've got a tournament to win."
Tarnish Jutmoll is coming down the aisle. He stops when he reaches them. "I trust there's a good reason for this legerdemain," he says.
"Kumar was originally going to do the piece with me," David says. "We just had to reorganize a little."
"Whatever," Jutmoll says. "As long as somebody does the piece with you." He looks at Kumar. "This is all right with you, I take it."
"Very all right," Kumar says, nodding.
"Then it's all right with me. But the next time you decide to change horses in midstream, let me know in advance, okay?"
"There isn't going to be a next time," David says softly.
Jutmoll regards him strangely for a moment, until what he said registers. "Oh. Right," he says softly.
He turns and walks back up the aisle.
"It's the end of an era, Kumar," David says.
"The end of an era," Kumar agrees.
"We'd better practice if we expect to do any good today. William and I worked out a lot of new riffs on the piece."
"Let's do it, dude."
Blessed Moly High School lies nestled in a wooded glen completely invisible from the main road. If you do not know it is there, you will never find it. This was deliberate on the part of the original builders. The Blessed Moly was designed to be an elite private high school for Catholic girls; it stands to reason that it should, in its physical plant, be one step away from a convent. In fact, in its earliest days it was known as The Convent of The Blessed Moly, but during the Eighties, CBM fell on hard times, and enrollment was falling precipitously. In an attempt to attract the children of the up-and-coming Yuppie generation, the convent nomenclature was dropped as too gothic. The assumption of the public relations firm hired by the then-dying institution was that a private, cloistered education would be popular, but not in the context of religion; "Even religious Yuppies don't always want to wear the tee shirt," was how one of them put it. Blessed Moly sans The Convent was deemed the perfect compromise between God and mammon. The name change -- plus an influx of lay teachers, a rise in the tuition of four hundred percent, and the addition of a riding stable -- did the trick. Blessed Moly returned to its former academic, if not necessary sacred, glory.
The Blessed Moly is run by the Sisters of the Inquisition, an enlightened order that was one of the first to embrace modern dress in lieu of habits. This theoretically makes it difficult to determine, just by looking at them, who is a nun and who is not. Although some orders, like Sister Levi al-Chaim's, still allow traditional habit and wimple, other orders like the Inquisitors are entirely mufti. Once you know what to look for, however -- fairly well-fed short-haired women in pastel pants suits and sensible walking shoes -- finding the nun in a group is not impossible. While priests occasionally wear mufti, most of the time they maintain their collars, so at least they are usually recognizable as clergy. On the other hand, the orders of brothers, the male equivalents of the sisters, are in a similar position of having for the most part turned in their cassocks and gone civilian. However, they too are recognizable as a group, because they shop in the same mens' store as the Amish and the Hasidim, where the only clothes available are ill-fitting shiny black suits and white shirts. The real issue becomes separating the friars from the rabbis and the anabaptists, which is why each group has taken to a unique hairstyle, balding, prophet and pageboy, respectively.
When the Nighten Day School bus pulls into the Moly parking lot, half a dozen other buses are also arriving, and all these religious can be spotted in their various garbs, herding their charges out of the vehicles and into the buildings.
"It all boils down to Vatican II," Tarnish Jutmoll explains to Amnea Nutmilk, citing the ultimate reason behind loss of religious uniforms.
"When Pope John opened the door to ecumenicalism, he also created a fashion nightmare," she replies, rising in her seat.
"It's the price you have to pay," Jutmoll says. He turns around. Behind him, the Speech team has also risen, grabbing their backpacks, getting ready to exit the bus. "I want to say something," he says to them.
They all give him their attention.
"I don't normally make speeches," he begins. "That is your job. But I do have something to say today. You are going now to the last tournament of your careers. I want you to remember what I have always told you. The point is not competition, the point is education. Competition is merely the means to attain the educational goals, the thing that focuses the mind. But it is not the underlying value of the activity. To make you into thoughtful, articulate human beings has always been my goal. And for the most part," he says with a smile, "I have been successful." He holds up his hand. "That said, I have only one thing to add. Let's go in there and kick some Catholic butt! Let's take some tin, ladies and gentlemen."
Alida Devans is running the tab at the Blessed Moly. It is a simple tournament, with three preset rounds, two judges in each round. The results will be the total of the best five rankings out of the six the contestants will receive. If a contestant gets a rank of 1 from five out of six judges, for example, his total is 5, the best possible. The sixth ranking is dropped in an attempt to prevent judge variance discrepancies. It is not unusual to see ranks of 1,2,1,2,1,6 -- the ones and twos make sense, but the judge awarding the six obviously awoke on the wrong side of the bed, or else has sworn a solemn vow to his or her God that the next time anyone does The Compleat Shakespeare, they will have the book thrown at them. Dropping the low score (or, actually, the high score -- Speech events are scored like golf, while Debate events are scored like bowling, which may explain a lot about the difference between Speechies and Debaters, but then again, it may not), protects the contestant from just such personal pecadilloes.
Alida preset the rounds the night before. All the teams were already registered, as were the judges, so it was a simple matter for her to plan out every round in each event. The only issue was making sure no judge was in a room with one of their own teams. She has been doing this for years, always with index cards, and she is a master at it. Any suggestions that she might wish to use a computer have been met with what can only be called the evil eye, and in Miss Devans's case, that evil is formidable. (Or formidable, as the French might say.) Everything about the pairings is entirely random. It is all simply the way the cards fell.
There was only one point at which Alida Devans allowed herself to intervene. In the third Duo round, she made sure that her own Mollie and Maria were in the same room with Sister Levi's Hannah and Hughes.
You can't catch a rat if you don't set the trap.
"Good morning, Alida." Tarnish Jutmoll has come up to where Alida is standing behind the counter of the main office.
"Good morning, Tarnish." She has two piles of paper in front of her, one white, the other blue. The white consists of a set of sheets for each school, giving the team and judge codes; everything is tabbed and set by the numbers. The blue pile, one sheet printed on two sides, lists all the rounds of the day. She hands Jutmoll a blue sheet, and fishes for the Nighten Day sheet in the white pile.
"I'm afraid I've got one change," Jutmoll says to her.
Alida's eyes narrow. "You have two judges?"
"Oh, yes. My judging is covered. I just lost one of my kids."
"Why did you lose him?"
"I assure you I didn't on it on purpose. I had a Duo team and an HIer. One of the Duo kids dropped, and the HI kid is replacing him."
"Is this absolutely necessary?"
"The kid isn't here, Alida."
"Couldn't you have talked to him? Made him come?"
"Alida, all you have to do is scratch one entry in the HIs. It's not that big a deal."
"Not a big deal for you, Tarnish." She reaches down and brings up her master list. "What's the HI code?"
Tarnish looks it up on the Nighten list. "C3."
"C3. C3. C3." She makes the scratches on her sheet, and looks up at Jutmoll. "Try not to let this happen again," she says.
"I don't think you'll have to worry about that, Alida," he says, moving off and rejoining his team.
Braun Saxon is sitting next to Cartier in the auditorium, waiting for the festivities to begin. The seats are hardwood, and there isn't enough leg room for a ferret. Plus, the noise level in the room is toxic, as dozens of teenagers bounce off each other, everyone a little over-pumped by the threat of upcoming competition. Braun can almost smell the adrenalin.
"I'll be right back," he says, standing up.
Cartier, who has gone off into her own zone, silently muttering her DI piece with her eyes half open, nods without skipping a beat.
Braun sidles out of the row of seats, doing his own silent muttering, a string of excuse-mes to people who aren't paying the least bit of attention to him as he trips over their crossed legs and steps on their feet and stumbles over their backpacks.
And a mantra is beginning to build in his brain.
Why am I doing this?
Outside the auditorium, the hallway is lined with wall-talkers, Speechies standing three feet away from the wall and doing their pieces aloud, oblivious to each other and also to the wall's unresponsiveness. Hands move expressively, eyes pop open and narrowly shut, black folders are opened and shut.
Why am I doing this?
This isn't the relief from the noise of the auditorium that Braun was expecting. He decides that as long as he's out here, he might as well find himself a men's room.
The smilers are the worst, he thinks. The smilers are the ones who emote to the wall with false sincerity.
Can the wall tell false from true sincerity?
Down a passage or two, past a nurse's office and guidance counseling center, Braun finds a door marked BOYS.
BOYS. What he is looking for is a men's room. Men, not boys.
Why am I doing this?
Beggars can't be choosers. He enters the room, where half a dozen students are changing into their dress suits. Clothes and backpacks are everywhere, blocking the route to the vacant urinals. He notices that the stalls are only three feet high, so that anyone with serious gastrointestinal business to perform must do it with the constant threat of a by-passing audience.
Why am I doing this?
He thinks back to his friends at the restaurant, taunting him for dating a high school girl. He is beginning to think for the first time that they were right, because for the first time Braun is in Cartier's milieu.
Absent the fact that at the moment he is in the boys' room, which probably isn't her milieu per se.
Why am I doing this? He stares at himself as he washes his hands. The reflection he sees in the mirror looks as puzzled as he feels. When he reaches for a paper towel, the bin is empty. So, it quickly turns out, are all the other bins.
Damn it! If it isn't one thing, it's another.
He wipes his hands on the sides of his pants and exits the room.
Why am I doing this?
There can be only one answer.
Welcome to the Bahamas.
Will Kumar remember the nuances of Sullivan and Gilbert ?
Will Nostrum resort to dumb habit jokes in the future when commenting on their nunships?
Will Alida Devans get the rounds set up correctly in time for the opening bell?
Does Speech have an opening bell, and if so, can CX have one too?
Is Braun getting a little too old for this?
You'll think twice before researching the answer in our next episode: "Reeboks, or, The Other Name They Wanted To Call Your Sneakers Was Moose But Somehow They Wised Up, Thank Goodness."
Go to the next episode due June 30 , 1999.