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?
A great word. A great concept.
Hiatus. A break. A respite. A little time off. Take five. Take ten. Take as many as you want. Smoke 'em if you got 'em. At ease, gentlemen. As you were. Relax. Take a load off your mind. Put it there, Senator. Park it, Parker.
You get the idea.
The problem is, there are no hiatuses in debate. (And yes, the plural of hiatus is hiatuses. We are not living in ancient Rome, and we are subject to the rules of the Queen's English -- or the President's American -- and not the Emperor's Latin.) You may get a week off here and there during the year, but that is not intended as an opportunity for you to forget that you are a forensician, to put behind you the endless dissecting of the topic, to log off the listserver, to read a Star Trek novel when there's research to be done.
Have you written your cases yet?
Have you rewritten them?
Only twice? What a pikerů
The varsity forensicians of the northeast have not been in rounds since the Manhattan Lodestone OriginalVaganza, and they are now facing not only their next tournament at Algren-on-the-Beach, but also a new LD topic on physician-assisted suicide. The Policians do not have the burden of a new subject, but they are not unaffected by the passage of time, as the yearly topic matures like a quickly aging bottle of Beaujolais, going from youthful vivacity to a deep and mature old age between August and the following June. Both LD and Policy will transpire at the Algren, and if a forensician hasn't spent spending the available time wisely, he or she will pay the price.
A word of advice to forensicians: In your next life, take up football. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, footballers have hung up their cleats for the year and rented a half dozen Adam Sandler films and are settling in for the long winter's haul until next year's two-month season. Debaters don't get any time off until after Institute, and then it's only two weeks with their parents and siblings at the beach house arguing over everything and getting nowhere and wishing they were back in tournaments and arguing over everything and getting trophies for it.
The long dark night of forensics never ends. It just brightens a bit at the hour of the wolf, before the real night comes along.
"You're not getting it," Seth B. Obomash says, shaking his head.
Haircut Puente stops speaking in mid-sentence. He is standing in Seth's kitchen, leaning against the dirty-dish-stacked counter, reading his first affirmative constructive. Seth and Tara Petskin are sitting on the other side of the counter, timing him and taking notes. Hegel the cat, with an agenda entirely his own, is busily winding himself around Haircut's feet.
"You've got to go at least fifty percent faster if you want to get through the whole case," Seth explains.
"It's a good case," Tara adds. "We don't want to have to cut any of it."
Haircut runs his hand over the top of his tightly cropped head. "I don't think I can go any faster," he says.
"You used to go faster," Tara says.
"I used to do a lot of things."
"You're a varsity debater now," Seth says. "You're just not used to doing it at this level yet. Plus, you haven't done it in a long time. Here."
He hands Haircut a pen. Haircut grimaces.
"Do I have to?"
Seth nods. "You have to."
Haircut starts his 1AR again, this time with the pen in his mouth. Since he is constantly trying to increase his speed beyond any measure that might be considered normal conversation, it is a natural tendency for the words to blur together. Or, itisanaturaltendencyforthewordstoblurtogether. The pen forces him to enunciate at least some of the words so that they are recognizable, while increasing his speed at the same time. The pen-in-the-mouth exercise is a time-honored forensics tradition.
"Slow down on the tags, speed up on the quote," Tara tells him.
He looks at her as if to say, I know that, I'm not an idiot. But he has not been modulating, he's been trying simply to go as quickly as possible. But people flow the tags, the summaries of what is to come in a case; if the tags are not clear, an opponent, or worse, a judge, might miss them.
He finishes the speech, a minute and a half above the allotted amount of time.
"We're just going to have to keep working at it," Seth says. There is a basket of taco chips and an open jar of salsa on the counter. Seth grabs two chips and dips them into the sauce together, making a sort of inverse sandwich.
"The debate is this coming weekend, Seth," Haircut says, dropping down into a chair, his feet stretched out in front of him. "I don't know if I can do it."
"You can do it. You just have to work at it."
"You've got to remember it's not JV anymore," Tara adds. "You've got to kick it up a notch."
"I know it's not JV."
"But you're speaking like it's JV."
"Maybe that's true. Because if you'll remember, the last time I debated, I was JV."
"I remember," Tara says. "The way you're speaking, it's hard to forget."
"That's it!" Haircut says, tossing his case on the counter and standing up. "I quit debate so that I could have a life. I'm not going to quit my life now so that I can have debate. I don't want it that badly." He starts walking toward the back door.
Tara too stands up. "We were going to be winners. Big winners. Remember? You're going to quit on that?"
Haircut turns to face her. "It sounded good then. It doesn't sound so good now."
"You're not going to walk out?"
"Why not? I'm going to be honest with you, Tara. First of all, I don't know if I could do it even if I wanted to, but deep down inside, when I think about it, I don't think I really want to."
"I can't believe you're doing this to me," she says.
"I'm not doing anything to you. If anything, I'm doing you a favor. You won't have to suffer a crushing defeat this weekend in front of your old boyfriend."
"Haircut--" Seth begins.
"Don't bother, Seth. A pep talk won't work. I'm out of the business." He opens the door and walks out, closing the door loudly behind him.
"I don't believe that just happened," Tara says after a long moment of silence. "I thought he wanted to be a national champion."
Seth grabs another pair of chips. "Maybe being a champion isn't that big an inducement to him after all. If you remember correctly, that wasn't how I got him interested in doing this in the first place."
"I remember quite correctly," Tara says, slightly angered. "You used me as bait, and told him I was interested in going out with him again."
Seth shrugs as he noisily chews the chips. "Whatever floats his boat, as the saying goes."
Tara stares down at him, then follows Haircut out the door. "I'll be back," she says over her shoulder as she leaves.
Seth pulls the salsa jar closer to him. "I know," he says softly, to no one in particular as Hegel jumps up on the counter. Seth offers the cat a taco chip. The cat, not knowing any better, accepts.
Haircut is striding purposefully along the sidewalk, his shoulders huddled together slightly against the autumn chill.
"Get in," Tara says to him through the open window as she pulls the Accord station wagon up next to him.
He keeps walking.
"Haircut!" She rolls alongside him.
He stops. "What?"
"Please get in the car."
"I don't want to get in the car."
"Haircut, we sound like a couple of little kids arguing. Get in, don't get in, get in, don't get in. Please, just get in for a minute."
He opens the door and slides onto the seat.
"I'm in," he says.
"So now what? You going to talk me into debating with you? I told you, I'm really not interested. I just don't want to do all that work."
"Why should I? I've got nothing to gain out of it. It's not as if it's going to get me into a better school or anything. I'm already set at MIT."
"I thought the idea of maybe being a national champion was what was motivating you."
"That sounded good for a while, Tara. But you heard me today. I'm not just rusty, I'm disastrous. I can't do it."
"You can do it, Haircut. You just don't want to."
"All right. Fine. You're right. I just don't want to. Why should I? I've got no incentive. It means a lot to you, but it doesn't me that much to--"
She stops him from talking by leaning over and kissing him. Seriously kissing him. To which he instinctively responds in kind, until she pulls back from him.
Neither of them speak. Tara is looking at Haircut. Haircut is looking straight ahead out the window.
"What was that all about?" Haircut finally asks.
"What do you mean?"
"You know what I mean. Another game of Seth's?"
"Seth had nothing to do with it that I noticed."
Haircut turns and makes eye contact with her. She has a small Cheshire-cat grin.
"Is that meant to be an incentive?"
"You tell me." She leans forward and kisses him again. This time the kiss lasts longer, and includes arms and bodies.
They do this for quite some time.
"It's an incentive," Haircut eventually says in a soft voice.
Tara straightens herself out and puts the car in gear. "We've got to get back to Seth's," she says. "We've got work to do."
The hiatus, as far as Haircut Puente is concerned, is now officially, unremittingly, incontrovertibly, over.
Are Haircut and Tara together again for real?
Will Haircut be able to perform at the Varsity level at the Algren?
Will Seth run out of salsa?
If high school football only lasts two months, why does the NFL last virtually all year?
Which NFL are we talking about?
Nostrum proudly renounces any responsibility for any of the content of our next episode: "Walden; or, Life in the Woods, or, How I Spent My Summer Avoiding Austin Powers."
Go to the next episode due Sept 22, 1999.