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?
"What do you think?" Tom Abelard asks. He is standing on line behind Bob Cratch at the Quilty Prep cafeteria.
No one brown-bags it at Quilty.
"The saucisson á l'homard is usually pretty good," Bob Cratch replies, gazing up and down the steam table. Servers in tuxedos are standing on the other side of the table, waiting to respond to the students' needs. "But I never like to skip the cassoulet, especially on a Monday when it's still fresh."
"Cassoulet improves with age," Abelard comments.
"It's wine and women that improve with age," Bob Cratch says, pointing to the rich stew of white beans and sausage and duck and pork and God knows what else, which a server carefully ladles onto a china plate. "Cassoulet turns to plaster of paris."
"Do they actually do a lot of plastering in Paris?" Abelard asks, also indicating that he'll take a plate of the stew.
"Wine, food, l'amour, and plastering, in that order, if I'm not mistaken."
They take their plates to their usual table. Like most groups at Quilty, the debaters have a certain territory claimed in the cafeteria, a territory not necessarily better or worse than any other, but simply a territory they can call their own. Speechies sit together, the drama club sits together, the cheerleaders sit together, the Goths sit together, the Junior NRA sits together. If cliques are a way of life for adolescents, they are life itself at Quilty.
Abelard and Bob Cratch eat quietly for a while, savoring their cassoulet. In many respects they are opposites. Abelard is long and lanky with hair that is not exactly long but always looks as if it needs to be cut as it hangs over his eyes and ears and the back of his neck. He is never either tucked in or ironed, not even at tournaments, where the best he can manage is a half-made tie dangling three inches below his throat, a tweed jacket that hasn't fit him since eighth grade, and chinos worn ragged at the hems from dragging on the ground over his boating shoes. Even today he is wearing those same chinos, plus a tattered Graceland tee shirt (although he has never been, nor will he probably ever go, to Graceland) and the boating shoes. Bob Cratch, on the other hand, is big and solid but nevertheless clipped and trim, looking, when he is not debating, like a Marine ill-suited to civvies-today he is bulging out of his red flannel shirt and carpenter pants-and looking as if he'll eat his opponents when he's dressed for a competition in black suit, black shirt and black tie, the color-challenged outfit he usually favors.
Their personalities are similarly disparate, with Abelard every bit as disheveled mentally as Bob Cratch is neat and clipped. Their shared loved for debate, however, and the experiences they have shared going into their fourth year together as debaters, have bonded them, making them not antipathetic but complementary. If they were Policians instead of LDers, they would be an inseparable team both in and out of competition. As LDers they are only inseparable out of competition.
There is one other factor that holds them together, at least on Bob Cratch's part. Tom Abelard's innate ability to attract girls-all girls, all of the time, or at least as close to all/all as any one male could ever approach that paradigm-means that wherever they go, girls are sure to follow. For Bob Cratch, who is not unattractive nor inarticulate, but certainly not half the ladies' man Abelard is, this is an extra and undeniable bonus, much the same way having a friend with a car always means that transportation is always available: it may not primarily be your transportation, but it does usually get you where you want to go.
It is Melvish, the Quilty novice who will be going JV at Algren this weekend. He is wearing full Tommy Hilfiger gangsta regalia, from hooded sweatshirt down to boxy basketball sneakers, despite the fact that he is a five foot four part Asian, part Slav, part anything but gangsta or basketball player. He is also wearing a big grin and carrying a tray.
"I see you got the cassoulet too," Melvish says, sitting down. "I always love the cassoulet here, although I prefer goose to duck as a general rule. But beggars can't be choosers, right?"
Abelard and Bob Cratch stare at him in stony silence. There is a limit to the lengths to which any clique's territory will expand when applied to members manqué.
"I really can't wait for Algren," Melvish goes on, undeterred by his tablemates' iciness. "I'm going to really do well this weekend. I love this assisted-suicide topic. I could debate it for the rest of the year."
"I'm not surprised," Abelard says, looking not at Melvish but at Bob Cratch. "Assisted suicide is the kind of thing that would be very good for you."
"I know," Melvish replies. "That's really true."
"Do you detect an irony vacuum in this room?" Abelard asks Bob Cratch.
"Industrial strength," Bob Cratch replies.
Melvish is eating quickly, shoveling the food in and talking nonstop at the same time. "You know," he says, "I hate to bring this up over lunch, Bobby, but I do have a problem this weekend."
"Bobby?" The word hangs in the air like an unpleasant smell as Abelard repeats it.
"My dad won't be able to judge after all," Melvish says. "He's got a business meeting Friday afternoon that he just can't get out of, so he can't take the day off to go to Massachusetts. That won't be a problem, will it?"
Bob Cratch's eyes narrow. "He was our only judge, and our chaperone."
"Eeeww." Melvish continues eating. "That's not good."
"We can't buy two judges," Bob Cratch continues. "And we need a chaperone."
"I was talking to Celia up at King Ivy on-line this weekend," Abelard says. "She was sort of debating whether she might go to Algren just to judge. Sazo pays like a hundred bucks for the tournament, and she could sleep in her dorm, so it's easy money for her. So I know she's free. I'm sure she'd judge for us instead of for the tournament."
"Who's Celia?" Melvish asks.
"She's a sophomore at King Ivy," Abelard explains. "She used to debate here at Quilty."
"That would work," Bob Cratch says. "Except she's not exactly a chaperone."
"She's a high school graduate," Abelard says. "She's like twenty-one, or almost twenty-one. Nobody will know, so nobody will complain."
"I don't know…"
"There's nobody else," Abelard says.
"You're right there. Since Melvish is now screwing us."
"It's not me," Melvish said. "It's my dad's job. There's nothing he can do about it."
"You could find out these things before it's too late," Bob Cratch says.
"You could explain to your father," Abelard adds, "that when he writes something into his calendar, if there's something already there, that usually is a problem." Abelard stands up. He has finished his lunch. "I'll work it out with Celia," he says. "I'll let you know as soon as I know."
Bob Cratch also stands up. "And then I'll change the registration with Sazo. Sounds good."
"See you, guys!" Melvish calls to their receding backs.
Neither of the seniors replies.
"Mr. Apo is not trying to be cute," Tarnish Jutmoll had explained to her. "That's his name, and trophies are what he sells."
Apo's Trophies. Right.
Amnea pulls off the busy downtown Bisonette street into the parking lot. The building that houses Mr. Apo's business is the size of one-car garage, and badly in need of a paint job. The unpaved parking lot is a battlefield of ruts and rocks and water-filled gullies. There is only one other car, an ancient Mercury, presumably the vehicle of the owner. She gets out of her own car and walks around to the entrance at the front of the building. A bell rings as she goes through the door.
Mr. Apo is not to be seen, but his shop is packed gut to butt with every imaginable size and shape of trophy for every imaginable human endeavor. Most of them are not blank samples but seemingly actual prizes, engraved with names of organizations and contests and occasionally even the winners. There are prizes for fishing and boating and golfing and swimming and football and softball and achieving the highest sales target and person of the year; there are trophies in the shapes of airplanes and Greek deities and tennis balls and businessmen and eternal flames; there are trophies made of brass and silver and plastic and tin and marble and glass and pottery; there are trophies ranging from the size of a Hershey bar to a full-grown llama. (The mention of a llama is not overblown metaphor; there is, in fact, a stuffed llama in one corner of the shop.)
For what, Amnea wonders, is anyone awarded a llama?
"Can I help you?"
A man who must be Mr. Apo has emerged from the rear of the shop. He is a small, compact man with an unlighted cigarette dangling from the edge of his mouth and thick eyeglasses riding halfway down his large, crooked nose. Amnea had expected from his name someone of Asian or African descent; Mr. Apo looks decidedly like fiftieth generation Brooklyn.
"I need to get some trophies," Amnea says.
"People who come in here usually do," Mr. Apo says. "What kind of trophies?"
"For a high school debate tournament."
"What high school?"
"Ah, yes," Mr. Apo says as the cigarette bobs up and down. "The Monadnock."
"You know our tournament?" Amnea asks.
"I used to do the trophies for it years ago," he says, retreating behind the counter at the back of the store and bending down to sort through a filing drawer. "We do everybody's trophies, more or less." He stands up with a manila folder in hand. "Here it is," he says. "The Bisonette Monadnock." He looks inside the folder. "It's been a while," he says. "Eleven years."
"And now it's back," Amnea says.
"You a teacher there?"
She shakes her head. "Just the debate coach."
"Whatever. The school will pay for the trophies, though. Right? We do other trophies for Bisonette. All the sports teams. Teacher of the Week. We always bill them directly."
"Teacher of the Week?"
He shrugs. "I only supply the trophies, I don't create the contests."
"Well," Amnea says, "you can bill them directly."
He is looking at a list from the old Monadnock folder. "Same categories? Policy and LD? Same number of trophies?"
"Let me take a look."
He hands her the sheet. The list covers both kinds of debate, one division of each, with awards starting at octofinals, plus ten speaker awards for Policy.
"That's exactly what we want," she says. The list gibes completely with what she has already discussed with Tarnish Jutmoll.
"Then I'll order them," Mr. Apo says. "When do you need them?"
"The tournament is in the middle of January."
"Then that's when you'll get them. I assume you'll want about the same style as you had last time."
"What did we have last time?"
Mr. Apo goes over to one of his shelves and pulls down a silver-plated trophy with a goddess on a platform. "Your basic Nike," he tells her. "One of our biggest sellers."
"It's a little boring," she says, comparing it to some of the others in the shop.
"It is a lot boring," Mr. Apo says. "We can do a lot better than this in the same price range." He turns back to the shelves. "I was at a trophy trade show a couple of weeks ago. There's a lot of nice stuff out there. You could try one of these."
He shows her a statue of similar size, this time with a little statue of Bart Simpson in the place of winged Victory. Amnea shakes her head.
"Too common, right? Some of the schools like them. Usually teachers who already have tenure." He shuffles more objects around the shelves. "Trophies are like golf clubs. Every year the manufacturers come out with a new line made of some new miracle material that does the job just like the old line, but they're new and you've got to buy them. Kids don't care much, though. As long as they win the trophy."
He turns around again, this time holding a small brassy pyramid.
"A monadnock is some kind of mountain, right? These might be appropriate."
Amnea takes the six-inch-tall pyramid and turns it over in her hands. She likes the feel of it.
"That would be the smallest one, for your octofinalists. They get about three inches bigger going up graduated to your First Place. We put the engraving right on the bottom."
"I like it," Amnea says. "How much are they?"
"That one's about twelve bucks. By the time you get to the biggest ones, they're twenty each."
"That sounds like a lot."
"To tell you the truth, they really haven't gone up much in price since your last tournament. And these are exactly the same price as your basic Nikes."
"I like them," Amnea says. "I'll take them."
"And what about your speaker awards. Last time you got gavels. Speaker awards always get gavels as a general rule. That's what they do at Nighten Day, for instance."
Amnea nods. "You must know Mr. Jutmoll. He's the one who sent me here to you."
Mr. Apo smiles. "Worked with him for years. He should be here himself some day soon to set up for his Snow Ball tournament. It's right around the same time as yours."
Amnea has no intention of telling Mr. Apo that there will be no Snow Ball this year.
"So let me get all the information straight, and we're in business," Mr. Apo says.
"We're in business," Amnea agrees.
Will Celia be willing to judge at the Algren?
Will Melvish's father learn to keep track of his calendar?
Will Apo get the trophies to the Monadnock on schedule?
Will Linda Tripp get life without parole?
What does Libby think when she sees those dysfunction ads?
Dan Quayle may be out of the running, but our next episode will take no notice of it when we say: "Iditarod, if only I knew how to itarod."
Go to the next episode due Oct. 6, 1999.