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?
The arrival at any new tournament is the beginning of the reconnection.
Forensicians live their lives at their individual schools. And often, within a single school, the team is more a theoretical construct than a reality. Maybe there's no coach, and it's only one or two students avidly committed to the activity without any official status. Or maybe the coach is a part-timer, a misguided parent or a phys ed teacher looking for tenure in all the wrong places, who can't manage to meet with the kids more than once a week at best. Or even if forensics is taught as a class five days a week, maybe the team never mingles other than at that class, and the sense of spirit -- "Get that contention and go, team!" -- is relatively minimal. There are many reasons for a team not to gel qua team, and to be little more than a casual group of the like-minded. For these lone, lorn creeturs, getting together on the bus is the beginning of the social event.
But when the buses arrive, the true social mixing begins. Maybe you haven't seen so-and-so since last week. Maybe it's been a couple of tournaments. Maybe old so-and-so has been off for a year teaching English to the Manxmen. Whatever the case may be, it doesn't take long in the forensics universe for anyone to find soul mates among the competition. In fact, for many people, the actuality of competition is the downside of the friendship, the thing up with which must be put in order to support the friendships. So seeing each other again at the next tournament, schmoozing, updating the gossip database, trading tips and quips on the topic -- all of these are the immediate reward for the long trip.
And for some, the best part of the trip altogether.
The Maru sisters begin their competition in the girl's room, combating the symptoms of mal de speaks. For Jasmine, this has been a chronic disease; Camellia is just beginning to learn that she too possesses the Maru intestines.
"You all right?" Jasmine asks, washing her face in the sink and looking up at her sister's reflection.
Camellia exhales loudly. "I can't believe I'm going JV," she says.
"You've got to start sooner or later."
"But they're all going to be sophomores."
"Not all of them. Some of them will be freshman." Jasmine reaches out for a paper towel, and dries her face. "And some of them will be juniors."
"Juniors? In JV?"
"It happens. Some teams don't start until they're sophomores."
"That isn't fair."
"What wouldn't be fair is if they got beaten by a freshman."
The sisters have finished changing clothes, and they sidle their way through the others still in the process, until they find themselves out in the main corridor.
"Where is everyone?" Camellia asks.
"In the cafeteria. That's where they'll wait until the opening ceremony in the gym. This way."
Jasmine is about to lead her sister along when a boy steps up between them.
"Hi, there," he says to Camellia.
Camellia looks at him, then her eyes drop to the floor. "Hello," she replies softly.
Binko is not yet transformed for debate. He smells like a combination of tobacco and corned beef, and his face badly needs to connect with the business end of a razor. He is wearing a white oversized Marilyn Manson tee shirt that does nothing to hide the power of his upper physique. He has a garment bag thrown over his right shoulder.
"You're going JV?" Binko asks.
"Me too. Which is like going to be a disaster, but what the hell, you know? It's either that or not debate. I was hoping you'd be here."
"Do you know my sister?" Camellia asks, indicating Jasmine, who is standing behind Binko with an expression of total befuddlement on her face.
Binko turns to her. "Hi."
He turns back to Camellia. "I gotta change. See you later?"
"Yeah." Her eyes lower again.
Binko smiles and disappears.
"He is very scary," Jasmine says after he has gone.
Camellia lifts her eyes to meet her sister's. "Yes," she agrees, with more than a hint of a smile.
Lisa Torte takes stock of her team as they settle into the Algren cafeteria. She has begun to count their noses every fifteen minutes, even when they are isolated on the bus and the only possible escape is teleportation. She has no idea where she thinks they might disappear to, only an intense fear that they might be gone if she doesn't keep constant track of them. She imagines that next she'll start feeling untraceable drafts blowing down her neck.
Note to self: look up neurasthenia in dictionary. Tear out page. Eat.
There are eight Policians on the trip. Six of them still remain a blur to her after her few short weeks at Veil of Ignorance: There's the Indian kid with his partner, the not-Indian kid; there's Alice something or other who always wins speaker awards and the other girl with the curly hair; there's whatshisname that's really hard to remember and it always turns out to be Jim Smith, and his partner Threnody C. Thwankle, whose name Lisa has not come close to forgetting (if they were all Threnody C. Thwankles, she would have them knocked). All six of them are fussing around in their tubs next to the table, railing into passers-by and asking them questions like, Are the two Tonys running Groundhogs, or telling the two Tonys and their ilk that they themselves are running the Disappearing Wetback or the Guthrie Deportees. It all sounds like rejected names for alternative rock bands to Lisa's ears. Haircut and Tara, she knows, are running the Ugly Canadian, whatever that is, although Lisa is sure she's seen their albums on CDNOW dot com.
Haircut and Tara. Since this trip began the two of them have been like mace and nutmeg, wrapped around each other in breath-constricting configurations that Lisa has occasionally found almost frightening. Not that it bothers her; to the contrary, any boy who entertains Tara at the yum-yum level is fine by her. A little of the woman scorned, especially the seventeen-year-old woman scorned, goes a long way. If Tara has given up on Invoice O'Connor, she won't be staying up nights plotting accidents that might overtake her perceived rival. Lisa can rest easy that this particular contretemps has resolved itself.
Except, of course, for the look on the face of Invoice O'Connor. He has been watching Haircut and Tara all day, saying nothing, merely observing, thinking thoughts that Lisa can only imagine. Does he care about Tara? Lisa isn't aware that he does. But then why can't he take his eyes off her? And more to the point, does Tara know the effect she is having on him?
Lisa shakes her head. Oh my God, she thinks. Trick number one in the teenage dating guide. Make him jealous.
And, of course, it seems to be working like a charm. As Lisa turns away, wondering where there might be a bookstore open in Algren so that she can get her own copy of that guide, her eye catches Seth B. Obomash's at the next table. He is contentedly cracking peanuts, creating a little pile in shells in front of him that he is keeping neatly rounded so as not to make a mess this early in the proceedings. There is an unreadable glint in his eye as he returns Lisa's glance. She imagines that he is happy as a clam, clandestinely training Policians again, riding the debate circuit, his slip on the path of righteousness forgotten.
I'll bet they wouldn't forget any slips of mine, she thinks, reaching her hand into her pocketbook for another couple of Tylenol.
"So you and Gloria broke up?" Disney asks, fanning a deck of cards in front of him on the table.
Buglaroni shrugs. "I guess so. It's hard to tell. She was, like, declaring her independence or something."
Disney nods. "Girls will do that," he says sagely.
"You're not going to recognize her."
"She's, like, done over." He reaches down into his backpack. "No more black."
"No more black?"
"Not a drop."
"When did that happen?"
"Beats me. But she's coming in now with the rest of the Bisonette team." He inclines his head. "Take a look."
Disney Davidson turns in his seat. Amnea Nutmilk is leading the parade, and he recognizes Binko and Chesney and that Wolf person, but the girl…. Jeans? As in blue jeans? Light blue tee shirt? Flannel overshirt?
"She looks completely different," Disney says breathlessly.
"From punk to lumberjack in, like, under ten seconds. Amazing."
The Bisonettes find themselves a table. Buglaroni proceeds to fiddle with his cases in a black notebook.
"You want to play spades?" Griot Goldbaum asks Disney.
Griot and the Tarleton twins have returned from the boys' room, coiffed and clad and ready for their 1ARs.
Disney nods. "Sure," he says.
His eyes never leave the Bisonette table, or the flash of color that is Gloria Fudless.
"This town has an interesting history," Tarnish Jutmoll says. He and Amnea Nutmilk are sitting at a backpack-cover table in a corner of the cafeteria, pretending that this is somehow a quiet spot in the midst of the surrounding mayhem.
"Whaling?" Amnea asks.
He shakes his white-haired head. "Clamming," he explains. "This area was originally settled by the Onisac Indians, who pretty much lived off the clams on the shore. There's a cove here that's right off the ocean."
"I never heard of the Onisacs."
"They're long gone. But in their glory days they lived like kings, between eating the clams and making wampum from the shells. Onisac beads have been found as far away as Venezuela."
"They just disappeared?"
"Actually, they had to fight their way into oblivion, like most of the New England tribes. They were pretty good warriors, but they were no match for the Anglos."
"Those Pilgrims were a vicious bunch."
"Exactly. Plus there were the European diseases. And after doing whatever it took to take over the territory, the Puritans abandoned it almost right away."
"They didn't like clams?"
"Not as much as the Onisacs. But the real deal was that you can't farm around here, so they moved down into Massachusetts and Connecticut, and all they left behind them was the name, Algren."
"Was that the Indian name?"
"No. Puritan. Named after the gunsel in the fo'castle of the Mayflower, or whatever."
"I gather the Indians never came back."
"There were no Indians to come back. For all practical purposes, after the Puritans left, this area remained wild lands, except for the clam diggers, until after World War II."
"There were clam diggers? Non-Indian?"
"From day one. This whole part of the coast became clam heaven. They supplied Boston, to begin with, and with the invention of canned clam chowder, the world at large. More importantly, people would drive up here from Boston in the early part of the century for the clam rolls. Algren was famous for its clam rolls. In a way, the Model T put this town on the map, because the increased mobility of the Bostonians was directly attributable to the Ford, and the increased popularity of Algren was directly attributable to the increased mobility of the Bostonians."
"So Algren became popular."
"Exactly. And that's when they changed their name to Algren-on-the-Beach, to give the town that attractive, postcardish sort of sound that Algren alone didn't have. And it worked. The town began to fit its name, a picturesque little seafaring village."
"But clams don't require any seafaring."
"That was Algren's dirty little secret. But nobody really cared. Anyhow, after World War II, when the baby boom was beginning, the developers realized that this area would make a nice little Boston bedroom community, and the builders went at it, throwing up houses and a rail line, and by the Fifties, this was one of the toniest suburbs in the entire state. And that was when the big controversy began."
Jutmoll nods. "You know the book, On the Beach?"
"Sure. Nevil Shute."
"Exactly. And you know the author, Nelson Algren."
"Sure. The Man with the Golden Arm."
"And not On the Beach. Well the problem was, Algren elected a mayor who felt that tourists would get the wrong idea, and think that the town was named for the book On the Beach. rather than the geography of being on the beach, and he launched a big campaign to change the name of the place to Shute-on-the-Beach."
"Shute-on-the-Beach. That doesn't sound right."
"Not at all. It sounds like, well, something tourists don't want to see when they're walking along on the beach. I mean, you're not going to get a lot of tourists if they think your beach is covered with shute."
"But this is where is gets interesting. You know about Nelson Algren and Simone de Beauvoir, right?"
"They were lovers."
"Much to Sartre's dismay. The quote, by the way, is not, 'Hell is other people,' it's 'Hell is other people boinking your wife.'"
"All right. I'm sorry. The point is, somehow de Beauvoir got wind of this potential name change, and she actually came to Algren and launched a protest campaign to keep the name as it was."
"Good for her."
"And, while she was at it, she bought a small house on the water that she used from that point on for liaisons with Algren, when they weren't ripping it up in Chicago, which was there usual love nest."
"I never knew any of this. You are a wealth of information."
"It's famous with the locals. You can't buy a Nevil Shute novel anywhere around here, but Algren and de Beauvoir books are sold in every store from the pharmacies to the gas stations to the ice cream shop. They're local heroes."
"I should have someone write this up for MNY."
"You should. As a matter of fact, this tournament gives an award every year named after Mademoiselle de Beauvoir."
"Not at all. It's called the Simone, and it's one of the most treasured honors a member of the debate community can receive."
"Did you ever receive it?"
He nods modestly. "A while ago. But I did have some moral qualms about it. I was very much into my existentialist period at the time. I felt I might be turning my back on Sartre by accepting it."
"But you accepted it anyway?"
"I decided, why not? In the end it seemed like the existentialist thing to do."
"It probably was." Amnea looks around the cafeteria. Everyone is suited up now, ready for the festivities to commence. "Shouldn't they get started soon?" she asks.
"A tournament starting exactly on time would mark a break in the space-time continuum that could never be repaired." Tarnish looks at his watch. "Want me to tell you about how they brought the tinned clams from Aix to Ghent?"
"Lay on, Macduff."
Jutmoll takes a deep breath. "Once upon a time…."
Will Disney connect with Gloria?
Will Binko connect with Camellia?
Will Camellia continue to have two ls henceforth, Mr. Nash?
Where did we get this new spell-checker?
Find out if the Shaming of the True is Spoonerized in our next episode:"I'm Always True to You, Darling, in my Fashion, or, It's Too Darned Hot when I say it's Too Darned Hot, and not a Minute Before!"
Go to the next episode Dec 8, 1999.