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?
Kalima Milak is sitting on the hallway floor next to the closed door of the room in which she will debate her second round. She barely hears the plaintive, tentative voice.
It is louder this time. She looks left and right and sees nothing.
"I'm trying to pre-flow here," she mutters softly to herself, looking back at the pad on her lap. "I don't have time for phantom voices."
Pre-flowing. Or, as the modern typesetters might put it, preflowing, except that, to the uneducated eye, preflowing might be the sound one hears coming across the pasture from pref breed cattle. No, we'll stick to pre-flowing, for the same reason we feel that lumbermansexchange is not quite the same as Lumberman's Exchange. It just doesn't grab the eye correctly.
But we digress. Pre-flowing is the mundane art of preparing a flow pad for a debate round. Since you know what you are going to say in your case, and obviously you'll be standing there saying it rather than sitting down and flowing it, you write down the flow of your case on your flow pad before the round, to be ready when the time comes to flow your opponent's responses.
Because pre-flowing is mundane in its substance, many debaters are prone to liven up its form proportionately. Some debaters simply write down key phrases and tags directly on their pads in the furthest left-hand column. This does the job more than adequately, but it lacks that certain je ne sais quoi.. Some debaters use tiny Post-Its, writing their tags on the Post-Its and then pasting them down a neat row where they otherwise would have written directly onto the pad. Other debaters have discovered long sheets of Post-It paper that can be cut to fit a legal-size length (or any length, for that matter), and these debaters carefully lay those long strips on the left-hand column and write on that, and then eventually lift the column and lay it down on a fresh page for a later round. Very economical, very clever. For that matter, Post-Its, for some debaters, are the coin of the technological flow realm. They will write series of responses on individual sheets pasted to an organized series of response pages, and during a round collect the appropriate Post-It and lay it next to the argument they wish to counter.
"Against my opponent's second contention, I have twenty responses." All on Post-Its.
3M, the manufacturers of Post-Its, definitely must be run by former debaters.
But we still digress.
This time Kalima hears the rattling of a door. She looks up in front of her. There is a closed double door, sealed with a thick chain that is padlocked beyond any incursion. The doorknob is turning.
She stands up.
"Is there somebody there?" she asks.
"I said, is there somebody there?"
"I'm locked in here."
Kalima looks at the padlock. "That's an understatement," she replies.
"I can't get out."
"So go back the way you came in," she says.
"I can't. I don't know how I got in."
As before, Kalima looks to the left and to the right. She is alone in the corridor, having arrived early to pre-flow. She is in flight B of the second round, which will not start for another twenty minutes.
"Who are you?" she finally asks.
"Melvish," comes the reply. "John Melvish."
"Are you a debater?"
"Yeah. I'm a novice."
Kalima nods to herself. A novice. That would explain a lot. "LD or Policy?"
"Where are you from?"
She nods again. Quilty. That would explain even more. "There's no way I can open this door from this end. You'll have to retrace your steps and go back the way you came."
"It's dark in here."
"Well, it was dark in there, and you got where you are, so it will still be dark when you get back to where you came from."
"Can't you get someone to open the door?"
"I'll try. But you'd better first try to go back the way you came."
There's a pause. "Okay," the voice says reluctantly.
There is a last turn of the knob, the sound of retreating footsteps, and then nothing. Kalima waits a second, decides that this particular event has run its course, and then settles herself back down to finish her pre-flowing.
Kalima is of the blue Post-It persuasion, when it comes to pre-flows, and of the white Post-It persuasion, when it comes to responses. She has worked her way through green and yellow and even Garfield Post-Its, although for the life of her she can't remember actually buying any Garfield merchandise, and who would have been malicious enough to sneak it into her briefcase she can't imagine. So maybe she did buy it herself, during a moment of temporary insanity. A cuteness lapse, maybe. Delirium tremens brought on by too much AP Chemistry homework.
She looks back up at the door. "What?" she says, not getting up this time.
"Is someone coming to unlock the door?"
"Why didn't you go back the way you came?"
"We can't find the way we came."
She narrows her eyes. We? She stands up. "What do you mean, we?"
"I found someone else down there."
"Wherever I came from."
"In the dark?"
"So who did you find?"
"What's your name?" Melvish asks the person on his side of the door.
There is no discernible response.
"Where did you go? Hey. Wait a minute. He's gone!"
"The guy I found down there roaming around."
"Was it another debater?"
"I don't know. He didn't say anything."
"Great." Talk about your delirium tremens. "All right," Kalima says. "I'll go get somebody to unlock the door. Don't go anywhere."
"I'm afraid to go anywhere. I'll be right here, just like E.T."
Just like E.T, all right, Kalima thinks. She looks down at her backpack and flow pad, and decides that they'll be fine for a while, and walks off to find a runner, which only takes about two minutes, as Algren has enough runners to staff the White House, Congress, the U.N. and Martha Stewart's web site.
"There's a kid locked up down there," Kalima says.
"Where?" the runner asks. The runner looks like a novice, only younger and, to Kalima's eyes, dumber.
"Down there. There's a door with a chain and padlock."
"How did they get in there?"
"How do I know? All I know is that he wants to get out."
"He can't have gotten in there. There's only one way in, and that way is locked."
"Tell him that. He's been roaming around all over the place, trying to find a way out."
"He can't have gotten in there."
Kalima shakes her head. "Enough!" she says. "Get someone to get a key. I've got pre-flowing to do."
She marches back to her backpack and flow pad, leaving the runner momentarily flummoxed. Then the runner runs off somewhere, presumably to find a key.
"They're getting a key," Kalima says, settling back down on the floor.
"I've got to get to my round," Melvish says.
"You A flight or B flight?"
"Then you've got plenty of time."
"It's really dark in here."
"And it's really bright out here," Kalima says. "And if you don't mind, I've got some pre-flowing to do."
As she says it, the runner comes scuttling down the hallway with a man, presumably the custodian, wearing dark green overalls and carrying a large ring of keys. When they reach Kalima she tilts her head toward the chained door.
"Who locked him in there?" the custodian asks gruffly, beginning to sort through his keys.
"He was roaming around downstairs or something and just ended up there."
The custodian stops his sorting for a second, looks at Kalima strangely, and then finishes his search. He turns, inserts the key into the padlock, and unlocks it. A moment later he pulls away the chain and opens the door.
John Melvish emerges.
"Whew," he says. "Thanks a lot. Where's room 107?"
The custodian points down the corridor.
And Melvish scurries off toward his round.
Kalima watches as the custodian walks through the double doors. A moment later a light comes on, revealing what can only be a large closet. There is a sink, some cleaning tools, a mirror, and a corduroy jacket hanging on a peg next to the bare light bulb. Kalima stands up and moves closer.
It is definitely a closet. She can see the wall to the left, the wall to the right, and the wall directly in front of her.
"Damned kids fooling around," the custodian says to no one in particular as he shuffles through his mops and pails, looking for any signs of disturbance.
Kalima looks back in the direction in which Melvish has made his exit. The Quilty novice is long gone.
Kalima shakes her head.
He was a novice.
And he was from Quilty.
That would explain everything.
Will Melvish get lost again before the Algren is over?
Would he have gotten lost if he were a polician?
Is Nostrum going to go to war with the LD-L?
Are there any movies this Christmas that are less than three hours long?
Will Robin Williams ever make another decent picture?
All this and ettiquette lessons in our next episode: "Martha Stewart? Wasn't she married to Charles I?"
Go to the next episode Jan 19, 2000 (at the latest).