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Have you read this week's epistle from Jules?

Episode 145

What is this thing called love?

     If you ask forensicians why they are in the activity, they will give you a variety of answers: They are looking to improve their chances of getting into the college of their choice, they want to overcome their fears of public speaking, they like a good argument and they want to actually win one for a change, they want to improve their knowledge of the theater, they are news junkies dying to ply the trade of their daily knowledge, they like traveling on school buses on weekends in their business suits. But none of these answers are entirely accurate. They may be a small reason why forensicians put up with the dystopian world of forensics, but there's a much bigger reason overall, and it's the same reasoning that underlies every action taken by virtually every human being between the ages of thirteen and twenty.

     The very same reason.

     Forensicians may act as if they know everything -- especially the debaters, and most especially the Policians -- but in their hearts they recognize their youth and inexperience. There is one mystery in particular that they know less about than any other, and they are the first to admit it. The tragic thing is that they expect that they will learn about this one thing as they gain the wisdom of age, but lacking that wisdom, they do not realize that the old don't truly understand it either.

     The thing called love, that is.

     What forensicians do know, which is one of the first lessons of love and one of the few that marginally holds true, is that one is most likely to find soul mates among people more or less like oneself. There are plenty of exceptions to this, but if you look around at long-lived couples you usually perceive that both members of any significant othership are roughly aligned on the genetic food chain. Mutts find mutts, while Homecoming queens find Homecoming Kings. Madame Curies find Monsieur Curies, while Dumbs find Dumbers. Forensicians, blessed with the gift of gab in one variety or another, and probably also blessed with a certain natural intelligence slightly higher than the norm (except for three or four we could name off the top of our heads, and you probably know them as well as we do), and also probably less than proficient on the football field or at cheerleader practice, know innately that their best bet for finding similarly blessed glib pseudointellectual non-athletes is in the world of Speech and Debate. So, like any teenager on the make, they follow the path of least resistance, and most likely success.

     In other words, most adolescents join forensics to score. (For that matter, most adolescents, forensicians or not, do everything they do to score.)

     Did you really think they were in it for the baked ziti?

What? Is this thing called love?

     Tara Petskin has taken on a task that she is finding progressively more difficult: she is using Haircut Puente to make Invoice O'Connor jealous. It is a classic undertaking doomed to failure, but no one believes the doom part until they've at least given it a try. The problem is, if someone wants you, they want you regardless of whether you are involved or not involved. In practice, if you are already involved, most people, taking the path of least resistance, are inclined to leave you alone and go seek one of the other fish in the sea. And that's assuming that they're interested in you in the first place. Tara hasn't even concluded that much with Invoice. For all she knows, he doesn't even know anymore that she exists.

     Of such are bad decisions, and bad relationships, made.

     Tara and Haircut have made it into Quarters, and are awaiting the announcements of the next pairings. They are sitting at the Veil table, listening to a pair of their teammates explain why they lost their Octos round. The discussion centers on the Dot Commie Bastards disad, which claims that immigrants will enter the country and take over the Internet and turn it into a communist concern inhospitable to the true capitalist goals of the dot com universe, thus destroying all commerce in the United States. Tara's teammates have argued against this position before, but today was the first time the infiltrating immigrants were South Moluccans, and the problem was that the Veil team had no idea where South Molucca is, nor what it is south of, nor if there are North, East and West Moluccas to keep it company. The negative team pushing these South Moluccan freebooters were claiming that the SMs are the worst scum of the hacking universe, and with no knowledge to combat this contention, the Veil team was lost. And lost.

     As the assembled team analyzes the argument, placing South Molucca firmly on the map and finding reasons why these Dutch colonial hackers are no better than anyone else's, Tara sits next to Haircut, mindlessly running the fingers of her right hand across the short-cut hair on the back of his neck. Haircut is avidly contributing to the South Moluccan conversation, waving his own hands aggressively in front of him as he speaks, but he manages to keep his left knee firmly braced against Tara's right knee.

     Across from them, Invoice O'Connor is listening to the conversation with a detached smile on his face. He is above the fray of Policiana these days. He too is still in the tournament, waiting for the announcement of the Quarters rounds in LD. At one point he looks at Tara, and their eyes meet.

     She smiles.

     He smiles back.

     She wants him to see her hand on Haircut's neck. She wants him to feel her knee gently touching Haircut's knee. She wants him to see that there is another person in her life, and to want to be that other person.

     The goofy smile on Invoice's chubby face says nothing of the kind. While the intense concentration on Haircut's face, accepting the hand on his neck, the knee on his knee, is steadily becoming a dangerous and unexpected concern for Tara. She had thought long and hard about the effect this relationship would have on Invoice. What she hadn't thought long and hard about was the effect it would have on Haircut Puente.

     Of such are bad decisions, and bad relationships, made.

What is this thing called, love?

     Disney Davidson has not been able to take his eyes off Gloria Fudless. Again. When she was in her punk black twenty-four-hour-a-day-nighttime Gloria What outfits, she was a magnet. Now, in her conservative gray suit, her formerly lacquer-black hair now if not natural at least not unnatural, she remains a magnet. Originally Disney was unable to approach her beyond inadvertently setting Buglaroni up to go out with her. Disney still doesn't understand how that could have happened, and as he keeps catching sight of her throughout the weekend, he wonders how that relationship is doing. He has noticed Buglaroni talking to her once or twice, but there has been nothing between them that advertises of a continuing attachment.

     Disney now, like everyone else, is waiting for the announcement of the Quarters rounds. He has gone into the cafeteria serving area to see if there is anything he can eat. One of the down sides of veganism is a never-ebbing pulse at the edge of one's entrails that keeps suggesting that now is the time to have something good to eat. The mind does not consider the possibility of eating something bad, of scarfing down a pork chop swimming in red eye gravy, for instance; once one has been on the vegan highway for a while, like Disney, one no longer entertains animal fat detours, not even in one's darkest imagination. It is simply the idea of eating something more, something that will finally satisfy the comfort corners of the soul as well as the spiritual corners, something that will do for the vegan palate what a half pint of double chocolate fudge cocoanut almond ice cream does for the non-vegan palate. No one needs comfort food -- the macaroni-and-cheeses, the meatloaves, the tuna casseroles dotted with potato chip crumbs, the index finger or two of peanut butter, those foods one step removed from mother's milk that say safety, home and hearth and making it all better. But everyone occasionally wants their primordial spiritual comfort. Yet pity the poor vegan restricted solely to the finger or two in the peanut butter jar. Sure, all sorts of junk foods are available to the person who thinks a glass of milk is a crime against bovinity, but junk foods are not comfort foods, despite the comfort they may give. Junk food comfort is not the flashback to the mother's breast. Junk food is the sneaky comfort of the adolescent playing in the adult world, eating a whole bag of something that will, in the classic phrase, ruin your appetite. Junk foods offer the comfort your mother wouldn't give you, the foods she told you not to eat because they'd spoil your dinner. Appetites can be either satiated or ruined, and only a mother can tell the difference. Eating junk food allows you to thumb your nose at that difference. It's your appetite, and you'll ruin it if you want to. It's your dinner; who better than you to spoil it?

     "There's nothing here but some really gross looking apples."

     Disney turns around. After his eyes following Gloria all day, he is stunned that she has surprised him now. "Oh," he says, his ability to speak as usual disappearing immediately in her presence. "Hi."

     "You're a vegan, right?" she continues. "So you didn't eat the pizza for lunch."

     He shakes his head. "I brought a sandwich with me. I usually do."

     "That's a good idea."

     The serving area is about twenty yards long, a corridor separate from the cafeteria. Empty glass and steel counters promise the harvest benefice of mashed potatoes and mystery meat on Monday, when real school resumes again. Disney and Gloria are alone. She points to a large wooden bowl.

     "The apples are there," she says.

     "Did you have any?"

     "They taste like schmutz."


     "You know, dirty wet slush a couple of days after a snow storm when all the drains are clogged."

     He smiles. "Sounds great. Think I'll skip it."

     "Good idea." She hoists herself up onto the counter. "You go to Naggie, right?"


     "You like it there?"

     "It's not Harvard, but it's okay." Disney daringly hoists himself up next to her. Not close, but sitting. She has come out of the blue and started up a conversation with him. He forces himself to act natural, when for him the truly natural thing would be so shrug and walk away and kick himself mentally for the next two or three years.

     "I haven't even thought about colleges yet."

     "How are your grades? I mean, not to pry or anything."

     She gives a small laugh. "It's hardly prying. My grades are okay, but they could be better. I'll get them better. I've been sort of, you know, goofing off for a while, but that's all over now." She extends her arms. "I'll have you know you're looking at the new Gloria Fudless."

     "You do look different," he ventures.

     "You noticed?"

     "Well, you used to wear a lot of, oh, black stuff, if you know what I mean."

     "Yeah. I know what you mean. I couldn't take it anymore. I got really tired of me, and I wanted to look into the mirror and see a different person. Did you ever feel that way?"

     "Every day of my life."

     "You can't mean that."

     "Neither could you."

     "But I was doing things I really didn't want to do. I had this boyfriend that I just really shouldn't have gone out with, and once I started, I couldn't stop."

     "He wasn't abusive, was he?"

     "Not physically. But he was very possessive. And sort of a hood, you know. A tough guy."

     "You were looking sort of tough yourself."

     "I know. And I had enough of it."

     "You're not talking about Buglaroni, are you? I mean, he doesn't strike me as that much of a tough guy."

     She laughs. "Hamlet? He's cute, in his way, but he's hardly tough."

     "So now that you broke up with the tough guy, you're going out with Buglaroni?"

     She shakes her head. "I was, for a little while, but the relationship with him wasn't all that much different from the relationship with Bark."


     "My other boyfriend. Hamlet was just sort of this goofy thing I got into, but like within a couple of days he was as possessive as Bark, and it was just another weird relationship that I wasn't particularly happy with, but I couldn't get out of." She stops herself short and looks at Disney. "Why am I telling you all this?" she asks. "You just came in here for something to eat, not to listen to my problems."

     "I like listening to your problems."

     "If you really knew me, you wouldn't want to listen to them."

     "Yes I would." He pauses, and says what for him is one of the most difficult sentences he has ever spoken. "And I really would like to know you."

     "I'm very weird, you know."

     "So am I."

     "No way."

     "Yes way."

     She narrows her eyes. "I.M. me. You still have my screen name, right?"

     "Oh yeah."

     "Good. We'll talk." She drops down off the counter. "Later," she says, walking out of the serving area.

     "Later," Disney replies as she disappears.

     He now can't wait to get to a computer to begin talking to her for real.

Will joining forensics ever be a successful strategy for connecting with the opposite sex?

Will Tara Petskin be hoist on her own petard?

Will Disney Davidson finally get together with Gloria Fudless?

Will Bill Clinton stay in India and become a holy man?

Will the Pope stay in Israel and become a holy man?

We've got to use Enigma to crack the code of our next episode: "Kilgore Trout: Algore Trout's Long Lost Relative?"

Go to the next episode due Mar 29, 2000.