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?
Jasmine Maru can feel it from across the room. She has felt it since arriving yesterday. She has spent almost twenty-four hours endeavoring to ignore it, but it has weighed down on her with the oppressiveness of a hot, humid day that makes every breath an effort.
It is the gaze of Had Fleece.
He has not tried to talk to her, although when they've passed each other in the halls as they were bound to do he has nodded at her briefly and she has responded in kind. That has been enough for her, but it has not been enough for him. He has not taken his eyes off her whenever they've been in the cafeteria, and she has known this without looking back in his direction because she has felt it in every fiber of her being.
Why can't she look back at him? she wonders. Why does she feel the way she does?
Because she doesn't trust him.
But why doesn't she trust him? Everything he has said to her she has believed, from his explanations of his dealings with Cartier Diamond to his proclamation of his feelings for Jasmine. She has tried not to believe these things, but she has not succeeded. She has tried not to have feelings for Had Fleece, but she has not succeeded. So why doesn't she trust him?
Maybe the real problem is that she doesn't trust herself. Maybe the oppressiveness weighing her down is not distrust but fear. Not fear of Had, but fear of a relationship, of any relationship.
She does not lift her eyes from the cafeteria floor as she considers that she is a junior in high school, and never really had a boyfriend. She has always been serious, even when it seemed as if every other girl in the fifth grade had laid claim to one reluctant boy or another while she professed no interest in any of the goofy looking Nighten Day ten-year-old swains, or when she knew that all the eighth graders would traditionally pair off on class day and she stayed home pretending to be sick, or when she could have gone to the high school dances after tournaments with the other forensicians but called her parents instead to pick her up because she was too tired but then she'd stay up until two in the morning watching old movies and sometimes crying even when the scenes weren't all that sad. And she has been serious now, even when Had has almost thrown himself at herů
She refuses to look at him. She can't look at him.
She has never had a real boyfriend before. She refuses to succumb to a boy she cannot trust!
She is not afraid of Had. She is not afraid of a relationship, of any relationship.
She lifts her head and opens her eyes. Her sister is sitting beside her at the cafeteria table, idly playing with the PostIts on her flow pad.
"Camel(l)ia," Jasmine says.
Camel(l)ia looks over at her.
"Don't you just sometimes wish you could fast forward to the future, and your problems would have been solved and you'd have the satisfaction of knowing how they were solved and you wouldn't have to actually live through them?"
Camel(l)ia thinks for a second. "That would be nice," she says. "Like you'd wake up tomorrow and it would all be over."
"I'm thinking more that you would wake up in about ten years, and you'd be an adult, and you'd have gotten through high school and college and be out there living in the world, being successful, married, the whole thing."
"You don't think you'll have any problems ten years from now?" Camel(l)ia asks.
Jasmine sighs. "I probably will. Probably even the same problems."
Camel(l)ia shrugs. "Same types of problems, if not exactly the same problems. Are these schematics ever coming out?"
"It has to be any minute," Jasmine says. "Too bad there's no schematics for life."
"Yes. A tab room for life where they issue schematics and they pair you with someone automatically."
"And then you debate with them?"
"And then you meet them and get to know them and have a relationship with them. And then you marry them and give birth to little schematic babies."
"You're very weird today, Jasmine."
She can still feel the gaze of Had Fleece. "I am very weird today," she agrees.
And she lowers her eyes again and sinks back into the slough of oppressiveness.
In the preliminary rounds of a debate tournament, you are protected against hitting one of your teammates. Whether it is a computer program pairing the rounds, or a half dozen coaches with index cards, white-out and a neutered ferret, rounds are arranged so that one's opponents are from elsewhere. The reasoning behind this is that it is one thing to practice with your colleagues, and every team from forensics to football does that, but it is another thing altogether to compete against your colleagues. The fabric of team spirit is too fragile to risk tearing by fighting amongst yourselves, especially since there are enough arguments in the forensics world already. In the forced unity of Policy and Duo Interp, individuals are already yoked together like married couples, bound by law and custom, unable to break into singlehood, blaming every loss on their partner, going through series of honeymoon periods when they can't get enough of each other alternating with seven-year itches when they can't get away from each other fast enough. Adding another layer of tension on top of that, and forcing one pair to combat another pair outside the tent when they're already at it each other's throats, would be just too much.
The prevention of combat among LDers on the same team follows that same logic, even though LDers lack the dubious joys of internecine partner combat. A team is still too fragile to risk self-immolation over which debater is better than another debater. You ride buses with your teammates, you eat meals with your teammates, you share beds with your teammates (thus preparing yourself for recurring nightmares that will haunt you until the day your grandchildren screw the lid on your urn and park you on the mantelpiece) -- you are closer to your teammates than to your parents, your siblings, or even your significant other (if you had to spend this much time with your significant other, you'd have broken up long ago). Friendships of any sort need nurturing and careful controlled development; what they don't need is that every time you turn around, there's so-and-so again, but in forensics, so-and-so is not only always there, but always in your face, twenty-four hours a day. There is no escape.
And God forbid one of your teammates has a problem with, shall we say, personal hygiene. Then not only are you in thrall to the sight and the sound but also to the smell.
Welcome to the Bahamas.
Of course, there are exceptions. Some regions think nothing of teammate facing off against teammate, and the whole idea of intramural warfare in extramural contexts is mundane and expected. The local culture has adapted to the practice, so it doesn't have the result of turning teammate against teammate beyond the round. But in areas like the northeast, where it simply is not done, the very idea is never even considered. Just like the idea of not doing it is never considered in other regions. You do whatever it is you do; you bow to the inherent culture, often without realizing it is a culture and not a categorical imperative. Why do we do that? It's a tradition, as Tevye would explain.
What more do you need to know?
In elimination rounds, the pairings are set by seeding in brackets, and the goal as with any seeded event is to allow the highest seeds to meet each other in the latest rounds. The number one seeded debater in preliminaries does not immediately face number two; that is reserved for later, hopefully the final round. Number one faces number sixteen, or number thirty-two, depending on the numbers, while number two faces number fifteen, or number thirty-one. And so forth and so on. But unlike the preliminary rounds, there is no protection from your own team, so if your seeding has you hitting a teammate, then you have no choice but to hit that teammate. But you don't really debate. What you do instead is succumb to a coach's decision.
Or, as some people might put it, the dreaded coach's decision.
If a team has enough people in it, it won't be long before they hit each other in an elimination round. So it behooves the semper paratis coach to have a solution for this problem in hand before it happens. Some teams lay out complicated matrices where the most important factor is seniority coupled with qualifications for the Combat of Conquerors tournament, followed by the integral of one's seeding multiplied by the judge variance and divided by zero just to keep things on the up and up. Other teams choose a more simple solution, where the higher seed advances and no other considerations matter. Still other teams choose by whomever the coach thinks deserves to advance, based on a combination of bribery, flattery, and a toss of the I Ching sticks. Whatever the method used, it will be the coach who goes into the tab room and reports the results of his or her decision, or, if there is no coach, the adult who is traveling in loco coachentis. If there is no parent, it will be the team captain. If there is no captain, it will be the most senior debater with the highest personal opinion of his or her own abilities, also known as the captain imaginatus.
In the case of Nighten Day, coach's decisions are based on simple seeding, with the higher seed advancing, unless the higher seed chooses to defer to the lower seed, for whatever reason. This provides for the fully qualified Combat of Conquerors conqueror to allow a colleague to also qualify, among other things. No pressure is put on the higher seed, who is allowed to make the decision with complete autonomy.
Most of the time.
When the pairings for JV LD are released, Nighten Day has its first coach's decision of the year -- and, perhaps, its last coach's decision of its entire tenure (Jasmine and Griot are both still in the varsity division, and could indeed hit at some point). In JV it is NightenDayCM versus NightenDayHB. Camel(l)ia Maru versus Hamlet P. Buglaroni, Jr. Only one will advance.
"Who's the higher seed?" Camel(l)ia asks.
Tarnish Jutmoll shrugs. "I'll have to go find out." He rises from the table and heads toward the tab room.
"What happens now?" Starbuck asks Buglaroni. They are sitting next to each other at the table; Camel(l)ia is standing across from them on the other side.
"We just wait for the higher seed," Buglaroni says.
"No," Camel(l)ia says. "We talk." She crooks her finger at him.
Buglaroni looks at her. "What?"
"I said, we talk." She moves away from the table, toward the hallway. Buglaroni stands up and follows her.
When they are far enough away from the cafeteria and the assembled multitudes that no one can hear them, Camel(l)ia stops and turns. Her movement is so sudden, Buglaroni practically falls over her.
"Geez!" he exclaims. "Sorry. I mean--"
"Shut up, Buglaroni."
He shuts up.
"I don't understand you," she says. "You're an idiot. You have no idea how to debate. You have no idea what debating is all about. And you still manage to do well."
"Maybe it's my boyish charm."
"I told you to shut up!"
"And stay shut."
With his lips tight together he goes mmmmmm.
"All right. Now here's the deal. I don't like you. I never did like you. I never will like you. You know that, right?"
"And you owe me, big time. I own you, Buglaroni. You remember that, don't you? I own you."
In forensics, ownership has a very special connotation. But that is not the connotation Camel(l)ia is indicating. She is talking about a more complete and nefarious ownership, not of one's debating prowess (if you lose to someone three times, they own you) but of one's soul. If you steal cases, as Buglaroni did, and get caught by someone like Camel(l)ia, you are owned to the core of your existence. Neither of you will ever forget it. The only way the ownership can be abolished is if the owner calls in the ownership chit. Which is exactly what Camel(l)ia is doing now.
"I am going to advance," she tells Buglaroni. "Whether you are the top seed or I am the top seed, I am going to advance. And you are going to tell that to Mr. Jutmoll. Do you understand me?"
"I don't like doing this, Buglaroni, but I'm not going to lose to someone like you, not like this, not that last time ever. I want to win this tournament. I can taste it. And you are not going to stop me. I don't know how you got this far, but it's over. Do you understand? Over."
Buglaroni nods again. And then his eyes look over Camel(l)ia's shoulder, and she turns around to see Tarnish Jutmoll doing his crablike walk down the hallway toward them.
"Well," the little man says when he reaches them, "it's pretty straightforward. Camel(l)ia, you're the top seed. Buglaroni, you're number fifteen. So, Camel(l)ia advances."
A little smile plays on the edges of Camel(l)ia's lips. She is the top seed. She is advancing.
A little smile also plays on the edges of Buglaroni's lips. Camel(l)ia has played her ownership chit for nothing. Buglaroni is free, and at no cost.
"It's like finding a loophole when you sell your soul to the devil," he says aloud.
Both Camel(l)ia and the coach look at him.
"What?" Jutmoll asks.
Buglaroni shakes his head. "Nothing," he says. "Just commenting on the seeding situation."
"I'm sorry you can't advance," Jutmoll says. "That means you'll never debate again."
"That's okay," Buglaroni says.
He turns and walks off toward the cafeteria.
"You have some time before the next round," Jutmoll says to Camel(l)ia. "You might want to prep a little."
"I might want to prep a lot," she says.
And she walks off in the same direction as Buglaroni.
Jutmoll follows at his own speed, wondering what the two of them were doing together alone out here. They couldn't possibly be an item, could they? Hard to believe, but with Buglaroni, anything is possible. He does have his private attorney attending the event for him, for instance.
Maybe Jutmoll won't be so upset to leave forensics after all. Not if it means never seeing the Buglaronis of the world again.
But then again, maybe the Buglaronis of the world are what it's all about.
Jutmoll opens the door to the cafeteria, where scores of teenagers raise the noise level to Dantean heights (or depths), where the smell of cold pizza lingers like scar tissue on a recent wound, where the floor is coated with a muck combining Mountain Dew, Skittles and Pepperidge Farm Goldfish.
Welcome to the Bahamas?
Welcome to the World of Tarnish Jutmoll.
He swallows and enters the room.
Will Jasmine ever get up the courage to return Had's feelings?
Will Camel(l)ia regret calling in her ownership chit?
Will Buglaroni take up macrame when the debate team folds?
Will anyone we know actually read Oprah's magazine?
How come the PCs are smart enough to know it's daylight savings time, while the Macs are too dumb to come in out of the rain?
Tell it to the marines in our next exercise in futility: "Judy Garland, or, Hand Me a Stick of that Gumm."
Go to the next episode due April 12, 2000.