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 bothers me," Mr. Lo Pat is saying, "is that anything can happen, and no one is responsible."
The Manhattan Lodestone coach is sitting in the tab room with Nip Sazo. The tournament is nearing the finish, and only a handful of contestants are left, which means that the remaining ferrets that Sazo has brought to the school will live to see another day. The only issue now in keeping the tournament running is making sure that schools that are eliminated remain an extra round to cover their judging requirements. That is always a problem. Since the out rounds require multiple judges, a pool larger than the people still in the tournament needs to remain available to provide neutral panels. The accepted practice is that teams stay on one round past their own participation. Unfortunately, not all teams practice the accepted practice; there are always a few who try to sneak out the back stairs while no one is looking. Sazo, an old hand at this, is prepared, however. He has runners posted at all the exits, to insure that no one will be leaving the building without his hearing about it in time to get them back into the rounds where they belong with their flow pads in hand. It should be noted that, in general, the coaches who run out on their obligations are the first ones to complain about the quality of the judge pool when their own students are in the eliminations. But this is a rule applicable to life as a whole beyond the forensics universe: the biggest complainers are inevitably the biggest culprits on the balance wheel. It is always thus. Why should forensics be any different?
"If we don't do something about this," Mr. Lo Pat continues, "we are encouraging it."
"I don't know what you think we should do," Sazo replies.
"We should bar teams that come without an adult from participating in tournaments. If they don't have a responsible adult, we just don't let them in."
"That's pretty draconian, especially if they've already traveled a long way to get to wherever they were going."
"If the rule is publicized, it will stop them from traveling in the first place. Then we won't have teams like Quilty -- and it almost always is Quilty -- coming without any coach or any parents."
"They don't have a coach that would come even if he wanted to."
"But they do have parents. I know that. These children were neither cloned nor discovered under cabbage leaves. They are, as far as I can tell, the product of biological reproduction. Let the people who reproduced them take responsibility for them. It's not asking all that much. A lot of teams have incredibly solid parental support. In a town like Quilty, where the average income is in the six figures for the Haitian nannies, I think the parents ought to be able to come forth and do their share."
"I don't disagree with you in principle," Sazo says, "but should we punish the children for the sins of the parents? Especially if they're sins of omission."
"The punishment would at worst be occasional, and mostly emblematic. Turn away a team once, and that team will never show up again without adequate chaperonage."
Nip Sazo shakes his head. "It doesn't mean much to either you or me at this point in the year. We've both had our tournaments. Who would you suggest take up this cause in our stead?"
"There's Jutmoll. The Snow Ball is coming."
"No it's not. His team is being liquidated. They're out of money."
Mr. Lo Pat nods. "Ah, yes. I forgot. Well, the Venerable Bede people certainly won't care if there's any parents there or not. All they care about is the money." He exhales loudly. "This is a terrible situation, Nip, and something has to be done about it."
"Your real issue is with Quilty," Sazo says. "Why don't you talk to the administration there and explain the situation to them? The accident with their novice today can't help but make the argument in your favor. The last thing they want is a lawsuit on their hands if some kid gets hurt."
"If some kid gets hurt at your school, it won't be Quilty that gets hit with a lawsuit."
"You don't think--"
"That Melvish's parents are going to sue? I doubt it. They looked like the nicest family you'd ever want to see. I can only wish that they had showed up with the team rather than after the emergency phone call."
"I still think you should talk to Quilty. They're the ones who are ultimately responsible for their extracurricular programs."
"Maybe I will," Mr. Lo Pat says. "It's better than doing nothing." The Lodestone coach kicks his wheelchair into gear. "I'm going to go see how my team is doing. Kalima should almost be out of semis by now."
He whirrs toward the doorway, then stops.
"Yes, I definitely will talk to the Quilty people. It makes sense. It's their responsibility. Make them do something about it."
He exits the tab room.
Which brings to mind the point we made earlier, that the biggest complainers are inevitably the biggest culprits. It was, after all, Mr. Lo Pat who is the proximate cause of Melvish's tumble down the stairs. And it is Mr. Lo Pat who is making the biggest noise about the lack of supervision over the Quilty team.
It is always thus. Why should debate be any different?
As the tournament has drawn to its ever shortening focus, with fewer rounds in each division concentrating the minds of those still in the mood to think about debate, the minds that are not concentrating on debate, or the parts of the minds that are not concentrating on debate, and that are also not concentrating on the opposite sex, homework, spades or whether to make a break for it in aid of promoting a few Big Macs, are if not concentrating at least skimming off the idea of whatever-happened-to-that-kid-who-fell-down-the-stairs. The few who are in a position of knowing, i.e., Mr. Lo Pat and Nip Sazo, have carelessly kept that information to themselves vis-à-vis the tournament as a whole, and as a result, a number of theories are dancing through the cafeteria in search of anyone who will follow their lead. To wit:
1. He's dead. This has the virtue of simplicity combined with the tendency of most people to if not wish the worst, at least to enjoy hearing it. Truth to tell, most people would like him to be dead, but subsequently to rise from the dead, thus fulfilling both their greatest fear and their greatest hope. Realistically, few people are buying into this theory, as a number of people saw him quite conscious when he left the building, and it is unlikely that a hospital could have done that much damage to him that quickly.
2. He is seriously injured enough to spend the rest of his days in a wheelchair a la Mr. Lo Pat. There is a mystical unity in this theory, bringing as it would a second wheelchair onto the circuit, providing a balance of young and old, debater and coach, Quiltonian and Lodestonian.
3. There was nothing at all wrong with him, and he was faking. This is the theory subscribed to by those who know Melvish best, his Quilty Prep teammates. According to them, Melvish will use this injury to get exempted from gym for life, which is the academic version of a get-out-of-jail-free card. Students who are exempted from gym usually spend that now unoccupied time scouring the school buildings for new places to hide while smoking, drinking or otherwise doing whatever it is that is guaranteed to have the opposite results to having gotten a little physical exercise. Melvish intimates have no difficulty seeing him descending into the Quilty sub-sub-basement in search of untoward Melvishiana.
4. Whatever's wrong with him, the NFL will rush doctors from Ripon to cover it up, to keep the lid from blowing off the high school debate powder keg. This Illuminati variation is an especially popular theory with the Policians, who imagine that Melvish's fall down the stairs could, if not countered correctly, lead to nuclear annihilation.
5. Whatever's wrong with him, these kids today are totally out of control, and this is exactly what happens as a result. This is a popular theory in the judges' lounge, which is now entirely populated with "C" judges who are no longer needed in the pool. In other words, this is the theory of the parents who can't understand why they can't leave yet and why debate tournaments always take so long and who's in charge here anyhow and the next time my kid wants to do one of these things, he can do it without me because I've got my own life to live, goddamnit!
6. Some kid fell down the stairs? This is not denial but ignorance on the part of most of the novices attending the tournament. But then again, what do you expect from novices?
"I agree with your mother," Mr. Melvish adds.
Mr. Melvish is behind the wheel of his Mercedes, with his wife beside him. Their scion is in the back seat. The only noticeable aftereffect of his encounter with Mr. Lo Pat is the Ace bandage on his left wrist. He is also wearing an unnoticeable bandage on his right ankle. When he walked the three steps from the wheelchair that they insisted on rolling him out of the building on into the Mercedes, he did also favor his right side with a pronounced limp.
"It's almost over," their son says. "I just want to see how it ends. I'm all right."
"We've got a long trip back, Johnny."
"It's just for a little while, Ma."
Mrs. Melvish sighs and looks at her husband, who shakes his head in grim acceptance. "What the hell," he mutters, throwing the car into reverse and pulling out of the parking space. "We'll stay for a few minutes so you can tell your teammates you're okay, and then we're out of there."
Melvish smiles. "Thanks, Dad."
Five minutes later, they are at the high school. Melvish pere pops out of the car and opens the door for Melvish fils, who gamely manages to exit without any physical assistance. As he moves toward the front door, Melvish can feel a slight tinge on his right leg when he walks on it, so he is especially careful to favor it as much as possible, even though the doctors said not to favor it. It doesn't hurt the doctors when he walks on it, so it's easy for them to say what they want to say.
"Melvish!" The first person to see him walk through the front door, his parents in tow behind him, is his teammate, Tom Abelard. Abelard is leading a small group along the hallway. "I thought we'd never see you again." If there is a sense of lost wistfulness in that last sentence, Melvish is unaware of it.
"I'm all right. Sort of. What's happening with the tournament?"
"Finals are about to begin. Griot's debating Kalima in Varsity. Jasmine's sister is debating some Farnsworth schlub in JV."
"You going to watch Griot?"
Abelard raises an eyebrow. "Are you crazy? I'm going to watch Camel(l)ia."
Melvish recognizes the look of the hunter on Abelard's face, and is suddenly struck by a sense of proprietariness. He realizes that he has his own feelings for Camel(l)ia, even though he has never said a single word to her.
"I want to watch that round too," he says, turning back to look at his parents.
"We said we were leaving," Melvish pere says peevishly.
"It won't take long," Melvish fils replies, and without waiting for further discussion, he takes off after Abelard's group.
Melvish pere looks at Melvish mere, and the two of them shake their heads. They have known Melvish fils all his life, and they are used to him.
They follow the crowd in the direction of Camel(l)ia's final round.
Will Mr. Lo Pat be able to bar adultless teams from future tournaments?
Will reality ever measure up to the rumors?
Will Melvish be the one to win fair Camel(l)ia?
Is the Internet millionaire becoming a thing of the past?
Can we ship Gore to Cuba and keep Elian?
Braid the raven hair in our next episode: "Three Little Maids from School, or, the Real Reason No One ever Performs 'Mikado' in High School Anymore is fear that the PTA Would Immediately Be Up in Arms Trying to Ban the Song About a Certain Bird, Not to Mention the Name of the Town, But They'd Probably Think that Execution is Okay."
Go to the next episode due Apr 19, 2000.