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Have you read this week's epistle from Jules?

Episode 149

Bow, Applause, Bow, Applause, Reprise, Applause, Bow, Weíre Outta Here

     In the world of forensics, one tradition is as old as the activity itself, and it is slowly being transformed without anyone giving it even a passing nod. Once upon a time, everyone stayed until the last curtain came down at an awards ceremony. Tin was taken, hands were shook, names were mispronounced, applause was rendered, honor was bestowed. The idea of leaving before the awards ceremony was no more conceivable than the idea of leaving during the middle of one of your rounds. Well, maybe not exactly inconceivable: you might want to do it, but you never actually would. And the idea of not having an awards ceremony was even more inconceivable. You have trophies, you give them away with all the pomp you can muster. After forty-eight hours locked away in the tab room, the tournament director could finally emerge, battered and bloodied by his skirmishes with the forensics ferrets but ultimately triumphant, having pulled it off once again despite all adversity. The fat ladyís gonna sing, whether you like it or not.

     But things have changed. To begin with, some teams have the bus motor running the minute the break pairings are announced. The most creative aspect of forensics is no longer the arguments or the speeches, itís the excuses why your judges canít honor their elimination obligations. Coaches now think nothing of invading the tab room to grab their ballots before the envelopes are stuffed, pushing aside runner and tabber alike in their rush to escape. The idea is that the team has a long way to travel, but in truth they can live in the next town and still be as eager to get home as if they live in Pago Pago. On the other side of the coin, the tournament directors have begun to realize that some of their entrants do live in Pago Pago, and would like to get home, and nothing slows you down like a full-blown thankathon awards ceremony, especially if the tournament has not been run with Il Duce trains-on-time efficiency. Therefore some directors forego the ceremony altogether, distributing trophies in the break rounds during the disclosure. This does indeed get everyone out earlier, and it has the extra benefit of showing to the world at large whether youíve won or lost: if youíre carrying tin, youíre out, and everyone can see it clearly. Other directors hold the ceremony after octofinals, which is early enough to insure that most of the ribbon clerks are still hanging around, and late enough to honor a goodly number of break rounders at their latest position.

     Nip Sazo is from the old school, and has made no concessions to the brave new world of fast-exiting weasels (or at least the people he refers to as fast-exiting weasels). Algren-on-the-Beach, for most northeastern teams, is as far as they ever travel. As a result, most northeastern teams are eager to hit the road as soon as possible. But the flip side of this is that whenever Algren travels, they usually are traveling further than any other team. Algreners are used to long late-night bus rides. It is the coin of their realm. And in Sazoís thinking, if his team can do this every week, every other team can do it once a year. So Sazo holds the ceremony line in the most traditional way possible: he convenes the assembled multitude after all the rounds have taken place, and all that remains is the announcement of who has won the final rounds.

     Because of the fact that there were fewer break rounds of Policy than LD at the tournament, and because Nip Sazo has never been one to spare the ferrets, everyone ends at the same time, and the festivities are now about to begin.

     ***

     As usual, most schools sit together as teams in the auditorium. The Veil of Ignorance group is in the middle on the right. To Lisa Torte, they are still mostly faceless Policians, especially the novices who rattle on endlessly on disads and counterplans and all manner of Policy rigamarole that leaves her head spinning. The varsity is another thing altogether, smug almost to the point of haughty. In a way, the team structure is reflective of 19th century British public schools, with the younger students working as slaves to the older. The novices do all the work: they do the research, the cutting, the Xeroxing, everything that smacks of scut, while the varsity sits back and cogitates over the best arguments, and whether kritiks will work with a particular judging pool versus turns on the Putin input or whatever it is they do in their rounds.

     At the front of the Veil group is the team of Tara Petskin and Haircut Puente. Tara is on Haircut like a boa, twisting around his limbs, attached yet still uniquely mobile on her own. Lisa finds their pairing remarkable. It seems like only days ago that Tara was laying down the boundaries around Invoice OíConnor and daring Lisa to cross over the line, and now, apparently, as far as Tara is concerned Invoice might as well be a pebble in a rock garden. Haircut, with whom Lisa has exchanged few words since his reattachment to the team, has a blasé look about it all, as if he is used to girls hanging off him at odd angles. Maybe he is.

     Meanwhile, at the very rear of the group, in the seat save one next to Lisa, is Invoice. Blithe, cute, chubby Invoice OíConnor, who has once again proved his mettle by making it to quarters. He is a natural debater, regardless of the division in which he is entered. If there is tin to be taken, he is most likely going to take it.

     He smiles at Lisa, and Lisa gamely smiles back.

     What Lisa Torte needs, she thinks to herself, is a man. Preferably above the legal drinking age. Sheíd even settle for one over voting age. She should, she thinks, draw the line at anyone who hasnít been issued a learnerís permit from the Department of Motor Vehicles. That may, in fact, be in the teacherís rulebook.

     If it isnít, it should be.

     ***

     Bisonette Technical is on the same side of the auditorium as Veil, but closer to the stage. Amnea Nutmilk is on the aisle, and lined up next to her are Gloria Fudless, Binko, Chesney and Wolf Padrewski. Of the four, all but Wolf have earned tin today, and Chesney has even earned a Combat of Conquerors limb. Amnea is proud of her little brood. They may not be many, but they are able to hold their heads up with the best of them. Gloria and Binko both made it to octos, beating debaters with a full year of experience against them. Not bad at all. As for Wolf, well, at least he showed up.

     ***

     Binko is staring over at the middle of the auditorium, at the Nighten Day contingent. Camel(l)ia is at one end, and he simply cannot take his eyes off her. He has no idea why. He just canít.

     What is it, he wonders, that attracts one person to another? As a rule, he has always preferred a less sedate type, but since falling into the debate world he has found himself thinking about college and brains and money and all that mature sort of stuff rather than his bike and goofing off and having fun. Heís even thinking of quitting smoking. Itís as if he passed through some sort of straight warp that turned him into an overnight geek. Not that he feels geeky, but he certainly is starting not to recognize himself. Not that he hasnít always had ambitions beyond his own appearances, but now, for the first time in his life, he is actually acting on those ambitions. Thatís the difference in the new Binko from the old Binko.

     But what is it about Camel(l)ia that attracts him so? She is cute, sure. But why is he so determined to have an Asian girlfriend? He recognizes that he has somehow objectified Camel(l)ia into a thing rather than a person. He knows nothing about her. She could be the biggest pain from here to Sandusky. And still he is attracted to her, or to the her that he thinks she is.

     Heíll call her tomorrow. Heíll definitely call her tomorrow.

     ***

     Tom Abelard, who made it to semis, is also staring at Camel(l)ia, but from the other side of the auditorium, where he is sitting with the Quilty contingent. Unlike Binko, Abelard knows exactly why he is attracted to the girl.

     Sheís a hotty.

     She is a little young for Abelard, but he is a connoisseur of the differences between not only the sexes but among the different members of the sexes. In true animal magnetism style, he is attracted to all girls as individuals because each one is somehow different from the last. In a way, this is almost the complete opposite of objectification, but ultimately it is worse, because he seeks out each new girl not because she is an individual but because she is a different individual from the last one. Any different individual will usually do.

     Heíll call her tomorrow. Heíll definitely call her tomorrow.

     ***

     John Melvish is sitting behind Tom Abelard, and it is clear to him where Abelardís interest lies. He looks from Abelard to Camel(l)ia and back again. Talk about unusual couples, Melvish thinks.

     He shakes his head, and for reasons he doesnít understand, he feels someone staring at him from the rear of the room. He looks back, and sees no one, except Mr. Lo Pat, who could hardly have any interest in Melvish.

     He turns back to Camel(l)ia. She is cute. He would like to get to know her.

     Heíll call her tomorrow. Heíll definitely call her tomorrow.

     ***

     Kalima Milak is in the back with the large Manhattan Lodestone group. They have taken every participating spot Nip Sazo allowed them at the tournament in every division; there is no lack of competitors at Lodestone.

     Kalima is exhausted. She arose earlier yesterday morning than probably anybody else in the room, and she has not had a decent meal since. Her housing last night was great, but as usual she was unable to sleep, because she is always unable to sleep at a tournament. She is always too hyped up, her cases roiling through her brain like white caps leading a hurricane. If only she had said this, if only she had said that. And then she broke, and she hasnít had more than ten minutes off since double-octos.

     She waits now to hear the announcements. Everyone ahead of her knows how they did, but the finalists wonít be announced until the end of the awards ceremony.

     In the aisle next to her, Mr. Lo Pat is sitting in his wheelchair, staring up at the stage as the Policy awards are announced. To Kalima he seems strangely. He hasnít yelled at a Lodestone student since he came back from the hospital.

     Heís not the same old Mr. Lo Pat.

     ***

     Had Fleece is not sitting with his team. The rest of Toulouse-Lautrec is up front; Had is in the last row at the rear of the auditorium.

     Life is not simple for the person to which everything comes easy. Had has spent his entire existence as the best, the brightest, the most, the one. There are no gifts he has not gained, no prizes he has not won, no universe he has not mastered.

     Until now.

     As he stares at the back of Jasmineís head, way down in front, he can see no benefit in his having pursued Cartier Diamond, if indeed it was he who was the pursuer. His recollection of the beginning and middle of their short relationship is shaded by its outcome. Did he pursue her, or was he the pursued? Did he really enjoy going out with her? Hadnít he already had his eye on Jasmine when Cartier came along, abducting him from the straight and narrow with her looks and her car and her--

     He canít put a name to it, that oxymoronic ineffable but palpable force that allowed Cartier to do what she wanted with him.

     And what did he get out of it? The loss of Jasmine. Jasmine, with whom he could have had a real relationship. Jasmine, with whom he could have been a couple. Jasmine, with whom he could have shared.

     Thatís the one thing Had Fleece has never had. He has had girlfriends for short periods of time, and heís had dates whenever he wanted them, and girls to be friendly to him and girls to be romantic with him, but heís never had a girl to be a couple with. He never really wanted to before. Maybe he was too young, or maybe they were the wrong girl and the whole magilla boils down to the realization, for reasons that Had canít explain, that Jasmine may be the right girl.

     The right girl who wonít give him the time of day.

     ***

     Tom Starbuck would have left long ago, but the curiosity is killing him. He still holds the schematic Griot Goldbaum marked up with the seedings and the predicted results. As the awards have been given, Griotís accuracy has remained impeccable.

     To Starbuck, it is an absolute phenomenon.

     He is standing in the open back doorway of the auditorium, ready to bolt before the crowd disperses. Griot himself is now on the stage as one of the two LD finalists, standing next to a girl from Manhattan Lodestone, Kalima Milak. She is bigger than he is, and for a moment Starbuck is caught by the idea that he is in the state of the pilgrims and that what has been wrought here is an Inuit and an African-American ruling the mental roost, at least for the time being. There ought to be a Hallmark card in this somewhere.

     Starbuck looks down at his sheet. According to Griot, he would lose to Kalima in a three-two decision. When Nip Sazo announces the results, Griotís final prediction, even with itís self-deprecation, is right on the money.

     Starbuck refolds the schematic and tucks it into his pocket. The real issue will resolve itself tomorrow morning. He turns and heads toward his waiting limousine.

     ***

     Tilde Hyphen-Emdash is enjoying the last moments of the tournament. As captain, she has savored every privilege that has been hers over the weekend. She ran registration, she ran the ballot table, she helped Nip Sazo slaughter the ferrets, she yelled at runners with all the fervor of a Simon Legree. And now she has gotten to fulfill the final moments, the handing out of the trophies. While Sazo has called the names of the winners, Tilde, dressed in full goth drag from sober tiara to painted toenail, has handed them their tin.

     Now there is one final award, a plaque she is holding in her hands as Sazo speaks into the microphone.

     ďFor his unflagging enthusiasm for all aspects of forensics, for his putting the students first at all times, for guiding not only his teams but his fellow coaches, for always being there, and most of all, for always caring, this year we give the Simone de Beauvoir Algren-on-the-Beach Coach of the Year Award to Mr. Lo Pat of Manhattan Lodestone.Ē

     In the world of forensics, where every student sooner or later takes tin, there is also occasional tin for the adults. Every coach has a plaque or two somewhere honoring lost weekends, memorializing the faces of the students who were a part of the coachesí life for four years, week in and week out, from Macdonalds to bus trips to card games to mentoring to--

     As Mr. Lo Pat whirrs down the aisle to accept his award, he sees John Melvish struggle to rise to join in giving the coach a standing ovation.

     The Algren-on-the-Beach tournament is now history.

     Have a safe trip home.

     Write if you get work.

Will Nip Sazo ever change his approach to award ceremonies?

Will Camel(l)ia get three phone calls tomorrow seeking her girlish favors?

Will Lisa Torte find a man old enough to get a job bagging groceries without a note from his parents?

Will Starbuck be able to make anything of Griot's prediction abilities?

Will Mr. Lo Pat hang his Beauvoir plaque between his photographs of Elian Gonzalez and John Melvish?



Drink to us only with thine eyes in our next episode: "Is therapeutic in the house? Or, what's a peutic?"

Go to the next episode due Apr 26, 2000.