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Have you read this week's epistle from Jules?
There is something about the habits and routines of life that manages to confound the senses, a subconscious miring in the pursuit of sameness that overcomes all conscious signals pointing out toward newness. We navigate not where we're supposed to go, but where we've been, even when we know it isn't there anymore. We pursue lost loves, not because the love is real -- no love can be real if it's unidirectional -- but because we are so used to loving that person. We are caught in the habits that attend to the love of that person; we expect to see that person on our usual schedule, to hear the familiar sound of their voice, to smell the familiar scent, to do the familiar activities that we have always done. When that person is gone, we not only consciously feel the loss of that person, but subconsciously our senses are baffled by not seeing and hearing and smelling what they expect to sense. Routine has cleared a path through our instincts, tamping down a trail that has become well-worn over time. Our conscious mind tells us that the path leads nowhere, while all our instincts want to follow that path, not to get anywhere, but because it is there. And so we continue to love with our instincts, and convince ourselves that we still love with our hearts.
The patterns of life are what determine what are life is. At first we create those patterns as we define ourselves, then we follow those patterns because that is how we know who we are without having to think about it. People do not constantly redefine themselves by choice, although occasionally there are some individuals who seem to have new lives every time we see them. Often artists throw aside one persona in search of a new one in a series of new personae, and perhaps it is the artist in an any individual that seeks the new definition even when the old definition is perfectly adequate, although by the same token there are plenty of artists who travel one path to the very end, the hedgehogs who do not redefine themselves but redefine the world instead by going where no one has gone before them. As a rule, people don't change too much, unless they have to. The love is lost. The die is cast. The enemy is met. It is the predictable passages of life, with their often unpredictable timing, that forge our characters, that force us to regroove new paths through the forest of our instincts. We lose ourselves in the change, but find ourselves again in new patterns and new habits. We adjust. It takes time, but we do it. We have to. The alternative is the thing called despair, the thing without feathers, and giving ourselves up to it, for more than just a momentary self-pitying wallow, is the beginning of the end.
Still, the routines of the past are hard to forget. Tarnish Jutmoll knows in his conscious mind that he has no reason to stay after school on Monday afternoon, but his instincts want to travel the path that has been forged over countless Mondays, and a miasma falls over his thoughts as the final bell rings announcing the end of his last class. Normally this would be the day that the weekend's warriors would get together for a post-mortem, deciding what worked and what didn't work, why they should have done better and what mistakes were made that should not be repeated. It is an informal session, but a useful one, Monday afternoon quarterbacking for anyone who's interested. Since there is no longer any team, there is no longer any need to debrief for the next event. Jutmoll can pack up his briefcase and head to his car and go home. He can mark some papers, a chore that he's been postponing for way too long because his heart isn't in it. He feels the loss of the team strongly, and while there's no team left to absorb his concentration, he cannot concentrate on anything else.
The sight of Cartier Diamond sending that sports car to its cataclysmic incineration wasn't exactly a sedative either, but that's another story entirely.
Jutmoll's feet should be taking him out the door, but instead, without realizing it, he is shuffling toward the Speech and Debate meeting room. He has opened the door and entered before he it occurs to him that he has been operating on automatic pilot, and an automatic pilot set to go in last week's direction.
Except it wasn't just last week, he thinks as he walks to the desk of the empty classroom. He puts down his briefcase. It wasn't just last week, or last month, or even last year. It was year after year after year after year, the definition of Tarnish Jutmoll, the belief that there is a team that meant something, that being a forensician was a positive marker in the souls of his students, that they gained immeasurable benefits that may not manifest themselves for years but are there all the same.
And now it's over.
Jutmoll slides back the desk chair and sits down. The hallways have become quiet as the herd of buses in the back parking lot snorts and whinnies as the students pack themselves in. Among those students, for the first time in their high school careers, at least for some of them, are the forensicians.
Tarnish Jutmoll turns toward the door. Griot Goldbaum is standing there, a roly-poly presence in a red Chicago Cubs sweatshirt, his skinny mustache the only sign of facial hair on an otherwise baby-bottom-smooth face.
The student enters the room. "It felt funny, not coming here this afternoon," he says.
Jutmoll nods. "I don't know why I came here myself. I just looked up and here I was."
Griot nods. "Actually, I figured you'd be here."
"You did? I didn't."
"But I'm good at figuring things like that," Griot says.
Jutmoll smiles. "That you are."
Griot has his backpack tossed over one shoulder, and he pulls it around and puts it on one of the student desks. "Because we knew you'd be here--"
"We. Just a minute." He walks to the door and sticks his head out. He returns into the room, followed by an awkward straggle of other Nighten Day forensicians. Kumar. Buglaroni. Jasmine. Camelia. The Tarleton Twins. Ashley. William and David. Mark and Noah. Even Mordred, the Speechless Speechie. Everyone, in fact, except Cartier, who did not come into school at all today.
"There's no meeting this afternoon," Jutmoll says, holding out his hands, palms up, a symbol of emptiness.
"We know," Griot says. He returns to his backpack and opens it, pulling out a package, a gift-wrapped box about eight inches square and one inch thick. He walks up to where Jutmoll is sitting and holds the package out to him. "We wanted you to have this," he says softly.
Jutmoll takes the package. "This is unnecessary," he says, but his voice slightly catches, and he feels he'd better not say anything else, at least until he opens it. The paper rips easily, and when he opens the box inside, he uncovers a silver plate. It is engraved:
To Mr. Jutmoll
Jutmoll holds it up in front of him so that everyone can see it.
To Mr. Jutmoll. Thanks. The Team.
He lays it back in the box and looks up at the quiet students now surrounding him. His right hand absentmindedly pushes back his thick white hair. He swallows.
"We couldn't just end without anything," Griot says. "We needed to say something, to do something."
"We couldn't, like, just go off in the night like, like, fleas or something," Buglaroni adds.
"Fleas?" Jutmoll resists the urge to pursue the metaphor. At the moment, he is fond even of Buglaroni, which is something he has felt happening anyhow, end of team or no end of team. Sooner or later, usually sooner, all the members of the team become a part of the family that is the team, even the Buglaronis.
"Whatever," Buglaroni says.
"Whatever," Jutmoll agrees. Taking a deep breath, the coach stands up. Most of the students are taller than he is. "I don't know what to say," he begins.
"You don't have to say anything," Griot says.
"I think I do. I am the forensics coach. I'm supposed to be good at speaking. Except all I can think to say is thank you. Thank all of you. You have meant so much to me." He looks down at the plate. "I will treasure this forever."
As he looks into their faces, he realizes that he is not alone in the depth of his emotions. More than one of the students looks about to cry, or is doing whatever he or she can to look as if they're not about to cry. Ashley looks as if she's about to swoon, and even Buglaroni is flushed in an embarrassed red.
"Thank you, Mr. Jutmoll," Griot says, extending his hand.
Jutmoll takes Griot's hand in his and shakes it warmly.
After that, each student extends a hand, and says thank you, as one after the other they pay their final tribute. In a minute, they are all gone, and the room is once again empty.
Jutmoll sits back down at the desk. He looks at the plate.
To Mr. Jutmoll. Thanks. The Team.
"To the team," he says softly. "Thanks. Mr. Jutmoll."
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single visit to priceline.com.
Or words to that effect.
In the metaphoric world of samurai and ronin and Kurosawa films and John Wayne and Clint Eastwood and Dashiell Hammett and all manner of players both real and imaginary (the true semiotician would be able to draw a short line from the above to Bruce Willis, at which point that true semiotician would throw his copy of Pierce out the window and head for the used book store for a dog-eared copy of anything in the original German), an actual American of Japanese dissent might be the hardest to place of all. The debater of a former team is not the samurai, not the ronin, not the paladin, not the fallen angel. That debater -- in this case Camelia, having resigned herself to one L despite all the protestations of the spell-check -- is more of a simple expatriate, and as such, enters a small but not unknown corner of the forensician universe.
If their numbers are not legion, their situation is. A coach has moved away from a school, orphaning its team. A student has moved to a new school, the student being an avid debater landing in a district where the only forensics includes dead bodies (which is not intended as a criticism of any particular branch of Speech and Debate, although any such negative comment always wakes up a few dedicated Congress people in the back row). A student somehow discovers the world of forensics on his or her own, and no amount of convincing can dissuade the principal from spending money on cheerleading, the rifle society and the tropical fish club, the extracurricular activities that really matter. The instances are rare, but there. The usual outcome is that the student packs it in and spends weekends going to the movies and surfing the Internet, but occasionally there are students for whom no amount of adversity is considered daunting. They seek out tournaments around the country, and they go to them. Often they drag a stupefied parent in tow as chaperone cum judge cum coach, but they have occasionally been known to show up unaccompanied and even temporarily homeless, knowing that some warm-hearted schnook will find them a corner of floor somewhere if they only look needy enough. Every tournament worth its salt has one or two of these expatriates registered somewhere, and while they are often the bane of the tournament director's existence, they can occasionally also be the director's salvation, bring variety and geographic diversity to an otherwise predictably parochial gathering.
The ranks of the expatriate are filled with the undaunted and the undauntable, and in the few days that she has found herself orphaned from the team, Camelia counts herself among their number.
"What do you mean, you're going to go to the Venerable?" her sister asks her.
"I want to go to the Venerable," Camelia asserts. "What's so unusual about that?"
"We don't have a team anymore, for one thing."
"I don't need a team to go. Not necessarily."
"How not necessarily?"
"I can find another team to go with."
"Like Bisonette, maybe. Or Quilty."
"Why would they take you?"
Jasmine shakes her head. "As if Mom and Dad would let you go alone."
"They wouldn't have to know all that much about it."
"They don't know much about the team. If they thought I was going somewhere with the Nighten team, how would they know otherwise? If someone didn't tell them, that is?"
"You mean you'd sneak out to go with another team? You want to debate that badly?"
"I want to debate well, not badly. But I do want to debate that much."
"And you'd dump it all on me."
"How would that dump it on you?"
"Because I'd be the one staying around here doing most of the lying, while you were the one out living the lie. That's not fair, Cam."
"You could come too."
"Yeah, right. Like I'd do that."
"Well maybe that's the problem then. Maybe you should examine your own motives here."
"My motives? My motive is not to get myself in so much trouble that I can never get out of it."
"How are you going to get into trouble? Who would ever know?"
"Famous last words, Cam."
"All right, fine. Famous last words. But I'm going to do what I'm going to do, regardless about how you feel about it. And I'll expect you to keep your mouth shut about it while I'm doing it."
"You're unbelievable, you know that."
"I'm believable from top to bottom, Jasmine. Just try me."
"You'll never get anyone to take you."
"You'd be surprised."
"I guess I would be."
"You going to sit at the computer all night? I've got some business to do."
Jasmine gets up from the desk. "I'm sure you do," she says, tossing herself on the bed. A moment later the trumpet sound of the modem connecting to the world at large comes from the computer.
A year ago Camelia was in Middle School, worried about what it would be like in High School. Only a month or so ago she was a nervous wreck, holding on to porcelain for dear life as she faced her first rounds. Now she's a debate expatriate, drumming up support for her underground passage.
Jasmine opens her copy of Melville short stories and hopes that she'll find some inspiration in "Bartleby the Scrivener."
Where will Tarnish Jutmoll display his silver plate?
What will the Nighten Day team do after school from now on?
Will Camelia sneak into the Venerable Bede with another team?
If we collect enough soft money, can we get Hillary and Rick to stop now before they drive us crazy?
Would anyone but a liberal vote for a guy named Ralph?
Get yourself to the polls and support your local bosses in our next episode: "Albert Einstein, or, Bertie Onestone: You be the Judge!"
Go to the next episode due Nov 8, 2000.