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Have you read this week's epistle from Jules?
Jedarri D'Acques and the North Southville team comprising the Seven Deadly Sins are moving along the highway at exactly sixty-five miles per hour. Pucci, the replacement driver of the replacement bus, is chewing on a long safety match as he bops his head along to the Queen album he has inserted in the bus's tape player. To Jedarri, Pucci seems younger even than the Sins, and his grooving along to "Bohemian Rhapsody" while his nicotine-yellow teeth worry the unlit match hardly inspires the confidence one would like to have in one's professional chauffeur.
"We should be there soon," Pucci calls out above the music. He slightly lifts his right hand to indicate an upcoming road sign.
Jedarri glances at the sign and nods. Suddenly her eyes widen in shock. The sign lists three different destinations, and none of them is where they ought to be going. All of them are in the diametrically opposite direction.
"Where are you going?" she asks loudly.
"What do you mean, where am I going?"
"I mean, where are you taking us? Where are you driving this bus?"
Pucci shakes his head bemusedly. "We're heading north now, obviously."
"We're not supposed to be heading north."
"We are, according to my directions."
"Then you've got the wrong directions."
"Lady, these are the only directions I've got."
"Their uniqueness is no substitute for accuracy. We're going the wrong way. You've got to turn around."
"I don't think I am going the wrong way."
"You're going north on the thruway?"
"Then you're going the wrong way. You're taking us to Canada."
"I'm taking you to Syracuse. That's what it says on my directions."
"But we're not going to Syracuse."
"Yes, you are."
"No, we're not."
"That's not what I heard."
"Well, I don't know what you heard, or where you heard it, but I'm the coach of this team, and I think I know where we're going, and where we're going is categorically not Syracuse."
"I can't just make a u-turn anywhere," Pucci says, holding on to whatever defiance can be maintained in the face of obvious defeat. He has practically bitten through his mouth match.
"Then go to the next exit and turn around there. According to that last sign, it's only a couple of miles."
"That's what I'm going to have to do."
"That's exactly what you're going to have to do."
Pride plops down in the seat next to Jedarri. "Are we lost?" he asks.
"We're not lost," Jedarri says. "We're simply going in the wrong direction."
"We're never going to make it in time for the first round," Pride says with a slight whine.
"We'll be lucky to make the first day if this keeps up," Jedarri replies.
"What should I tell the team?"
"The truth would be a good idea."
"The truth? I don't know about that. They're getting pretty restless back there."
Jedarri looks over her shoulder at the other six debaters. Two of them are asleep, three of them are listening to music through headphones, and one is reading a Harry Potter novel. They emit the collective aggressive aura of a Jell-O mold.
"The truth," Jedarri repeats. "They can handle it."
Pride shakes his head and returns to the group. He says nothing to any of them as he takes his seat again and pops on his own headphones.
As Pucci turns the bus off on the exit and prepares to turn it around, Jedarri falls back against the seat and wonders if she wouldn't have been better off coaching the bowling team.
There is something tingly in the feel of it. Tom Abelard is holding Camelia Maru's hand as they walk along the sidewalk.
"There's a Chili's down the street," Abelard is saying. "We always eat there the first night at the Bede."
"I've never eaten at a Chili's," Camelia says.
Abelard's eyes widen. "Have you been living in America all these years, or are you just visiting?"
"My parents don't go out to eat much."
"You can go out to eat without your parents."
"Not that often, at least when you're in grammar school."
Abelard laughs. "Fair enough."
Behind them is the rest of the Quilty Prep team. Bob Cratch is walking beside a girl Speechie, an OOer whose topic this year is finding the ethnic truth beneath the white eggshell. Or maybe it's finding the little pieces of shell in the egg whites. Or maybe it's how to make soufflés. Bob Cratch isn't exactly sure, but that doesn't stop him from nodding sagely as she runs through her piece for him. She is a very sweet looking blonde sophomore and Bob Cratch is willing to undergo whatever egg cracking is necessary in order to potentially make an omelet with her.
Such are the metaphors that run through the mind when an LDer is listening to an OO.
The remaining Speechies are strung along behind them, talking loudly and perhaps a little nervously. The Venerable Bede is a very threatening Speech venue, and no matter how good or how prepared any of them are, they know that doing well here means a lot more than doing well most anywhere else. The pressure is on, and they all feel it.
Trailing the pack is John Melvish, gamely trying to keep up with his cane and his sprain, Tiny Tim racing along on Christmas morning to be in church on time with the rest of the family.
Abelard's hand remains warmly intertwined with Camelia's. "I'm sort of from the quesadilla school myself," he tells her. "And maybe one of those plates of wings to start out. And the nice thing is, if you get soda, you get free refills."
"All you can drink. All night. No limit."
"I usually only drink one soda with a meal."
"So live a little for a change."
Her hand suddenly tightens on his. "Oh my God," she says softly
"What's the matter?" he asks.
"Right ahead of us. Look."
Tom Abelard looks. They are about to overtake another group, mostly kids and a couple of adults. He doesn't get it.
"It's the Bisonette team," she whispers. "And Tarnish Jutmoll is with them."
Now Abelard gets it.
"If he sees me I'm screwed," Camelia says. "Let's cross over."
"I've got a better idea." He puts his arm around her shoulders and pulls her close. When they are face to face, he kisses her. And kisses her. And keeps kissing her. Until the entire Quilty team, including Tiny Tim Melvish, with eyes wide, has passed them.
They finally break apart.
"What was that all about?" she asks.
"Let them get ahead a little bit. We'll just stay behind everybody else from now on. It looks like they're crossing the street, anyhow, and we're not going in that direction."
"I mean, kissing," Camelia says.
"Oh, this?" he asks.
And then he does it again.
This time she doesn't bother to question it.
The Catholic Forensic League is primarily a Speech operation.
This is not to say that the CFL does not acknowledge and even at times promote debate events, but its heart and soul is tied into capturing the fuzzy faced adolescent at the innocent age of Declamation and slowing indoctrinating him through Original Oratory and Prose/Poetry until the final confirmation of Dramatic Interpretation or Duo. There are theories that it was the CFL alone that carried the debate events through the Dark Forensics Ages following World War II, and that during the '60s high school team debate was the backbone of the Church's onslaught against the crumbling of modern society, it's anti-hippie warriors armed with nothing but a few shoe boxes filled with fact-laden index cards (the precursors of today's modern Rubbermaid tubs filled with enough evidence to make even the JonBenet Ramsey D.A. blanch). But as the helicopter on the White House lawn took a V-signaling Richard Nixon away for the last time and Woodstock Nation became Saturday Night Fever, a change came over the CFL, and Speech became its driving force. There is even talk that an unreleased papal encyclical mandating the change lies somewhere behind gold-plated locked doors in the Vatican library, or that the change was one of the predictions given to the children at Fatima (at which time it was also predicted that bell bottoms would come back, which was one of the reasons many people, until recently, doubted the provenance of these predictions). Be that as it may, the NFL (the National Forensic League, occasionally referred to mistakenly as the Non-Catholic Forensic League, as if the CFL is for those who will be saved, and the NFL is for everyone else) began its biggest growth spurt at this time, and although today there are those who will say that the NFL is every bit as Speech-oriented as the CFL, it is still the big guns of the NFL who are Policians at heart, with LD as their fallback position, much as one sends in the Marines to attack first, followed by the lowly infantry after the area is neutralized.
In the New York Archdiocese, there is no attempt to hide the Speech orientation among the CFL members. Sister Levi al-Chaim of Hebrides High School is the Chairperson of the district, and she is venerated by the half dozen other coaches of small single-gender Catholic high schools that operate in the Burroughs of Manhattan, who flock around her at tournaments like Secret Service operatives surrounding the President. The non-denominational schools like the all-Speech Brooklyn Behemoth also know that their extracurricular livelihood is inextricably intertwined with the Catholics, and they join in making a show of unity when such a show makes sense.
And such a show makes sense in a forgotten corner of either New York or Pennsylvania, or perhaps New Jersey, at the Venerable Bede tournament.
Traditionally the New York Archdiocese throws an opening night dinner at the Bede, which all member schools attend. A large room at a local restaurant is found, and all the students and coaches get together to converse, convene and otherwise hobnob with their fellow students and coaches. This exercise in camaraderie and unity would be something akin to a religious event if two thirds of the group didn't comprise Hindus or Sufis or Moslems or Buddhists or Lutherans or Baptists or any of the other heathen clans that the Catholics now claim will also be saved, praise be to Pope John XXIII and Vatican II.(Note: Everything Catholic, including the popes, seems to be some sort of sequel, although you have to ask yourself, when was the last time you heard anything nice said about Pope John XXII? It should also be pointed out that papal numbers are usually retired after a star player has worn the jersey, which is why there won't be a Pope John XXIV until the licensing contracts expire on XXIII, although John Paul II did immediately grab his short-lived predecessor's moniker, much to the dismay of George and Ringo fans around the world.) Instead, it is simply an opportunity to break bread as a semi-affiliated group before going forth and attempting to bash each other in the arena of competition.
Speaking of bashing each other brings up a sore point. Is it a quirk of fate or the mysterious working ways of the Almighty that has Sister Levi al-Chaim sitting directly across from Alida Devans at Tony's Home of Greece at this annual restaurant get-together? Sister Levi, still humbled by her own misdeed, cannot bring herself to lift her eyes across the table to see the large and powerful Coach Devans with her arm in a cast, dangling useless from her side in a cloth sling. Alida Devans can't take her eyes away from the elderly woman who seemed to have been possessed with the fury of hell in her attack.
Sister Levi's kids were cheating, and when they got caught, Sister Levi went on the attack. Physically. Vehemently.
Alida Devans' eyes bear down on her, meeting no returning glance. Right is might, and Alida Devans knows it, and she knows that Sister knows it. As Alida reaches for her salad fork, her useless arm knocks a water glass into the lap of the freshmen Behemoth Declaimer who happens to be sitting next to her. The young boy jumps up from his seat, a cold puddle dead center in what was his lap. He streaks off toward the bathroom.
Sister Levi still does not raise her eyes.
"Some salad, Sister?" the waiter asks, laying a plate down in front of her place.
"No, thank you," she says softly.
"It's a good salad, Sister. Greek salad."
The waiter takes the plate and places it before the woman sitting next to Sister Levi, one of the coaches from a small girls' school in Queens.
"You're sure you don't want salad?" the woman asks.
"No. Just bread is fine," Sister replies.
The noise level in the room is high, given that there are about sixty teenagers, most of them high on the adrenalin of the impending competition. The adults can barely hear themselves talk as they munch their way through the lettuce and feta and olives of the Greek salad.
"We have Greek lamb," the waiter says, starting to serve the entrees with Sister Levi, as her place is quite devoid of salad.
The nun shakes her head. "No lamb."
"No lamb? It's Greek lamb. Good lamb."
"No lamb. I'm not hungry."
"You've got to eat, Sister."
"I'm not hungry. Take it away. Please."
The waiter takes the plate and drops it in front of the woman sitting next to Sister Levi, then hastens back into the kitchen.
"You're sure you don't want some lamb, Sister?" the woman asks.
"Just bread. All I want is bread."
Tony, the owner of the restaurant, comes barging out of the kitchen. He is a small, dark man with a large thick mustache, and he is wearing a short red jacket, very much giving off an air of ethnicity, although exactly of what group is hard to say. He goes directly to Sister Levi al-Chaim.
"Sister. Please. What can I get you for dinner? Some nice fish? Some beautiful shrimp maybe? Some pasta?"
"I'm not hungry." Her right hand is absently scraping small crumbs of crust from her bread.
"You've got to eat something. A nice little steak, just for Sister." He kisses his thumb and two forefingers in a sign of a delicacy that is hers for the asking.
"Just bread is fine."
"A hamburger? A salad? Salad nicoise? A big Greek salad? Some cheese? Some nice feta cheese and olives? Beautiful olives."
"Just bread is fine, please."
"Just bread, Sister?"
"Just bread. Oh, yes, one more thing."
Tony's eyes light up.
"Can I have another glass of water, please."
Tony nods. "Bread and water for the Sister," he says under his breath, returning to the kitchen.
Alida Devans watches this in silence. As the plates of lamb are laid before everyone else except Sister Levi, Sister's eyes suddenly rise and meet Alida's. There is sorrow in her eyes, and repentance.
But Alida Devans can swear there is also a hint -- just a hint -- of triumph.
What's the real reason the Southville team doesn't want to go to Syracuse?
Why is Tarnish Jutmoll at the Venerable Bede?
Can a nun live on bread and water?
Whose idea was it to go to a Greek restaurant?
Is that goofy looking character really going to be our President?
Ride the wild surf in our next episode: "I refuse to believe Chad Bush is a real name, or, Parker -- how many times do I have to tell you you're barking up the wrong tree?"
Go to the next episode due Jan 31, 2001.