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Have you read this week's epistle from Jules?

Episode 167


     Sometimes things do not work out exactly as you have planned them.

     Camelia Maru was expecting that getting through the registration at the Venerable would be the last of her problems. Maybe someone at the desk would know that she really wasn't a Quilty student. The likelihood was slim, but it was possible. As it turned out, she went through the process without a hitch, and without the least difficulty found herself fully in the clear debating for Quilty Prep.

     Until Tarnish Jutmoll showed up.

     With the Nighten Day team disbanded, it never occurred to Camelia that Jutmoll would be an issue. But last night, there he was, gallivanting with the Bisonette team, getting all smooshy with Amnea Nutmilk, acting out urges that little old men who look like goats should not be having.

     Welcome to the Bahamas.

     The holding pen between rounds at the Venerable Bede is the college's main cafeteria, a pair of large connected rooms with seating for hundreds of students. Like many institutions, the Venerable does not maintain its own food service. The business of slopping hash is not one that intersects neatly with academia, as anyone who has had the traditional high school cafeteria lunch of pizza, fries and a roll can tell you. Traditionally, eating at a university has been comparable to learning at a diner, and one's expectations for excellence are low at best. But with the rise of fast food outlets in the 70s, every street corner began being taken up with every franchise, marking a serious decline in possible public locations for yet another grand opering. As a result, the major food corporations started branching out. Colleges, thruway convenience stops, airports and even the military were more and more losing their unique mess halls to be replaced by Burger Kings and Dunkin Donuts and Roy Rogerses. If the food did not improve in nutritional value, it at least improved in recognition factor, and the burden of feeding the masses was handed over to the nations mass feeders. This same expansion of outlets brought Big Macs to Moscow and Tacos Bell to Tokyo. The controversial cultural aspects of this Cocacolaization of the world notwithstanding, it has simplified eating for American tourists. Faced now with a perplexing choice between Peruvian guinea pig stew or a Little Caesar pizza with extra cheese, the decision is that much less onerous.

     The Venerable cafeteria is not simply one glorified McDonalds. Between the two large eating areas is a full-fledged food court featuring if not the best at least the latest in low-rate culinary possibilities. There are some centrally located fruits and vegetables, a sot to the handful of vegans who parade through the room on occasion, but the walls are lined with every prefab cuisine and brand name known to the late adolescent stomach. High school participants in the Venerable, perhaps discovering for the first time that college food may, in fact, comprise the nourishment they constantly crave, are usually in seventh heaven during the down time at the tournament. But Camelia has almost completely lost her appetite. She cannot even look at the bagel on her plate, from which she has taken two small bites. She is in the extreme corner of the northern cafeteria, because she knows that the Bisonette team has claimed turf in the southern cafeteria. The Quilty team, Camelia's titular compatriots, are scattered around her. Tom Abelard and Bob Cratch are in their first rounds of the morning; John Melvish, like Camelia, is finished with his round, and he is sitting a few seats away from her, uncharacteristically quiet.


     She looks up. It is Binko -- Jon Marcellus from the Bisonette team.

     "What are you doing here?" he asks, sitting down next to her.

     She gives a small smile. "Debating," she says softly.

     Binko cocks his right eyebrow. "All by yourself?"

     She has a schematic from the first round. She points to her entry, Quilty CM. "I'm traveling sort of… incognito."

     "Holy High Moly. Does Mr. Jutmoll know about this?"

     She shakes her head fearfully. "No. You're not going to tell him?"

     He puts his hand on hers. "Of course not. Why would I?" His hand doesn't pull away. "I didn't think I would see you again, with your team gone and everything."

     "I really like debating," she replies simply.

     "I guess so. How did you get involved with Quilty?"

     "The guys on the team helped me out. Tom Abelard especially."

     Binko's eyes narrow. "He's a senior, isn't he?"

     She nods.

     Binko looks around the table, and sees Melvish staring back at him. "Hi there, Melvish."

     "Hi there, Binko."

     "How's the foot?"

     "I can walk."

     "Excellent. You're not going to tumble down any more stairs for a while?"

     "I'll try not to."

     "Good thinking." Binko turns back to Camelia. "Jutmoll and Milknut are mostly hanging out in the judge's lounge. He's not judging himself, so if you play your cards right you probably won't bump into him. What will happen if he finds you?"

     "I don't know. Nothing good, though, I know that."

     Binko's hand pats Camelia's, then pulls away. "I'll keep an eye on him for you. As long as you stay around here, you should be okay, except maybe when you're eating and stuff. Mrs. N doesn't know you, so even if she judges you it won't matter much. She is in the judge pool, unlike Jutmoll."

     "The odds are that I won't get her."

     "Whenever the odds are against something happening that you don't want to happen, nine times out of ten the odds are wrong. I've got to get back to my team to prep for the next round. I'll see you later, okay."


     Binko stands up and, giving a last look to Melvish, returns to the southern cafeteria.

     Camelia, feeling as if she has found a friend behind the enemy lines, feels a little better, and takes another bite of her bagel.


Lounge Lizards


     It behooves a tournament to find some place to exile its judges when they are not judging, for a variety of reasons. The best of these is that to a great degree a tournament is measured by the quality of its judging, and a comfortable, well-stocked judges' lounge is an attraction about which word travels quickly. If you wish to attract a large number of college judges, deemed by many to be the best adjudicators in forensics, you are well-advised to lay in as many bagels, pizzas, brie slabs, Buffalo wings and other such collegiate comestibles as you can. College students come, first, because you're paying them, but if you're feeding them too, you're way ahead of the game. And your reputation among others in the tournament world benefits too, as you are seen as providing the best person possible in the back of the room, and therefore a fair ballot for each round.

     While to a great degree a tournament runs on its stomach, an isolated judges' lounge is also desirable as a refuge for parents. As a rule, mommy-daddy judges are treated like lepers by their own children, who tend to exit screaming from one end of the cafeteria when the offending parent enters the other end. For many forensicians, the raison d'etre of tournaments is to get away from home for a few days, and if home is following them around all weekend (and dressed like renegade clown to boot -- where do parents find those clothes?), the purpose is defeated. Parents, recognizing this phenomenon, and themselves usually not lathering over the prospect of endless hours of intense conversation with people a third their age, enjoy a place to bury themselves with a good book and perhaps a comfy chair for a few hours. Better still, they can often find another parent in the same pickle as they, and compare notes on their travels with junior and the dark side of forensics life as they perceive it. Most parents, by the way, value forensics not because of the skills their children achieve through participation, but because they know where their scions are, which is more than can be said for the parents of most adolescents. The most normal interplay of parent and teenager is the child's attempt to separate from the adult, preferably without having to provide chapter and verse on where it's going, when, with whom, for how long, who's driving, yadda yadda yadda. Forensics provides freedom for the child, and knowledge for the adult -- the perfect combination.

     Coaches enjoy judges' lounges as a place to grade papers, which is what they inevitably claim to be doing when they're not judging, and as a place to schmooze with the other coaches. As a rule coaches don't mind hanging out with their students, and are perfectly content to sit with the little angels in the cafeteria all weekend. After all, that's why they earn the big bucks. But it is nice to have a quiet haven to get a few minutes peace, and sometimes there really are papers to grade, and a little peace is a nice position to grade them from.

     The judges' lounge in a forgotten corner of either New York or Pennsylvania, or perhaps New Jersey, at the Venerable Bede tournament, is one of the largest on the circuit. It is the faculty dining hall, upstairs from the students' food court. There is no food service during class days; teachers simply grab something from downstairs and bring it up with them. But the quiet is palpable compared to the noise level downstairs, and it is a nice place to sit, eat, and relax for a little while. There are chairs and tables for dining, but also stuffed chairs tossed around in a fairly large number, all looking as if they're on their second life after having been in grandma's attic for a while, and even a piano off in a corner. As in any judge lounge, there are between four and nine college students asleep on the comfy chairs, stretched out like odalisques or scrunched up in the fetal position, totally oblivious to the real world. Whenever schematics are distributed their inner clock sends off enough of an alarm for them to sit up, focus their eyes, determine if they're needed, and either rise with a maximum of groans and stretches and snorts and scratching, or immediately return to sleep like well-fed jungle cats. Throughout the rest of the room are scattered the parents, the coaches, and the college students who are between naps and in one of the eating phases of their day.

     Father Fogarty Finnegan sits in a small circle with three solidly built women of a certain age, whom one would identify as nuns in mufti if pressed to explain them. The mind's eye can easily reclothe the three in wimple and habit, with nothing but a lined, fleshy face peeping out of the starched cloth. The women have almost blissful smiles as the priest speaks, a born raconteur with a rapt and captive audience.

     "The problem is," Father Finnegan is saying, "that not only are they not Catholic. I don't think they're anything. And they do it every time. I say the prayer at the opening ceremony, and instead of saying amen, they always applaud."

     The three women titter politely. They have often witnessed the Phenomenon of the Befuddled Infidel, students whose first exposure to Christian prayer is at a forensics tournament, and as practiced audiences trained in the dramatic arcs of performance they know when the priest has reached the end, and at that point they do what they would do at the end of any performance -- they clap their hands. If a Catholic had never been to lecture, perhaps when the lecturer reached the final sentence, the Catholic would mutter a speech-capping amen. The same logic applies in both circumstances. Forensicians at their second CFL tournaments have learned, by that point, to sit on their hands. By their third tournament, they're virtual holy rollers, amening with the best of them.

     None of the three rapt women is a teacher. Each is a functionary at a Catholic school, an administrator of one sort or another, a glorified paper shuffler. At tournaments, they act as deaconesses, squiring their nun or priest functionaries from one event to another. They are married, or have been married, to long-suffering gentlemen of moderate devoutness who recognized early on that they were probably stealing their brides from marriage with another gentleman long-dead, the one lovingly referred to as the Savior. Rather than becoming brides of Christ they became brides of Louis the Italian deli guy or Marty the painter or some other such living gentleman. The longing for a vocation was no doubt inchoate in their souls, but a longing it was, and it has remained inchoate through many years of happy marriage, evidenced only by their devotion to those persons who are of the committed cloth. They are nun wannabes, in other words, enjoying the best of all possible worlds, hangin' with their priest and sister homeys whenever the opportunity admits, while at the same time luxuriating in the pleasures of the flesh with Louis or Marty or whoever in a union sanctioned and sanctified through Holy Matrimony. They are nice people, always smiling sweetly, always surrounding the religious like secret service agents without earphones.

     The Church couldn't run without them.

     "I've judged every round so far," one parent growls angrily to another in a different part of the room. They are sitting across from one another, drinking coffee. "They're working me to death."

     The second parent, a mother from Brooklyn, looks astonished. "I haven't judged any rounds yet. They probably know I'm not any good at it."

     The first parent shakes her head. "I'm not any good at it either, and they've had me in there all the time. Maybe they don't know you're here."

     The second parent looks frightful. "Should I tell them?"

     "If you want to judge, you should. Otherwise you'll end up here all day doing nothing."

     "But you've said you had to judge every round and they're working you to death."

     "Sure," the first mother says, taking another sip of coffee. "But what else are you going to do here all day if you don't judge?"

     "Damned if you do and damned if you don't?"


     The Speech coach from a school in the northernmost reaches of the northeast where the snow starts on Labor Day and without fail ends every year in time for the Fourth of July picnic (but you'd still better bring a sweater) is sitting on a couch with a Speech coach from South Carolina where it snows one inch every year, without fail tying up traffic for a month and causing the residents to wonder if they shouldn't move even further south.

     "They had me judging LD," the northern Speech coach says.

     "Good Lord," the southern Speech coach replies. His tone is clipped and brusque, hers is soft and drawling. She breaks the words good and lord into at least two syllables each.

     "These kids are too much," the northerner continues. "I'll be damned if I'll pull something across the flow just because some punk kid tells me to."

     "I gather you don't judge much LD," the South Carolinian says.

     "They talk too fast, and they have attitudes you can cook a bear on. That must drive you crazy, being from the south and all."

     The South Carolinian wags her head. "I mostly coach Policy," she says. "They talk much faster than LD, and even though I'm just a southerner, I understand every word they're saying." She smiles prettily. "I think of LD as a sort of vacation," she adds.

     "Yeah," the northerner says. He hesitates. "I've been judging for years," he says as a sort of blanket defense.

     "George W. was governor of Texas for years, honey. That still doesn't hand him any kind of mandate."

     "I have to go," the northerner says, standing up.

     "It's been a real pleasure," the South Carolinian says.

     "Yeah. Real."

     Two college students are laid out on the floor, their heads resting on their backpacks. They are both listening to portable CD players.

     "Shouldn't there be some schematics out by now or something?" one of them asks as Eminem blathers through his brainpan.

     "They're late," the second student says. He is listening to Miles Davis, and perhaps in nodding tribute, his hair is kind of blue. "They're always late here."

     "Where are we again?"

     "Who knows? New Jersey, I think."

     "Really? Are you sure this isn't Pennsylvania somewhere."

     "I don't think so."

     "Really. That's awesome."


     They both close their eyes.

     Sleep, or schematics, will come eventually.


Will Camelia be judged by Amnea Nutmilk?

Will the food in the judges' lounge continue to be of the highest order?

Will George Bush ever lose a minute's sleep?

Will the Clintons ever go away?

Will Al Gore stage a coup now that it's been proven he won Florida?

Find out the answers to none of these questions in our next OCS recruitment poster: "Would you rather be a colonel with an eagle on your shoulder, or a private with a chicken on your knee?"

Go to the next episode due Mar 28, 2001.