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Have you read this week's epistle from Jules?

Episode 170

Here's Looking at You, Kid

     After the battle, the ronin returns home. He removes both his swords, and seeks the solace of serenity in the simple rituals of daily life: the cup of tea, the bowl of rice, the meditation on the mountain scene painted on the screens.

     The arrangement of the screens…

     The true warrior neither needs nor seeks the hedonistic pleasures of life, because the true warrior recognizes that survival alone is the purpose of existence. The way of the samurai, bushido, is the way of zen. One does what one does, and the doing is the thing; the purpose of life, in other words, is to live.

     The ronin Disney Davidson carries not two swords but two pens; there is nothing worse than flowing a round and running out of ink. Unlike some forensicians, he only carries a single flow pad -- a personal preference. In Lincoln Douglas, there are different styles of flowing, but the true warrior uses one long legal page for each side of the argument. Some LDers in the trenches use two separate pads, a commonplace in Policy only occasionally visited in the mano a mano world of LD. Wielding two pads can quickly become burdsonsome, and arguing a round becomes more like managing a stationery store, shuffling through a confusing array of pens and timers and cases and folders. Judges of an economic mindset can flow a round on one sheet turned sideways, a landscaped piece of legal pad blocked into ten boxes, but this is a style sneered at by the cognoscenti as having gone out with the leisure suit. Former debaters, still stained with recent blood, inevitably go the two-page route.

     But for today, anyhow, all that is behind Disney Davidson. His pens and pad are returned to his backpack. Disney has spent the preliminary rounds of the Venerable Bede as a hired judge for Manhattan Lodestone, which has deployed more teams at the Bede than Eisenhower deployed GIs on Omaha Beach. The Bede, which offers unlimited entry as long as a team can support its judging, is a boon for big programs like Lodestone's, which otherwise must pick and choose among its people for every tournament. Mr. Lo Pat sends busload upon busload to Bede-type venues, taking advantage of every slot, and throwing tab rooms into a tizzy in the bargain. It pains him to have to hire outsiders like Disney when Lodestone graduates dozens of its own potential judges every year, all of whom by tradition judge their alma mater for free, but one does not look an unlimited-entry gift horse in the mouth, and a coach takes his judging where he can find it.

     Aside from the knowledge that before the weekend is over he will have a check in his pocket, Disney is uninterested in the back story of the Lodestone judging program. What Disney is interested in is Gloria Fudless. During the day they have sat together off and on in the tide of the tournament, chatting a little, playing cards, complaining about the food, comparing flows, all the usual activities that pass through the normal event day. But now it is night, the tournament is over until the morning, and they are back at the hotel. Gloria did not break into the elimination rounds, which did not surprise her. Novices usually don't break at varsity tournaments; the luck or skill of Camelia Maru is seldom repeated in the real world. So now Gloria has an open evening ahead of her with no pressure on the morrow, and Disney merely has to show up and judge, which requires less preparation than getting beaned with a coconut, and the two of them are in a corner of the main lobby of the tournament hotel on a small two-seater couch, not talking but Talking, with a capital T.

     "The underlying feminist conundrum is that the movement was co-opted in the sixties and seventies by upper-middle-class women who used the principles of equality for their own benefit, rather than as principles for womanhood as a whole. As these women got theirs, becoming successful in the world and breaking down whatever barriers they had to their own success, they put feminism behind them." Gloria's eyes are narrow as she explains this to Disney.

     "You're saying that they were just selfish then," he replies.

     "Exactly. What you end up with is an elite class of white middle-aged post-feminists who grabbed what they could for themselves and don't even think about feminism anymore, while leaving behind the complete underclass of poor non-feminist minorities who were the most in need of the benefits of social and financial equality. Not to mention non-American women, who are worse off still."

     "You're talking about our parents' generation."

     "Yep. The Baby Boomers. The Them Generation. They are so wrapped up in themselves because they were trained from birth that everything was about them."

     "Well, there were like a billion of them. By sheer numbers everything was about them."

     "But it wasn't, really. They just acted as if it were. The so-called Baby Boom mentality applied to at best a large minority of that generation: the educated middle- and upper-middle classes. The real minorities were never affected."

     "What about, I don't know… Black Power?"

     "Black Power was a separatist movement."

     "But it was enabled by the zeitgeist."

     "Perhaps. But it didn't survive the zeitgeist, any more than feminism did. After the blacks got whatever power they could, they faced an incredible reactionary conservative movement in the 1980s. The lucky ones migrated to the middle class, while the vast majority -- and these were the poorest and the least educated -- were further disenfranchised both politically and economically. Black Power was to the people who needed it most what feminism was to the people who needed that most. The true beneficiaries were the people who probably would have been well off anyhow."

     Disney nods. "So how did you come up with all this, anyhow?"

     "I came up with it because it was becoming true about me. I began to see myself only as a reflection of my relationships with guys, and I turned to feminism as a way of, I don't know, enhancing my self-esteem. But feminism should be about more than that. Any para-revolutionary movement should be about more than that."

     "When you became this really political feminist, did you give up guys altogether?" There is a hint of potential despair in Disney's tone.

     "Not at all. Feminism isn't about being anti-male, it's about being pro-female."

     Disney lets out his breath. "I'm glad to hear that."

     Gloria smiles at him, and any thought that she is anti-Disney fades quickly from his mind.


Of All the Gin Joints in All the Towns in All the World

     The wheelchair whirrs up to the bar.

     "Drinking alone, Alida?" Mr. Lo Pat asks.

     The Brooklyn Behemoth coach looks down from her stool. "Just quietly celebrating," she replies.

     "Oh? A momentous event?"

     She shakes her head. There is a hint of irony turning up the corner of her eyes. "Just thinking how sad it is that Sister Levi passed away."

     Mr. Lo Pat nods. "That is sad. She wasn't young, though."

     "She was older than the pyramids," Alida Devans says quickly.

     "Ah, yes. I forgot. You and she were never exactly… pals."

     Alida Devans raises her arm, which is still encased in plaster. "She attacked me, the old battleaxe. She would have killed me if she had had the chance."

     "That looked like an accident to me."

     "When nuns attack, nothing is an accident."

     "Can I get you something?" the bartender interrupts, looking down at Mr. Lo Pat.

     "Diet Coke," he replies.

     The bartender nods, and pours out the soda.

     "Put it on my tab," Alida Devans says.

     "You got it," the bartender replies.

     "Thank you very much, Alida," Mr. Lo Pat says, taking a sip.

     "It's the least I could do. We coaches have to stick together. Besides, you're a cheap date. How many Diet Cokes can one person drink?" She takes another sip from her own glass, a light brown beverage with a couple of ice cubes that most definitely is not from the Coca-Cola family. "So how did your kids to today?" she asks eventually.

     "Broke a few," he replies. "You?"

     "I broke a few."

     Neither coach is telling the truth. They both run powerhouse teams that break upwards of ten percent of any elimination field. But to brag would be bad form.

     "What do you think will happen with Hebrides, now that Sister Levi is gone?" Mr. Lo Pat asks.

     "They'll go on. They'll find another nun. The place is lousy with them."

     "I don't know. Sister Levi was running the program for something like fifty years, and she was running it alone. I don't think there's anyone waiting in the wings."

     "You must know someone who could take it over. You always know all the up-and-comers."

     Mr. Lo Pad bows his head slightly in recognition of the compliment. "But alas," he says, "my connections do not reach that far into the Catholic school system."

     "But they do reach into it."

     "A little." He narrows his eyes. "Speaking of programs," he says, "I have to ask you. Have you noticed Quilty this weekend?"

     "Quilty? Sure. I've judged a couple of their kids. Why?"

     "I'm almost positive that once again they're traveling without an adult."



     "How do they get away with it? How does the school let them do it?"

     "You know what I think? I think the school doesn't know. As a matter of fact, I'm sure of it. I'm even going to see their principal this week to talk to him about it."

     The tall gray-haired woman nods. "It's about time somebody did something about Quilty. But what happens if he doesn't like what he hears? He could close down the program."

     Mr. Lo Pat dips his head right and left a couple of times. "Maybe. Maybe not. I have an idea that might help him out."

     "What idea?"

     He tilts his head to the left and raises his eyebrows. "I'll tell you, after I know it works."

     "One of your up-and-comers?"

     "You might say that."

     Alida Devans laughs. "You're an old schemer, Lo Pat. I drink to you." She raises her glass.

     "And I drink to you, kind lady." He downs the rest of his Coke.

     "Another drink?" she asks.

     "Why not? The night is young."

Camelia Maru and the Hill of Beans

     It is at times impossible to measure the value of the contributions of certain countries or regions to world cuisine. Italy has given us pasta (or at least competes with China as the originator of said delicacy; sources vary on whether Marco Polo actually did bring baked ziti back with him from Peking, or whether the great minds in Venice were already working on a comparable comestible). The Nordic countries have as many versions of herring as the Germans have sausages. The Portuguese learned to cook complex stews in a cataplana. Japanese chefs learned to save valuable cooking time by serving their fish raw. Czechs have a way with beer. The Chinese palate is open to anything that is not poisonous, standing highest on the planet in the number of ingredients used, seeing breakfast, lunch and dinner where others see only pets or pests. The spices of the Indian subcontinent are more complex than any on the planet; curry is not any sort of plant, but a combination of plants more magical than the most mystical alchemist's pharmacopoeia. Belgians congregate in July for this year's moules et frites. Some countries turn the blandest of beans into fiery delicacies. Others make magical marinades, or ferment incredible aqua vitae. The French, not unduly, have the reputation of doing more than anyone at the table, from techniques to ingredients to the wines to match the cheeses; even their bread, combining only flour, salt and water, is better than anyone else's.

     Which leaves the Americans, whose contribution to world cuisine may be the most overarching, because as a result of good old Yankee ingenuity, the assembly line has reached the global kitchen. Thanks to the metaphysical children of Roy Kroc, the man who made the McDonald brother's hamburger restaurant into the natural inheritor of the techniques of Henry Ford, almost anyone in the world can walk into a restaurant almost anywhere in the world that is identical in all aspects, from décor to cuisine, to thousands of other restaurants everywhere else in the world. Not just McDonald's but Burger Kings and Pizza Huts and Gaps and Banana Republics (neither of which sell food but which like countless other businesses today are nonetheless predicated on the fast food franchise model) and TGIFridays. There is no such thing as American cuisine. What this country brings to the table is the lack of cuisine, but served quickly and efficiently. We have replaced the imagination and adventure of dining with predictability. We may or may not like the taste of a Taco Bell burrito, but one thing is for sure: every Taco Bell burrito from Bangor to Bangkok tastes exactly the same. With American food, you know what you're getting. You can't say that about the restaurants in Beijing (except, of course, for the McDonald's).

     In a forgotten corner of either New York or Pennsylvania, or perhaps New Jersey, there is a row of franchise restaurants between Venerable Bede and the tournament hotel, and the Quilty team has stopped at one of them, Italian in theme if not in reality, for a late-night dinner. Since there were over a dozen team members when they arrived, they broke into smaller groups to be seated quickly, rather than waiting for one big table to handle all of them. In the luck or lack thereof in the arrangements, Camelia Maru ended up with Tom Abelard, Bob Cratch and John Melvish.

     Aside from the lack of authenticity, or the presence of simulation, however you wish to look at it, dinner was unremarkable. As was the conversation. The only one at the table who didn't break was Melvish, but little of the conversation revolved around the competition. Mostly it was empty noodling about television shows and movies, and who had seen what and how awesome it was or wasn't. Now that the table has been cleared, Bob Cratch has gone off to the bathroom, and Tom Abelard has excused himself to go off to the table with the Speechie girls Camelia is rooming with. Camelia watches from across the restaurant as Tom seems to talk to them with much more animation than she would like.

     A slight cough distracts her, followed quickly by another slight cough. Melvish is trying to get her attention.

     "Camelia," he says, or more accurately, croaks.

     "Are you all right?" she asks him. Since the two of them both had the linguine with white clam sauce, Camelia is instantly worried that there might have been mollusk fever lurking among the shells.

     "I'm all right," he responds, the words coming out quickly. "I just wanted to say something to you while I had the chance."

     She looks at him.

     He doesn't say anything.

     "Yes?" she asks.

     He reaches into his suit jacket pocket and pulls out a small velvet box. He hands it to her.

     "What's this?" she asks.

     "Open it."

     She flips up the top. Inside the box is a gold bracelet.

     "It's for you," Melvish says.


     "It's for you. I want you to have it."

     "I don't understand. We don't really--"

     "Take it. Please. I want you to have it." There is a desperate urgency in his voice.



     She allows her right index finger to rub against the soft yellow metal. Suddenly she notices that Tom Abelard is heading back to the table.

     "I don't know," she says to Melvish.

     "Take it," he demands, standing up. "I'm going to the bathroom."

     He disappears just as Tom Abelard sits down again. Camelia gently slips the velvet box into the pocket of her jacket, which is hanging over the back of the chair. Abelard puts his arm around her just as she finishes the maneuver.

     "We should be getting back to the hotel," he says.

     "Yes," she agrees.

     "Where did Melvish go?"

     "Bathroom, I think."

     "I thought he might have left. You know, stiffed us on the check."

     "I don't think so."

     "We'll wait for him then. Bob Cratch should be back in a minute too."


     She can think of nothing else to say. Between Tom's arm around her shoulders, and Melvish's bracelet in her pocket, her mind is completely fragmented. Tom's fingers are softly rubbing the top of her left arm.

     Welcome to the Bahamas.


Will Disney and Gloria talk all night?

Will Alida Devans and Mr. Lo Pat drink all night?

Will Camelia Maru wear Melvish's bracelet?

Will the Chinese send the plane back to us in pieces the size of Pecksniff the Cross-eyed Nostrumian Applehead?

Does the host of Weakest Link know enough insults?

All your base are belong to us in our next episode: "Someone set up us the bomb, or, What Happen?"

Go to the next episode due May 9, 2001.