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Have you read this week's epistle from Jules?

Episode 171

Where is Peter Parker When You Need Him?

     There are too many things going on in Camelia Maru's brain to allow her to gently fall asleep.

     First, there's breaking. The excitement of that alone would be enough to throw anyone into a tizzy. Since when do novices break at varsity tournaments? It is simply not done. She doesn't necessarily expect to progress any further than the first round tomorrow morning, but that is further than she ever expected in the first place, and an extraordinary feather in her cap.

      If only it meant something. As Nighten CM she would accrue NFL points and team status and the simple joy of basking in the praise of her teammates. As Quilty CM, she is simply a specter, a wraith, a forensics ghost appearing out of nowhere and disappearing just as quickly. What is the point of it, if it ends completely tomorrow?

      Except, of course, maybe it won't end, now that she's been discovered by Tarnish Jutmoll. Or it will end so fast she won't be able to enjoy any more of it. What if he's there tomorrow, filing a protest with the tournament? Do people file protests with tournaments? What was Jutmoll going to do? There was no doubt that he had seen and recognized her. So where would they go from here?

     On top of all of that, there was Melvish and his bracelet. For the life of her she can't understand why she accepted it from him? What had she been thinking? Not only did she barely know him, what little she did know of him was more than enough to convince her that, well, it was more than enough. Besides, he had to believe that she was an item with Tom Abelard, which made it even more incomprehensible why he would play up to Camelia. Of course, he had gone running off the minute he had given the thing to her, and she had never had a chance to talk to him further about it. And she did sort of like it, as much as she hated to admit it. It was a pretty bracelet. And it was nice to be given something pretty, even if it came from a virtual stranger. She was flattered. She doesn't think of herself as an attractive freshman girl entering into the world where every guy she meets, or almost every guy, will at some point consider her as a potential relationship at best or conquest at worst. She may come to this conclusion eventually, but at the moment she is too unsure of herself to even consider it.

     But at the same time, she does have the power of attractiveness, and even if she doesn't know it consciously, she has used it to get to the Venerable. She knows she was leading Tom on, and that's she's been using him for her own ends. But she's believed that this was an accident, a one-time thing. What she doesn't know is that she will have this power for some time, to use for good or evil as her own conscience takes her. In the immortal words of Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility. In Camelia's case, she doesn't understand yet that she has the power, so she isn't aware of the responsibility. She will, presumably, learn both in time.

     Meanwhile, she just wants to get to sleep. Her three Orator roommates are once again nowhere to be seen; the last glimpse she caught of any of them was talking to Tom at the restaurant. Last night, when she had fallen asleep on the bed, her last drifting thoughts had been that they would toss her to the floor when they eventually returned, but when she awoke this morning, she discovered that the three of them had fallen around her on the bed like hunting dogs collapsing willy nilly in the kennels after sending a whole slew of foxes to ground, and not a word had been spoken about who was entitled to what sleeping nook. It is almost one in the morning now, and they are out again wherever it is they get out to, and she is once again in the middle of the bed, except tonight she is tossing and turning instead of falling into instant unconsciousness.

     When the knock on the door comes, she is almost happy to hear it, because with every minute she seems even less asleep than the minute before. She pops out of bed and looks through the peephole to see Tom Abelard standing on the other side, his mop of messy hair distributed wildly across his forehead.

     She opens the door. "Hi, Tom."

     He walks in. "Hi."

     Camelia closes the door behind him.

     Tom is wearing some of his usual outfit; at least, he still has on his boating shoes. But he has changed into shiny green gym shorts and oversize maroon Harvard tee shirt. Camelia is wearing her night outfit of bland gray sleeveless tee shirt and baggy pajama bottoms in a lively green-and-red checkered pattern that make her look like a runaway clown. Or at least that's what her sister has always told her.

     For a moment she wonders what her sister is doing at this moment. And then she realizes that Jasmine is no doubt sound asleep, if not more so. The selfish ingrate!

     "I just thought I'd stop by to see how you were doing," Tom Abelard says.

     "I'm fine," Camelia replies, plopping down on the bed. "Except I can't sleep."

     "Excited about breaking?" Tom asks. He sits down next to her.

     "Excited and scared," she replies. "I mean, the couple of novice tournaments I went to, I did fine. But this is way different."

     "You're a great debater," he tells her. "Don't worry about it. Even if you lose your first round tomorrow morning, you have nothing left to lose. Hell, just breaking her makes you the world's scariest novice. What more do you want?'

     She laughs. The worlds scariest novice. Oh, that's her all right.

     "Want a cigarette?" he asks her, pulling one out from somewhere and lighting it for himself.

     She shakes her head. "I don't smoke."

     He nods. "No problem."

     There is a long silence, which Camelia breaks by asking him, "So, are you nervous about tomorrow?"

     He shakes his head. "I've broken a lot. After a while, it doesn't mean that much."

     "I can't believe that."

     "You will, eventually." He blows some smoke. "Is there an ashtray in here?"

     She lifts her shoulders. "Beats me."

     He stands up and looks around, eventually settling on a coffee mug. He brings it back with him and sits down again next to her. This time, there is barely two inches between them.

     "Want to watch TV or something?" he asks her.

     "I really ought to try to get to sleep."

     "It's not that late."

     "It's not that late for you, because you always break. It's way late for me, because this is my first time."

     He nods, and Camelia notices a change in his expression that she finds hard to understand. He drops his cigarette into the coffee mug and places it down on the floor. He turns and looks at her with something between a half smile and a pulled hamstring. Then, out of nowhere, he bends over and kisses her.

     And she can't say she doesn't like it.

     "Mmmm." She smiles as he pulls away.

     "Mmmm," he agrees. His face now mixes self-absorption with something resembling Kirkegaardian angst. It is as if he has become a series of masks deliberately designed to confuse emotions. He bends closer to her and kisses her again, this time longer and harder.

     And Camelia is now starting to feel uncomfortable. A kiss is nice. Gentle. Sweet. Two kisses is kissing for its own sake. She leans away from him, but he comes at her again undeterred.

     Three kisses is positively nuclear. And is beginning to be accompanied by arms and, yes, hands.

     Incredibly fast hands.

     "Tom." She tries to push him away.

     He appears unstoppable.

     "Tom. Please stop."

     He stops. "What?" His expression now blends curmudgeonly chagrin with the stoicness usually associated with undergoing a colonoscopy.

     "I don't want to do that."

     "Do what?"


     "Kiss? I'm only kissing."

     "It seems like more than only kissing."

     "I know what only kissing is, and I know what more than only kissing is, and I assure you, this is only kissing."

     "Still, I don't want to do it."

     "Jeez!" He stands up. "What's wrong with you?"

     "What's wrong with me?"

     He stoops to retrieve his cigarette, which is still lighted. He takes a deep drag into his lungs. "Exactly. What's wrong with you? I just wanted to--" He stops. "The hell with it."

     He stomps to the doorway.

     "Tom," she calls out after him.


     She is silent. She doesn't know what.

     He gives a short shake of his head, and goes out the door.

     And Camelia, although she is not sure why, begins to cry uncontrollably.

You Say Either


     "It's not like you're exactly plain vanilla either, if you know what I mean." Gloria Fudless's hand is resting lightly on Disney Davidson's knee.

     "I'm as vanilla as you can get," Disney replies. It is after two a.m., and they are still sitting in the lobby of the tournament hotel. The only other living soul is the clerk behind the registration desk, who is diddling away at the computer doing whatever it is that night clerks do at registration desks when there isn't a stream of guests, nor any possibility of a stream of guests.

     "How can you say that?," Gloria asks. "You're the king of the vegans! You wear vegan tee shirts and vegan buttons and vegan bumper stickers and vegan billboards, for God's sake. Every time I look at you I get an incredible urge to run out and order another Big Mac."

     "I believe in respecting the animals we share the earth with," Disney says with a slight tone of petulance.

     "I have nothing against the animals we share the earth with. I find some of them quite delicious."

     "That isn't funny."

     "All right. Maybe not. I mean, I can see being a vegetarian and not wanting to kill any animals. Not that I'm a vegetarian myself, or have any intentions of becoming one, but at least that makes some innate sense to me. Not complete innate sense, but some innate sense."

     "Why not complete innate sense? Why would you harbor any illusions that it's okay to slaughter a cow so that you can eat a hamburger?"

     "Simple," she replies. "When I eat a hamburger I'm following in the path of about five million years of human evolution. Every ancestor I have, going back to the first ones to roam the African savannahs, were carnivores. My genes are their genes, and my genes are carnivorous."

     "Genetics are the history of your cells, not their destiny."

     "That's ridiculous. If my genes harbor some fatal flaw that says, I don't know, I'll have heart disease, there's not much I can do about it, any more than I can do anything about my genes telling me that I'm a meat-eater."

     "That is untrue on so many counts," Disney says, getting agitated. "First of all, a predisposition is not a predestination, and second of all, humans evolved from an omnivorous ancestor, not a carnivorous one. Cats and dogs are carnivorous, because they live on meat, they get all their nutrition from meat, and their physiognomy is such that they can't get nutrition from non-meat sources."

     "Which means at least that if you had a pet, you wouldn't make your pet be a vegan either."

     "Of course not. At least, not if my pet were carnivorous. But if my pet would eat anything, and get all the nutrition it needed however I fed it, in that case I wouldn't feed it meat."

     "You'll make a great pet owner."

     "The point is, human beings need a variety of nutrients, and they can get them in a variety of ways. Granted that I may stem from a long line of animals that ate other animals at some point, but they also ate vegetables and fruits and all kinds of good stuff that didn't make them go have to kill anybody. In fact, about ten thousand years ago my ancestors even learned to plant their own fruits and vegetables and grains, making a giant leap forward, and I have at least those ten thousand genetic years pushing me away from pure carnivore."

     "If I'm not mistaken, ten thousand years ago, when you great grandpa was inventing the farm, he domesticated a few animals along with his plowing of the back forty, Disney."

     "All right. I grant you that. But my point is, people can live on vegetables alone. And if they can, they should."

     "But even if I agree with you on that, and I could, I can't agree with you on the rest of the vegan agenda. I can see not killing a cow to eat it, but why not milk the cow? It doesn't hurt the cow one way or the other, and you end up with a nice cheddar cheese or whatever and a really good source of protein, a lot better source than soy beans or lentils or buckwheat groats."

     "Because milking the cow exploits the cow. That's the cow's milk, not your milk. The cow is entitled to it, not you."

     "I don't think the cow gives a crap, to tell you the truth."

     "It's not whether the cow gives a crap, because the cow is incapable of giving a crap, but whether or not we as people give a crap."

     "But if the cow is incapable of giving a crap, then there is no crap to give. Milking the cow becomes no different from picking the apples off a tree. The cow doesn't give a crap any more than the tree does. Less, in fact, since from the tree's point of view, the apple is a potential baby tree, while the milk is just excess body fluids."

     Disney leans back and stares up at the ceiling. "You're driving me crazy on this," he says.

     Gloria leans back next to him. "I'm not trying to drive you crazy. I'm just trying to understand you."

     "I guess I'm not convincing you that you should try veganism."

     "Disney, you haven't convinced me yet to order a smaller filet mignon. I mean, even if I respect your arguments, and I do respect the don't-kill-the-cow argument, I'm still flummoxed by the veganism construct. I mean, I look at you and sometimes I think that you're the whitest person I've ever met. I mean, literally the whitest. There's no red in your blood. And that's because there's no protein in your system. I worry that you're anemic."

     "I'm as healthy as an ox," Disney says.

     "Your metaphor exploits oxen. That's abusive."

     "Okay. In that case, I'm as healthy as a rutabaga. Strong as a cauliflower. Perky as a parsnip."

     It is now nearing three a.m. The clerk behind the desk is continuing to type away, and Disney and Gloria show no signs of discontinuing their conversation.

     Talk. It is a miracle. The ability to communicate. What Disney and Gloria are doing is the most important, and perhaps the most enjoyable part of beginning a relationship. They are exploring each other's brains, and enjoying what they're finding there, even when what they're finding is something different from what's in their own brains.

     The ability to communicate is the ability to connect. And connecting with another human being is, well, as good as it gets. If you're a human being.

     If you're a cow, you probably don't give a crap.

Is this the end of Tom and Camelia?

Is veganism the destiny of humanity?

Do the cows give a crap?

Does calling off the writer's strike mean the return of "Saved by the Bell?"

When does the war with China start?

Last chance to buy a TOC tee shirt in our next episode: "Animal or cannibal: You be the judge, Judy."

Go to the next episode due May 23, 2001.