Snazzy (albeit smaller) Nostrum Graphic
Past episodes     Reader's Guide to the Nostrum Universe     Nostrum Correspondence Corner
Subscribe to Nostrum      Home

(New to Nostrum? We recommend starting at the beginning.
Totally lost? Find out who's who in the Reader's Guide.)

Have you read this week's epistle from Jules?

Episode 174

My Breakfast With Abelard

     "Good morning, Venerable Bede Champion," Tom Abelard says.

     Bob Cratch looks up. "Good morning, Venerable Bede Champion," he replies.

     It is Monday morning, and the Venerable Bede Lincoln-Douglas Co-Champions are greeting each other in the Quilty cafeteria.

     "What's on for today?" Tom asks.

     Bob Cratch shrugs. "The usual. Croissants, baguettes, a little cheese no one this side of the Atlantic would ever be able to recognize, coffee that could melt the tusks off a bull elephant."

     "In other words, the usual Quilty brunch."

     "In other words, the usual Quilty brunch, in a nutshell."

     Tom sits down, and Bob Cratch, who is applying strawberry preserves to a piece of croissant like a painter working his palette knife, frowns at him.

     "You're not getting anything to eat?" Bob Cratch asks. "You're not hungry?"

     "I'm not hungry," Tom replies. He taps his right temple with his right hand index finger. "I am inspired."

     "At nine o'clock in the morning? Have you had any classes yet?"

     "None that I've gone to."

     "So what's the great inspiration, then?"

     Tom leans closer over the table and lowers his voice. "What is the number one thing on everybody's mind these days?"

     Bob Cratch thinks as he slowly chews his croissant. "Sex?" he finally answers.

     Tom sighs. "All right. What is the number two thing on everybody's mind these days?"

     Bob Cratch thinks some more and chews some more. "These croissants are especially good today," he says. "You sure you don't want any?"

     "I do not want any croissants," Tom says. "I told you. I'm not hungry, I'm inspired. I have had the greatest idea since sliced golf balls."

     "And what would that be?" Bob Cratch takes a sip of his coffee, a black, oily liquid in a delicate china demitasse.

     "Look around you," Tom says.

     Bob Cratch looks around.

     "What do you see?"

     "A bunch of Quilty seniors eating brunch during their second period study break."

     "Exactly. And what are they all thinking?"

     "That's hard to say. Thinking is the sort of doing that they do to themselves. That's why it's called thinking, and not talking."

     "They're all thinking one thing. They're all thinking, Please, God, get me into my early application school."

     Bob Cratch nods. "I'll grant you that. If I had to imagine that they were all thinking one thought, that would probably be the one thought I'd be imagining they were thinking."

     "Exactly. They all worked their butts off to get their applications in to their top schools. Usually it's a stretch school. Maybe an Ivy, maybe some other top twenty institute of higher learning with very high standards and a very low enrollment. You know what the odds are that any of them will get into their E.A. schools?"

     "I haven't the foggiest. Fifty percent? Forty percent?"

     Tom shakes his head. "Five point eight percent," he says.




     Tom bobs his head slightly. "All right. I made that up. But not very many of them will get in, I'll tell you that."


     "So? So what happens next, when they don't get into their E.A. schools?"

     "They apply to regular schools?"

     "Exactly. They apply to regular schools. In droves. In buckets. In torrents. In monsoonfuls."

     "A lot, in other words. And I think the word is monsoonsful, if there even is such a word."

     "Whatever. The point is, what do they have to do when they apply to these schools?"

     "They have to fill out applications, and then they have to write essays."

     Tom tilts his head. "Does the sun rise over the mountain yet? Are we seeing a hint of the dawn in the distance?"

     Bob Cratch finishes his coffee. "I see nothing but a bunch of high school seniors writing a boatload of college essays."

     "Hold that thought," Tom says. "Now, look around you again. At the Quilty Prep senior class. A high-income school with high-income kids with top grades and dynamite SAT scores. And what's the number one thing most of them have in common?"

     "They've seen too many Adam Sandler films?"

     Tom sighs. "All right. What's the number two thing most of them have in common?"

     "We're getting nowhere on this," Bob Cratch says.

     "The number two thing is, my friend, that they are absolutely the world's worst writers. Most of them can't rub two words together and get a sentence fragment. They hate to write, and they can't write. Have you ever seen any of their writing, even the allegedly smart ones?"

     Bob Cratch nods. "You're right," he agrees. "They're not a budding Algonquin Round Table."

     "Algonquin Round Table? They wouldn't know the Algonquin Round Table if someone stuck it up their butts. Which is, I think, a quote from Dorothy Parker."

     "Quite so."

     "So they can't write, and they hate writing. Which means what, when it comes to college essays?"

     "They can't write them, and they hate writing them."

     "Precisement, as the Frenchies say. Now, not to change the subject completely, but what are you and I really, really, really good at?"

     Bob Cratch smiles. "Skipping gym?"

     Tom sighs. "All right. The number two thing."

     "Writing," Bob Cratch says. "Do I suddenly detect where you're going with this?"

     "I think you do. You and I are not only good writers, we are great writers. We write cases at the drop of a hat, usually the morning of the tournament. We can write about anything, we can write about it well, and we can write about it quickly. And perhaps most important, we like to write." His eyes narrow. "You do like to write, don't you?"

     Bob Cratch puts his hand over his heart. "I want to be F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jack Kerouac and Jackie Collins combined."

     "Exactly. Whereas all of these schlubs would give up Adam Sandler films before being forced to commit half a dozen words to paper."

     "Which is where we come in?"

     "Which is where we come in. We, you and I, start a business writing college essays. On any subject. For money. No questions asked."

     "How much money?"

     "I don't know. Fifty bucks a pop."

     "That's a lot of money."

     "Not really. If it takes you an hour to write an essay, that's fifty bucks an hour. Times forty hours. Two thousand a week for a forty hour week. That's nothing. That's the poverty line. You can't feed a family of four on a mere hundred thou a year."

     "A profound observation. But people won't pay fifty bucks just to have someone write an essay for them."

     "Wanna bet? I'll bet you the first essay -- fifty bucks -- that the first person I make this offer to will take us up on it."

     "You're on."

     "And if they do take us up on it, are you in on it?"

     "Getting paid to write? Fifty bucks an hour? Are you kidding? It's a dream come true."

     Tom Abelard holds out his hand. "Then we're in business."

     Bob Cratch takes his friend's hand tightly in his own. "We're in business."

     Tom smiles. "You know, I think I will have that croissant now. I'm finally starting to get hungry."

     "And I'm off to Euro class," Bob Cratch says, standing up. "See you later, Venerable Bede Champion."

     "Likewise I'm sure, Venerable Bede Champion."

     The two teenagers smile at each other. They are happy they have come up with an interesting business prospect.

     They do not know the half of it.


The Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Grump

     You probably think that getting somewhere is easy. Decide where you want to go, pick a form of transportation, do the thing, and you're there, hey presto! For my next tricků

     But for some people it isn't that easy. It isn't easy at all.

     Mr. Lo Pat has been contemplating his trip to the suburbs for a while. He has an appointment with the principal of Quilty Prep at ten-thirty in the morning. But Mr. Lo Pat can't just pop into his car and drive up, because like most New Yorkers, he does not own a car. For that matter, he does not even know how to drive a car, having never possessed a license nor possessed even the desire for a license. This lack has nothing to do with his disability; most New Yorkers have never possessed a license or the desire for a license. In Mr. Lo Pat's case, his apartment is a short wheelchair ride from Manhattan Lodestone, and for longer trips around Manhattan there is always a taxicab. Not that it is easy for Mr. Lo Pat to negotiate taxis, but with a little help from a friend, it is not impossible. For most New Yorkers, not only are there taxis, but also buses and subways that crisscross the boroughs at all hours of the day and night, covering every obscure neighborhood from Canarsie to Inwood. Why hassle with an automobile when the Metropolitan Transit Authority is hassling for you? New York isn't the only city in the world with public transportation, but its system probably ranks as the best because of its scope. Sure, it lacks the white-gloved pushers of Tokyo who cram in every last soul, but New Yorkers don't need any help when it comes to cramming a subway train in rush hour. Their system lacks the concertina players and art nouveau details of the Paris Metro, but who wants to hear concertina music at seven o'clock in the morning, and maybe there are art nouveau details in the New York subway but it's just too beat up for anyone to notice them. And the buses in New York are mostly air-conditioned, and they even kneel; try to do that in Lima or Calcutta or Apple Valley.

     Getting out of New York City, on the other hand, can be a trek, especially for someone in a wheelchair. The Americans with Disabilities Act has gone a long way for clearing the path for those for whom path-clearing is absolutely essential, but the native inconvenience of living on a metal chair, with no alternative but to have that chair under you at all times, still makes having a disability a handicap. Mr. Lo Pat's solution to the problem today is to enlist the aid of one of his students, namely Kalima Milak, to accompany him on his journey. This makes sense to him since he is on LD debate business, and Kalima is his LD debate captain, but in reality Kalima will have nothing to do with anything except helping Mr. Lo Pat negotiate the journey. However, he has told her, they will use this time to prep for Gladecreek, which is coming this weekend. As this will be Kalima's first -- and last -- visit to Gladecreek (as a national-level tournament, it holds its entries down to three per school, which means that large programs like Lodestone's inevitably send a different three each year, all seniors), and she is psyched up to be going, although a little apprehensive at what she presumes will be the stiff nature of the competition.

     Kalima is walking behind Mr. Lo Pat's whirring wheelchair down a long ramp leading from Grand Central Terminal to their train to Quilty.

     "There's good people there," Mr. Lo Pat is saying, "no question about that. But there's bad people too. You don't have to qualify for Gladecreek, you just have to register. Which means that, if you're lucky, you can hit a couple of bezoots in the random rounds and come out undefeated with high speaker points, which will give you strong but not killer competition for the rest of the tournament."

     "Or I could hit a couple of Round Robinskis in the random rounds and be winless with terrible speaks and have to fight my way back until the seventh round when I hit the highest seeded four-two and he turns me into minced rhubarb."

     "How gloomy of you, Kalima." They have reached on open door to their train. "All right," Mr. Lo Pat says. "Find us a conductor."

     Kalima walks on down the line of the long silver commuter train until she finds an official in a blue MetroNorth suit. The official, a large man with muttonchop sideburns, immediately offers his services when Kalima explains the situation. The conductor follows her back to Mr. Lo Pat's wheelchair, tips his hat, and pushes the contraption through the open door. An area of seating is cleared for wheelchairs, and the conductor directs the coach to batten down his hatches so as to stay put when the train starts moving.

     "Will the train be going out the tunnel north toward Westchester or back underground toward Greenwich Village?" Mr. Lo Pat asks.

     "Out the tunnel," the conductor replies, somewhat surprised at the question.

     "Then why do you have me facing Greenwich Village? I would prefer to look where I and the train happen to be going, and where we happen to be going--" Mr. Lo Pat points over his shoulder--"is that way."

     With a glance at Kalima, the conductor turns Mr. Lo Pat's chair around.

     "Have a nice day," the man says, retreating out the door.

     "So find a seat and entertain yourself for a while," Mr. Lo Pat says to Kalima as he pulls out a book from the briefcase hanging over the back of his chair.

     "I thought we were going to talk about Gladecreek," Kalima replies.

     "I said we would prep. How many responses do you have for the Peter Singer turn?"

     "None. I've never heard of the Peter Singer turn."

     "But you've heard of Peter Singer."

     "Sure. He's the Princeton guy who wants to kill defective babies and free all the cocker spaniels from their lives of slavery."

     "Exactly. He's also a wonderfully lucid utilitarian, and you need to learn more about utilitarianism. Here." He holds out a book, written by the very same Peter Singer. "This is a collection of his most indicative work. Read this. We'll discuss it on the ride back."

     Kalima takes the book. This hardly seems like prepping for Gladecreek, but she says nothing. There is never any point in arguing with Mr. Lo Pat.

     She finds a seat and begins to learn why it's okay to eliminate defective babies.


Will Tom and Bob Cratch launch a successful essay-writing business?

Are most high school students illiterate yahoos?

Will Mr. Lo Pat's train go in the right direction?

Have you read what Peter Singer really wants to do to animals?

Does your chewing gum lose its flavor on the bedpost overnight?

Nostrum can't wait to get its new year chugging with its next episode: "Mr. Herbert Hoover says that now's the time to buy, or, do math majors eat pizza pi?"

Go to the next episode due Oct 2, 2001.