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The Poison Ivy League Part 31-Kimel the Comp Director

May 3, 2011

Until now, little has been said about Kimel’s tenure as Comp Director, or Head of Novice Education. In the past, it had irritated him that novices were coddled and infantilized on the team, a condescending practice that he found ridiculous when only a year or two separated all of the participants in age. It was consequently his philosophy that the more he treated the novices like competent adults, the more fun they would find the activity and the less likely they would be to leave it in disgust. In the past, he’d broken to quarter-finals, semi-finals, and even finals in Pro-Am pairings, and this undoubtedly prejudiced his views regarding how the novices should be treated and taught. Taking his own experiences as a guide, he insisted that the best way to learn to be a great speaker was to debate repeatedly and gain knowledge by taking blows along the way. Of course, he encouraged practice rounds and occasional training sessions, but even then, he didn’t do so with the frequency of last season, when Sulla B had inspired him to action. In fact, he interacted less with 2004’s newcomers than he did with the previous year’s batch of novices, when he wanted their votes for President. In his mind, those who could tolerate APDA’s flaws and appreciate its benefits would survive—bad luck to those who couldn’t.

Kimel did, however, steer the team away from two reforms, for better or worse. In those days, Yale held extensive try-outs and training sessions for prospective members before allowing them to join the team, and there was some talk of introducing this practice at Harvard. But Kimel would have none of this, discounting the idea that struggling for a position would lead to more devotion among accepted members, as if debate were a fraternity. Pointing to the example of Trimalchio, he suggested that many debaters take time to develop, and eliminating people straight-away would simply reward speakers who’d found success in high school forensics. This principled position, which stood in opposition to Tertius’s philosophy, was perhaps admirable. Less so was his neglect of the “Big Sibling/Little Sibling” program, which matched senior debaters with novices on the team. Although he took the time to dole out the assignments, the combinations of seniors and novices that he chose were often tongue-in-cheek; imagine pairings by hair color, for example. Sadly, with the extinction of the Wellesley tournament, there was no longer a convenient Pro-Am opportunity close to home. But Kimel dismissed the proposal that Big Siblings should be required to debate with Little Siblings at least once as a requirement of being on the team. He insisted that this was burdensome and unworkable, and anyway, APDA by then hosted special Pro-Am tournaments all across the East Coast that could easily fill the thematic gap.

Thanks to Kimel’s off-handed attitude toward begging people to stay involved with the activity, only four novices devoted themselves to the team under his leadership: Hilaria, Ursus, Attila, and Aetius. All four will be described in due course, but Aetius deserves special mention as the first to become notorious on APDA and the first to be driven away from it. An Australian immigrant, he oozed machismo and was almost pathologically seductive to the opposite sex, or at least thought himself so, and with some justification. He was a handsome, muscular buck with soft eyes, and he always wore a mysterious half-smile that suited his rakish character well. Kimel was especially fond of him for his liveliness and cavalier attitude toward life in general—he once collapsed during an examination with acute appendicitis, was rushed to the hospital, and was back a few days later joking about the story to the team and showing off his scars.

Now, in those days there was a novice on APDA named Lucretia, greatly intelligent if not yet the most fluent speaker, ambitious, and always involved in gossip of some kind or another. She was also a beautiful girl—hazel-eyed with cheeks that always seemed to be in bloom. At the Amherst tournament, Kimel and she had joked about the harem of young women who seemed to attend tournaments only to lose early rounds and then seduce top-competitors, seniors pairing off with bright-eyed novices at drunken parties more sloppy and pathetic than bacchanalian. People could be found having trysts in bathrooms, in closets, and even under tables. Through their conversations, Kimel could tell that there was a certain world-weariness about Lucretia that only life experience could provide, and that while she might have been a romantic, she was no fool when it came to men.

This Lucretia had caught the eye of Aetius in the general assembly room of the Princeton tournament. Bored between rounds, he suddenly boasted that he could seduce any girl in the room in a single night. Kimel and Scott laughed, cautioning him that his bravado was premature. But Aetius insisted on his claim, and pointing out Lucretia, declared that she would succumb to him that very evening; he would bet ten dollars on it. At first, no one took the boast seriously, but soon, individuals from Lucretia’s own team began to bet on Aetius’s success or failure. Scott and Kimel then took the wager in favor of Lucretia. In the first place, Kimel considered that Aetius might have had a crush on Lucretia, and this bet might be an inducement to overcome any hesitancy or shyness on his part; clearly, he didn’t know Aetius very well then. In the second place, Kimel was confident that Lucretia could outmaneuver Aetius if she guessed his intentions with her weren’t honorable. Soon, everyone on the Harvard team had learned of the wager and several took part in it. The night passed, and Aetius did not return to the team’s living quarters. But when he finally emerged in the morning, he was forced to admit that Kimel and Scott were right. Although he’d tried every trick he could concoct, Lucretia did not technically succumb by the terms of the wager, though he produced certain undergarments which he claimed to have seized.

Messalina was furious when she learned about the bet and cautioned Scipio that unless he acted fast, she would report Kimel, Scott, and Aetius to the APDA board. Scipio then sent Kimel a long email complaining that he didn’t want to be the center of attention in a matter that had nothing to do with him, though its tone made it clear he still considered himself the team’s elder statesman and that he enjoyed doling out advice. Responding calmly, Kimel admitted that the wager was certainly in bad taste, but reminded Scipio that he and Scott had bet on Lucretia’s honor. And besides, why was he singled out for rebuke when several people were involved in the ugly incident? At the same time, for all anyone knew, Aetius was too much of a chauvinist to admit his feelings for Lucretia and was simply looking for an excuse to spark up a connection with her, which his fellow debaters helped along with a silly bet. Kimel admitted that the most regrettable aspect of the situation would have been if Lucretia fell in love with Aetius and he broke her heart by using her, but Lucretia was not so short-sighted. Finally, with all of the shenanigans taking place on APDA (this was just the time when serious allegations of sexual misconduct were breaking out, and would not be the last), the whole situation was by comparison innocent tomfoolery.

Eventually, Messalina and Alexander placed second in the next week’s Mt. Holyoke tournament, losing to a team from Maryland led by Piso on a painful 3-2 decision. Fresh from her most recent loss, as always by a single vote, Messalina soon had other matters on her mind, and the tale of Lucretia was hushed up. Kimel’s blame is left to his readers to decide. Certainly, as Comp Director, it was beneath his dignity to engage in such sport. But at the same time, all that he did, in his mind, was encourage one of his novices to pursue a girl he admired. Finally, it must be said that Kimel had great respect for Lucretia and enjoyed spending time with her at tournaments more than almost anyone else, since she was so vivacious and full of pert observations. As for Aetius, he soon left APDA, never to return. The fact that his last name was actually a variant of “Rapist” did not go unnoticed.

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