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The Poison Ivy League Part 32-Going South Again

May 3, 2011

Kimel invited Scott to partner with him at the Temple Tournament in early March, held the same weekend as the Mt. Holyoke contest. He chose to compete at the more distant school because he’d not forgotten the fun he’d had with Jason at the previous year’s Bryn Mawr tournament thanks in large part to the support and friendship of the Temple team. Besides, the competition promised to be small, with just under forty participants, so there seemed to be a fair chance of success.

Scott and Kimel woke at dawn and rode the T, Boston’s subway, to South Station. Lounging beside a fast food restaurant before boarding the train, they caught sight of a teeming crowd of foreigners just opposite them: a collection of East Indians and Asians all seated beside each other in a row. Kimel suggested to Scott that they were tourists.

“I doubt it,” he answered immediately, tilting his head to the left side as he always did when in thought. “They’re speaking with English accents and there’s no tour guide. They must be Singaporeans on some official business. That would explain the racial makeup.”

“What sort business do you guess they’re on?” asked Kimel, impressed by the conjecture.

“I don’t know,” said Scott. “But between the two of us, we should be smart enough to figure it out. What do you think?”

“Well, they’re holding binders,” said Kimel. “If they’re not on a tour, I bet they’re here for a medical conference.”

“That’s a good guess” said Scott. “They’re probably on their way to the airport, or just back from it.”

Kimel examined Scott for a moment. His face was placid and expressionless, as it usually was, but there was a certain liveliness about his eyes that sprung up whenever he was charged with the thrill of observing other people and making educated guesses about them. Eager to test their combined powers of deduction, Kimel approached the group, introduced himself, and inquired what they were about. The pair’s hypothesis was precisely correct. It was no wonder, thought Kimel, that Scott was such a talented poker player in his spare time.

The pair presently boarded the train to Philadelphia and prepared for what promised to be an interminable ride. Along the way, Kimel conversed with his friend in German, mocking the people around them, as was their usual habit. Sitting opposite them was a particularly unattractive girl missing both front teeth. Kimel pointed her out to Scott and muttered that she was the first teenager he’d ever seen with a wrinkled face.

Scott cautioned Kimel to be careful what he said; the elderly husband and wife just across from them could understand every word. Kimel asked how he could be so sure. Scott told him that he noticed them making eye-contact whenever they cracked a joke. Kimel again tested Scott’s powers of observation by wondering in a loud voice whether anyone else “koennen vielleicht ein bisschen Deutsch.” The old woman immediately declared that she spoke the language, and her husband nodded along enthusiastically between chomps on a disgusting-looking homemade sandwich. Kimel was embarrassed that his sarcastic remarks hadn’t fallen on deaf ears, but the couple was so delighted to find youths speaking German that they mentioned nothing about the boys’ previous snarky comments and began to pour out their life stories. Before they knew it, the train had arrived.

“Philadelphia is a beautiful city,” said the woman in broken English as the train passed the city’s sprawling downtown. “Coming here meant everything to us after the world fell apart in the 1940s.”

“Are you kidding me?” suddenly laughed the toothless girl, breaking into the conversation for the first time. “This city is ghetto. I wish I were anyone else.”

Her interupption took the older couple aback, and for a moment, they said nothing, providing the girl scope to talk at leisure about her own history. Her parents had discovered that her boyfriend was a thief, she explained, and they were sending her away to reform school in Pennsylvania. She declared that as soon as she could, she would run away and become a stripper. Kimel shook his head in shocked disbelief at this, but the girl, sensing his unease, asked him pointedly what sort of opportunities he thought there existed in the world for people like her.

“You could do anything,” said Kimel.

“That’s not true of everyone,” she said, more quietly than before. “There aren’t so many jobs that could pay me a hundred thousand dollars a year. You two might go to Harvard and speak French, but there’s a lot that you don’t know about the world. You’ll learn some day.”

“I hope not,” said Kimel.

By that time, the train had arrived at its destination, and Kimel and Scott said goodbye to their companions. “The girl was a drug addict,” Scott mumbled as they left the train. He knew because needle marks were visible on her arms. Kimel congratulated his friend on his talent of noticing subtle signs about other people that were invisible to him. He wondered why he hadn’t seen the track marks himself. Scott smiled.

“You’re in your own world, David,” he said.

They then took a taxi to Temple, speaking along the way about all the people they’d met, painting them with pointed epithets and laughing as they reanimated the characters in their conversation. Kimel had taken dozens of rides to tournaments over his years on APDA that all seemed to blend into each other—a monotonous sequence of trees and tracks and pavements. Only with Scott was the journey itself a sort of adventure.

Once they reached Temple, Kimel was thrilled to find his old cheering section from Bryn Mawr congregated in their entirety. Kimel introduced them to Scott, and soon they were all gossiping and chuckling between rounds, recounting old memories and creating new ones. Eventually, Marcus’s girlfriend from NYU, a senior named Iulia, came to join them. She usually partnered with Vergil when he wasn’t competing with the less effective Maria. Kimel found Iulia completely charming, a light-hearted wit who took him aside and satirized the incompetent campus judges at the tournament, whom she labeled “bustahs.” Kimel considered Marcus a lucky man to be able to enjoy her company on a consistent basis. Only Sempronia from Brown seemed as congenial and forthright to practical strangers. Later, when he heard Iulia debate, he was equally impressed by her self-assurance and engaging manner in rounds.

The tournament went by quickly and was especially memorable for an off-campus party held between Friday and Saturday night in a dilapidated tenement with a leaking roof. There was an enormous Israeli girl on hand there who made strong advances toward Kimel. He did his best to hide from her. This gave Scott ample scope to crack jokes under his breath; his own girlfriend was a beautiful second-generation Chinese woman. Making their escape, Scott and Kimel abandoned the party and, finding that the “housing” provided for them was a concrete floor, explored the dormitory until they found an empty common room with couches, where they camped out.

As the friends attempted to make comfortable beds on their sofas, they noticed the very Israeli girl Kimel had tried to avoid sneak into the back of the room. Beside her was an acne-scarred boy she’d evidently picked up at the fraternity house. Drunk, he was breaking wind loudly and repeatedly, inducing howls of laughter from the girl and thoroughly disgusting Kimel, who considered whether it would be better to sleep on the floor in the cellar than be subjected to such misery. Ultimately, though, the lovers fell asleep, and their antics only provided more fodder for Scott and Kimel to fuel their conversations as they spoke through the night, now in German, now in English, congratulating themselves on their cleverness. They soon came up with a game where they would name a debater, count to three, and then simultaneously grade him or her on a scale from 1 (excellent) to 7 (atrocious). They cackled whenever their voices overlapped in a single opinion. It was nearly morning before they fell asleep.

They broke to quarter-finals the next day and lost on a fair decision. They were more than happy to follow Vergil and Iulia through their semi-final round but were forced to leave before the end of the tournament to return to Cambridge at a reasonable hour. Thus, they weren’t able to witness Princeton B’s victory over NYU in finals, which put the title of TOTY solidly within Hadrian and Antonina’s grasp. Kimel and Scott were pleased when they heard the results, though they felt sorry for Iulia. After all, Hadrian and Antonina were also vivacious characters who’d been welcoming toward them at the competition. Indeed, Kimel was especially impressed with Antonina, whose level-headedness when it came to Princeton’s inter-team rivalries seemed like an attractive contrast to the heated passions of others.

Scott’s talents of observation were never quite as polished or incisive in rounds as between them. Yet when Kimel partnered with him, he began for the first time to find value in debate as an opportunity to drink in new personalities and delight in their ambiguities rather than simply combat against their weaknesses. His only regret was that he hadn’t gotten to know Crassus and Pompey better at the tournament. From a distance, they seemed like a rambunctious pair who would likely have been fun to befriend. But Harvard and William and Mary hardly spoke at the competition. Perhaps their octo-final round at Northams still smarted.

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