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The Poison Ivy League Part 52-Memories of Bowdoin

May 3, 2011

It was around this time that Sulla A withdrew from Harvard for the rest of the semester and moved away. The announcement was an unexpected one for Kimel, who had been his roommate for three years running. Their mutual ambitions had cast them as rivals since they were sophomores, but they had always lived happily together and Kimel was sorry to see him leave. (He would still meet him, however, every weekend at debate tournaments.) Now left alone in a two bedroom apartment complete with a kitchen and a living room, Kimel could safely boast that no one at Harvard enjoyed better on-campus housing than he. Nevertheless, preferring company to spacious solitude, he promptly invited Scott to move in. Their respective doors were always open to each other and their friendship was further cemented by proximity.

Again hoping to channel the dynamic of their conversations into success at debate, the two made plans to partner together at the Bowdoin tournament in Maine. No one else from Harvard was planning to attend. It proved to be one of Kimel’s final victories on APDA.

After winning two rounds, or so they assumed, Kimel and Scott walked confidently into their third. That they were paired against novices from Bates was immaterial. Half of the tournament was made up of people from Bates. Finally, the judge arrived.

“I’m a very informal judge,” he said, taking his place at the center of the table. “So first speaker, speak.”

Kimel did his best to contort his face into a smile and shuffled to the front of the room, increasingly wishing he’d worn socks with every soggy step in the aftermath of his odyssey through the snow. Ignoring his frost-bitten toes, he put forward his case about returning the Elgin Marbles to Greece. When the LO only gave a three minute response, Kimel leaned over to Scott.

“We’re not two up,” he said.

Scott nodded gravely. Then he rose and gave a first-rate speech, somehow filling up the full eight minutes. He pointed out that the Elgin marbles were not “balls,” as the LO was calling them, but famous statuary. Then, two more speeches; the MO was four minutes long, and the LOR was three. Kimel gave what he thought was a compelling PMR, but noticed that the judge was no longer bothering with the pretense of taking notes. It is a credit to Kimel’s patience that he was more amused than annoyed by the news that he had lost the round. The judge’s only comment was “the first speaker should remember to zip one’s fly” (sic).

Kimel and Scott then deposited their luggage on couches at a dormitory and parted ways, Scott for a horrendous APDA party at a frat house, and Kimel for a meeting with Bathsheba. This Bathsheba had been the most popular and beautiful girl at Kimel’s high school. They’d spoken together on the telephone almost every night as Kimel tutored her in history and English. His cynical friends warned that he was being manipulated, but Kimel never thought so. He very nearly asked her to the prom, but then second-guessed himself and skipped the dance altogether. Better to maintain the pretense of intimacy, Kimel told himself, than to destroy it altogether by inviting a refusal. They parted ways at graduation, he to Massachusetts and she to Maine, and they were now seeing each other for the first time.

They hugged awkwardly and complimented each other just as ineptly. Then, they fell victim to inane chatter. Deciding whether to shake hands or to embrace was a difficult decision; the weather was cold; their old friends from high school were up to miscellaneous tasks; rumor had it that so and so had done this and that. Their meeting was over quickly. She had to get back to her boyfriend, she said.

“Can you give me a lift back to the fraternity house?” asked Kimel. “You know, I never learned to drive. I would have nightmares about it when I was younger. The slightest turn of the wheel could slam me into oncoming traffic.”

“I remember that I would give you rides back in high school” she said, collecting her things. Then, to break the silence: “Are you excited about your debates for tomorrow?”

“Not really,” lied Kimel. “After all, debate doesn’t mean that much to me. There’s something slightly comical and slightly pathetic about loud-mouthed people getting together to argue with each other every weekend. And for what? Plastic trophies? The memory of honors that no one will eventually remember?”

“If you feel that way, then why do you compete every weekend?”

“To distract myself from myself! And besides succoring my existential despair, I’ve made my closest friends at debate. The relationships I’ve created mean more to me than the competition. Those are what will last. As for the rest, I guess that circus freaks can’t take life in the travelling carnival too seriously, or they’d lose their minds.”

By the time that Bathsheba and Kimel reached the frat house, the APDA party was breaking up. Kimel embraced his old friend again, and said in farewell,

“You know, I had a crush on you in high school.” Laughing preemptively to avoid the possibility of an awkward pause, he added, “Would you have gone to the prom with me?”


“Let’s leave it at that. There’s something poetic enough about a sigh to make it more than a glorified grunt.”

She smiled at him. Then he watched her car disappear down the road and, eventually, rejoined Scott. The friends walked back to the dormitory through fields of ice and snow. The sky was so clear that the wide band of the Milky Way was visible against it. Scott mentioned that Kimel was back earlier than expected.

After a long wait locked outside of the building, Harvard’s two delegates to Bowdoin were finally let inside. The Brandeis team was playing a game of Hearts along with a ragtag collection of people from BU. The air smelled of alcohol. Everyone was drunk. Kimel noticed that his backpack was thrown on the floor, Rufinus from Brandeis having seized his prospective bed.

“I think that that’s my couch,” Kimel said in what he hoped was a polite voice.

“No it’s not,” said Rufinus. “It’s mine now.”

The room burst into laughter.

“But I was here first and I don’t have a sleeping bag.”

“I don’t care.”

Kimel thought that Rufinus might be joking, so he gave him a sort of half smile. Rufinus returned the gesture. Seeing this as an indication that the couch was relinquished, Kimel approached it, but Rufinus extended his arm to wave him off, saying he had no valid “property rights” to the territory in question. (People found that funny for some reason. Everyone but Scott burst into laughter again). Defeated, Kimel hobbled over to the far side of the room, snapping “Now I know how the Palestinians feel.”

Slouching uncomfortably in a wooden chair draped in his winter coat, Kimel noticed an empty ottoman, which he used to prop up his legs. An Amazonian BU member actually punched Kimel in the stomach when she saw what he did, hissing,

“That’s MINE.”

As the lights turned off, he sat quietly in his little chair, feeling a dull pain extend in concentric circles from where she’d punched him. Soon, there was a symphony of snores, annoying at first, but ultimately hypnotic.

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