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The Poison Ivy League Part 8-Overview of the 2002-2003 Debate Season

May 3, 2011

The 2002-2003 debate season was characterized by the total dominance of three Northern teams—Yale A, whom we have met, Yale B, whom we have not, and MIT A, which came to consist of Marcus and a lanky French-Canadian named Gallus, to the detriment of Cassius, the odd man out on the MIT team. Some combination of the six members of these teams, all seniors, would feature in almost every final round every weekend in the North. Although it is common for younger competitors to look up to their elders on the circuit, objectively speaking, Kimel came to consider Yale A the most menacing team he ever saw compete, and Germanicus of Yale B the most noble speaker.

2002-2003 was a season of many highs, to be sure, but in retrospect, the overwhelming strength of a handful of competitors was stifling for the circuit at large and robbed up-and-coming sophomores and juniors of the experience of debating deep into out-rounds. The ultimate effect of all of this was a decided decline in terms of the quality of the circuit from 2003 to 2004. At the same time, if 2001-2002 represented a nadir in North-South relations, 2002-2003 wasn’t much better. The North was so obviously dominant that talented upper-classmen could get away with saying that competing south of New York City was like “arguing in a retarded kindergarten.” This popularity of this saying proves the degree to which the dryness of Northern cases had eventually solidified into a sense of moral superiority. Kimel resented the joke—his mother was a social worker, and he had grown up among the handicapped.

Harvard had never sent anyone to the APDA Novice Tournament since, as previously mentioned, the team was poor in those days and typically waited until MIT to let freshmen compete at all. The news that a novice from Yale named Terentius won top speaker meant nothing to anyone. In the weeks to come, Yale A won Williams, and Scipio and Pallas, a senior on the Harvard team, won Smith over Marcus and Gallus of MIT. Everyone looked forward to October’s Harvard tournament, the first important competition of the year that promised to draw well over a hundred teams. Readers will recall that on a weekend when a school hosts a debate, the members of its team judge rather than compete. In this way, APDA is unique in being completely student run and fueled, and there is a sense of real community for recent graduates, or “dinos,” as they help out at various tournaments, at least until they see the last of their juniors graduate, at which point, probably really feeling like fossils, they invariably leave the activity for good.

Kimel was determined to make himself stand out since he was not on the Board and if he wanted to have a shot at the Presidency, there was a lot he needed to prove. So when Fabius asked for volunteers to help him run the tournament, Kimel offered to be put in charge of food. This was an important appointment, the most difficult after rooms, and he wasn’t even a Member at Large. Aemilia, who was one, was assigned to help Kimel out, but it was ultimately up to him to find a restaurant, dictate the menu, negotiate a price, arrange for the delivery of food, and supervise cleanup. The job also ended up involving dragging things long ways and so many other random, manual tasks besides that Aemilia and he often laughed about their experience in the years ahead. But ultimately, even though Fabius never thanked him formally for everything that he did, it was certainly kind of him to give Kimel a shot at a position of authority.

There was no party at the Harvard tournament between the first and second days of the debate. Typically, tournaments run from Friday afternoon to Saturday evening, and there is alcohol served somewhere on Friday night. Nevertheless, Fabius did arrange for certain teams to have access to booze. Aemilia and Kimel promptly found themselves dragging things again, along with another Member at Large, Marina, who probably never attended a tournament. She was very angry to have been asked to help, and when they got to where the delivery needed to be made, she declared “this is my price,” took about a third of the liquor, and stormed away. At least some people were more helpful; certain ambitious freshmen chipped in to clean up. Here was Kimel’s earliest memory of Sulla C (yes, three Sullas), and Scott.

The final round of the tournament was Yale B against Marcus and Cassius from MIT. Germanicus’s nobility was reflected in his style during the round, involving whether the Turing Test is the best indicator of artificial intelligence—the idea is that if a third party observer could not differentiate between a computer and a human when having a conversation, the computer was meaningfully conscious. Germanicus was magisterial but friendly, well-informed and pragmatic, fluent but not above a dry joke. The off-handed confidence with which he spoke, his obvious enthusiasm for the activity, and, above everything, his strong intelligence all stand as testaments to his greatness as a debater. His partner, Atticus, was never as impressive as Germanicus rhetorically, but he was more than smart enough to make their combined powers as a team formidable. As for their rivals, Yale A, Livia and Tiberius dropped a contentious round in semi-finals to MIT. Kimel wasn’t present, but apparently, like many high-end rounds, it was really a draw, and the temperaments of the judges came to decide the day.

The reason why Kimel wasn’t present was that both he and Porus discovered that they were not ranked very highly by Fabius as judges, which hurt their feelings. But Patricia, a senior on the team (along with Agrippina, the nerdy Pallas, and incomprehensible Claudia), soothed them over by telling them a story about when she herself was ranked lower than she thought she deserved to be thanks to team politics. She later went on to become a Rhodes Scholar, for what it’s worth. Also taking the edge off of this, at least for Kimel, was the fact that Scipio decided to unilaterally declare Sulla B and him Members at Large after the tournament ended in recognition of their hard work. Not everyone took this gesture well enough to forget that a distinction had once existed, however. Sulla A went on to specify at the elections that he was an “original” Member At Large to differentiate himself from the hoi polloi.

At the end of the tournament, Sulla A and Kimel decided to debate with each other at the perfect upcoming competition—Wesleyan, where some of Sulla’s closest friends from high school ran the team. They hoped that this meant favorable judging and a shot at elimination rounds.

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The Poison Ivy League Part 9-Feeling Out the Harvard Team

May 3, 2011

Considering how many teams have debated on APDA, are debating on it now, and will debate on it in the future, it is remarkable how many memories of long car rides, horrendous “banquets,” and nights spent on sofas and floors will die over time. Next will disappear the recollection of old friendships and rivalries, and finally, the activity in all its colors will blend into the muted pastels of the half-remembered college experience itself. It’s unfortunate that every team doesn’t have a Kimel to record its ups and downs. Sometimes as he wrote, he thought about Cornell, so far away from the other schools, and the dedication of the senior members of that team, who nurtured Licinius (who was NOTY), Titus (who was not), and Cato (who perhaps should have been), three of the best debaters in the 2004-2005 season. There are certainly a thousand and one anecdotes for every individual one recorded here.

Sulla A and Kimel went to the Wesleyan tournament together and found that their dynamic as a two-person team was less magical than they would have hoped. Sulla was invariably nervous before rounds, and Kimel afterwards, so that there was a constant tension between them. Sulla consistently delivered good speeches in his polished, deliberate style, but when he slipped up, he did so with melodramatic flair, like during a round where he casually mentioned the mentally handicapped children who once lived in the attic with Kimel and thoroughly confused the campus judge. Kimel’s style, more extemporaneous, fast, and lively, consistently showed him off to the worse advantage in terms of their individual performances per round. Still, they did well enough to break, hitting MIT A in quarter-finals. Sulla was also fifth speaker, not a mean accomplishment for a sophomore.

As Government, Harvard ran the case “Opp choice” (letting the Opposition decide on their stance), whether the Brothers Grimm should have sanitized their fairytales of the grizzlier and sexier aspects of the oral and textual traditions from which they drew their stories. Sulla and Kimel lost the round deservedly, but this was a great case that would serve Kimel well until the end of his senior year, as was one that argued the Catholic Church should repudiate excommunication due to its lack of Christian spirit. Gallus did not perform as well in the round as Marcus. Both had evidently begun the activity as stammering failures, but gained cocky confidence over the years, so that Marcus was an intimidating force by 2002-2003, and Gallus was equally formidable, at least when he was on. As the Romans put it: they are able, who seem to be able.

Harvard was thrilled when Scipio reached the final round of the tournament with Cynthia, the Singaporean Vice President and Comp Director, beating out Cyrus from BU in semi-finals. Cynthia had a crystal clear, veddy British accent. Claudia, Agrippina’s usual partner (when they debated at all), was also from Singapore, so it was unclear why their ways of speaking were so different. Claudia was a brutal debater who thought quickly on her feet, but Cynthia, gossipy and sweet, was more pleasant company.

It’s clear that Scipio enjoyed a very promising start to the year, appearing in two final rounds in almost as many weeks. He was a unique debater—not rhetorically impressive, but a brilliant thinker who made one excellent point after the next. He only improved over time. Fabius was more consistently eloquent, but often not as incisive. On the topic of Fabius, at the following week’s Vassar tournament, he and his girlfriend, Messalina, placed second. Pallas, the be-spectacled senior, placed fifth with a sophomore on the team who had served in the tabulation room of the Harvard tournament, virtually dubbing him the next Vice President and Tournament Director (there were two Vice-Presidential positions on the team then): Jason Wen. Kimel and he decided to debate with each other at an upcoming competition, since none of the people in their class had consistent partners yet and they’d both seen early successes. First, they competed as Harvard E at Brandeis and went 3-2. Luckily, they decided to give it another go at Bryn Mawr, and here was the future Harvard A’s first success story.

The Poison Ivy League Part 10-Kimel’s First Victory in Outrounds

May 3, 2011

Having never debated in the South before, Kimel wasn’t sure what to expect besides a very long train ride after Jason and he left Boston with Sulla A for the Bryn Mawr tournament. Still, as a lifelong devotee of “Gone With the Wind,” he was hoping for good things, Philadelphia being the Deep South by APDA standards. All that he had to base any assumptions on were malicious gossip and the weekly rants he heard in meetings against the antics of the UMBC (pronounced “Umm-Buck”) team.

In fact, the tournament was more fun than most Kimel would attend that year or any year. This wasn’t because Bryn Mawr had a strong debate program (in fact, the school barely participated in the activity), but thanks to the easy-going characters of the people who were there to compete and judge that weekend; it’s not an empty compliment to say that in many ways, the ambiance of the tournament was healthier and more welcoming than in any competition that season in the North, dominated by six seniors with no patience for bumbling sophomores.

Sulla A was debating with his girlfriend Metella, a complicated character on the Swarthmore team. She had once dated Jason, and would go on to date Lucan from Princeton; she apparently had a thing for dark-haired nerds from over-priced schools. But Metella seemed like a nice girl to Kimel, and he supposed that the competition was a convenient chance for Sulla to spend time together with her in a social setting. Kimel played the piano for her the first night, and she was very kind to him in her compliments. He went to bed soon afterwards on a large windowsill, the only space available besides the floor. Parties were none too thrilling because he didn’t drink in those days. In fact, he never touched alcohol until he was 21.

Jason and Kimel broke to quarter-finals the next day. The Temple team adopted them in out-rounds, since they had no one to watch them compete; Sulla and Metella were busy losing quarter-finals across the hall. It was friendly of the Temple team to stick around, when they might have just gone home. Jason and Kimel were hitting the top seed (best performing team from in-rounds) at the tournament. They ran the case that the character Mersault should agree to take communion at the end of Camus’ “The Stranger.” One of the first points was that as an existentialist, Mersault values absurdity; Kimel explained that since it would be absurd for an atheist to accept communion, he should take communion. That juicy little syllogism, which sounds so off-the-wall in retrospect, was enough to make some of the best teams that debate season implode.

Harvard’s opponents didn’t know what to say. They began to curse Jason and Kimel out, and one of the speakers took off his shoe and waved it menacingly in the air. Kimel was insulted by their complaints and gave a devastating PMR putting them in their place; insults are not rational arguments, he said, to the strong applause of the Temple team. Harvard won the round and Jason and Kimel found themselves in semi-finals. The feeling of winning an out-round was one of a kind, akin only to the excitement of being on the wings of a stage before an entrance.

Now Harvard was hitting the top-ranked team from the South that year, two seniors from Swarthmore. They were ultimately number four on the TOTY board after the dominant top three pairs from the North. Their tactics this round probably don’t reflect them at their best. The first speaker called Kimel’s case that Medea shouldn’t kill her children “tight,” a case that is impossible to debate because the Government’s side is simply correct. Jason’s speech, even-handed and observant, proved that the case was debatable. The second speaker agreed with Jason so heartily that he proceeded to give eight minutes of new analysis which Kimel had to face in the PMR (the Prime Minister’s rebuttal, the final speech of the round). By the technical rules of debate, Swarthmore should have lost the round for these shenanigans, and one of the five judges (the only non-campus judge with experience on APDA, incidentally) agreed; still, Harvard didn’t control the room as well as last time, and Kimel wasn’t surprised that he lost the round. Lucan from Princeton, Metella’s future squeeze, ended up winning the tournament with Vergil from NYU, the only openly gay man on the debate circuit. These two would go on to become two of the most notable senior-competitors in the upcoming 2003-2004 season.

Whatever the case, it was exciting to make semi-finals, and even though Jason and Kimel proceeded to go their separate ways, they had as a foundation to their friendship and future partnership the memory of a great weekend. Their lack of availability to debate again together was a function of the large size of their class and a lack of consistent partnerships on the team. Still, Kimel was feeling confident going into the Middlebury tournament the following week. Sulla B and he were planning on debating together.

The Poison Ivy League Part 11-What Might Have Been

May 3, 2011

Middlebury College is a small school deep in Vermont. It was the end of autumn when Kimel ventured there, and the ride was scenic with multicolored trees of all kinds. Sulla B and he were debating together; Scipio was with Fabius, and Agrippina with Claudia. It’s likely that Sulla A was there too, though it is not clear who his partner was. There was also a whole contingent of freshmen. Horatius, an accomplished high school speaker from Cyprus, was partnered with Sulla C, who had a scraggly beard in those days. The team used to call him “the Amish” behind his back. In reality, he would have been rejected from that pious community for his addiction to bling; he always wore his high school ring, which had the misfortune of being gargantuan.

Sulla B and Kimel performed well enough the first two rounds. Kimel was much better than his partner; although his intelligence shone through in rounds, he had yet to successfully transfer his bite and withering sarcasm into a distinct in-round persona, and he sometimes stumbled over his words. However, Kimel and he proved to be a powerful alliance. In the third round, they hit the future winners of the tournament: Cassius from MIT and his partner from BU. They ran the case against Harvard, Opp choice, whether religions should include “irrational” laws such as taboos on certain kinds of food. It was a mistake to run a case involving religion against Kimel. He destroyed them. He even tied existentialism into the round by talking about how the sincere performance of a physical act in itself (such as taking communion, etc.) can bind a person more closely to their religion because it emphasizes a mindset of total faith rather than reason. Since he elaborated well on this idea in the days before he ever read Kierkegaard, he thought that he deserved the 27 he received.

The next morning, Sulla and Kimel hit Terentius, a Yale novice, and Tiberius. They decided to run Kimel’s case about the Catholic Church renouncing excommunication. To Harvard’s delight, they won that round on the strength of Kimel’s PMR. The feeling of beating Tiberius, one of the sharpest minds on the trifecta of teams that year, was immensely self-satisfying, particularly since Kimel had never really forgiven him for their terrible first round at the Fairfield tournament the year before. Tiberius’s strength as a debater was tied very closely to his deviousness. He would pull every trick in the book to defeat his opponents and wouldn’t mind wading through a shrill and angry round to do so. This aspect of his personality, when tied to Livia’s haughty intelligence and habit of producing tides of points, was extremely intimidating to everyone but the boys from MIT, who learned to make fun of them and win over rowdy audiences in outrounds.

In the fifth round, Sulla and Kimel hit the year’s best team from Princeton and also came out winners, breaking as one of the top seeds at the tournament to quarter-finals. Now they were hitting Rufinus from Brandeis, slick and sneaky. Harvard ran the case Opp choice whether the emperor Constantine should have banned graven images from religious worship. Despite being born and raised in Russia, Sulla B did not perform memorably (wouldn’t you think he would have some insights into the practice of using icons?) and the round was lost, which was disappointing after such a devastating in-round performance. Whatever the case, they did better than any other team from Harvard. Agrippina and Claudia also dropped in quarter-finals to Cassius, running the case that jury pools should be selected from Motor Vehicle Department listings rather than voters’ lists. Kimel won second speaker, after Tiberius.

There are certain memories that one simply narrates, since the image in itself has long been erased and only the narrative is left in the mind. Then, there are memories that can transport you through time. The car ride back from the Middlebury tournament was one of those second kind of memories, almost sickeningly nostalgic and bittersweet. For long afterwards, Kimel remembered “Tiny Dancer” playing on the radio, and Fabius gushing over how the same song had played on the car ride home the first time he’d ever qualified for Nationals at Middlebury the year before. An almost identical scene features in the movie “Almost Famous.” Even mentioning that something is a cliché is a cliché.

Sulla B and Kimel became close friends after Middlebury. Born and raised in communist Russia, he told a story about why he chose to be a libertarian and a Republican. It involved pineapples or some other exotic fruit being shipped to a town that was in need of some other necessity thanks to the blindness of collective planning. He was fiercely patriotic. In fact, he even spoke enthusiastically about the Iraq War at the time, though Kimel’s predictions on that front proved more accurate than his. Sulla was also so witty that Kimel sometimes had fun imagining him in high heels and the white face paint of eighteenth century France—his rotund figure would have cast a ridiculous shadow.

Sulla B and Kimel would eventually drift apart; he eventually became Sulla A’s consistent partner, and their late night get-togethers and conversations as Pinocchio’s restaurant in Cambridge became things of the past. But Kimel valued the memory of those nights, and the practice rounds they arranged with every novice member of the team to introduce themselves to them. The rounds were Sulla B’s idea and were, simply put, a lot of fun. Kimel flattered himself that the more people he knew and was friendly towards, the more likely he would be elected President over Sulla A. Sulla C and Scott did particularly well in a round about whether Jerry Seinfeld should dump one of his neurotic girlfriends in one of the episodes of his show.

A person who did not do well in her first practice round with Kimel was Arianna, a sophomore who joined the team along with her friend Petronius and was hence technically a novice, but sandwiched in an awkward place between the sophomore class and the freshmen. Kimel’s first impression of her was that she was completely ordinary in rounds. Needless to say, she would more than improve, but the difficulty of being considered a newcomer would prove shockingly difficult for her to overcome and does not speak to the credit of the future dynamic of the Harvard team.

The Poison Ivy League Part 12: Agrippina Versus Livia

May 3, 2011

The 2002-2003 TOTY race had heated up by Christmas time. Yale A lost the final round of Fordham by a single vote to Yale B, which must have brought rivalries on that team to a boiling point. To Yale’s credit, however, Kimel remembered seeing Tiberius, Livia, Germanicus, and Atticus helping each other to prepare for out-rounds, or more accurately, hearing Livia say that this was so. The Fordham tournament was a low point of the season for Kimel. He performed badly and literally had to sleep on a floor in an off-campus residence. Sulla A and Sulla B were partnered together at went 4-1, winning four in-rounds out of five. They might have made it to out-rounds, had they not spoken a 241/26 between them. Compare this score to Yale A’s 259/15. It was so unusually low that they themselves would often joke about their experience at the tournament in the years to come. It’s interesting that Sulla B’s first impression of Sulla A and Kimel as prospective partners were bound to such difference experiences of success during in-rounds.

The MIT tournament has always been a favorite for Harvard debaters. It is traditionally one of the largest competitions of the year, and the proximity of the campus usually ensures a large field of home-grown participants. It was also, you might remember, traditionally the first tournament at which novices from Harvard were allowed to compete, though Scipio quietly abolished this rule. Kimel’s partner was Rufus, who irritated him when he said that he was voting for Sulla A for President.

The only team from Harvard to break to out-rounds were Agrippina and Claudia. Kimel formed an enthusiastic cheering section for them as they progressed from quarter-finals to finals. Agrippina gave a particularly sound thrashing to Stanford A in semi-finals, an ambitious duo who could never quite make it to the final round of a tournament of any size. Stanford ran the case that the sales tax should be abolished because it is regressive and inherently affects the poor more than the rich. There literally wasn’t much more to the reasoning of the case. In addition to other arguments, Agrippina brought up the fact that many developing countries rely on sales taxes generated from the pockets of tourists, which was an original angle to the case to which the other team had no response.

Claudia was a strong, confident speaker whose self-assurance could be intimidating to other teams. Cato from Cornell joked that to hear her speaking made you feel like you were being sentenced to death by a hanging judge. Her accent was no impediment to the delivery of punches. She is without question the strongest debater Kimel ever saw to speak without a British or North American accent.

As for Agrippina, if she had taken the activity more seriously, she might have become one of the most successful debaters on the circuit. A comparison with Livia would be instructive, which is no small compliment to Agrippina, since Livia was in many people’s opinion the best technical debater of her senior class, male or female. Nonetheless, she spoke in a high-pitched voice that could even be unpleasant to hear unless you were used to it. Agrippina’s voice by contrast was crystal clear and more carefully controlled in tone. Livia would concoct many quick, strong arguments in her speeches to bombard her opponents and hinder them from addressing all of them. Agrippina’s points were fewer, but more quietly observant and accessibly presented. Accessible is the key word—she once broke out into peals of laugher in a round where she had to answer the argument “you can’t give a pony to the pope” (God only knows how that came up in a round) and even coaxed the judge and the other team into laughing along with her. It’s hard to imagine Livia doing that. Agrippina’s beauty would also have been no impediment to success, which sounds like a sexist argument, but is nonetheless true on a circuit composed primarily of undersexed men, or at least ones who don’t mind sacrificing their weekends to the gods of rhetoric. Livia was also beautiful, but her piercing, mocking intelligence supplied her with a harder edge. She was all-business in rounds, meticulous and cooly logical.

Whatever the case, Agrippina made it clear that she was too cool for debate. She was always deliberately above it all, which Kimel found irresistible at the time. She only attended two or three tournaments the entire season. He was still blindingly grateful to her for the previous year’s Wellesley tournament, his reason for debating, and he was invariably thrilled whenever she joined the team on a trip. Some time after the tournament, he even delivered online flowers to her in celebration of her admittance to Harvard Law School; it’s the thought that counts. In the final round, she ran Josephus’s case (Josephus was another sophomore on the team) that Santa Claus should give gifts to bad children. Kimel delivered an excellent humorous floor speech and was strongly applauded by the large audience, the highlight of the tournament for him, but Germanicus of Yale B stole the show with his speech that included a hilarious quip about getting dysentery for Christmas in third world countries. Yale A won the round and consolidated their position at the top of the TOTY board. But Yale B and MIT A were not quite beaten yet.

The Poison Ivy League Part 13-A Great Battle and an Epigram

May 3, 2011

The three most talented freshmen on the Harvard team were Sulla C, Horatius, and Scott. Sulla C was a former high school debater and the personification of self-satisfaction. Still, Kimel enjoyed conversations with him, especially since he was literate in the Classics. It’s to his credit that he eventually realized the error of his ways and shaved his beard. He was a flashier speaker than Scott, who gave short, unadorned speeches. At the time, Kimel thought that Horatius was the best of the lot. In some ways, he reminded him of a younger Germanicus. They both had an erudite charm about them and made observant points in pleasant voices. Considering that debating with a sophomore might work well for his election plans, Kimel invited Horatius to debate with him at the Brown tournament.

Unexpectedly, they broke to quarter-finals and were pitted against Yale A. This was a stroke of good luck, since Brown was one of the largest tournaments of the year and few people broke to out-rounds. The combination of Kimel’s manic style and Horatius’s scholarly detachment evidently worked well. Kimel decided to run his case about “The Stranger” that had served him so well in quarter-finals of Bryn Mawr. It would be the last time he would run it.

The round was intense, and if Tiberius were partnered with anyone less than Livia, Harvard might have snuck to semi-finals. But Livia did a fine job behaving contemptuously toward the case, and pointed out that if it would be absurd for an atheist to take communion, it would be equally absurd not to take it. Kimel commented in his final speech, rightly, that this was taking the point too far. It was enough for an atheist to show his contempt for religion by ironically agreeing to take communion—if he ate it and it meant nothing to him, he would score an intellectual victory over social conventions. When Tiberius rose to say that Kimel was making a new point, which is not allowed during final rebuttals, Kimel performed a little tap dance to distract the judges from his opponent’s lies. Kimel was disappointed that he lost the round and glad in a petty way when Yale B ultimately won the tournament over Yale A. Like at Fordham, a single vote decided the outcome. Overall, it was a memorable competition. The members of the Brown team even put on a musical before semi-finals that included the line, “APDA, where else does Yale beat out Harvard?”

Kimel and Josephus became good friends at this point—you’ll remember him as the Harvard student who sacrificed his case about Santa Claus to the final round of MIT for the sake of Agrippina. He had a strong friendship with another sophomore, Tertius from the Yale team, a good-natured man who was genuinely concerned about ways to train and retain talented novices on the circuit. The three enjoyed an impromptu trip to Hyannis Port one weekend, which turned out to be a ghost-town in the off-season. There was nothing to do there but walk along empty beaches and look at expensive-looking compounds. They drank in a local bar (Cola, being underage) and saw a jazz show. When Tertius challenged Kimel to write an impromptu poem about the spectacle, he immediately produced:

“Dancing to the rhythm of the music is an art,

But not when you’re a floozy over sixty and a tart

Whose partner is a pumpkin who can barely move his back—

Your dancing isn’t dancing but a rhythmic heart attack.”

That made Kimel proud of himself. Although people often made fun of Josephus behind his back for his cantankerousness and high-pitched voice, Kimel always thought that he was genuine and well-meaning. The peculiarity of his character was that he seemed to have no sense of self-consciousness. It’s perhaps to his credit that he was always deliberately oblivious to any of the constant jokes at his expense. He was also planning to run for the Presidency, but Kimel had a feeling it would not be hard to defeat him.

When the time came for the 2003 Wellesley tournament, in honor of Kimel’s performance there the previous year, Cyrus from BU asked him to debate with him. Seeing this as a prime opportunity to qualify for Nationals by reaching a final round, Kimel accepted his invitation, but decided to take it back when Scipio suggested that he should instead partner with a novice in honor of Harvard tradition at the tournament. Mindful of the upcoming election but also willing to “give back” since his career was based on the indulgence of Agrippina the previous year, Kimel agreed to go with Scott instead of Cyrus. This would prove to be a fateful partnership.

The Poison Ivy League Part 14-As Good as a Victory

May 3, 2011

By the time of the Wellesley tournament, opportunities to qualify for Nationals were looking increasingly slim. The dominance of Yale and MIT was so complete that not a single Northern sophomore, however talented, had managed to make it to a final round with the exception of Tertius, whom Germanicus had led to victory at Amherst over Fabius and Pallas. Now, the debate year was all but over.

At the end of February, Yale A’s victory at Princeton and Yale B’s failure to even break at that tournament virtually assured Livia and Tiberius the position of Team of the Year, with Gallus and Marcus in a distant third behind them. As is probably clear by this time, in the TOTY race, two-person teams are awarded points based on victories in out-rounds at various tournaments, with the most points coming from winning large competitions. The title of TOTY was, in Kimel’s opinion, the strongest indicator of excellence because it rewarded consistent performance over several different contests. Kimel remembered thinking even in 2003 that if any prize were worth winning on the circuit, it was that one. It seemed even better than a victory at a National Championship which, while exciting, was based on all the variability inherent in an individual tournament: judges’ preferences, case selection, etc.

Since Kimel thought that Yale A was the team that was most intimidating to hit that year, he considered that they deserved the award. That he did so non-grudgingly was a credit to his good nature. They had never been especially nice to him, though he looked up to them. In fact, they called him Sulla to the bitter end, even during their out-round at Brown. Kimel felt bad to see Germanicus and Atticus looking dejected when they learned that they were kept out of the break at Princeton. He approached them and congratulated them on a first-rate year, regardless of the outcome of the TOTY race. Now they pinned all of their hopes on Nationals. Some would say it’s to Germanicus’s credit that after Princeton, he insisted the TOTY race was over despite the upcoming tournaments of a handful of small schools that might have helped to tip the scales in his favor again. He would not let a small competition run by non-entities on APDA, he said, decide the outcome of the title. This gesture seems broad-minded but was, some might say, insulting to the programs of certain universities and obviously done in contrast to Tiberius and Livia’s alleged attempt to commandeer the Fairfield tournament the previous year in pursuit of the title. The ending of this TOTY race is somewhat ironic considering what happened in 2004-2005, but that comes at the end of the story. Whatever the case, Kimel’s class breathed a collective sigh of relief that they could avoid hitting Yale A and B at upcoming competitions.

At Wellesley, Scott and Kimel performed surprisingly well together as Harvard Disney Channel (everyone went by the name of a different television station). They moved efficiently from round to round. Kimel always tended to do well with low-key speakers who spoke more slowly than he did and could support his barrage of points with illustrative details. None of their in-rounds were especially noteworthy. They ran the case that lotteries should be banned and enjoyed a round about “The Simpsons,” doing well armed with their specific knowledge about the sitcom. Having won their first four debates, they were pitted against Jason and Horatius in the final round, who were also “all the way up.” Jason ran a case against them about the inheritance tax and beat them in a close round. The judge warned everyone that she would take off points for every second anyone spoke over-time. What a mean person.

There was a Harvard dino named Gaius who had helped to manage and organize the Wellesley tournament for two years running. For some reason which few people understood, he decided to break directly to semi-finals rather than quarter-finals and announced that thanks to the team’s lucky star, four Harvard teams would be hitting each other. Harvard Disney Channel was among them.

This announcement was met with groans and curses. Messalina, Fabius’s indomitable girlfriend, propelled herself to the front of the room and faced the crowd, even instinctively putting her hand on her head for a moment as if she were rising on a formal point of order in a round. Did he mean to tell her, she shrieked, that he, a Harvard dino, was breaking four Harvard teams to semi-finals, when this might be her teammate Melissa’s only chance to break? This was quite the assertion; there was no reason to think that Melissa couldn’t have other chances in the future. In fairness to Messalina, perhaps she meant “this year.” Still, the anecdote quickly became popular on the Harvard team, and dear Melissa soon became an inadvertent object of merriment. Sulla B even suggested that she be invited to a “breaking party” where the guests would smash plates around her but give her ones made of indestructible plastic.

Messalina might have been melodramatic in her accusations, but Gaius earned the enmity of virtually every school that attended the tournament besides Harvard. He went on to become the most scratched judge at Nationals, eliminated by almost every Southern team, who had a grudge against him for their own reasons—apparently, a Catholic university planned to hold a tournament mocking Christianity, and he’d made this known to the administration and had the team formally admonished. He was so insulted that he left the circuit entirely and the Wellesley tournament became a thing of the past. What there was of a team simply collapsed without him.

Despite the controversy, Kimel was thrilled that Scott and he had a chance to qualify for Nationals. After all, Kimel had lost so many quarter-final rounds that year. He knew that this was probably his last and best chance to break to finals. He and Scott were pitted against Jason and Horatius again. This time, they were on Government. They ran the case, written on the spot, that in Israel, students should be required to learn Arabic in school rather than English. This was an excellent case. As a gentleman, Kimel even gave the other side some room to maneuver by saying English should be taken as an elective rather than required alongside Arabic. The round gave Kimel scope to discuss interesting issues about language-education that most debaters were unlikely to have thought much about. He especially emphasized the symbolic importance of requiring Arabic in terms of the intentions of Israel to get along with its neighbors. To make the point even stronger, he explained that even the most ardent Israeli nationalists should support his proposal, since martial-intelligence could be better conducted if the army were widely literate in Arabic. As it stands, Arabic is considered less prestigious a class than French, and the best students almost invariably choose the Romance language as an elective. Finally, Kimel talked about the sense of empathy that comes from reading the literature and speaking the words of another culture.

Scott and Kimel won the round and advanced to finals. Everyone broke out in applause, and Cynthia, the Vice President and Novice Director, cheered loudest of all. The memory was so wonderful that Kimel forever retired the case. Perhaps he didn’t want it to be sullied by a loss in a messy round, as his case about Julius Caesar was. But looking back, this was a misguided decision, since the case might have served him well for two more years.

Kimel was thrilled to have qualified for Nationals—the first member of his class to do so virtually the week before elections, and with a novice for a partner. In the final round, he ran the comic case that the Seven Dwarfs should have rejected Snow White when she asked to live with them. It was a very funny round in which Kimel spent large portions of his speech imitating the Wicked Witch. He lost by a single vote to Scipio and Trimalchio, the Treasurer, who had also just qualified for Nationals for the first time. The team was immensely happy for everyone, and Scott and Kimel eventually became best friends.

For the record, Cyrus won top speaker at the tournament. Kimel’s life might have turned out very differently if he had been his partner that weekend instead of Scott. The randomness of existence is chilling.