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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.


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.

The Poison Ivy League Part 33-Kimel’s First Triumph

May 3, 2011

In the wake of his third place finish at Northams, Kimel began to devote greater thought to his style and to solidify the distinctiveness of his voice, although he never put as much deliberate practice into his oratory as Sulla A did. From the beginning, his eloquence was extemporaneous and lively. Perhaps the most well-spoken of his classmates, he had nonetheless originally delivered his speeches too rapidly and often robbed his points of effectiveness by running out of breath. But over time he learned to rein in his manic energy and harness it more effectively by following the examples of his talented predecessors. From Livia, he learned to bombard opponents with multiple responses to single arguments, hindering their ability to answer them all effectively, for which he punished them later. Following the example of Germanicus, he came to consider a room of judges as a theatrical audience, paying attention to individual reactions to figure out what ideas to especially accentuate in his speeches. Finally, from MIT A, he learned the power of speaking contemptuously about opposing points when he secretly had no answer for them. At the same time, he was a unique debater. More than anything, he manipulated the PMR and LOR to win rounds. His strategy was to pick up on small elements that had fallen out of the round and then emphasize them in his final speech as if they were the primary themes of the debate; the other team’s negligence in fully addressing them was then declared a reason for decision. His casebook was also completely different from those of his peers, dominated by comparatively unusual cases about ancient and modern culture, aesthetics, and religion.

With Harvard B’s victory at Bates College and Sulla A’s top speaker award at that tournament, Kimel began to feel the weight of his comparative lack of competitive success, though he admittedly had a talent of losing in quarter-finals. Pairs on APDA often do well as juniors, but lone wolves, as Kimel was, are more rarely successful. Moreover, for all of his talent, he had yet to become completely confident in out-rounds. However, after nearly three years of practice, he was beginning to gain in power. Unexpectedly, it was ultimately with a novice partner that his promise was first fully actualized.

Although Kimel had vetoed the requirement that individuals be required to debate with novices, he nonetheless encouraged the practice, remembering his own origins as a debater. He consequently agreed to partner with Attila at the Providence College tournament. One of several Singaporeans on HSPDS, he was an affable young man with piercing, black eyes and musical laughter. Destined for the stern discipline of a career in the military, Attila was surprisingly extremely good-natured, always smiling, always laughing. This joviality was somewhat at odds with his stringent patriotism for all things Singaporean. He even defended the practice of caning as an effective judicial deterrent, assuring his critics that individuals usually fainted before much damage was done. He spoke with an accent somewhat intermediate between Cynthia’s British tones and Claudia’s heavier East Asian dialect, and was a strong enough speaker to make him an attractive partner for Kimel.

Attila and Kimel performed terribly during in-rounds, barely winning three out of five. Providence College was a small tournament, however, and they managed to tie with Sulla B and Arianna for the eighth seed; they broke to quarter-finals on a coin flip. The weakest performing team, they were up against Sempronia, soon to be crowned Speaker of the Year. She had won all of her first five rounds accompanied by a novice partner of her own. She ran the case against Kimel that anyone should be able to serve as a lawyer rather than individuals who had gone to law school and passed the bar exam. She performed her speech in her characteristic booming staccato, her loudness rendering many of her points more pleading than convincing. Kimel’s intuitions told him that her side of the debate was incorrect. He insisted that trials were expensive undertakings and it was within the full rights of individual states to insist that bare minimums be set for advocates in terms of their understanding of the law. After all, incompetent lawyers waste time and money at trials and provide uneven representation to the accused. Moreover, Kimel explained that knowledge of formalities were important in the courtroom, and different states had different standards, such as Louisiana which went by Napoleonic law. These arguments were enough to carry Kimel and Attila to semi-finals, stealing the top seed from Sempronia.

The pair was now against Brandeis, who ran the case, Opp choice, what was preferable as art—a popular tune or an esoteric one. Kimel was pleased to speak in favor of pop-culture and mentioned geniuses such as the John Lennon and Michael Jackson whose songs were both popular anthems and beautiful compositions. Attila then did a wonderful job mocking avant-garde music, imitating the screeching tones of Bjork. With the audience now favorably disposed toward Harvard as the funnier team, Kimel triumphantly insisted that there was artistry to popularity, a sort of intangible formula that made a song widely appealing across ages and cultures. This was enough to carry him to finals on a 2-1 decision.

Now he was against Sulla C and Petronius from his own team. With Kimel again on Opposition, the sophomore ran the case, Opp Choice, whether polytheism or monotheism should be preferred as a religion. Kimel was proud to defend polytheism, not even mentioning the argument that bickering gods could more easily explain why bad things happen to good people than a single benevolent Deity. Flatly denying Sulla C’s assertion that monotheism trumped polytheism in every society in which it was introduced with the obvious example of India, he brought up the argument that the two kinds of faith were not really mutually exclusive. One could believe in the god-hood of nature itself and understand and celebrate it in all its diversity. Venus could be seen as the embodiment of one’s first love, and Apollo the sense of inspiration that created a beautiful poem. Every individual’s past, concluded Kimel, was actually studded with traces of the divine. The round concluded with a 5-0 decision in Kimel’s favor, his first and only unanimous victory on APDA. With his success, he established himself as one of the circuit’s best up and coming Leaders of Opposition, and fired with confidence, would soon climb to even greater heights, with or without a consistent partner.

The Poison Ivy League Part 34-Explosion at the Clark Tournament

May 3, 2011

The 2003-2004 debate season was winding to a close. At the end of March, neither Kimel nor any of his classmates qualified for outrounds at the Yale tournament, which, like Princeton before it, was run a bit differently from normal competitions. Teams were forced to debate specific topics rather than subjects of their own choosing. The tournament was notable for being a rare instance of a speaker without a partner carrying the day. Iulia and Vergil had both broken to outrounds, but Iulia was called away on an emergency, leaving Vergil to iron-man, or debate alone. He proceeded to single-handedly triumph over his opponents, no small accomplishment. In the final round, the openly gay speaker memorably defended the concept of same-sex marriage. In doing so, he spoke to the sympathies of the room; one of APDA’s strengths as a community was its general tolerance for sexual diversity.

Kimel began to wonder with whom he would debate at Nationals. The Sullas would be partnered together, of course, and Fabius was debating with Scipio. Trimalchio had long since seized Jason. As he considered the possibility of being shut out from the cream of the crop, Kimel began to worry for the first time about the shape of the upcoming season. Josephus was already talking about the possibility of embarking on a TOTY run with Jason. If that partnership came to pass, Kimel worried that he would be left in the same position as Cassius, who was shut out from MIT A his senior year. The wild card in all of this was Petronius, who was extremely talented and might make for a strong consistent partner. He had a wonderful way of laughing through his speeches, chuckling so heartily at his opponent’s points that judges were often charmed into dismissing them more readily than they should have. Moving quickly to beat Josephus to the punch, Kimel made plans to debate with Petronius at Nationals as a test run to see how they might fair together as a team.

The final tournament that Harvard attended before Nationals was Clark College. Kimel was partnered with Scott and eager to take his friend to finals. In fact, they won all five of their in-rounds and advanced to semi-finals as the top-seed. They then disappointingly lost to a team from Bates dominated by a man with a thick East Indian accent. Bates ran the case against them that felons should be allowed to vote, and Kimel unwisely called it tight, or inherently undebatable because the Government’s position was simply cprrect.

Fabius and Messalina were by now approaching the end of their relationship and seemed by all accounts to be on-again off-again. Matters between them came to a very public boiling point at Clark when Fabius, partnered with Arianna, proceeded to defeat Messalina and Melissa in a round. Messalina soon fell into a heated argument with Fabius, or rather seemed to hope to provoke one. She began discussing matters like their comparative success on standardized tests like the LSATs, and at one point she hurled a piece of jewelry in his direction, just barely missing his head. It broke to pieces on the floor to the obvious bewilderment of the Clark team.

Matters reached a crescendo when Messalina threatened to confront Fabius’s “debate girlfriend.” Who could this person be? Melissa promptly provided the answer. She infamously screamed, “Somebody stop her, she’s going to be mean to Arianna!” revealing that Fabius and she had been a brief item. Eventually, Fabius and Messalina reconciled, for the moment. The subsequent situation must have been painfully awkward for Arianna, a girl of high standards who seldom entangled herself in relationships.

For her part, Melissa became immortalized on the Harvard team with her inadvertent revelation. Clark proved to be one of her last tournaments. Disgusted with the social and competitive atmosphere of APDA and the Amherst team in particular, she abandoned the circuit, fulfilling of her own free will Messalina’s prophesy at the previous year’s Wellesley tournament that she would never break.

The Poison Ivy League Part 35-An Eventful Election

May 3, 2011

Sulla A’s Presidency ended as it began, in gossip and scandal. When originally running for office, he’d evidently promised not to participate in the college newspaper’s annual elections. Nevertheless, when the time came, he campaigned to be editor-in-chief. Scipio was furious, and Sulla was forced to offer to resign his post if he won the position on “The Crimson.” Jason and Kimel shared a laugh when Scipio offered to step in as President during the interim should Sulla be dismissed. Ultimately, it proved to be a moot point, since Sulla lost the editorial election and retained the Presidency of the debate team, or the few weeks that remained of it, anyway. For new elections were on the horizon. Horatius, Scott, and Sulla C were all running for the highest office.

Kimel had long since decided to ensure that Scott won the election. He believed that his friend’s easy-going and perceptive nature would make him an ideal leader. Perhaps more importantly, Kimel also hoped to reward Scott’s loyalty, for he had not forgotten who had stood up for him against Agrippina and Trimalchio’s slanderous accusations at the previous year’s elections. To carry out his plans, he enlisted the aid of the talktative Porus. Together, they weighed on Sulla A day and night, insisting that Scott would be the best choice to succeed him. Horatius was a non-entity who scarcely debated, they explained. And Scott was much less cocky than Sulla C. He was a calm and cool character, and a fine face for the team to newcomers. Sulla A finally agreed with their assessment, forgetting Sulla C’s equal commitment to HSPDS and the fact that he likely loved the activity more than Scott.

With so much done, Kimel worked on Aemilia and Josephus, winning them over with the promise that Scott’s congeniality would stand in happy contrast to the ambience of the current administration, which was efficient but gloomy. Then, an interview was arranged between Scott and Scipio, which was said to have gone well. On the eve of the election, Kimel was confident that he had successfully paved the way for Scott’s advancement, having learned a great deal over the course of the previous year about the secret workings of oligarchic Governments.

When the night of the election came, the three candidates presented their speeches. Sulla C spoke the most passionately. Scott gave bland but practical answers. Horatius was the most impressive in his delivery. Then the candidates left the room. As planned, Porus opened the floor by providing a strong speech in favor of Scott, which Kimel then echoed and supported. A few novices spoke out for Sulla C, and Kimel, wishing to silence them, put the question to Sulla A, who spoke in favor of Scott.

Then Scipio unexpectedly stepped forward as a strong supporter of Horatius, perhaps simply to oppose Sulla A. Horatius was the most polished speaker, Scipio said, and intuitively seemed like the most natural leader out of the three men. Kimel realized with dread the weight which the former President’s opinion might carry, and so he debated him outright. He insisted that Horatius seldom debated and shouldn’t be rewarded with the highest honors simply because he seemed Presidential in his bearing. Then Porus sarcastically mentioned that Hitler also seemed Presidential in his bearing, and the room erupted into laugher.

Fabius uncharacteristically admitted that he had no opinion. Cynthia spoke in favor of Scott, swayed by Kimel. Voices for Sulla C were effectively drowned out and forgotten. Finally, the matter was put to a vote. The candidates reentered the room. Kimel looked at his friend and shrugged; he had done his best. Then, the announcement was made. Scott was the next President. Kimel was thrilled.

By the end of the night, Arianna was elected as Kimel’s successor. Sulla C was named tournament director, and Petronius the secretary. Horatius was forced to content himself with the position of treasurer.

The Poison Ivy League Part 36-Nationals, 2004

May 3, 2011

Nationals were held at Swarthmore College over Easter, to the consternation of many participants. Kimel and Petronius, not bothered by religious scruples, were eager to compete together. Petronius was in fact cast as Mitch in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” directed by Kimel and to be performed at the end of the month. They were both grateful to have escaped the watchful eye of the play’s producer, a tyrannous drill-sergeant whose ruthless efficiency Kimel would come to appreciate in future years. While Kimel and Petronius were away debating over the holiday, she issued an Email to the entire cast informing them of an “emergency rehearsal,” which turned out to be a set-construction project. She angered many a devout actor on that occasion, but Kimel couldn’t help but chuckle at her Machiavellian ways, particularly since he was spared some manual labor by these efforts.

Petronius’s jolliness complemented Kimel’s high-spirits seamlessly during rounds. On the first or second evening, they were paired against a team from Johns Hopkins composed of two sophomores—Lepidus and Antony. The pair were rumored to be impressive foils to Crassus and Pompey, and they’d won several tournaments besides. But Kimel had never seen them compete until that night. He decided to run the case against them that the HBO television series “Sex and the City” should have concluded with at least one of the four regular cast-members as a single woman. Kimel had dreamed up this case with Fabius once upon a time and decided that then would be as good a time as any to christen it.

Lepidus and Antony were indeed remarkable. Lepidus delivered his speeches in a dignified, regal baritone, peppering his points with allusions to philosophy. The dimunitive Antony, who seemed so fragile and child-like at first glance, spoke with a voice at odds with his eyes—it was an adult voice, undercut by an almost luminescent intensity. Every angle of the case was explored, from broad conversation about individuals using television in search of role models to specific pragmatic details concerning opportunities for theatrical sequels. By treating the case with great respect rather than ridiculing the subject matter, as some might have done, Johns Hopkins paved the way for one of Kimel’s most memorable, insightful rounds. His ultimate victory perhaps colored his subsequent interpretation.

Only two teams from Harvard broke to outrounds: Scipio and Fabius, and Kimel and Petronius. All four were thrilled; Kimel couldn’t help but feel especially happy because he’d managed to outperform his rivals in a new partnership, while the rest of them had the benefit of long practice as teams. The morning after the traditional APDA banquet, Harvard A was to be hitting Princeton C; Princeton B, the Team of the Year, just failed to make it to outrounds. Kimel and Petronius were pitted against a team from Chicago.

Morning came, time for the octo-final round. The groggy debaters assembled. Kimel decided to run his case, Opp choice, whether the Jews at Masada ought to have committed mass suicide when faced with the prospect of massacre by the Romans. What followed was a close round; Kimel hoped that the point that suicide was viewed as a heroic action in certain circumstances in antiquity might win him the day, to say nothing of the fact that death at the hands of their fathers and husbands would spare women and children the horrors of a pagan siege. Sadly, two out of three judges disagreed with these truths, ending Kimel’s tournament. He could console himself with a tenth place speaker award, the best performance by a competitor from Harvard at Nationals the second year running. In the meantime, Scipio and Fabius triumphed over Lucan and Seneca, with Lucan literally choking in the middle of his speech, his voice breaking into a series of helpless hiccoughs.

Kimel, wishing he’d progressed further, watched Scipio and Fabius’s quarter-final round against Vergil and his best friend Maria; a partnership with Iulia might have been more lethal. Harvard ran the case that vote-selling should be legal in an ideal liberal democracy. Here, Scipio was at his finest—his every word seemed confident and wise. If individuals could vote for candidates because they expected tax breaks, he insisted, why couldn’t they sell their vote for specific amounts of money? Kimel noticed that Livia of Yale A fame, the most commanding of the dino judges, didn’t seem persuaded by Harvard by the end of the speeches, but enough judges voted in Scipio and Fabius’s favor to propel them to semi-finals. They would have then competed against Messalina, but she lost in quarter-finals to the same team that Kimel did before her. The pair from Chicago were finally taken down by Scipio and Fabius in semi-finals.

Harvard A ultimately won the tournament, hitting Cato from Cornell in finals. Cato was a first-rate debater, but he and his partner, an irreverent maverick and something of an irregular participant, never quite had the sympathies of the crowd on their side. They had brought down Columbia A in semi-finals, ending Vipsania’s tournament. Although not on especially friendly terms with her, Kimel was sorry for her loss, since she was a senior and to succumb to her juniors was an indignity. In finals, Cato ran the case that indefinite prison sentences should be banned, falling deservedly to Harvard. One of the judges mentioned that he voted for Harvard because they were the better dressed team, and seemed to take the tournament more seriously than did Cornell.

In this way, Scipio and Fabius, who had barely made the top ten TOTY and were forced to take a back seat to Sulla A and B in that race, ended their year in fine style. The fact that every car from Harvard got lost on their way home and the crew only arrived back in Cambridge at dawn itself did little to blunt anyone’s optimism.

The Poison Ivy League Part 37-Goodbye to All That

May 3, 2011

The debate year concluded with an unexpected surprise for Kimel when he and Scipio were named the top speakers in the tryouts for the annual Triangular Tournament with Yale and Princeton. Scipio had spoken on the topic of reparations to African Americans, and Kimel on the subject of whether patent laws on drugs should be allowed to be broken in sub-Saharan Africa, one of Jason’s cases. Kimel planned to use the cash prize to actualize a life-long ambition and take a trip through Egypt from Alexandria to Abu Simbel. As a boy, his Israeli family had refused to take him any farther than St. Catherine’s Verginiastery in the Sinai, habituated by warfare to fear their neighbors. Whatever the case, Kimel paid dearly for his victory when he and two others were sent all the way to Princeton and back in a single day for the honor of losing a round to their rivals.

The new debate board competently ran Triangulars and the in-house “Incest Fest” tournament. The two events were signals that the school year was all but over. Before long, Kimel bid goodbye to a host of characters who had been his constant companions for two years running—Scipio, Fabius, Cynthia, Trimalchio, and Messalina.

Cynthia, the Comp Director who had nurtured Scott, Horatius, and Sulla C, was returning to Singapore and about to embark on the challenges of a long distance relationship with her boyfriend, a former debater. Kimel would miss her sweet disposition and passion for gossip. As for Trimalchio, despite their differences the previous year, Kimel respected him for his great improvement as a speaker over the course of his career and, perhaps more importantly, for his former performance as Treasurer, when his foresight resulted in the creation of a computer tabulation program that ensured his legacy on APDA. Both Cynthia and Trimalchio would go on to great things, the former in the Singaporean Government, and the latter in the business world. Scipio would be close by next year as a graduate student at Harvard, where Messalina would be studying law. For his part, Fabius was off to Cornell Law School.

Kimel realized that the graduation of Scipio and Fabius, 2004’s National Champions, would be a great loss for HSPDS and APDA in general. Scipio had been a decisive President who prided himself on his approachability and fair-mindedness. Since his junior year, all eyes had been upon him as the spiritual leader of the team. By the end of his career, he had learned to channel his great intelligence into a compelling in-round persona, and while he was less eloquent than Fabius, his wisdom alone served as a garnish to his orations effective enough to make them positively savory. One of those men devoted to the company of women, he seemed to love Aemilia entirely, and the warmth of their relationship combined with their easy-going natures was attractive to all who knew them—they were the rare couple that was rarely cloying in their affections, but that made their affections clear nonetheless. Scipio’s only vices were nepotism and occasional self-importance, comparatively mild failings that, far from diminishing his character, served only to enrich it by complicating it. His sincerity proved to be an able match for Fabius’s drama as a friend and debate partner and Sulla A’s ruthless single-mindedness as his Presidential successor.

As for Fabius, Kimel had at least since Fordham come to count him among his inner circle of friends, and he realized that he was losing not only a comrade, but a role-model. Fabius was at bottom a complicated figure, but one who always seemed optimistic and witty to onlookers. This was a man who knew how to wear a mask with style and flair. Arianna’s quiet dignity but equal vivaciousness might have complimented his character well as a lover. Instead, he persisted in a long relationship with Messalina that finally ended upon their graduation. Kimel considered Messalina a magnificent young woman in many ways, ruthlessly intelligent and outspoken, one of those rare people blessed with an indelible character that nothing could serve to conceal. In her public and private affairs alike, she was a soul that the spotlight seemed to follow. Along with Vergil, she was also one of the greatest competitors of the season, and Kimel regretted that she had no title or specific victory to encapsulate her success. APDA would be a less interesting place without her. Together, she and Fabius likely enjoyed one of the most heated relationships in the circuit’s history—no easy alliance of like-minds, but an ongoing contest of giant personalities.

The Poison Ivy League Part 38-Interlude on the Nile

May 3, 2011

Kimel’s junior year at Harvard was a time of some interest beyond his life as a debater. He had his first girlfriend, albeit briefly, and starred in one of his favorite plays and directed another. As all of this was happening, he lived in a three-room apartment with Sulla A and Apuleius, the former’s best friend from high school. Kimel and Sulla each had his own bedroom, while Apuleius stayed in the common room.

Poor Apuleius’s personal hygiene was absolutely shocking; he slept on a bare mattress without so much as a sheet under him, and putrid vapors were given off by his body and whatever came into contact with it. He kept the room in a horrifying state of disrepair, filling it up week by week with huge, broken computer monitors from the 1980s—God knows where he found them. He explained that he was planning on donating them to charity, but ultimately, he graduated without moving them. It was left to Kimel and Sulla to haul them off one by one to the local dumpster, an act which they performed with some relish, since they had long been hoping to avenge themselves against the eyesores.

In the Fall, Kimel won the part of Seymour in “Little Shop of Horrors,” to be performed in the “Fishbowl” auditorium of Currier House, by coincidence the same venue where he had played Henry Higgins as a freshman. He performed the part well despite being a baritone in a tenor’s role. A striking young freshman was cast opposite him as Audrey—a fit blonde bombshell named Scribonia who’d evidently won a beauty pageant in Ontario in the recent past. Over time, they developed crushes on each other; when he kissed her for the first time during the rehearsal of a love scene, he felt a chemical rush coarse through his body such as he had never before experienced. At the cast party, Kimel began to suspect that Scribonia might have liked him as more than just a castmate when in a game of “Truth or Dare,” her best friend dared him to recreate their kissing scene from the play’s second act. This he did gladly, all the more so because he knew that every man involved in the production had developed crushes on her over the course of the play, and he was pleased to subconsciously gloat.

He enjoyed their early dates together, when he had someone to listen to his stories and philosophy on life. But Scribonia’s high energy, attractive in an occasional acquaintance, soon became draining for Kimel. In her public life, it was an asset; she was always on alert, scurrying from one place to another. She sang in a choir, performed on the rugby team, and did community service work besides. But in private life, her high-spiritedness could make her seem positively mad. She once dove into a pile of leaves in a bizarre act of spontaneity, and Kimel very much wanted to leave her there, particularly when she lost her cell phone in the muck and mire and he was forced to go hunting for it.

Then, one night, it was all over as suddenly as it had begun. Scribonia came to Kimel’s room and was harangued for twenty minutes by Apuleius; he was so well-meaning and sweet-natured and oblivious when he spoke that he seemed very much like an earnest child. At the end of his speech, Scribonia took Kimel aside and ended it. He more than willingly bowed his head to necessity. He read her fortune with his set of Russian Gypsy Fortune Telling Cards, and then he bid her goodbye. Her next boyfriend was a girlfriend.

By this time, the Classical Club, captured in a virtual coup the previous year, was making arrangements for the now “yearly play.” Rather than involve himself with an institution that had used and then undeservedly shunned him, Kimel joined forces with his friends Calpurnia and Martina to put on “A Streetcar Named Desire” in the spacious Eliot House Dining Hall. This Martina was the clever drill-seargant mentioned in a previous chapter. The play, which turned out to be a critical and popular success, was warmly reviewed in the Crimson newspaper as a production that “did…Harvard drama proud.”

Few in the audience realized just how dangerous the stage had become by the end of the rehearsal period. For a climactic scene involving a bottle being smashed, Kimel could not find an appropriate fake bottle, and so he told the actor to use a real one. Granules of glass were soon scattered about the stage. This event was later duplicated when a plate was smashed and broke into a thousand shards, sending small pieces flying everywhere. The matress upon which many a castmate was thrown in lust was soon embedded with shrapnel. Then there was the sheer drop behind the proscenium, and the scene where a man had to have water poured on top of him, making the stage slippery as well as sharp. But it was not any of this, but the presence of “live fire” on the stage when Blanche Dubois lit a candle that finally brought the Harvard theatrical censors down on the play, forcing the stage crew to clean up its act.

At the end of an eventful year, Kimel fulfilled his wish and went to Egypt. He joked to his father and grandmother in Tel Aviv that never was an Israelite so eager to turn back across the Sinai. He sailed down the Nile from Aswan to Luxor on a fishing boat, watching tilled fields and crumbling pagan temples drift by just as Caesar had before him with more pleasant company than his own thoughts. The young boatman sang “She’ll Be Smoking Marijuana When She Comes” to the tune of “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain When She Comes,” a celebration of his favorite pastime. Alcohol was banned by Islam, he explained, and so hashish in particular and weed in general were popular in Upper Egypt. Kimel abstained.

The Poison Ivy League Part 39-Previewing the 2004-2005 Debate Season

May 3, 2011

If 2003-2004 can charitably be said to have represented a rebuilding period for the circuit after a long period of vassalage under three teams from Yale and MIT, 2004-2005 was the beginning of what can only be described as a golden age in the history of APDA. A sequence of major, longstanding records was broken several times over. All-time highs were set for the number of teams to qualify for Nationals from a single school, in TOTY and NOTY race totals, in final-round appearances, and in titles accumulated by specific individuals. Simultaneously, beginning with pioneering efforts by the Yale debate team in particular under the direction of Livia, teams from APDA began to participate in and even dominate the yearly World Championship. As if this weren’t enough, the efforts of Piso, Crassus, Pompey, Antony, Lepidus, and Sappho set new standards for debate in the South and, by competing with the best of the North and matching the cream of the crop in brutal precision and energy, they single-handedly began to bridge the gap between the two sections of the country that had been so pronounced for so many years. Indeed, the records of Brian Fletcher from Yale, who had been in 24 final rounds, would soon be shattered by a Southerner.

The 2004-2005 debate season, the beginning of this era, was Kimel’s final season on APDA. Many future record-breakers were still only novices or sophomores, but they had to emulate a senior class well-practiced in oratory against dangerous competitors of all kinds, including each other: Metella and Sappho, Cato and any of his counterparts from Cornell, Tertius and Hirtius, Antonina, Vespasian, Piso, and a whole army of people from Harvard. The circuit was thus dominated by a diversity of first rate teams, with no individuals holding a unique monopoly on power. From North to South, the pool of talent ran deeper than ever before in recent memory. This, perhaps, can help to explain why the activity was suddenly enlivened after its brief dormancy the previous year.

This happy period coincided with Yale and Harvard’s strongest showings ever on APDA. Yale’s dominance, however, would be left to the future. 2004-2005 was Harvard’s season. Not surprisingly, great rivalries became even greater, and feelings of warmth and antagonism vied with each other in dominance. Scott’s easy-going nature as President and the weekly parties that he helped to organize brought a sense of social cohesion and sympathy to the frying pan. Over time, certain friendships became extremely strong. Only late in the year did the weight of competition begin to bear down on them, and cracks gradually appeared about the edges.

Kimel had made the decision over the summer to sacrifice theatre to debate. He knew that success at individual tournaments was variable, and that to be truly dominant, long-term commitment was in order. If he hoped for a title, he would need to attend a variety of different contests, and with the same partner. “A Streetcar Named Desire” had been a satisfactory high for him; let his dramatic career end at that, he thought. He still very much wanted Jason for a TOTY run, but superficially, he seemed indifferent to the idea. If he could have accumulated TOTY points with Vespasian from MIT, Kimel thought, he likely would have debated with him. Momentarily deterred, Kimel considered the possibility of making overtures to Petronius, but he was unsure if he too were interested in a long term match. Besides, Josephus had been batting his eyes at him lately, hedging his bets.

Armed with Fabius’s encouragement, who had taken Jason to semi-finals of Nationals and Kimel to semi-finals of the North American Championship, Kimel ultimately approached Jason directly and proposed their partnership. He reminded him of the fun they’d had together at Bryn Mawr and Brown in the past, and how successful they’d been at those contests. Jason was a Nationals semi-finalist and tenth place SOTY, one of the best showings from Harvard in recent memory. Kimel had been a semi-finalist at Northams and broken at Nationals, finishing in the top ten speakers. What could be a better union of minds and voices? Besides, the Sullas had already finished second at a tournament, so there wasn’t a moment to lose.

Finally, after much encouragement, Jason agreed to give it a shot at the Smith tournament. Kimel realized that if he hoped to cement this alliance, they needed a joint success to their name, and quickly.

The Poison Ivy League Part 40-Promise at Smith and Wesleyan

May 3, 2011

Kimel and Jason broke as the top seed at Smith, winning all five of their preliminary rounds. They advanced to semi-finals and ran Jason’s case, Opp choice, whether sweat-shops were beneficial or detrimental to the economy of a developing nation, losing on a painfully close decision to Piso from Maryland and his partner Statius. This Statius was the last vestige of competence on the NYU team but rather like a poor man’s version of Vergil. When not hybriding with Piso, who’d lost Plancinus to overseas study, his only recourse for a partner was an aggressive Eastern European woman.

In the final round, Kimel, Sulla A, and Jason contrived a hilarious floor speech in favor of Petronius and Josephus. The round involved whether sporting events like the Olympics should be held in nations with human rights abuses. Kimel imitated the nation of Libya most memorably in his part of the skit; Josephus and Petronius went on to win the tournament thanks, according to the tie-breaking judge, to the hilarity of the floor speech. For his part, Kimel regretted not having advanced to finals, but his first showing with Jason was strong enough to prolong their partnership for at least another week.

This floor speech at Smith was a comedic highlight on par with Germanicus’s famous speech at MIT in 2003 involving Santa Claus. As humorous as it was, however, it paled in comparison to side-splitting scenarios Kimel had encountered in individual rounds over the course of his career. By far the funniest situation was when he and Sulla B hit the case that if a hypothetical boyfriend went out with a girl who’d gained ten pounds over the course of their long relationship since high school, he should not tell her she was fat. Specifically, Sulla B and Kimel were compelled to defend the scenario that “the first word out of the boyfriend’s mouth should be ‘yes’ ” if accosted by his lover about whether she were overweight. This was simply absurd, particularly since ten pounds since high school hardly seemed like a drastic change. Kimel suggested that he should say, “Yes, like I would ever call you fat.” Other ridiculous rounds at various tournaments regarded whether ketchup should be the “national condiment” (Kimel countered with salsa), whether red should be eliminated from the American flag because it was the color of blood, and a case about refusing to speak to an ex-girlfriend in a tight-link round at Yale on the topic “this House would not negotiate with terrorists.”

At the following week’s Wesleyan tournament, Kimel and Jason again won all five of their in-rounds, again advancing to semi-finals and again losing on a close decision, this time to Lepidus and Antony. Harvard had only just defeated Johns Hopkins during in-rounds, and it was frustrating for Kimel to give way to those he’d just beaten. They were a formidable pair, however, and Kimel respected their case-book as the only one on the circuit that approached his own in off-beat thematic content. Their final-round case involved whether an individual should wish to be born with an “aesthetic” or “rational” will. This was a fascinating question which Kimel would have been happy to have explored; he certainly would have done a better job of it than Hirtius from Yale, who lost the round on an 8-3 decision. That year’s APDA President, the subject matter was not his forte.

Kimel and Jason performed well together, as expected, but had no specific conquest to their name to cement their alliance. Petronius and Josephus and Sulla A and B had already qualified for Nationals together by this point. A great deal would depend on how they fared at Columbia, which was coming up in two weeks. In the meanwhile, the time had come for the annual Harvard tournament. With 157 teams registered to attend, it was to be among the largest on the circuit in recent memory. Smith, which was a relatively populous tournament, had about half as many competitors, for comparison’s sake.