Monday, April 11, 2005

For the first time since 2002, I made it to the NAQT ICT, although it wasn’t really difficult for the gang to entice me there. For one thing, it was held in New Orleans. For another, it was held in New Orleans. And, finally, of course, it was held in New Orleans. Among the many, many advantages of the locale is this, perhaps the one at the top of my list: Anyone in one’s entourage who even remotely suggests that it might be okay to grab lunch at McD*n*ld’s or B*rg*r K*ing will be immediately shouted down – and will eventually be grateful to you for doing so.

Take Friday afternoon, for example. Three of us went to a nice little place in the Garden District for lunch, all ordered po’boys, all chose to fill said po’boys with members of completely different phyla, and all hugely enjoyed the experience. Twenty-four hours later, I had yet another excellent lunch near the Tulane campus in a group that included Mitchell and Fred, neither of whom eats phyla (divisions are fine with both), along with four others of us who do. We still managed to find a Middle Eastern place that pleased everyone immensely. In fact, aside from patronizing a couple of airport food courts on the way there and back, and one quick stop at a chain drugstore for a soft drink, I managed to avoid big-chain food for the whole weekend. And it was easy to get even the least adventurous companion to go along with this, using only one short sentence: “We’re in New Orleans.”

Another good thing about the NAQT ICT and other quizbowl tournaments, no matter where they’re held, is that you’re bound to take home some lingering effects of wordplay. (It’s all fun and games until someone loses their mind.) During one of the huge staff shuttle runs between the hotel and the Tulane campus, Craig started a conversation about the quizbowl mob and its various dons, molls, consiglieri, and general hangers-on. At one point he told me that I’d been referred to as “the WASP who married into the family”. (This, of course, was a reference to my profession rather than to either my ethnicity or my domestic situation. Not only does my husband not play quiz bowl, but I may be the only current associate with any significant Sicilian ancestry.) This somehow spurred speculation about just what one would call the tough, mobbed-up WASP neighborhood in one’s city. With R’s help, we converged on “Little DesMoines”. We figured R. would know.

Wordplay of a totally unsophisticated variety also figured in a proud ‘Pede moment when, on Saturday night, I freaked out a drunk guy on Toulouse Street in the French Quarter. In passing.

The moment needs a few strands of prior explanation, since it’s not like drunk people in the French Quarter are normally anything to blog about. For starters, al fresco drinking in the French Quarter isn’t merely legal – the bars will give you a to-go cup for your safety and convenience. Forget everything you ever learned about disguising your pathetic bottle of flat light beer in a paper bag. Blue-pantsuited grandmothers from New Hampshire openly imbibe frozen daiquiris in the street in the French Quarter. The only reason that those of us in the party who drink hadn’t been drinking was that we simply hadn’t gotten around to it yet.

The members of the party who do not drink alcohol were crucial to the setup, in fact. A couple of them who enjoy a cold, lime-laced glass of cranberry juice but decline to marinate their livers in anything stronger got into a discussion about having ordered “virgin Cape Codders” in a local bar. Unfortunately, Dwight and I were also in the group, and, being ourselves, could not resist speculation of a baser sort about whether, in fact, they had actually demanded the presence of some Cape Cod virgins. Somewhere along the line, not only was the word “Cape” eventually dropped from the meme, but the virgin in question morphed into a decidedly underaged scrod. Before much more time had passed, she was accused of falsely claiming to be a virgin.

The drunk guy, clearly experiencing a few hurricanes too many behind his eyelids while trying gamely to prop up a brick wall, just happened to be the closest stranger in earshot when I spoke the words, “Oh, those lying fish lips.”

“WhaaaAAAAAAaaaa?” the drunk guy pleaded for an explanation. But by then we’d moved on to wallow in rum drinks and crawfish etoufee. You snooze, you lose.

Anyway, I’ve probably gone on too long, but it was a great weekend, thanks to many people. For instance, Dwight, Chris, and Eric, with whom I shared crash space and who were so quiet when they left to catch their early flights that my hurricane-sodden brain didn’t even register any pain. And all of the organizers like Chad, Craig, Matt, and of course R., who ran things so smoothly that we actually had time to go soak our brains in hurricanes on Saturday night. And to the McIlhennys, who invented Tabasco, the other ubiquitous state beverage of Louisiana. (I even sipped some with my lox and bagels on Sunday morning. Don’t laugh – try it.) Many congrats to the DI champions (Michigan), the DII champions (Chicago), and to the undergrad champion (Virginia Commonwealth, and note the distinctly singular noun). And, of course, to Gordon, Sid, Fred, and Micah, who kicked serious ass in the round robin, were called the “giant killers” by a member of the first-place Michigan team, and came within one game of taking Rochester to the finals. They don’t normally use the traditional name given to UR sports teams, but they buzz like yellowjackets anyway.

Note: Anyone who remembers where and how the ‘Pede obtained the huge chain of Mardi Gras-style beads interspersed with big red plastic ladybugs is asked to drop her a line and reassure her that no aphids were harmed during its manufacture. – The Mgt.