Friday, October 5, 2012

The Judges' Lounge

My kids are nerds.

I'm excessively proud of that fact, mostly because after that initial Aren't They Cute When They Try to Play T-Ball stage and a few sketchy years of Catholic grade school sports (my stint as a girls' basketball coach is why my left eye twitches), I haven't had to spend entire weekends baking in the sun, watching my kid play (insert name of sport here) while hanging out with other (insert name of sport here) parents, and for that I'm eternally grateful.

And don't worry. Catharine and Joe are both relatively well-rounded, if not athletically gifted. As a matter of fact, Joe is a very accomplished policy debater, an activity that requires an incredible amount of research, advanced logical reasoning, and this weird type of yelling that is very upsetting if you don't know what you're listening to. It's held in classrooms and hotel rooms and generally parents aren't required or encouraged to go. Plus, as an added bonus, because debaters are expected to spend their summers researching the topic for the year ahead, they have actual debate camps where kids like Joe spend weeks at a time living on a college campus.

As in, not here at my house. Yeah, it's pretty excellent.

So when I listen to my friends go on about their sunburns, bad backs, snack issues, fellow sports parents, and carpool woes, I have to admit I feel a little guilty since I've managed to emerge relatively unscathed from all that.

Of course, being Catholic, that guilt thing can get pretty intense, so when I got the annual Welcome to the New Year, Speech and Debate Parents! email that announced Brophy was hosting a debate tournament in September and they needed parents to help stock and staff the judges' lounge, I volunteered, with another parent, to head up the effort.

And let me tell you, after the weekend we had, that guilt? It's gone.

Unless you've attended a speech and debate event, you can't truly appreciate the bizarre collection of humans these things attract. A few years ago, when I was still trying to convince myself that there was a chance that Joe was cool, I was helping out at another tournament, and while I was loading up a cooler outside in the hallway a bus pulled up and unloaded a group of business-suited high school students.

Wow, I thought to myself. Look at these kids. They're all professional, serious-looking, studious types. This is great.

Until one of them, a young man wearing a bright purple tie and green shoes, walked up to the pillar about four feet away from me and started talking to it.

Ruh roh.

Not that they're all like that. They aren't. But let's just say some of them have more social skills than others. One time, walking through a large group of speech kids hanging around in a hallway waiting for their results to be posted, I said, "Wow. Looks like a Young Republican convention here."

One kid looked at me, pushed his glasses up on his nose, and said, in a monotone, "You're saying that because we're all in suits. It's a stereotype. But I actually think I'll vote Democratic when the time comes."

Now the judges at these speech and debate tournaments, they don't tend to dress up. As a matter of fact, if you walk into a judges' lounge, it kind of looks like the local homeless shelter is giving their best and brightest the night off. Lots of questionable hygiene, unmatched socks, bad fashion choices, and, my personal favorite, horrendous manners. Oh, and I should probably mention that judges are simply grown up speech and debaters, so you can imagine the diverse personality of the crowd.

Let's just say we knew we'd be having an interesting weekend.

Right after we got the food set up on Friday night, a huge guy who must've gone about 320 waddled in, heaved his backpack down on the ground, and started rummaging around on the table for something to eat. His clothes and epic b.o. indicated that he wasn't a big fan of any type of soap and water, but he was pretty personable and started chatting us up.

"This is a nice school," he said, grabbing seven cookies, three brownies, and a piece of broccoli (you know, for the vitamin C and the roughage) in one fell swoop. "Are you parents here? How old are your kids?"

We told him. As we got to talking, he told us he'd judged one of our sons in a speech event last year and that the kid was really good. (We moms live for that crap)

Then he said, "Yeah, I don't have kids of my own. I never found the right woman to settle down with. I just started internet dating..."

That's when I stopped listening and found something else to do. I mean, come on, really? Thanks a lot, dude. First I'm forced to watch you eat, and now you're conjuring up a mental picture of you on a date? Ewww. Plus, if we're being honest here, my eyes were starting to water from the smell coming off him.

Later that same evening, we ran out of food. And of course we felt bad, because hello! we're all moms and it's in our nature to make sure everyone gets fed. But then the mousy, bitchy woman with bad teeth came up to me and said, "Did you know how many people were coming? How could you run out of food?"

Hang on, hang on, I said. Are you scolding us? Can we help it if you judges are a bunch of locusts? I almost directed her to the really, really big girl in the sundress (what is it with really, really big girls and their sundresses?) who took four sandwiches but at that point had only powered down two, because I really think I would've enjoyed watching a catfight and in a best-of-three-falls, the big girl would've totally kicked the mousy, bitchy woman's ass.

I finally just said, Okay, we're sorry. There's nothing we can do about it now. But hey! Look! A granola bar! These things have over 25% of your RDA of riboflavin, and I know just from looking at you that you haven't had enough of that today. Here, take two. Then you'll be halfway there.

A few of the people within earshot laughed as the mousy, bitchy woman stomped off, clutching her granola bars to her chest.  Then a round-faced, red headed-kid in a Mr. Wizard t-shirt with actual duct tape holding his glasses together stood in front of me and declared, "You're cool."

I'm bummed I didn't get his name. I'd like to use him as a job reference.

And so it went. Friday night morphed somehow into Saturday morning, and I found myself back in the Judges' Lounge again, dealing with another group of speech and debate parents (who were delightful) and the exact same group of judges, some of whom were wearing the same clothes as the day before.

I overheard a group of six or seven college-age kids debate who was the worse villain--Darth Vader, Voldemort, or Khan. I saw two guys playing cards and thought, Excellent! Someone actually does something normal in here! until I realized that instead of poker or even Go Fish they were playing a game called Magic, the Gathering, which seems to me to be a bit like Pokemon for older kids. There were countless conversations about the validity of this argument or that, and there was even a group of young men who, due to the giggling I was hearing, I'd have to guess were looking at something untoward on their iPads.

Oh, but good news. Mousy, bitchy woman hovered and hovered in the lounge on Saturday and I'm happy to report she was the first one in line for our Mexican food luncheon extravaganza. After she filled her plate, squirreling away tortillas and piling on the refried beans and machaca like it was her job, my red-headed buddy with the duct tape on his glasses who was filling his own plate looked over at her and said loudly, "Does anyone know how much riboflavin is in this Spanish rice?"

It's official. I have inside jokes with Debate Nerds. Not exactly what a girl dreams of, but at this point I'll take it.