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Chapter 11 - Ken

Registration for Northwest High’s Trivia Master is a very simple process. On the Monday one week before the start of the tournament, stacks of forms are placed in the school office and a handful of classrooms throughout the building. Each form contains eight spaces, one for each participant’s signature and one for his or her name in block print. The completed form must then be submitted to the office between noon on Monday and noon on Wednesday. Doing this makes the team eligible for the entry test, which determines who will go on to compete in the preliminary rounds of the tournament.

Although registration is open for three days, over half of all teams register on the first day. The reasons for this vary from team to team, but the consistent explanation is a fear of poaching by competitors. Teams may be decided on handshake agreements the week before, but officially none of these teams actually exist until the form is filed and the names written into the record. During this period, any team can persuade a competitor to depart from his or her own team, leaving the original team with an unfortunate gap. Many teams are still forming during this period, so this is a definite risk. In fact, I have heard that in years past – when most teams filed at the last moment on Wednesday – some less scrupulous teams used this as a tactic. They would draw away the weakest member of a strong team, disqualifying his or her teammates unless they could find a fourth member on very short notice.

This seldom happens anymore, but registration is still vulnerable to various forms of chicanery. The simplest dirty trick is forging an individual’s signature. Few teenagers have the skill to accurately replicate a person’s handwriting, but even fewer administrators have training as forensic document examiners. In cases where there is some conflict between applications, the office rarely goes to the effort of seeking out the party in question to determine which signature was real. Rather, they will gladly accept the earliest received submission as the legitimate one. This is why it is crucial to get the form to the office as soon as possible. Even waiting until the end of the day on Monday means running the risk of poaching.

Only one person is required to deliver the form, of course, but it is not uncommon for whole teams to show up at the office. Consequently, the tiny administrative office – which, at any given time, contains perhaps six people – strains to accommodate the fifty or so students who have arrived to submit their forms. To keep the process somewhat orderly and timely, only three students are allowed in the office at a time. The rest of us wait outside the door in a large knot occupying half the hallway. The environment is tense but with no small amount of excitement – a good setting for trivia, I might add. It also happens to be a perfect opportunity to gather information on our rivals. There is much to be gleaned from such a setting.

Paul does not agree with me on this point. On registration day, he stays on the second floor and makes a conscious effort to avoid the office. While I would certainly prefer it if he would accompany me, I also can not blame him for avoiding the registration process. His exceptional talent makes him a target. During this season, he accrues no shortage of rivals and nemeses who hold a vested interest in causing him harm. Were I in his shoes, I would wish to avoid these gatherings as well. So, on the appointed day, I collect his signature and those of our teammates and head to the office myself.

As usual, the office was a terrible mess. I usually try to be prompt, but I was delayed that morning and found myself behind the members of at least a dozen teams. While this was frustrating, it also gave me time to conduct a scan of the crowd. It was a typically motley group, but there was clearly some talent present. True competitors always register on the first day – not since 2003 has a team that registered later than Monday made it to the finals. However, the crowd also contained a fair share of oddballs. Trivia Master attracts many individuals with agendas outside of competitive trivia. Some are young activists hoping to draw attention to their pet issue of the moment. Some are aspiring artists and performers, looking to “generate buzz” by naming their teams after their bands or collectives. There is one girl who creates a team each year, just to quit before the start of the tournament, all to make some point about the school system that I have never understood.

In front of me was a new student, destined to be so much cannon fodder against the well–coordinated local teams. Behind me was Brian Booker, a member of Aaron Bellamy’s team. Brian is a skillful strategist, and I had briefly considered him for a place on our side.

Brian tapped me on the shoulder. “Ken.”

“Brian! You know, I almost invited you to be on our team.”

“I’d rather be on a winning team,” he said with an arrogant flourish.

“You really think that Aaron’s going to be your ticket to the stars? We outperformed him last year, you know.”

“He didn’t have my guidance last year. With his skill and my strategies, you two don’t have a prayer, Greevey.”

Suddenly, I remembered why I had never approached Brian Booker. Simply put, he is a prick.

“Nice to talk to you again.” I turned away from him – no need to bother with such rabble.

“You know what I’m betting for our match?” he continued, heedless of my gesture. “A 200–point blowout. Bank on it.”

I will admit, this statement got my attention. “200 points? You of all people should know how statistically unlikely that is.”

“Oh? Then, how many points do you think you’ll lose by?”

“I’m not talking to you anymore.”

This is the problem with registration – you are sometimes called upon to interact with terrible people. Fortunately, there are always options. I noticed Isabel Morelli exiting the office. She was in uncharacteristically early. I raised my hand to draw her attention. “Hey, Isabel.”

“Piss off,” she said.

“Say ‘Hi’ to Jane for me!”

Sometimes, I suspect that there is some special property in this town that either breeds or attracts assholes. Perhaps large groups of unpleasant people exert some form of psychological pressure that affects those around them? I must conduct a study one day.

Ignoring the rudeness as best I could, I elected to introduce myself to the new student in front of me. “Hey, I haven’t seen you around. Ken Greevey.”

He turned around to face me. This was a perfectly ordinary young man, the kind of person who probably faded into his surroundings everywhere he went. He extended his hand. “Leon Mara. I’m new here.”

“And already jumping into Trivia Master, huh?”

Leon shrugged. “Well, it looked like fun.”

“Yeah, really fun.” I did not have the heart to explain to him the true nature of this competition. No doubt he had experience with a similar contest at a school with more civilized students. “Um...You ever do anything like this at your old school?”

“Schools, actually. My dad moves around for his work. I’ve dabbled in trivia, though. Did pretty well, too, although I’ve never been in anything like this.”

“Yeah, it’s exciting, all right.” The poor, naive fool. “You ever been to Scholar’s Bowl?”

He shook his head. “No, I never had the time for any serious competition. Maybe this year, though. What about you?”

“No, but I have a good feeling this year.” I could see the office emptying out. “It looks like we’re up.”

“Ah, so we are. Well, nice to meet you...Ken, right?”

“Yeah. Good luck, Leon!”

It was finally my turn in the audience. The tiny waiting area was surprisingly peaceful compared to the ruckus outside. As I had fully prepared my documents in advance, this would take little time – I merely had to confirm my identity for the secretary. At least, that’s what I thought.

“Excuse me, you didn’t fill this out,” she said.

“Of course I did. I have all the signatures.”

“You forgot to give your team a name.”

The name! In my zeal to prepare for this year’s match, I had completely neglected to create a name for our team. It had never even entered my mind.

This is not a minor point. The team name is a rallying point, a banner around which the team gathers its supporters. It is destined to appear on brackets in every hallway and on placards in the auditorium. It will adorn our picture in the paper and be forever memorialized in the annals of Northwest High.

More than that, the choice of name speaks volumes about its creator. Does one select a name from pop culture, identifying with an icon, using the name as a statement? An intellectual name, to showcase knowledge and refinement? A humorous name, to rally the student body in laughter? An inside reference, to be shared with only a select few and laughed over for years to come? There were many choices, and each brought with it both benefits and detriments.

I wracked my brain for possibilities. Reusing a name from a past year was out of the question – that only demonstrates a lack of creativity, which would not augur well for us. An inside joke was always a possibility, but I feared that I might alienate a mass audience if I leaned too heavily on geek jokes. I needed a name that would reflect our ambition while still appealing to the masses. I needed a name that told the world everything it needed to know in one compact package.

Finally, it came to me – transgressive, satirical, with a hint of self–effacing humor. I scrawled it down into the blank and handed the form to the secretary. I knew it would take a bit of explaining, but Paul would come to like it. Understanding people is a specialty of mine, after all.

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