What does the world cost? Oh well, then we'll just take a small coke.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Running Up A Tab (Room)

There are two kinds of FCN readers, those who have never been in a Tab room and those who don’t know what the heck a Tab room even is. If you are in the first group, take heart, the next few paragraphs may provide some of that forensics enlightenment that has thus far eluded your consciousness; if you find yourself in the second group, you’re probably going to find more humor in Larry King (although Larry King apparently had enough humor to marry six times) and should reconsider accordingly.

Tab (or Tabulation) is the nerve center of a debate tournament. It’s where all the results are recorded, pairings are determined and winners noted. It’s a completely objectified, rational bastion of patriarchal narcissism - yes, narcissism, but we’ll get into that more later.

There was one woman in Tab – a mother figure who more than once saved the tournament by saying “no” – and the tournament director (also a female) made our room of relaxation a regular respite so she could rebuke us rudely, so we couldn’t quite claim to be completely patriarchal; but that didn’t keep us males from acting like a bunch of bachelors.

As head of Tab at a small national qualifier, I had a barrel load of responsibilities. The tournament had to be run on time, the Tab staff needed their caffeine fixes, ballots had to be double checked, the donut supply had to be maintained and, well, you get the idea. We started early and worked late, which is a lot to ask of a bunch of derelicts, especially on a weekend.

Folks get this picture of Tab workers wearily sitting in front of a computer in a dark room endlessly crunching numbers and reworking statistics like so many silicon-based life forms. While I’d like this sympathetic stereotype to live on unedited, the truth is that we sit in a well-lit room surrounded by refreshments and chew the fat. Then, whenever a ballot is returned, we get all excited and two staff members (designated “Affirmative” and “Negative”) Ro-Sham-Bo to determine the victor. These results are then quickly entered into a computer and we resume our arduous task of shooting the breeze (which consists of chatting it up, ingratiating with one another, schmoozing, bragging, and, perhaps, a little gossip).

After every round we would print the tournament’s to-date results and post them on the wall for all the initiated to see. There, with results in 2-D, we would make bets on the next rounds. One of us would be Bill Bennett and the other Pete Rose and we’d lay down our pocket change and await the results of the next Ro-Sham-Bo match.

Perhaps the most exciting part of Tab work is figuring out who “breaks.” The term “break” is a semantic oxymoron because, while it sounds bad, it actually means someone can advance to the next round. At any other tournament, any team with a winning record would advance; but not in my Tab room.

To determine “breaks” we brought out a dart board, eight darts and some sticky notes. We pasted the names of all the competitors to the board and started chucking the darts from across the room. When all the sharp objects were cleaving to the wall, both undefeated (ballot-wise, not Ro-Sham-Bo) teams were off our break list.

Fortunately for the tournament participants, the female tab member intervened and created her own list of breaks, one that all of us guys regarded as a cheap fake imitation that wasn't even real.

One of the most fun parts of running Tab was reading all of the contestant’s ballots. Yes, I did just admit to an extremely freaky and somewhat perverted espionage, but that’s in the job description. Actually it was pretty fun because, after years of reading one-line disappointments on my Reasons for Decisions (RFDs) over the years, I got to see the newcomers flail in the quicksand.

Without revealing any confidence (the Judge – Tab Room – Tournament Director – Competitor chain of confidence is to be broken only by parents, coaches, siblings, friends, pastors, counselors, pen pals, hair stylists and perfume consultants), I can tell you some of the real headline grabbers from the tournament:

RFD: The Affirmative team had a better tie.

DECISION: Affirmative.

RFD: Nice Shoes.

DECISION: Double Loss.

RFD: What are you doing tonight after the tournament?

DECISION: Negative.

Doesn’t that tickle you in places you just don’t talk about at parties? It’s enough to give every debate parent a chill from nape to cape. What good, substantive, groundbreaking discussion our youth are sharing in the competitive environment of academic forensics, eh Squanto?

And the salvos just kept coming. But whenever we felt our Ro-Sham-Bo tabulation would have been more accurate and were about to break out the Liquid Paper to “fix” the judges’ mistakes, a really fine bit of judicial writing would enter the room and our feelings of superiority would be assuaged.

I don’t think I’ll ever be invited to run a Tab room again. But if I am, no women will be allowed to help out. None.


GotEvidence said...

Actually, i wish you would have utilized the Liquid Paper a little bit more =)

Lady A said...

Especially for the beat-boxing round.

Nicholas said...

Us tab experts [i.e. me and LH] did all the work!!
Oh, and that other guy in tab didn’t help either.

Jacqui said...

Heh. Like the dart. Though I doubt Mrs. R. would approve. *raises eyebrows*