The "Huntington Boys," members of the frosh debate team from prestigious Huntington College in Pasadena, sat at a rear booth at the coffee shop in Mammoth Lakes, California. Michael, captain of the team, had steered them to a remote table because he knew their conversation would be loud and perhaps offensive to other customers, particularly the remarks from Cranston - his first, not his last, name. While Huntington had a solid reputation for turning out some of the brightest minds in the country, it also was known for harboring some of the snobbiest college students in America.
Michael was right. Soon the conversation turned to the debate they would be in at the convention center that afternoon. Cranston, with a program in hand, went over the list of frosh teams in the competition. Only eight squads had won the right to participate today, coming from far-flung parts of the West Coast. Among those competing were major schools such as Stanford, Berkeley, Pomona College and Mills. Also on the list was a small state school in eastern Washington, Walla Walla Institute of Technology. When Cranston saw that one, he couldn't resist the temptation to make a joke of it, especially since Walla Walla was the first opponent Huntington would face.
"We'll make them Wallow Wallow, won't we, guys?" Cranston enjoyed his own joke so much that he repeated it, in a much louder voice: "WALLOW, WALLOW. Yeah, we'll drag them through the mud. When we trounce them they'll WALLOW all right!"
Not to be outdone, Elbert wondered what the email address was for Walla Walla Institute of Technology. "How about WIT.edu."
Cranston quickly responded: "It'll be NIT_WIT.edu when we finish them off."
"Guys," Michael said as firmly but as comradely as he could, "these kids wouldn't be here if they weren't sharp. Don't underestimate them. This could be a very tough team, and it would do us well to take them very seriously. They beat a couple of touring Ivy League schools earlier this year. We're good, but so are they."
Michael's voice was a bit louder than he thought, and his comments were picked up by diners at adjacent tables. His reproach to his companions caused those in hearing distance to rethink the impression that Cranston's remarks had created a moment earlier. Perhaps not all of the "Huntington Boys" were spoiled brats.
Later that morning Cranston had gone off by himself to the footbridge over the creek that ran through the convention center.
He turned to look at the girl whose voice he faintly recognized.
"Yes, it's me, Cranston. I'm a little surprised you recognized me. It's been almost five years since we last saw each other in junior high."
"But this is an odd place for us to meet, Michelle. Are you working here? On vacation? It's a little late for skiing."
"I'm here for the same reason you are, Cranston. I'm captain of the Wallow Wallow frosh debate team. We're gonna cream you this afternoon." Her voice was confident, firm. But then she smiled and made a faint laugh. "You guys are gonna wallow in dung before we get through with you."
"Good grief. You heard our conversation at breakfast. I'm sorry about that."
"I also heard Michael's admonition to you snobs. You are still the egotistical creep that you were in junior high school. You haven't changed, Cranston."
"How come I didn't see you in the hotel last evening," he asked. "I met the team leaders from all of the other squads, but you weren't there."
"You "Huntington Boys" flew in on your school's private jet. We came down from Walla Walla in the school van. Took two days and much of last night. Everyone else had gone to bed when we arrived. Our kids didn't get much sleep. You'll have us at a disadvantage today. We won't make excuses, but if you beat us, don't call us nit-wits."
"I'm sorry about that too, Michelle. The guys aren't as crass as it sounded this morning at breakfast. We're real gentlemen... most of the time. I didn't mean any of that. I just take advantage of any opportunity for a good joke, and it was clever."
"Yes, it was, but I'll bet you would have said it even if you knew some of us were nearby. You're the kind who'd make pig sounds if a kid from an ag school walked by."
"Yeah, I'm a kind of snob, I suppose. But you'd better be prepared when you come up against me this afternoon. I'm very good."
Michelle responded in kind: "You probably are good, and you may squash us, or, as you might say, we may WALLOP WALLOP you, but this group of techies from Walla Walla will match you point for point."
"Well, even if you should win, which isn't likely, I'll see you at the dance tonight."
"I wouldn't count on that, Cranston. I don't think we'll meet again after the debate. You may be damn smart at debating but you don't seem to know much about girls."
Smugly, Cranston replied: "Maybe you are a star debater, but if you think you've dusted me off, you don't know anything about guys. Be sure to wear your best dress."