11 November Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. It is dinner time at E.T.A., and everyone is eating except Axford, who after a childhood accident developed a neurological condition that makes food taste like the smell of vomit. Stice has been telling a long Christmas story about his parents’ “epic rows.” Theirs is a passionate, tumultuous relationship, and they’ve divorced and remarried four or five times. There are rumors that Hal and Axford have been subjected to a urine test by Charles and the O.N.A.N.T.A. urologist.
Axford’s strange neurological condition and Stice’s stories about his parents’ arguments are yet more reminders that every E.T.A. student is struggling with their own personal problems. Yet certain people’s problems—notably Hal and Axford’s meeting with the urologist—are also the subject of intense speculation by others.
Recently, inanimate objects have been moving around E.T.A. seemingly of their own accord, though there seems to be an unspoken consensus not to discuss it. The boys begin debating the correlation between one-handed backhands and breast size in female players. Hal thinks about the girl Orin was once “wildly in love with” who starred in James’s films and who ended up becoming disfigured. Orin has always kept a kind of diary listing all his “Subjects.” Many of the boys at the table have already had sex, but Hal actively wants to remain a virgin forever.
This passage reveals the key piece of information that Joelle was the star of James’s films, including—presumably—the Entertainment. This explains why the A.F.R. have been following Orin and have attacked the WYYY engineer. It also reveals that Hal has sexual neuroses of his own, most likely triggered by his family’s dysfunction and especially Orin’s strange relationship with sex.
Hal has a urine test coming up in 29 days and has stopped smoking weed or taking any other kind of Substance. He is “a whole new Hal,” one who no longer has any secrets. Everyone suddenly gets quiet as Evan Ingersoll walks in on crutches, a prorector carrying his dinner tray. Overall E.T.A. is a place surprisingly devoid of sex. The boys wonder why Hal seems so miserable. Although it’s plausibly related to the meeting with Charles and the urologist, Pemulis was in that meeting too and is his normal, jovial self.
It is not clear whether the other students’ fascination with Hal’s condition is the product of curiosity or concern—likely a mixture of both. Yet just as Hal is highly secretive and unable to express his emotions to others, so do his fellow students refuse to ask him what is wrong.