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Young adult novel, p.2
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       Young Adult Novel, p.2

           Daniel Pinkwater
 
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  We knew the cards were a big success because Igor takes French, and dozens of people asked him to translate the Horace Gerstenblut n'existe pas cards they were carrying around with them.

  We didn't know how much of a success the cards were until the last period of the day, during which we were called out of our respective classes and assembled in the office of the Lord High Executioner.

  Mr. Gerstenblut had fifteen or twenty cards on his desk. "What do you fellows know about this?" he asked, handing the cards to each of us.

  "It's in French," Captain Colossal said.

  "It has your name on it," I said.

  "It says that you don't exist," Igor said.

  "And what do you weirdos have to do with these?" Mr. Gerstenblut asked.

  "I'm afraid we can't tell you," Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico) said.

  "And why not?"

  "Because you don't exist."

  Kevin Shapiro, Boy Orphan, Chapter Eleven Thousand Six Hundred.

  So that was why it had been the easiest fight Kevin had ever been in. No wonder the new kid hadn't been able to land a single punch. "That's right, you miserable skunk," Mr. Jarvis said, "you beat up a blind boy." Kevin felt the hot tears well up in his eyes—his eyes that could see. Mr. Jarvis was right—he was a miserable skunk. How could he have been so stupid? What made it worse, Kevin sort of liked the new kid. He hadn't wanted to fight him. Something had caused Kevin to lose all control when the kid made that remark about homosexuals. Kevin wondered what had made him so mad. And he really liked the kid.

  Mr. Gerstenblut told us that he was going to let us off because he didn't have any proof—but he was going to watch us. He said that we were nihilists, and he wasn't going to stand for any of that at Himmler.

  We looked up nihilist in the library. We were tickled. Of course we weren't nihilists—Dadaists are constructive artists—but we all agreed, if we couldn't have been Dadaists, nihilists would have been a fairly decent second choice.

  6

  Imagine our surprise when we found out that there was a kid actually named Kevin Shapiro in the school! The Indiana Zephyr was the one to first discover this item of historically important information. The Wild Dada Ducks were all excited to think that there was an actual person bearing the name of the hero of our communal creation, Kevin Shapiro, Boy Orphan.

  "Who is this kid?" Igor asked. "What does he look like?"

  "We will adopt him," the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico) said. "Kevin Shapiro will be an orphan no more!"

  "Yes," I said, "we should adopt this flesh-and-blood Kevin Shapiro in honor of the hero of our Dada young-adult novel."

  "But let's keep our interest in the fortunate young man a secret!" the Indiana Zephyr said.

  "A dark secret," said Igor.

  "Good! Good!" said the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico). "We will become the secret helpers of this Kevin Shapiro."

  "We will help him to lead a full, rich, Dadaistic life!" I shouted.

  "And he will never know who is helping him!" Captain Colossal said.

  We were all getting very excited about the existence of a real-life Kevin Shapiro.

  To tell the truth, we had all been getting fairly fed up with the Kevin Shapiro story we took turns telling, and I, for one, had the feeling that it might be time to kill him off once and for all. Now, the news that there was a real Kevin, and that he was going to be unknowingly adopted by the Wild Dada Ducks, breathed new life into our little artistic circle.

  The only Wild Dada Duck who knew what the real Kevin Shapiro looked like was the Indiana Zephyr. We got up from the table where we had been discussing this remarkable development and went for a little stroll around the lunchroom, so the Indiana Zephyr could point out our new adoptee.

  It never fails to strike me, when the Wild Dada Ducks go anywhere, what a dignified and impressive picture we must make. Dressed in the finest Dada taste, serious, and intelligent looking, the Wild Dada Ducks are as fine a body of young men as anyone could hope to see.

  We made our little promenade around the lunchroom, the Indiana Zephyr looking for our darling child, Kevin Shapiro. At last he pointed him out. "That's him over there," the Indiana Zephyr whispered.

  Kevin Shapiro was better than any of us could have hoped. He was perfect. In fact, he was wonderful. He was magnificent. He was short, maybe five two, and skinny. His hair was pale blond, and he wore it in a style known as a flattop. This is a crew cut with the hair standing up straight. The hair at the sides of the head is longer than the hair at the top of the head. The total effect is that of making one's head appear flat. It's a 1950s style that has come back into fashion because of some pre-Dada rock groups. Kevin Shapiro also had glasses, big cumbersome-looking plastic ones. His skin was very pale, and he had a little nose. We fell in love with him instantly.

  Kevin Shapiro, never dreaming of his good fortune, was hunched over a box of Grape-Nuts, which he had opened by pulling apart the flaps on the side of the box, along the dotted lines. Into the waxed paper lining of the box Kevin Shapiro had poured the contents of a carton of milk. The milk was dribbling out the corners of the box as he ate the cereal with a plastic spoon.

  "This is auspicious," the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico) said to the rest of the Wild Dada Ducks. "Grape-Nuts is a Dada food, especially when you eat it out of the carton like that."

  "Munch on, little Kevin Shapiro," Captain Colossal said under his breath. "The Wild Dada Ducks will watch over you from this day forward."

  7

  "The first thing we ought to do," said the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico), "before we start helping Kevin Shapiro, is to find out all we can about the adorable little fellow."

  This is the reason that the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico) is the undisputed leader of the Wild Dada Ducks. His foresight and methodical thinking is equalled only by his great artistic talent and Dadaistic style. It was agreed then and there, in the lunchroom, while Kevin Shapiro was finishing up his Grape-Nuts, that we would do exhaustive research about our little adopted boy.

  Each of us, without being obvious or calling attention to himself, would endeavor to find out all there was to find out about Kevin. In this way, the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico) pointed out, we would be able to see if there were any areas of deficiency in the life of our little adoptling. We would begin by supplying whatever Kevin lacked. Later we would help him to become a great culture hero—all without ever revealing ourselves, of course.

  It was agreed that the following day, after school, we would meet at the Balkan Falcon Drug Company across the street from Himmler High and discuss the information we had gathered.

  The Balkan Falcon Drug Company is our favorite meeting place. It is generally shunned by other Himmler High students because of the foul temper of the fat old lady behind the counter, and the poor quality of the soda fountain—warm soda, filthy spoons, inedible hamburgers, and the like. However, the Wild Dada Ducks like the place because it has booths, it's never crowded, and raisin toast costs only twenty cents an order.

  So it was that the Wild Dada Ducks gathered at the Balkan Falcon Drug Company after school the following afternoon. Having been insulted by the fat old lady behind the counter, and having provided ourselves with raisin toast and hot chocolate in grimy cups, we proceeded to report to one another on what we had learned about our dear little Kevin Shapiro.

  As each Wild Dada Duck spoke, I took notes. When everyone had made his report, I read back to the others all I had written:

  Kevin Shapiro is a freshman. He is an average student, and likes biology best of all his classes. His least favorite class is physical education, in which class his performance is perfectly miserable. He is nearsighted, and wears his glasses all the time. He lives in an apartment in one of the new buildings near Mesmer Park with his parents. He has no brothers or sisters. Kevin's family has a late-model Japanese sedan,
a color television, and an old cocker spaniel named Henry, who is overweight. Kevin walks Henry twice a day—before he leaves for school, and when he returns in the afternoon. In the evening Kevin's father walks Henry. Kevin has few friends. Those people he does know are mostly involved in comic-book collecting. None of them go to Himmler. Kevin has a fairly large collection of old comic books, and almost every Saturday he goes around the city, looking for comics in various used-book stores. Every year Kevin attends the comic collector's convention, where he buys, sells, and trades. His favorite comics are science-fiction ones. He also likes science-fiction movies.

  All of this information had been assembled without any of the Wild Dada Ducks questioning Kevin directly, or drawing any special attention to themselves. We had found all this out by following Kevin, and by engaging various people in casual conversation—working in our questions about Kevin in such a subtle way that nobody ever suspected that we were interested in gathering information about him. Naturally, we were very proud of ourselves. We had gathered quite a lot of highly significant information about our beloved little friend, entirely in secret, and in the space of a little more than twenty-four hours.

  "Now," said the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico), "let's discuss what all this data tells us about the lucky lad we have decided to guide and help without his knowledge."

  "He leads the most boring life I ever heard of," Igor said.

  "There isn't a trace of Dada consciousness in anything he does," Captain Colossal said.

  "Except the fat cocker spaniel," I put in.

  "Yes," said the Indiana Zephyr, "the fat cocker spaniel has some style, but it isn't really enough to make a Dadaist out of little Kevin, our adopted child."

  "I agree," said the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico). "It's hard to tell where to begin helping Kevin Shapiro. The sad truth is, he's evidently a nerd."

  "But there's hope," Igor said. "We might be able to rehabilitate him."

  "Exactly!" said the Indiana Zephyr. "We have to do something to shake Kevin out of his dull, normal, un-Dada life-style."

  "That will cost you forty cents," said the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico). "Pay each Wild Dada Duck ten cents for saying life-style."

  There are fines for using certain words—such as life-style. If a Wild Dada Duck should say "Have a nice day," it can cost him five dollars.

  The Indiana Zephyr fished out four dimes and handed them around. "Well, you know what I mean," he said.

  "Look out! Here comes you-know-who!" Igor said.

  Kevin Shapiro had just entered the Balkan Falcon Drug Company. He walked toward the booth where we were sitting. We hadn't seen Kevin Shapiro walking before this. He had a fascinating walk. He sort of bobbed up and down and worked his shoulders as he walked, as though he were listening to music with a bad beat.

  Kevin Shapiro came right up to our booth. He stopped walking but continued to hunch his shoulders.

  "Quit asking questions about me!" he said.

  There was an uncomfortable moment of silence. Finally, the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico) spoke. "You want us to quit doing what?" El Presidente asked, looking puzzled.

  "Just quit!" Kevin Shapiro said.

  "I assure you, old fellow," Captain Colossal said, "we have no idea what you're talking about."

  "I'll punch out your face, see?" Kevin Shapiro said. He shook a pale, skinny fist under the nose of Captain Colossal. "Just quit, that's all."

  Kevin Shapiro turned, hunched his shoulders, and bobbed out of the Balkan Falcon Drug Company.

  8

  "He's a genius!" the Indiana Zephyr said.

  "Definitely," Igor said.

  "I think he's more than a genius," Captain Colossal said.

  "I think he may be God," the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico) said.

  "Definitely," I said.

  It was clear to the Wild Dada Ducks that Kevin Shapiro had plenty of style, insolence, and punkishness—the raw materials of personal greatness. We loved and admired our adopted boy more than ever.

  "We have to do something really wonderful for Kevin Shapiro," the Indiana Zephyr said.

  "Yes," said the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico), "nothing is too good for little Kevin. He will inspire our Dada masterpiece."

  "But what are we going to do?" I asked.

  "How about printing up cards again?" Captain Colossal asked. "They could say Kevin Shapiro is the greatest."

  "That's not nearly big enough," said the Indiana Zephyr. "I don't mean to suggest that there's anything wrong with the idea of issuing a Dada card—the Horace Gerstenblut card was a great work of Art—but this is for Kevin. It has to be special."

  We all agreed. The Wild Dada Ducks fell silent, chewing the crusts of our raisin toast, all of us trying to think up something magnificent enough to do for Kevin Shapiro.

  "We want to call everybody's attention to the fact that Kevin Shapiro is a great person, isn't that right?" I asked.

  "Yes," said Igor, "so what's your idea?"

  "I don't have an idea yet," I said, "I just wanted to make sure I understood what we're after."

  "A person as great as Kevin Shapiro ought to be world famous," El Presidente said.

  "That's right!" Captain Colossal said.

  "It would be wrong for only us Wild Dada Ducks to know about Kevin Shapiro," Igor said.

  "We ought to let the whole world know what a splendid person Kevin Shapiro is," I said.

  "Aren't there special guys who work for famous people—movie stars, and politicians, and people like that?" the Indiana Zephyr asked. "You know, they get their names in the paper, and they make sure everybody knows how great they are."

  "That's right," I said, "publicity agents, they're called."

  "That's it!" the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico) said. "That's what we have to do for little Kevin Shapiro! We have to make him famous and loved by everybody!"

  "We'll be his publicity agents!"

  "We'll get everybody to appreciate him!"

  "We'll make him famous!"

  "This is a chance to do something not only for our beloved Kevin Shapiro, but for the whole world!"

  "This is a great day for world Dada Culture!"

  "So what do we do first?"

  "How about printing up a lot of cards?"

  "Captain Colossal, can't you think of anything but printing up cards?" the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico) asked.

  "Maybe we could print up posters," I said.

  "That's it!" everybody said. "A really great poster of Kevin Shapiro—in color."

  "We'll print thousands!"

  "Everybody will want them!"

  "It's perfect!"

  "Wait a second!" Igor said. "That will cost a lot of money—probably hundreds. Do we have that much?"

  The fact was, the Wild Dada Ducks didn't have any money to speak of. Between us we hardly had hundreds of cents, let alone dollars.

  "Isn't that always the way?" the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico) said. "Lack of money once again thwarts a great Artistic enterprise. We'll have to keep thinking."

  We kept thinking.

  The more we thought, the more the idea of printing up something in the school print shop seemed to have merit. First of all, it didn't cost anything. Captain Colossal could run off the cards almost any day after school, and as long as we were willing to use whatever scrap paper the print shop had lying around, the whole production would be free.

  The Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico) grumbled quite a bit about printing cards again. He wanted to do something we had never done before. However, since no one including El Presidente could come up with anything that was both good and possible, we finally fell back on Captain Colossal and the printing press. The Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico) insisted that we at least make these cards a bit larger than the last
batch, and try our best to give them a decent Dada quality. We spent the next hour working on the text for the card. When we finished, and everybody had expressed approval, we gave the final copy to Captain Colossal, with instructions to do his utmost to give the thing an appearance we could all be proud of.

  Two days later, in the Balkan Falcon Drug Company, Captain Colossal presented an edition of two thousand cards. They were excellent. Not only was the printing job superior, but the Captain had managed to get some very handsome green cardboard and some printer's cuts showing pictures of this and that which he had artistically arranged to make the cards even more impressive. The whole effect was very fine, and we were all pleased.

  9

  It is funny how fate takes its cut. That is one of the favorite sayings of the Wild Dada Ducks. It means that however carefully you plan things, however much you're sure how things are supposed to turn out—something you never thought of can change everything. Fate will take its cut.

  When the Wild Dada Ducks planned and executed the handsome works of Art in honor of Kevin Shapiro, events were already moving in a direction none of us could have guessed. But that is always the way things work. That is why Dada is the greatest Art movement. The Dadaist assumes things are going to go wrong—or at least in an unpredictable direction—so he isn't surprised when it happens. He is surprised when it doesn't.

  We distributed the Kevin Shapiro cards in the same manner as the Horace Gerstenblut cards. That is, we left stacks of them in all the bathrooms. Once again we had cause to wish there were some girls in the Duckettes, as darting in and out of the girls' bathrooms was dangerous and scary. However, we got the cards distributed without anyone seeing us, and without meeting anyone apt to get upset.

  Because the Wild Dada Ducks are constantly preoccupied with Dada Art and Philosophy, we frequently neglect the events of day-to-day life at Himmler High School. Ask any of us who won the big basketball game last night—and we will ask who was playing. It isn't that we necessarily disapprove of such activities—it's just that you can't lead the way in an Artistic revolution and keep track of every little detail.

 
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