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Young adult novel, p.3
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       Young Adult Novel, p.3

           Daniel Pinkwater
 
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  So it happened that none of us had the slightest idea that the day we distributed our sincere tribute to Kevin Shapiro was also the day of the Himmler High School Student Council election.

  Just as they had done with the Horace Gerstenblut cards, our fellow students picked up the new Kevin Shapiro edition, talked about it, passed cards around to their friends, and tried to guess who Kevin Shapiro might be, and what the cards meant. Of course, that is not the proper way to appreciate the cards. They are works of Art to be enjoyed, and experienced—not analyzed. However, that is not our concern. As Dada Artists, we provide the Art, the public can do what it likes with it. Besides, the message of the cards was perfectly obvious. The cards were intended to notify the world in general, and Himmler High in particular, that Kevin Shapiro was an exceptionally great human being.

  In fact, that part of our message did appear to have been picked up by a great many people, because, after having a look at the cards, discussing them, and swapping them around, ninety-seven percent of the students at Himmler High went and voted for Kevin Shapiro.

  They voted for him for Student Council president, and for all the positions in the Student Council. All told, Kevin Shapiro received about 28,000 votes from approximately 4,000 students.

  We didn't know anything about this, because the voting was by secret ballot. The results of the election would be announced in an assembly of the whole school the next day.

  The day of the Student Council election was like any other day in the lives of the Wild Dada Ducks. We had executed our Artwork, we went to our classes, we picked up ballots for the Student Council election, and each voted for Kevin Shapiro for all seven places, including Student Council president.

  At the assembly the following day the official candidates for office were all lined up, sitting in a row on folding chairs on the auditorium stage. They were wearing suits and dresses. They had sat in the same order, wearing the same outfits, the week before, when each candidate had made a campaign speech.

  Mr. Gerstenblut, the vice-principal, and Mr. Winter, the principal, were both on stage too. Mr. Winter made a short speech about how we were lucky to live in a democracy and be able to vote in elections, and the usual stuff they tell you at school elections. The Wild Dada Ducks have nothing against democracy, except that it doesn't go nearly far enough—but the thing about being elected to a school office that we find boring is that you wouldn't get to pass any real laws even if you got elected.

  Miss Steele, the chairman of the election committee, came out to read the results of the tabulation of all the votes.

  "We have a very remarkable situation here," Miss Steele said. "It seems there have been a great many write-in votes for a candidate who hadn't even announced that he was in the race. Now, ordinarily, the election committee would insist on the rule that states that if a candidate for Student Council president is not one of those duly nominated, votes for that person will be discounted. The rule further states that if the person with the winning number of votes is not one of those duly nominated, the duly nominated person with the next largest number of votes will be elected. However, in this election one extremely popular young man has gotten practically all the votes, for all the offices on the Student Council—and, as you may have guessed, he is not one of those duly nominated.

  "The committee feels that it will be best if we declare the election as having miscarried," Miss Steele went on, to considerable booing. "We are going to hold another election, by show of hands, here this morning—but in the interest of fairness, we would like to invite the young man who got so many votes to come up on the stage and say a few words. You've already heard from the other fine candidates. Now, will the young man who has already demonstrated that he has the confidence of his fellow students please approach the stage? Will Kevin Shapiro please come up and say a few words?"

  There was a thunderous outburst of applause. There was also a good deal of neckcraning and looking around, since almost nobody in the school knew who Kevin Shapiro was.

  From the very last row in the auditorium a small, thin figure shuffled and bobbed down the aisle, and then bounded up the steps to the stage. It was our boy. It was Kevin Shapiro. The Wild Dada Ducks started a cheer that was wildly taken up by everyone else in the school. Kevin Shapiro, cool as you please, stood on the stage, waiting for the cheering and clapping to die down. I noticed for the first time that Kevin had these really klutzy shoes. They looked like Frankenstein boots. I think he picked shoes with the thickest possible soles, in an attempt to get an extra inch of height. The shoes made Kevin Shapiro look incredibly Dada. He shifted from foot to foot and waited for the crowd to be quiet.

  Finally the last whistle and foot-stomp and cheer had echoed through the auditorium, and Kevin Shapiro spoke.

  "Hey," he said, "I don't want to be any slob president of the Student Council. Don't vote for me, see? Vote for these idiots here."

  The applause was deafening. It went on for about ten minutes.

  Kevin was reelected by a landslide.

  10

  The Wild Dada Ducks were filled with pride and delight. In just one short day following our public expression of appreciation, Kevin Shapiro had been almost unanimously recognized as the finest example of humanity in the whole school. The crowd in the auditorium was going crazy. The cheering had consolidated into a continuous roar, as Kevin Shapiro, now elected for the second time—this time by acclamation—approached the microphone.

  It took a long time for the audience to become quiet. Kevin Shapiro, who appeared to us to be a born public speaker and leader of men, patiently waited until the last expression of enthusiasm had been uttered. He held up both hands in a gesture for silence, which was at the same time friendly, endearing. Kevin Shapiro was the most beloved person in all of Himmler High School at that moment.

  "Look," he began, "I thought I made myself clear. I do not want to be on your stupid Student Council. Just leave me alone. Anybody bothers me, I'll bash his face in, see?" Kevin shook a fist meaningfully, and returned to his seat.

  There was another spontaneous demonstration of support for Kevin Shapiro but no amount of cheering and chanting could induce him to leave his auditorium seat and speak to the students again. The crowd showed no sign of leaving peaceably, and finally Mr. Winter, who has an astonishingly loud voice, took over.

  Mr. Winter declared the day's exercises over, and by executive order abolished all elections in the school until further notice.

  This is why the Wild Dada Ducks—and apparently Kevin Shapiro—do not take school elections seriously. Mr. Winter has the last word.

  The crowd left the auditorium in an ugly mood. Every teacher in Himmler High knew that the rest of the day was going to be grim. There was a lot of resentment expressed toward Mr. Winter for abolishing elections, and his resentment extended to all figures of authority, especially teachers.

  Somehow, nobody seemed to be angry at little Kevin Shapiro. He had twice rejected the nearly unanimous vote of the entire student body—and in no uncertain terms. He had called them stupid, and made it plain that he couldn't be bothered to serve as Student Council president. And yet, no one appeared to have taken offense. The students of Himmler High School respected Kevin's wish, and mostly left him alone. It was really unheard-of behavior. I mean, the majority of the students are far from being philosophers, let alone Dadaists. To tell the truth, most of the kids are only human on a technicality. They take great mindless pride in their school—they go to all the games and scream bloody murder—about once every other year there is a mass fistfight with the students from Kissinger High School, our great rival.

  Now, Kevin Shapiro, a little, skinny, bespectacled kid, had openly rejected one of the institutions of Himmler High. In effect he had rejected the whole population of the school—and nobody tried to kill him! The only thing the Wild Dada Ducks could make of this remarkable behavior was that, like us, simply anybody who saw Kevin Shapiro could not help loving him. Captain Colossal said he
had charisma. Igor said it was star quality. Whatever it was, Kevin definitely had it, and we were all very proud of him. We were ashamed to remember that up until the last minute, we were all going to vote for the Marquis de Sade.

  11

  Of course, school elections, and assemblies, and all of those things are dumb. Anyone would realize it if it were given any thought—but generally, nobody thinks about those things. The Wild Dada Ducks do not approve of school elections, naturally, because we are for the abolishment of government as we know it. We want the machines to take over. That is, we want ordinary, loyal, everyday machines, like dishwashers and buses and pencil sharpeners, to take over the government—not computers and robots, which are probably really in charge already. The Wild Dada Ducks do not approve of school elections, but the ordinary unenlightened Himmler High School students just love them.

  At least that's what we thought until the election of Kevin Shapiro (who refused to serve). To tell the truth, we weren't sure what was going through the minds of our fellow students. Mostly, we were proud of how popular our boy, Kevin Shapiro, had become because of the distribution of our Dada card. We didn't consider what might be the innermost thoughts of the other kids in the school.

  Later we got an idea of what the whole school thought of Kevin Shapiro.

  They worshipped him.

  Kevin was the single biggest hero in the school. He was the only hero in the school. In a single moment he had expressed the secret truth about school elections, the school, the world, being a kid—everything. Every kid in the auditorium that day realized the reality of his situation when Kevin Shapiro said that he didn't want to be on any stupid Student Council. Most kids wouldn't have said anything like that, even if they were thinking it—but Kevin did.

  Like the Wild Dada Ducks, every kid in the school had realized that Kevin Shapiro had a style all his own. Just as we had predicted, he was a natural leader.

  Kevin's wish that he be left alone only made everybody love and respect him more. All the girls were in love with him. All the boys were afraid of him. Simply anybody would have died of happiness if Kevin Shapiro had smiled at them, or winked, or spoken, or anything.

  All this was true, but nobody actually realized it—or realized the extent or importance of it. When we filed out of the auditorium that day, nobody was conscious of the great event that had taken place—with the possible exception of Mr. Winter and Mr. Gerstenblut, both of whom looked worried. They had taken courses in being a principal, and they knew they had the makings of an uprising on their hands. They knew this, or they may have known it—but there was nothing they could do but wait.

  The Wild Dada Ducks were not worried, even when Kevin Shapiro passed by us in the crush of people leaving the auditorium. He smiled a grim smile, and rubbed his belly, as if he were thinking about something good to eat. "I'll get you for this," he said.

  We just attributed his remark and gesture to his natural charm, and were even a little flattered that he had spoken to us. We didn't understand that Kevin Shapiro was the king of the school—and we didn't understand the power a king has.

  Everything appeared to go back to normal at once. As far as the Wild Dada Ducks were concerned, the election and the assembly in the auditorium were part of the Dada Work we had started with the cards—and it had been our most successful exercise so far. Now it was over, and we all felt good about it.

  12

  Nothing changed at first. The day after the Student Council elections, and the day after that, life at Himmler High School was normal, average. Students went from class to class, the Wild Dada Ducks met to discuss Art and Culture in the Balkan Falcon Drug Company, and Kevin Shapiro ate alone in the lunchroom. Mr. Winter and Mr. Gerstenblut appeared in the halls very often, looking alert and nervous, as though they expected to find something important going on—but nothing was going on.

  That's what they thought.

  That's what we thought.

  That's what everyone thought.

  It was on the third day after the election that the Fanatical Praetorians first appeared. We didn't know they were the Fanatical Praetorians at first. They were all the kids in Himmler High who were shorter than Kevin Shapiro, and they all had sailor hats.

  These sailor hats were of the variety worn by Donald Duck in the early cartoons. They were soft and white, with a ribbon hanging down in the back. I don't know where they got them. There was a blue band around the bottom of the hats with the words S.S. Popnick printed in white. They must have been navy surplus, but from which country's navy, I don't know.

  The short kids in sailor/duck hats all sat in the lunchroom, not too close to Kevin Shapiro, but surrounding him on all sides. They all ate Grape-Nuts from little cartons into which they had poured milk. Most of them had big Frankenstein shoes like Kevin Shapiro. All of them had sworn an oath to protect Kevin with their lives.

  Kevin Shapiro had recruited the Fanatical Praetorians, and administered the oath. Not only had he organized a bodyguard, and, as we gradually learned—an illegal government within the school—Kevin Shapiro had also started an Art Movement.

  It was called Heroic Realism.

  We didn't find all these things out at once. At first, all we knew was that a bunch of little kids in sailor hats were trailing around a respectful distance behind Kevin Shapiro, and if anyone approached him or tried to talk to him, they would make a wall of their bodies and threaten the person who intended to approach.

  Since Kevin Shapiro didn't like to talk to people, and mostly wanted to be left alone, there weren't many confrontations with the Fanatic Praetorians. It seemed a little weird, and that was all.

  Then came Heroic Realism. As we had found out when we were doing research about him, Kevin Shapiro was a big comic-book fan. It turned out that what he liked best about comic books was the artwork. The Wild Dada Ducks had declared comic books unartistic a long time ago. Not only did we find the stories predictable and boring, but the pictures seemed particularly awful to us. For the most part, they showed guys with too many muscles and heads too small for their bodies.

  Kevin Shapiro loved comic books.

  Heroic Realism declared that anything that wasn't a comic book was no good. Anybody who didn't like comic books was no good. Conversely, anybody who liked comic books was a great person. That, as far as we could make out, was all there was to Heroic Realism.

  Every student in Himmler High was a Heroic Realist. Except us, of course. Also, every student in Himmler High recognized Kevin Shapiro as his supreme leader.

  Kevin Shapiro was a good deal more than president of the Student Council. It was obvious why he had scorned that basically meaningless honor. Kevin Shapiro had become undisputed king of Himmler High. His word was law. Of course, he practically never said anything, but if he had said anything, it would have been law.

  Obviously, he communicated to the Fanatical Praetorians. If Kevin Shapiro wanted to tell anybody anything, it was done through the Fanatical Praetorians. For example, if you were sitting in the lunchroom, a half-dozen Fanatical Praetorians might come over to you and say, "Kevin doesn't want you sitting there." So you'd move. Everybody was afraid of the Fanatical Praetorians.

  They were little, but there were a lot of them. Also, they had learned to imitate Kevin's special way of being persuasive. "Look," they'd say, "we'll punch out your face, see?" It never failed to get results.

  Big kids, who had formerly been known as bullies, cowered and cringed before the short kids in the Donald Duck hats. Some kids wanted to become Fanatical Praetorians, but they weren't short enough.

  After school every day Kevin Shapiro would be escorted away from the school by a big crowd of Fanatical Praetorians. They even guarded him on weekends. Once I saw him leafing through comic books in a store downtown while ten or eleven shrimps in sailor hats stood around him.

  After a week or two everybody was sufficiently afraid of the Fanatical Praetorians that they were obeyed even when they were alone. Even the teachers lea
rned to respect them. In the biology class taken by the Indiana Zephyr and Captain Colossal, there was only one Fanatical Praetorian, a kid named Shep Stoneman. It seems Shep Stoneman got into an argument with the teacher. The teacher wanted Shep to remove his sailor hat. Shep didn't want to. Finally, Shep told the entire class to get up and leave the room. They did it.

  Mr. Winter and Mr. Gerstenblut were all over the building dealing with problems caused by the Fanatical Praetorians. There were a great many comic books being circulated in the school because of the Heroic Realism movement, and there had been a number of tense moments between teachers and Fanatical Praetorians.

  At one point Mr. Winter outlawed the wearing of hats in school. The next day, by order of the Fanatical Praetorians, every kid in the school wore a hat of some kind all day, and a general strike was threatened. That is, all the kids wore hats except the Wild Dada Ducks.

  This constituted a moral dilemma for us. Here was the breakdown of the normal un-Dada order, which we had all wished for, but we found we couldn't go along with the hats-on order which emanated from Kevin Shapiro—a hero we ourselves had created. We didn't exactly know why we felt we could not go along with it. There was something about Heroic Realism that made it impossible—but it was more than that. We had been nonconformists for so long that it just didn't feel right to go along with everyone else—and there was something else, too, but we couldn't say what it was.

  Of course, the hat-wearing was a complete success. What could Mr. Winter do? He couldn't very well call in the police. Nobody was doing anything destructive—they were wearing hats, that was all. He couldn't suspend everybody. He couldn't very well write to everyone's parents and say that little Johnny had worn a hat on such-and-such a day and was therefore suspended. It was a clear victory for Kevin and his loyal followers. That was everybody but the Wild Dada Ducks.

 
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