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Young adult novel, p.4
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       Young Adult Novel, p.4

           Daniel Pinkwater
 
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  Mr. Winter wriggled out of his defeat, ungracefully, by having all the homeroom teachers read something about how styles change, and how Himmler High students have always been models of good grooming and acceptable dress, and that if hats were "in" then the administration of the school wasn't about to spoil anybody's fun, and how Mr. Winter always kept up with the times, and had even personally been to a disco with his wife, and sometimes didn't wear a necktie.

  It didn't fool anybody. The Fanatical Praetorians were running the place, and they obeyed nobody but Kevin Shapiro. It only remained to see what Kevin would decide to do next.

  13

  The Wild Dada Ducks were especially interested in what Kevin Shapiro would do next. Obviously, it had not gone unnoticed that we had been the only ones not to wear hats during the protest. The truth was, we were somewhat afraid of what the Fanatical Praetorians might do to us. One thing was certain—they would not do anything except on Kevin Shapiro's order.

  The next thing Kevin Shapiro got interested in was making sure that everybody in the school ate Grape-Nuts. This project interested him so much that he actually spoke to the assembled kids in the lunchroom one day.

  Kevin got up and struck a pose indicating that he was about to speak. Even without the shushing and fingers to lips of the Fanatical Praetorians, the room would have fallen silent in a hurry. This was to be the first public utterance of Kevin Shapiro since he had turned down the Student Council.

  "Grape-Nuts is good!" he said.

  After that no lunch at Himmler High School did not include a little carton of Grape-Nuts cereal with milk poured into the waxed paper liner. The school lunchroom didn't have enough in stock at first, and kids brought Grape-Nuts from home. Lunchtime became a symphony of crunching and slurping.

  Fearing for our lives, and arguing that as Dadaists we had already approved of Grape-Nuts, the Wild Dada Ducks joined in the cereal-eating. Secretly, we hoped that our failure to wear hats that day when everybody else wore them might be forgotten, especially since we were eating Grape-Nuts like the Heroic Realists.

  And in fact, it seemed that our act of disloyalty had been forgotten. In the days that followed, nothing special happened. Of course, the fulminations of the Heroic Realists annoyed us no end. Kids went on and on about the beauty of comic books, and our Dada sensibilities were continually offended by snatches of overheard conversation about Mouse-Man and Wonder Wombat—but in general, life was bearable at Himmler High School.

  Kevin Shapiro's main concern seemed to be the continued eating of Grape-Nuts. Often at lunchtime he could be seen contentedly surveying the spectacle of a great many kids, all working away at their little boxes of cereal.

  The lunchroom at Himmler High is large, as is the school itself. While the room is not capable of containing the whole student population, a good thousand can eat there at once. Nowadays, they ate a good thousand boxes of Grape-Nuts at once.

  Kevin Shapiro's concern about the cereal-eating was such that he actually spoke again. This time he climbed up onto a table and gestured for silence.

  "Get 'em good and soggy," he said.

  After this, people took considerably longer with their lunches. Under the ever-watchful eye of Kevin and his bodyguard, it became customary to let the milk and cereal sit uneaten for ten or fifteen minutes, the Grape-Nuts absorbing all the milk that did not run out the corners of the carton.

  One day, a deputation of Fanatical Praetorians actually walked around the lunchroom, inspecting people's Grape-Nuts to see that they were good and soggy.

  A couple of days after the Praetorian tour of inspection, Kevin Shapiro once again, and for the last time, addressed the assembled lunching students.

  Again he stood upon a table, not too far from where the Wild Dada Ducks were sitting. He had his carton of well-sogged Grape-Nuts in his hand.

  "Look!" said Kevin Shapiro. "Watch me!"

  Kevin Shapiro turned the box over and dumped the soggy contents into his cupped right hand.

  "Down with Dada!" he shouted, and hurled the mess of dripping Grape-Nuts right into the face of the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico).

  What followed was horrible. The Wild Dada Ducks were served at least one thousand portions of Grape-Nuts. They were thrown at us, poured over our heads, stuffed down our pants, and mushed into our hair. The massacre took place so quickly that we never had time to get out of our chairs. We sat there, stunned, and were turned into living, dripping statues.

  When we left the lunchroom we squished as we walked, and left a sloppy trail of cereal.

  14

  Not long after the Grape-Nuts devastation, it seems Kevin Shapiro disbanded the invincible Fanatical Praetorians. Heroic Realism appeared to wane as an Art Movement, and conditions at the school returned entirely to normal.

  Kevin Shapiro, refusing to do anything to exploit the total power he had over his fellow students, was gradually forgotten, and could be seen hunched over his Grape-Nuts at lunch, alone as before.

  When he saw any of the Wild Dada Ducks he laughed to himself.

  The Wild Dada Ducks left him alone.

  We also suspended our program of cultural improvement for our fellow students. We continued to meet after school every day in the Balkan Falcon Drug Company. There we pursued our discussions of Art and Philosophy.

  For about a week we made no mention of our experience in the lunchroom with the Grape-Nuts. Finally, it seemed time to discuss its implications and historical importance.

  "Does it seem possible," asked Igor, "that Kevin Shapiro seized control of the entire school just so he could have us covered with wet breakfast cereal?"

  No one was sure. It could have been planned from the start, or it could have just been an idea that occurred to him at the moment.

  "The important question," said Captain Colossal, "is what is the significance of Kevin's rise to power, and the Grape-Nuts attack? What does it mean in philosophical terms?"

  "Yes," said the Indiana Zephyr, "what is the moral of the story?"

  "It has no moral," said the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico), "it is a Dada story."

  Dead End

  Dada

  Dedicated

  to the spirit of

  LIEUTENANT HIROO ONADA

  who hid on the Philippine island of Lubang for over thirty-four years—until February 20, 1979—not knowing that World War II had ended

  Mutato nomine de te fabula narratur—

  From the author . . .

  Following the publication of my book, Young Adult Novel, in 1982, I began to receive, by mail, additional chapters of the story-within-a-story, Kevin Shapiro, Boy Orphan. All of these submissions have been anonymous, or obviously pseudonymous. The letters bear postmarks from various parts of the country. I do not pretend to understand the motivation of the authors of these works; however, I take the opportunity afforded by the publication of this present volume to include a few of these curious contributions:

  Kevin Shapiro

  Chapter number 9,485

  Kevin had heard about food poisoning, but he never thought that something this bad could ever happen. All the kids at his birthday party dead, and all because of that cake mix with the slightly bitter smell! The first birthday of his life that he'd had a party. He had been so happy! Now, disaster. As he looked at the seven little corpses all slumped in their seats, party hats still in place, he wondered, What will I tell their mothers? Will I get to keep the presents? How will I explain about the fiery angel that warned only me to eat nothing?

  With a resigned air he reached for the cake cutter.

  I judge the selection cited above to be an authentic if above-average example of junior high school composition (as are all that follow), even though the author spelled fiery correctly, which I never do.

  Kevin Shapiro

  Chapter number 7,217

  There Kevin stood with the ax. The ax that only yesterday had slipped from his father's hands to slice his own
leg in two. And there was the puddle of blood that had thrown Kevin's mother into a hysterical frenzy, causing her to thrust both her hands down the garbage disposal while it was on. Kevin knew that if his mother hadn't done that his father would have been taken to the hospital in time. Kevin called the ambulance, but by the time they arrived both parents had been deprived of oxygen for too long. Of course they could be saved, but all of their limbs would have to be amputated and their total IQ would never exceed 42.

  Although Kevin was out shooting kittens with his rifle while it happened, he knew it was all his fault as he ate a box of rat poison and slowly passed away in the front yard.

  I take this to be the work of the writer of the birthday party episode cited above. The number 42 may be significant.

  Kevin Shapiro

  Chapter number 3,279.741

  Kevin had been walking through the desert for two weeks now, and his body had emaciated away to 48 pounds, and all the hair had fallen out of his head.

  The drone of the plane caused him to look toward the heavens. There it was! The rescue plane!

  An object was dropped, with the white parachute billowing open. Running over to receive the rescue package, Kevin tripped over a cow skull, twisting his knee, leaving himself immobilized. He then proceeded to be crushed by his chance for life.

  The work of another hand. On the same page, another Kevin Shapiro chapter is indicated with the number 4,732.17401; however, there is no further text as such. Instead, there are two stylized heads labeled "The Mad Artist Strikes the Red Army" and "The Mad Artist's Partner Strikes for Higher Wages." I have no hint of what these may mean.

  Kevin Shipiro [sic] Ch. 1,476

  "Why me? Don't blame me. It was just a game—only tag. I didn't mean to push her down the stairs," wheezed Kevin to his guidance counselor.

  Kevin's sister was finally home. Not drunk, stoned, or pregnant like the other times. Playing happily, they ran around the upstairs until Kevin's playful shove sent his sister tumbling.

  In an uncontrollable rage his mother rushed at Kevin, but tripped over the coffee table and thwacked her head on the hearth, sending her into an endless sleep.

  By "Jimmy Burrito." There are some other submissions, in a different hand, with the same misspelling of the name Shapiro. Record as to whether the "Shipiro" contributions come from the same locality has unfortunately been lost.

  Kevin Shipiro, Boy Orphan

  (no chapter number)

  Kevin Shipiro thought about jumping off the ledge. He had had a rotten life. In fact it was so rotten that it nauseated him to think about it. Kevin didn't really want to jump, but the people below kept chanting, "Jump! Jump!" Kevin decided not to jump. While edging his way to the window, Kevin slipped and took out three of the crowd.

  Orthographic differences suggest that this is not the work of the author of the example cited previously, though the misspelling of Shapiro and some stylistic elements are similar.

  Kevin Shapiro, Boy Orphan

  Episode number 560½

  The old woman stopped at the curb, feeling its sloping inclination with the tip of her cane. "DON'T WALK!" flashed the light—then "WALK!" in a friendly green. The puce Volvo making a right turn on red did not look friendly, nor did the blaring taxi, or any of the other obnoxious vehicles.

  If only little Kevin would come. . . . For weeks he'd been helping her across Reynolds Avenue at that most ghastly of all intersections, but how long would he last, facing adversity again and again in the name of helping-grannies-type Americana? Would he help, or had insanity finally claimed him as her own?

  . . . He whipped out a paperback book and screamed, "I am Charles the Cat!" Obviously, he had been driven to the brink. Long days working in the glue factory feeding live horses into the pulverizer had scarred his psyche. Yes, he had tried seeking psychiatric help, but the shrink had accomplished nothing except making Kevin a heroin addict. Since the doctor was also a perverted, sexually depraved, sadomasochistic, bisexual child molester, he had taken advantage of Kevin. Now, wracked with syphilis, Kevin moved toward Granny Mulohan. Could he bear to help another human in trouble, besieged as he was by his own little tragedies?

  The orphanage had threatened to evict him if he was late again, and he always was late when he helped the old dear. As it was, he'd eaten nothing but dog food for a week, that being the customary punishment for tardiness.

  "Kevin?" Her dim blue eyes tried to focus on him.

  "Kevin?" Mrs. Mulohan waited in confusion.

  It was too much. Kevin took out a loofah and sloughed himself to death.

  The writer of this chapter, in a postscript, identifies herself as a female.

  Kevin Shapiro Number 87-3659

  Kevin was sitting in the principal's office feeling miserable. It wasn't his fault. He didn't belong here.

  Yesterday Kevin's teacher had given the class an assignment due the next day. When the rest of the class, except for Kevin, turned one in the teacher became upset and ordered Kevin down to the office.

  The principal motioned for Kevin to come into his office, and Kevin obediently obeyed. "It says here that you refused to do the homework," read the principal. "Is this true?"

  "I just couldn't do it," pleaded Kevin.

  "Why couldn't you write an essay on the happiest moment of your life?"

  "I haven't had any."

  Serious students, educators, members of official law-enforcement organizations, and the morbidly curious, having convinced me that their interest is sincere, may apply through the publisher for photocopied facsimilies of the compositions cited here, and numerous others.

  I have included the examples for purposes of general edification, and to demonstrate that while the esteemed community which devotes itself to criticism of juvenile literature declared Young Adult Novel (to which this is a sister volume) to be an outrage of various sorts—it has typically fallen wide of the mark in assessing the damage it might do.

  It is this author's devout hope that in time he may be able to produce acceptable books about cute furry animals and—for the older reader—stories about high schools in California with really good athletic programs and uniformly attractive students. In the meantime, while the sort of adumbrated and sinister production which follows these remarks continues to issue forth (to my considerable enrichment—and the publisher's), the least I can do is to entreat teachers and librarians of the better sort to keep the book out of the hands of the young.

  I

  Decay is inevitable in all compound things.

  Work out your own salvation with the utmost diligence.

  —G. Buddha

  Nuclear destruction is inevitable.

  Did you know that some of the most powerful men in this country—leaders of the military, industry, and politics—go away to this fancy mansion and play games, like squirting each other with shaving cream, having water fights, and looking at porn movies, and all sorts of practical jokes involving the bathroom?

  Any number of professional prostitutes have gone on record to the effect that their weirdest clients—the ones who need to get dressed up in chicken suits, and so forth—are prominent people in politics.

  These are the people who run everything. Do they seem competent to you? Do you know that in the recent past we had two presidents of the United States in a row whose favorite lunch was cottage cheese with catsup on it? Do you know who the president of the United States is as you read this? Do you know what he eats for lunch?

  These are the people in charge of the nuclear arsenal. I ask the reader—is there any reason to believe that these idiots will fail to blow up the world?

  The answer is: Only by accident will the present power elite, in this country and others, fail to blow up the world.

  Is there any hope? There is only this: The people under discussion tend to do most things by accident.

  It was the realization of these facts that led the Wild Dada Ducks to the further realization that our position as Dadaists was no longe
r correct. For one thing, being Dadaists—compared for example with the behavior of world leaders—actually made sense. This put us out of harmony with the universe—that is to say our aesthetic and artistic position was out of harmony. Our position in society—that of high school students—was as ridiculous as ever.

  The Wild Dada Ducks held a solemn council. Our leader, the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico) explained to us that Earth is doomed. We removed our eyeglasses and observed forty-two seconds of silence in memory of our beautiful planet. Igor, who does not wear eyeglasses, removed his socks. It was a touching moment.

  The matter of our world's impending destruction was considered, and it was decided that as socially responsible Wild Dada Ducks, we must take decisive action.

  The first thing we agreed on was that the Wild Dada Ducks ought to anticipate the end of everything by ceasing to exist ourselves. This was unanimously agreed upon, and we instantly became the former Wild Dada Ducks.

  The Wild Dada Ducks had been the five most brilliant and progressive students at Himmler High School. It was a great blow to world culture when we went out of existence. Our former leader had been the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico). The other members were the Indiana Zephyr; Igor, who did not wear glasses; Captain Colossal; and myself, Charles the Cat. Our former goal had been to promote world Dada consciousness. To this end we had put forth many amazing and wonderful Dada works of Art. We had placed a beautiful high-tech toilet in the trophy case of Himmler High School. We had distributed copies of our Dada Manifesto, and had ruled Horace Gerstenblut out of existence by publication of the dreaded N'EXISTE PAS card. We had written and performed Dada plays, and had unwittingly invented the dictator Kevin Shapiro and elevated him to absolute power. These things, with the possible exception of Kevin Shapiro's reign of terror, all brought credit to ideas which exemplified Dada.

  In view of the emergency that faced the world, we had agreed that we must sadly abandon our work in favor of Dada consciousness, and address ourselves to the question of discovering whether consciousness exists in any form at all.

 
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