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Young adult novel, p.5
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       Young Adult Novel, p.5

           Daniel Pinkwater
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  "This is no time to be particular," said our beloved leader, the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico).

  The reason that we had not removed our hats as a gesture of respect for the fate of the world was that we, who were once Wild Dada Ducks, did not wear hats as a sign of our status as freethinkers.

  Having caused ourselves to cease to exist as Wild Dada Ducks, it remained for us to alter our philosophy, become more energetic, and to reconstitute ourselves as a new and more dynamic entity. We also felt that it was time to abandon the logic, reasonableness, and rationality that had characterized all our activities as Dadaists. We needed to transcend logic, which had brought the human race to such a pitiful condition.

  It was the Indiana Zephyr who introduced the historic course which we were to take—that which would give a more appropriate connotation to our activities henceforth. The Indiana Zephyr suggested that instead of Dada as our guiding principle, we should all embrace Zen.

  This was really brilliant. We could all tell that our leader, the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico), was wishing he had thought of it. We instantly saw that this was the appropriate course of action, and unanimously agreed to make Zen the cornerstone of our lives from that moment forward.

  "Just one question," Igor said after the cheering and handshaking. "Just what is Zen?"

  "I'm not entirely sure," said the Indiana Zephyr.

  "There's just time to get to the library before it closes," Captain Colossal said.

  We ran all the way.


  Ex libris

  The librarian told us that we were six or seven years too late. The library had removed all the Zen books from circulation because nobody checked them out anymore.

  The only thing the Wild Dada Ducks could find on the topic was a book about Zen Cookery. We checked it out and took it with us.

  The next item on the agenda was to issue a statement. We composed the statement, leafing through the Zen cookbook for inspiration as we walked.

  The statement:

  Henceforth we shall be known as the Dharma Ducks, formerly the Wild Dada Ducks, and also as the Wild Zen Dada Ducks. We are now working for a world cultural revolution, the destruction of authority, freedom for all oppressed peoples, and sex with the junior and senior girls, all of them if possible. So far we have failed in our goals, especially the last, but we carry on. We are ready. SEMPER PARATUS. We carry condoms in our wallets and look for chances to promote world revolution all the time.

  Is it our fault if the forces of repression have constantly foiled us? We are sincere. It was hard enough when we were Dadaists—but now as Zens we are misunderstood and reviled even by ourselves.

  The single event which caused our beloved leader, El Presidente, to realize that all was lost and mankind doomed was the destruction of our meeting place, the Balkan Falcon Drug Company. It was torn down. In its place, in a very few weeks, a mini-strip-mall was created. There was a self-service laundry on the spot where the Balkan Falcon Drug Company once had stood. The self-service laundry had a coffee machine, and chairs—and although it was nothing like the Balkan Falcon Drug Company, the Dharma Ducks, or Wild Zen Dada Ducks as we are also officially known, loyally use it as a meeting place. However, we shall never forget our sense of shock and disappointment at the destruction of our good old Balkan Falcon—and have always referred to the laundry as the Balkan Falcon Memorial Laundromat.

  As a gesture of our despair and defiance—and in order to make the proprietor of the self-service laundry like us, so that he would let us use the place—the Wild Zen Dada Ducks pretended to like country and western music, and encouraged the owner of the Balkan Falcon Memorial Laundromat, Sigmund Yee, to play the radio—which he was always playing anyway—louder.


  The best kind of student is like the best kind of horse—it runs when it sees only the shadow of the whip.

  —Gautama Sakyamuni

  Having nothing but a cookery book to inform us constituted a slight handicap for the Dharma Ducks. However, we were able to extrapolate, as the Indiana Zephyr said.

  We sat in the uncomfortable plastic chairs in the Balkan Falcon Memorial Laundromat and studied the book.

  The first significant clue was espied by Igor. "These recipes are not eatable!" he said.

  We saw that it was true. The recipes called for things like thin soy sauce, seaweed of various kinds, brown rice, gluten noodles, plus some roots and tubers none of us had ever heard of. The illustrations made it clear that there was nothing in the book a human being could eat.

  "He's right," I said, looking at a recipe for brown rice and aduki bean pudding (the other ingredient was soy sauce), "no human would willingly eat this."

  "I would eat it," said Captain Colossal.

  "Which further proves what Charles the Cat just said," remarked the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico). "The Captain is notably unhuman in his eating habits."

  "Here's another," Igor said. "Boiled rice cream. The ingredients are rice cream powder, boiling water, and a quarter teaspoon of oil."

  "Sounds like paste," El Presidente said.

  "I'd probably eat it," said Captain Colossal.

  "I think this book is trying to tell us something," said the Indiana Zephyr.

  "I think this book is trying to make us sick," I said.

  "You want to hear about pan-fried brown rice croquettes?" Igor asked.

  "What's in it?" El Presidente asked.

  "Brown rice, rice cream cereal, and rice flour."

  "I might eat that—if I could put something on it, like mayonnaise," the Captain said.

  "You put soy sauce on it," Igor said.

  "I might not eat it," said Captain Colossal.

  "This book is definitely trying to tell us something," the Indiana Zephyr said.

  "I agree," said the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico), "it's clear that it isn't a cookbook as such. There must be some deep and secret message. Somebody read the introduction—see if there's a clue there."

  The introduction was written by Ms. Wakamae Weinberg, the author of The Official Zen Cookery Book. In the beginning she talked about how there are principles of positive and negative—called yin and yang—in all things, especially food. The idea is to have five parts yin-type food to one part yangtype food in everything you eat. It wasn't clear how a dish like pan-fried rice croquettes could be divided into yin and yang, being made of nothing but rice—but we read on, looking for the secret message.

  Then Wakamae Weinberg went on to talk about her great teacher, Alan W. Watzuki, the inventor of Zen-yin-yang, the system of cooking on which the book was based. Alan W. Watzuki had died of gastroenteritis in Bucharest, Romania, at a relatively early age, leaving his followers to carry on the work as best they could. She said that the most important thing in learning about Zen is to find a Zen master.

  "This might be what we're looking for," said the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico).

  Wakamae Weinberg said that the best kind of Zen master comes from Asia. You can tell that he's a Zen master by his concentrated expression and inexplicable, even strange behavior. He should have a unique expression in his eyes, and should be orderly and intent in his work. The very best Zen masters always have fat feet. When one approaches a true Zen master, he will invariably deny that he knows anything about Zen—maybe even becoming angry and excited. This is a sure sign of a really high quality Zen master.

  The serious student of Zen must not expect the Zen master to take him by the hand and show him things. It is up to the student to figure out what the Zen master wants him to do.

  Wakamae Weinberg then went on to tell her own experiences as the pupil of the incomparable Zen-yin-yang master, Alan W. Watzuki. By certain unmistakable indications, she realized that Watzuki wanted her to carve a perfect replica of a 1977 Volkswagen Rabbit out of a potato. When she brought him her first attempt, Watzuki threw the potato against the w
all, smashing it. Wakamae Weinberg was destroyed by the experience—but she persevered. She brought him another potato carved into a Volkswagen, and this time Watzuki took it from her and mashed it into a pulp with his hair-brush. Then he made her pay for a new hair-brush because his was now all messed up.

  After a while she lost count of how many times she had carved a potato into a Volkswagen Rabbit. Every time, Watzuki rejected the carving. At last, in a state of perfect mindlessness, she carved a potato into a Volkswagen Rabbit convertible, with the top down. When she brought this to Watzuki he smiled, and at that moment Wakamae Weinberg experienced enlightenment.

  "Wow!" the Indiana Zephyr said.

  "Sounds great," Captain Colossal said.

  "What would have happened if she'd carved the convertible first?" Igor asked.

  "The point is, where are we going to find a Zen master?" the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico) asked.

  We sat in the Balkan Falcon Memorial Laundromat, wishing we knew where to find a Zen master. The owner of the Laundromat, Sigmund Yee, was methodically stacking nickels, dimes, and quarters on the shelf that ran above the row of washing machines. He stared at the coins with an intent expression, and counted under his breath. The radio was blaring a cowboy song about being all alone on the trail. Sigmund Yee occasionally took a spoonful of blueberry yogurt from a container on the shelf.

  The Dharma Ducks all noticed him at once.

  "Could it possibly be?" the Indiana Zephyr asked.

  "Look at his feet!" Igor whispered.

  We looked at Master Yee's feet. They were fat—plenty fat. Fatter than any feet we had ever seen. The truth is, Master Yee was good and fat all over. He was trying to reduce—hence the yogurt, instead of the double bean burritos he usually munched in his Laundromat.

  "How about that look in his eyes?" Captain Colossal whispered.

  "It's unique," I said.

  "Master," El Presidente said out loud.

  "Master," Igor said.

  "Master," we all said.

  Master Yee turned toward us. "Now you make fun of me, huh?" he said. "Not enough you sloppy kids sit all time in laundry, drink coffee, smoke cigarettes, take up space—Yee lets you hang, hang around alla time, now you start in make stupid remarks? You think Yee talk funny, prob'ly, little racist bastards! You get out! Get out, punks! I shove this yogurt in you face, little bastards!"

  "This is exactly the way they act!" Igor said.

  "No, please—Master, we aren't making fun of you—honestly!" I said.

  "What is this Master, Master crap?" Master Yee asked, brandishing his container of yogurt.

  "Teach us, Master!" the Indiana Zephyr shouted, and fell to his knees, his forehead touching the floor. We all did the same thing. "Teach us! Teach us, Master!" We'd seen a couple of kung-fu movies on TV and it was all coming back to us.

  "Loonies!" Master Yee shouted. "Loonies! You boys loonies! You get out! Get out now! Crazy people make Yee nervous!"

  "Teach us! Teach us!" We remained in position, foreheads touching the floor.

  Then Master Yee's voice changed. He spoke softly, lovingly—almost as if he were afraid. "Yes, yes. You nice boys. Yee will teach you. Anything you say. Yee is your friend, right? You go away quiet now. Sometime maybe you come back, do some laundry, okay? Now you all get up, go away quiet. Ladies come soon, do laundry. We not want to scare ladies, okay? You boys go. Try to stay away from take drugs after this, okay? Now you get up, go away quiet, okay, nice boys?"

  It was touching to hear the tenderness and concern in the voice of the Zen master. We got to our feet and made a low bow to him.

  "That's right—you boys go now. Don't take any more dope, okay, boys? You go home, lie down. Not do any crimes, okay?"

  We bowed deeply and left the Balkan Falcon Memorial Laundromat and Shrine of Buddha. We walked in the street in silence for a while, unable to speak after our profound experience.

  Finally, the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico) spoke. "What a great man! How fortunate we are! Did you hear all that wisdom? He wants us to be good men—not to take drugs or do crimes. Isn't that simple, basic moral advice? And he didn't want us to scare the ladies that come into the Laundromat. Wow, are we lucky!"

  "So do you think we ought to carve some stuff out of potatoes, or what?" Captain Colossal asked.

  "You heard what he said," Igor said. "He wants us to come in and do laundry. It's so simple, yet so perfect."

  "Perfect," El Presidente said, "Brother Dharma Ducks, we are on the high road to enlightenment."


  We just want the facts, ma'am.

  —Sgt. Friday

  That night the Dharma Ducks met for the first time to practice the noble meditation of Zen.

  We met at the very home of our esteemed leader, the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico). This was a rare honor for the Wild Zen Dada Ducks, because the unenlightened parents of El Presidente had long since made it known that we were not particularly welcome in their house. As avant-garde artists, we were accustomed to this kind of treatment. We did not blame the Honorable Venustiano Carranza for the retrograde attitude of his parents.

  On this particular night the parents of the Honorable had gone to a meeting of an organization to which they belonged, the Anti-Communist White Americans League. This was a social organization engaging in good fellowship and harmless fun. With the neanderthal parents of our leader out of the house, the Dharma Ducks were able to meet for serious Zen study.

  The Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico) turned on the video recorder, taping the two rerun episodes of Dragnet which were broadcast back-to-back every night opposite the evening news (this was a service he performed for his parents once a week while they attended their meeting), and as a gesture of affirmation of technology, which we had all learned to love as Dadaists, he set his Apple computer to playing chess against itself, a process which took hours, since the machine never made a mistake.

  So, with a machine watching television, and another playing with itself, the Dharma Ducks were relieved of having to carry on these two time-consuming activities, and were free to enter into meditation.

  Using pillows from El Presidente's bed, bunched-up raincoats, and whatever else came to hand, the Zen Dada Ducks made meditation seats. We then settled down on the floor of the bedroom of the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico) and attempted to enter into deep meditation.

  "How do we know if this is working?" Captain Colossal asked after a few minutes.

  "I don't know," El Presidente said. "Just keep at it."

  "I feel something," Igor said.

  "What? What do you feel?" I asked.

  "It's . . . it's like . . . leg cramps," said Igor.

  "Look, everybody be quiet for ten minutes, okay?" the Indiana Zephyr said.

  After about three minutes Igor asked, "How do we know when ten minutes is up?"

  Then the Dharma Ducks watched one of the Dragnet reruns and made gray eggs in the microwave oven. Then the parents of the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico) came home and told us that we were homosexual devil worshippers, and that God was going to kill us.

  It was a pleasant evening, and all of the Dharma Ducks felt that we'd gotten off to a pretty good start as Zens.


  Next to Godliness

  The following day Igor appeared at Himmler High School with a shaven head. The Dharma Ducks admired the bald knob of Igor, which was hideous and bumpy. After a quick trip to the pharmacy for a razor at the beginning of the lunch period—and another trip for bandages and antiseptic at the end of the lunch period—all of the Wild Zen Dadas had beautiful heads like Igor's.

  Shortly after lunch the Dharma Ducks were once again suspended by the Lord High Executioner, also known as the nonexistent Horace Gerstenblut, vice-principal and fascist dictator. We, serious Zens, politely asked the delusionary Gerstenblut why we were being driven out of school. The non
-Gerstenblut said that we knew very well why—it was because we had shaved our heads. "Stay away for a whole week!" the executioner had said. "Don't come back until there is visible fuzz."

  The behavior of the Lord High Executioner was strange indeed—but such are the ways of the nonexistent. This unlooked-for suspension gave the Dharma Ducks much joy because it meant we could be reunited with our dear Zen master that much sooner. There was, of course, the matter of the notes our parents had to sign—but this was of little consequence—frequent purges, political upheavals, and outbreaks of anti-Dada sentiment had resulted in any number of suspensions. We would have been incompetent Zen Dada Ducks indeed if we had not been able to sign our parents' names.

  Less than an hour after our interview with the unsympathetic Gerstenblut, the five Zennists arrived at the Balkan Falcon Memorial Laundromat and Shrine of Buddha with arm-loads of laundry. We were ready to begin our training under Master Yee.

  This was also a chance to perform a service for our families—except in the cases of Igor and the Indiana Zephyr, whose mothers had just done the family wash, and therefore had to bring clean laundry.

  Master Yee pretended not to recognize us at first.

  "Hello, five bald-headed men," the enlightened one said.

  The Dharma Ducks were delighted by this Zen drollery.

  Then, Master Yee said, "Oh no! Teenage gang is back! Why you all bald? Drugs make hair fall out! You go away, bald-headed boys! No more hang around! This laundry! Place of business! Go away now! Go drug treatment center! Psychiatric clinic! Go do teenage crimes somewhere else! Go have rumble with other teenage gang! Go crazy, listen to rock 'n' roll! Go stand on corner, frighten people. Leave Yee alone! Go!"

  "Master! We have brought laundry!" the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico) said, holding up his bundle of laundry.

  Master Yee hesitated, "Okay, do laundry—then go. Not do anything weird, okay?"

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