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Young adult novel, p.6
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       Young Adult Novel, p.6

           Daniel Pinkwater
 
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  In a short time each Dharma Duck was sitting on the floor in front of a washing machine, meditating and watching the wash swirl in the little round window. Master Yee walked up and down, giving us instructions in typical cryptic Zen style. "Why you don't sit in chair?" he asked. "Why you all go bald all a sudden?" He was testing our concentration. We stared resolutely at the swirling wash, thrilled that at last we were receiving the true teaching of Zen.

  Naturally, in the presence of our beloved teacher, we made much better progress as meditators. The steady hum and slosh of the washing machines, the cleanliness, the Spartan simplicity of the Balkan Falcon Memorial Laundromat and Shrine of Buddha, and most of all, the muttered prayers and philosophical questions of Master Yee—all combined to make the inward experience more exquisite.

  "Where these boys come from?" Master Yee intoned as he walked up and down, inspecting our progress. "Why they all go bald? What kinda drug they take, make them all go bald like that? Why they all sit on floor like that? Some kinda strange boys."

  These questions were the famous Zen koan, about which Captain Colossal had read in a Dr. Wizardo comic book. The purpose of these questions is not to be answered as such, but to exercise the mind and deepen the concentration. We were lucky, all right, in having found our teacher.

  Finally, during the dryer phase of our meditation, Master Yee addressed us all with a profound question for study.

  "Okay, you laundry all finish," our esteemed teacher said, "What you do now?"

  "Our laundry all finish," we responded in unison. "What we do now?"

  "Our laundry all finish. What we do now?"

  "Our laundry all finish. What we do now?"

  "Our laundry all finish. What we do now?"

  "Our laundry all finish. What we do now?"

  It became a chant as we folded the laundry carefully, consciously, mindfully. It was, as we later agreed, the highest moment yet in our spiritual and artistic experience.

  Always miles ahead of us, the Zen master, seemingly irrationally, became agitated. "Okay! Okay! Now you go! You get out! You crazy boys! You go home now! You crazy bald-head boys!"

  It was precisely the right thing to do. The master's outburst shook us loose from our moment of detachment and brought us into confrontation with reality. This was exactly what had happened to Dr. Wizardo in Captain Colossal's comic book.

  In single file, with slow and solemn dignity, carrying our laundry on upturned hands, the Dharma Ducks left Master Yee and ventured into the street and the gathering dusk.

  VI

  Sharper Than a

  Kevin's Tooth

  Now I must leave the story of the Dharma Ducks and their thrilling quest for enlightenment and recall the darkest period in the otherwise brilliant history of the former Wild Dada Ducks. It is necessary that the reader be acquainted with events that led to the rise to power of one known as Kevin Shapiro.

  In our days as exponents of Dada Art, the Wild Dada Ducks engaged in many innocent diversions. One of these was the creation of a work of literature, an ongoing story known as Kevin Shapiro, Boy Orphan. The story of Kevin Shapiro was not unlike those in many of the books for teenage readers in the library of Margaret Himmler High School. It dealt with the life of a wretched kid, whose parents were either hopeless drunks, or drug addicts, or loonies. Kevin himself had any number of problems—life was miserable and impossible, and just when things would seem to be about to get better, they would get worse.

  Kevin Shapiro, Boy Orphan was different from the novels published for adolescents in that the story never ended. Instead of winding up with a lecture from some kindly adult about moral responsibility and God, and another chance for Kevin, we would just kill him from time to time. This was, on the whole, more satisfying. We would just bring Kevin back for another chapter of tragedy and degradation, and kill him again when it got boring.

  This harmless exercise in Art continued for some time, giving pleasure to the Wild Dada Ducks as we ate our lunches or spent time in the original Balkan Falcon Drug Company (of blessed memory). Then, one fateful day, as our leader then and now, the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico) is wont to say, it came to our knowledge that there was in the school a real kid named Kevin Shapiro.

  The Wild Dada Ducks, when this portentous news became known, sought out the real-life Kevin Shapiro, studied him from a distance, and instantly loved him.

  It so happened that Kevin Shapiro was, by conventional standards, a graceless nerd—a horrible little fellow with no redeeming qualities of any sort. This made the Wild Dada Ducks love him even more. We decided to notify the world in general and Himmler High School in particular that Kevin Shapiro was indeed a person of greatness. This was to be our ultimate work of Dada-consciousness. In the person of Kevin Shapiro we would bring a powerful Artistic realization to all our fellow students, and make Kevin happy in the process.

  By various means, such as distributing printed hand-bills in the toilets, we made the students aware of the exceptional being who was unnoticed in their midst. This work succeeded all too well. In a short time Kevin Shapiro was the hero of all the school. No credit at all was given to the principles of Dada or the Wild Dada Ducks. What was more, Kevin was openly hostile to us and our philosophy.

  Somehow we had expected it all to work out differently. We naively believed that we would be appreciated for bringing Kevin to the school's attention. People would respect us. Girls would go out with us. Dada would be elevated to a new status. A golden age would begin.

  Instead, Kevin had his friends drench us with soggy Grape-Nuts cereal. This marked the beginning of a period of disillusionment and despair for the Wild Dada Ducks. In fact, only with the realization that mankind was doomed and the discovery of Zen did the Ducks begin to feel that life contained some possibilities.

  Even with the detachment of a Dharma Duck, one feels some sadness still in relating this bleak chapter in Duck history—but it must be told, because in the words of an old Dada Duck saying, once again, fate took its cut.

  VII

  Cosí Fan Tutte

  This is how fate came to take its cut once again in the matter of Kevin Shapiro. It was during an outdoor rehearsal of the Dharma Ducks' musical project. A project which Igor had begun under the Dada regime was the Dada Kazoo Orchestra. This was a five-piece kazoo ensemble made up of the five Wild Dada Ducks. Igor, our concertmaster, played first kazoo. I, Charles the Cat, played second kazoo. The Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico) very ably played third kazoo, and the Indiana Zephyr and Captain Colossal played fourth and fifth kazoos respectively.

  The orchestra survived into the Zen period, becoming the Da-da-ka zu orchestra. Since none of the Dharma (formerly Dada) Ducks can read music, it was a laborious process of learning our parts note by note from tape cassettes. Igor, our musical director, generously made up a bootleg cassette for each of us of the one and only piece we almost knew, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Wolfgang A. Mozart.

  Eine Kleine Nachtmusik means one small nacht music—or music to nacht by. Igor explained to us that Mozart loved to nacht—especially late at night. All the Wild Zen Dada Ducks are fond of nachting too—and that helped us feel close to the composer and understand the music. It was easy to imagine the great Mozart having maybe some beer and salami at one in the morning and composing the favorite piece of music of the Ducks.

  The Dharma Ducks were engaged in a sidewalk rehearsal when we saw Kevin. We hadn't seen him for some time. Two seasons had passed since our humiliating experience with the soggy Grape-Nuts—and following our realization that all of mankind is doomed, and our subsequent embracing of the doctrine of Zen, we had hardly given little Kevin Shapiro a thought. We were busy Dharma Ducks, working hard toward enlightenment, and, at the moment, giving a brilliant interpretation of the music of Mozart—we had no time to think about the ingratitude and hostility of Kevin Shapiro, who had once been our pride and joy.

  We were in full cry—right in the middle of Ei
ne Kleine—when he appeared, at the wheel of a bright red car. It was a convertible—a 1962 Studebaker Lark, perfectly restored, and shining all over. Kevin was smiling, displaying that double row of tiny white teeth. He had on sunglasses. Riding in the car with him were the three most agonizingly beautiful girls anyone had ever seen. Jennifer Podgorny, Susan Dachuck, and Lisa Ogronsky—all of them cheerleaders, and between them possessing the six most famous and thought- and talked-about breasts in Himmler High School.

  Never did the Dharma Ducks see any of these girls without experiencing a shriveling sensation all over, a stab of pain in the crotch, and a realization of our profound worthlessness as human beings. To see the three of them together was unbearable agony. To see them, as we now saw them, smiling and fawning over Kevin Shapiro, in that indisputably neat red car was bitter beyond all telling.

  Our kazoos made a dying sound. As the convertible rolled past us, Kevin gave us the finger, and the girls tittered.

  VIII

  Psychoanalysis is that spiritual disease of which it claims to be the cure.

  —Karl Kraus

  Arriving home, each Dharma Duck learned that the Lord High Executioner, Mr. Gerstenblut, had telephoned. He'd thought over our having shaved our heads, had some question as to just how sane we were, and before we were allowed back in school each of us would have to go and see the Board of Education psychiatrist.

  The following day, five stubbly-headed Dharma Ducks sat on the bench outside the office of Dr. Cookie Mendoza, the Board of Education psychiatrist. The Ducks had been scheduled for five appointments in a row, each of which was to last fifteen minutes. Exactly one hour and a quarter later we were all out in the street—none of us having said anything in the waiting room because it had been possible to hear every word that was spoken through the door of Dr. Mendoza's office.

  The kid whose appointment preceded the first of the Dharma Ducks had an interesting problem. It appeared that he was in the habit of crawling inside his gym locker, pulling the door shut after him, and making moaning noises, thus frightening the other students. A rumor that the locker room was haunted had gotten started, and many of the students were upset. This, while primitive, showed a certain inventiveness. It might have been worthwhile to turn him on to Zen—but he went to another school. Besides, the Dharma Ducks were intent on the direction the psychiatric interview was taking. It was not going well for the kid, whose name was Richard F. Scott, of 5235 Pearl Street.

  Dr. Mendoza wanted to know if he masturbated when he hid in his gym locker. Richard said that he did not. Dr. Mendoza explained that it was all right to tell her things like that. She said that their conversation was entirely confidential, and that nothing he said would go beyond that room. We listened to this with interest. Then she asked him again if he didn't masturbate when he was in the gym locker. Richard repeated that he did no such thing. I believed him.

  "Look, Richard, if we are going to help you, you're just going to have to trust me," Dr. Mendoza said. "Now, there's nothing wrong with masturbating. Everybody does it. Now, wouldn't you feel better if you just admitted that the reason you get inside the gym locker is so you can masturbate?"

  Richard stuck to his guns. He was starting to cry. He swore that the only reason he got inside his gym locker was to make ghostly noises. Dr. Mendoza said that he was resisting the treatment, and that she'd have to write that in her report to his parents and to the school.

  "I thought everything we said in this room was confidential," Richard F. Scott blubbered.

  "We're trying to help you, Richard, if you'd only let us," Dr. Mendoza said. Then Richard's fifteen minutes were up. He looked shaken when he came through the waiting room. The Dharma Ducks gave him the thumbs-up sign, but there was no cheering up Richard F. Scott of 5235 Pearl Street. Then it was Igor's turn.

  "Well, Maurice, why did you shave your head?" Dr. Mendoza asked.

  Maurice is Igor's slave name.

  "We all did it," Igor said. "We were just kidding around."

  "You know, a great many young people are getting involved with cults these days," Dr. Mendoza said. "You aren't involved in something like that, are you—you and your friends? You can tell me anything."

  "Naw," Igor said.

  "Maurice, how do you and your friends spend your time?"

  "Uh. Well, it's embarrassing—can I talk about it?"

  "Of course. Everything we say in this room stays in this room. You can talk about anything, Maurice."

  "Well, we like to buy magazines, uh, with pictures of naked ladies, and uh, then we . . ."

  "You masturbate?"

  "Uh. Yeh."

  "Now, Maurice, I want you to know that is perfectly normal for a boy of your age. There is nothing abnormal about masturbating. You don't have to feel guilty or embarrassed, okay?"

  "Okay."

  "How many times a day would you say you masturbate, Maurice?"

  "Fifteen, maybe twenty times."

  "As much as that? Well, you are a healthy and well-adjusted boy, Maurice. And now you know that you don't have to feel guilty about it, right?"

  "I thought I did. I thought I had to feel guilty about it."

  "No, Maurice, you're just fine—just a fine, healthy young boy. Don't you worry about anything, okay?"

  "Okay."

  "And you won't upset Mr. Gerstenblut by doing silly things like shaving your head anymore, will you?"

  "No, ma'am."

  "And when you get an impulse to do something silly like that, what will you do instead?"

  "Masturbate?"

  "That's right, Maurice! It's been a pleasure to meet you. Now, please send the next boy in."

  Igor was brilliant. It was all we could do not to break into applause.

  The interviews of the rest of the Dharma Ducks were more or less identical to Igor's, except that Captain Colossal told Dr. Mendoza that he masturbated thirty times a day. Of course, in his case it was the truth.

  IX

  The Sorrows of

  Young Zensters

  When we approached the Balkan Falcon Memorial Laundromat and Shrine of Buddha, we saw that Kevin's red car was parked outside. We looked in through the window. Kevin was doing laundry. Jennifer Podgorny, Susan Dachuck, and Lisa Ogronsky were helping him, and smiling and laughing, and touching Kevin a lot. Master Yee was smiling too—and laughing, and beaming at Kevin. Through the open door we heard our Zen master say, "Mr. Shapiro, you nice boy. Do laundry—help your mother. Nice girls with tremendous knockers help you do laundry, yes? Such a nice boy. You mother much be proud, yes?"

  "Sure," Kevin said, "I always help my mother. I'm a nice boy, right, girls?"

  The girls all laughed as though Kevin had actually said something funny.

  "I don't feel like doing my Zen exercises right now," the Indiana Zephyr said. No one else said anything. It would have been bad enough getting caught meditating by Kevin Shapiro, but Jennifer, Susan, and Lisa and their breasts were too intimidating even for the brave Dharma Ducks. We left the Balkan Falcon Memorial Laundromat and Shrine of Buddha and headed for our respective homes.

  After our parents had finished yelling at us, abusing us, and threatening us, and after we had had our suppers, we drifted back to the Balkan Falcon Memorial. Kevin was gone of course—but we felt a little strange around Master Yee. Of course we trusted our beloved teacher, and knew that even his seemingly most irrational action was a potential fountain of wisdom, but what could he have had in mind, kissing up to Kevin like that? For his part, the Master mostly ignored us on this occasion. He didn't seem to want to instruct us. For our part, none of us wanted to do our usual meditation.

  The Dharma Ducks bought cups of coffee from the machine, and sat in the plastic chairs, nibbling the edges of the plastic foam cups. There was a deep Zen silence in the Balkan Falcon Memorial Laundromat and Shrine of Buddha. A cold breeze blew through the open door. The lights seemed dim. The coffee grew cold and bitter.

  For a time there were failed attempts to be
gin a conversation. Then the Ducks sat motionless, staring at the coffee congealing in the bottoms of their cups.

  Captain Colossal pulled a book out of his jacket pocket. "Tell you what," the Captain said. "I'll read you all a Zen poem, okay?"

  If by Rudyard Kipling

  If you can keep your head when all about you

  Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

  If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

  But make allowance for their doubting too;

  If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

  Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,

  Or being hated don't give way to hating,

  And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

  If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

  If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

  If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

  And treat those two imposters just the same;

  If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken

  Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

  Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

  And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

  If you can make one heap of all your winnings

  And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

  And lose, and start again at your beginnings

  And never breathe a word about your loss;

  If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

  To serve your turn long after they are gone,

  And so hold on when there is nothing in you

  Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

  If you can walk with crowds and keep your virtue,

  Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

  If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

  If all men count with you, but none too much;

  If you can fill the unforgiving minute

  With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,

  Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,

  And —which is more—you'll be a man, my son!

 
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