Saturday, April 4, 2009

The late David Shapiro

The late David Shapiro

Hagai Cohen


One afternoon, in the middle of May, when I was a tenth-grader, I was on my way to play ball. As I turned right, at the end of the block, I ran into Yankel, our local billboard-man, doing his job pasting a poster. I froze, no citizen, ever dared to get within ten feet of Yankel or his equipment, and for good reason.

Clumsy Yankel pasted his posters vigorously and as a result, many droplets of glue scattered on innocent passersby. In addition, he stuttered, and while stuttering, he spattered tiny fragments of his last meal over a large radius.

He always wore the same glue-reinforced, skunk-repellant, ripened, moldy overalls, which could make a great scarecrow without necessitating stuffing.

I was distraught to be that close to Yankel. My first instinct was to run away, as fast as I could, instead I looked up at him and said “Hi, Yankel! What happened to your bicycle?”

Yankel was never without his bicycle. He was always seen pushing it along loaded with two big buckets, one with water and one with paste, a brush on a long stick, and of course the rolls of posters.

“My bicycle is bbbbb..broken” he stammered out a shower of saliva “and the pppp..posters are urgent.”
“What is so urgent about the posters?” I asked.
“I do not know," said Yankel. "I cannot read.”
Out of pure curiosity, I turned to read the poster. In archaic language, it proclaimed:
Important Notice
“The coffin of the righteous Rabbi David Shapiro has arrived. The funeral will come to pass on Wednesday at three o’clock in the afternoon.”
The poster requested the people of the congregation to pay their respects to the prominent scholar, the honorable, virtuous man who had been buried for many years in Europe and was finally being brought to eternal rest in the Holy Land.

Coincidentally, David Shapiro was also the name of my very-much-alive high school principle, whom I hated. I would have done anything to drive him berserk.
Within moments an idea had formed in my vengeful mind. I was sure that the posters would have just the right affect on our volatile principle!
I offered Yankel my help, which he accepted happily, and instantaneously became his apprentice.

My job was to carry the posters and walk behind the master from one billboard to the next. Yankle gave me ‘on the job training’. He placed his face inches from mine and started talking.

Unfortunately, the time that it took him to finish a sentence was enough to spray me with a substantial quantity of his natural fluids. If that were not enough, my biggest worry was to be seen by my friends - a situation sure to end my social life forever. Much was at stake. I walked behind Yankel, a great sacrifice on my part, in order to steal some posters. The thought of Mr. Shapiro's wrath made the risk worth the sacrifice.

Each time Yankel was busy smearing his glue, I folded a poster and stashed it inside my shirt. After I had managed to secrete seven posters, I excused myself and rushed home.

I took a shower to get read of Yankel's leftovers, and dropped my clothes into the laundry hamper. Then I appropriated my Mom’s entire stock of starch, and made a bucket of nice smooth glue. Before darkness set, the posters were up on the school’s stonewalls.

Next morning, I was the first person to “discover” the posters. I stood in front of the school gates examining my handiwork and was both impressed and proud. The posters were well spaced and perfectly aligned with the school gate frames.

When the staff and students began to arrive, I was happy to see the impact of my deed upon them. What they saw was the name David Shapiro and the black frame. Nobody took the trouble to read it thoroughly. In no time at all, the news that the principle had passed away was all over the school.

Groups of crying students were to be seen everywhere, and many stunned people were too shocked to talk.

Later, when they saw David Shapiro, heavily sweating, red-faced, red-necked, and redheaded, wandering about alive, they screamed with fear. The principle David Shapiro, to my great satisfaction, looked extremely unhappy.

“A criminal act, carried out by delinquent children," was his pronouncement. "The people responsible will be caught and thrown out of our school.”

No classes were held that day. The teachers were told to run discussion sessions about the “criminal act,” one rotten apple in a barrel and so on. My English teacher suggested to the class it was more a practical joke than a criminal act, When the Principle heard of it, he almost crucified another Jew, in our very own schoolyard.

Initially, I was very pleased but as time passed, I became increasingly annoyed. Not from a guilty conscience, God forbid, only that I could not get the credit I deserved. I had given five hundred students the best show in town and could not even brag about it. The credit for the greatest practical joke of my life was given to virtual juvenile delinquents and imaginary hoodlums.

Ruth, a girl in my class, the smartest person I had ever met, had a unique ability. She was always a hundred miles and six months ahead of any other, including the teachers. She was some kind of psychic. She could predict what anybody would say, even before he or she opened their mouths. To her, I was transparent.

When she was about, I used my tongue fluently to camouflage my thoughts, with little success. I liked her, and was one of the few who did. Most of the boys and girls in my class were jealous and afraid of her.

I was very careful during the entire day to avoid any eye contact with Ruth. With only one short look into my eyes, she knew more than I wanted to reveal. It is not that I did not trust her, - she could be discreet, - but I was afraid of her blackmailing potential, and I did not want to play into her hands.

I had a very strong feeling that the leaders of the community would not leave righteous David Shapiro, alone. And again will call the congregation for the unveiling of the tombstone. Soon, I figured, there would be a new poster to alert the people.

There was nothing in the world I wanted more than that poster. It was not an easy job. My evening ritual was to visit Moishe’s printing shop, from where Yankel had obtained the posters. Well, not exactly the shop, but Moishe’s back yard and his dumpster in particular. When a new typeset is arranged on the printing press, the first ten printouts have poor impressions until the ink smears evenly on the rollers. Usually, these are discarded. I wanted very much to find them.

My daily sessions in the garbage bins continued for three weeks. Finally, I had what I was looking for, in my hands:

“The unveiling of the tombstone of the righteous David Shapiro…”
From the ten first prints, six were good enough for my purpose and, that same evening, they were proudly displayed on top of the remains of the old posters.

The next morning, the principle Mr. David Shapiro was ready for violence. The color of his face was somewhere in between purple and blue and his general posture was of a rabid, hydrophobic creature. This time Mr. David Shapiro meant business. He hired an investigating team: a psychologist, a criminologist, and a retired detective. With the active help of Mr. David Shapiro the profile of the alleged criminal was drawn, the P.T.A was informed and the interrogation began.

The desire of Mr. Shapiro to make it look like a colossal crime, influenced the ‘profile’. The person matching this profile could only be someone, with a mile long criminal record, who would have to be serving a life sentence for a triple murder. No one I know could match that profile, I felt secure.

The investigating team was very efficient and very soon found Moishe the printer. Moishe was brought to school to identify his posters. “Yes they are mine,” said Moishe “But they were taken from the garbage” and than added “anybody could do it, talk to Yankel maybe he knows something.” They called Yankel, they sent a taxi to bring him to school, but the cabbie did not let him in the cab. He came with an escort on a bus. Yankel was puzzled, he had difficulties understanding the purpose of the interrogation. When he tried to talk he could not finish a single tangible sentence. Yankel was pathetic.

The investigating team aghast, and disappointed with Yankel’s performance and looks, decided to stop perusing the printer’s angle, to my great relief. . If the investigators only tried to cross match students' addresses with Moishe’s neighborhood they would easily find me. Only ten students of our school lived in my neighborhood.

My source of information was the school janitor. This friendly man, who was constantly bullied by Shapiro, liked me because I hated Shapiro

By the fourth day, it was my turn to face the music. It was already known that the team was tired and the interrogation had become a fiasco.

I was standing by the door waiting to be called in, when I heard my teacher briefing the team: “His father is in hospital; his mother is pregnant, he is working in the evenings to support his family, and doing OK in school, definitely not our person”. My interrogation lasted less than thirty seconds and not a single question was asked about the posters.

During the days of the investigation, Ruth was aggressively campaigning, against the principle and the interrogating crew.
“This is pure discrimination” she protested, “Why isn’t the team interrogating girls?” She complained, “How come the girls are automatically not suspects?” To anyone listening to Ruth's arguments, it was obvious that she was genuinely angry. Although she was fighting sincerely for her ideas, Ruth attracted only laughs. Nobody took her seriously. Part of me wanted to support her, not because I believed in her cause, but as way to create more chaos. The other part told me to stay away and to be more careful.

Unfortunately, for the principle, the investigation ended a few weeks before the end of the year, without any results, The coffin incident was slowly forgotten. We the students were anxiously waiting for the last day of school, for the graduation ceremony, for the report cards, for the parties, and for the summer vacation.

On the morning of the last day of school, an unfortunate event spoiled the last day tradition. Shapiro cancelled the entire last day events and sent us home. Shapiro’s anger was attributed to the huge graffiti in black paint displayed on the white stones, which said:
Now that Shapiro’s remains are interred here, when can we expect the resurrection?

For me personally, this was extremely annoying, I wanted to kill that idiot, scoundrel son-of-a-bitch, who took a free ride on my idea. Suddenly it struck me like lightening, only one person could pull a stunt like this, I was sure it’s her, Ruth, the bitch. I was furious.

Without thinking twice I ran upstairs, three stairs at a time. I stopped short of Ruth and looked directly into her eyes with an arrogant smirk on my face. It was my triumph, she was caught, and she knew it.

Ruth did not waste any time. Apathetically, she looked back at me for one second, and then walked away without saying a word. The look in her eyes said it all. She had caught me too. Damn, how stupid of me.

As she contemptuously walked away, I felt dizzy and almost lost my balance. Against all odds, at that instant, I fell in love with her. Sadly, it was a waste of a great emotion. She was unreachable. The wall between us, which I had built with my arrogance, was there to stay. Our mutual secret respect and admiration could not eradicate the profound mutual intimidation and the balanced exchange of nuclear deterrent..
The end

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