Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Wally and the Atheist

"Mista Damkins? Yes. I sorry bozzer you, but somesing velly bad at Robert Frost High Skoo," Wally said into the phone.

Sarah sat next to Wally, her hand clamped firmly over her mouth and nose to keep herself quiet, but as he began speaking a smile started leaking out.

Tom took a swallow of milk. It was the wrong moment. When he heard Wally's fake accent he snorted and it came out his nose.

Robert and Gabe laughed, but Wally gave them an angry face and waved them away.

"I saw you on terivision, Mista Damkins," Wally continued. "I sink maybe you hairp.... Wha? Hairp! ... Yes! Hairp. Sank you I sorry Engrish not reery good."

It had started the day before, on a lazy Tuesday afternoon. Wally Lim, Sarah, Tom, Robert and Gabe were loafing at Gabe's house. Sarah was doing homework at the dining room table and the others were eating potato chips and watching the local news.

"Next up," Ms. Chirpy, the announcer, said: "Is the Lofton School District doing enough to promote athiesm? The president of the Free Lofton From God Association says, 'maybe not.'"

"Oh, that blowhard is always on!" Tom said. "It's not enough they changed the law; we gotta listen to him nag? Turn the channel!"

"No!" Wally held up his hand. "I want to hear him."

Tom shrugged and went back to his potato chips.

After the commercials, association president Roger Damkins put it a lot more strongly than "maybe not." The district, he said, was "shamefully neglecting its duties."

Wally watched the report to the end - shushing Robert when he tried to say something - then burst out laughing.

"Whoo Hoo! This is gonna be fun! Okay everybody, turn off the TV and listen."

On Wednesday morning, between algebra and P.E., Wally stopped in at Ms. Stoneman's office.

"Hiya Ms. Stoneman!" Wally waved as he walked in.

Ms. Stoneman looked up without smiling.

"Hello, Walter," she said stiffly. She had not forgotten the trouble she had gotten into the last time he had come in.

Wally leaned on her desk. "Hey, we'd like to start a club for people who believe in God," he said. "Is that cool?"

Ms. Stoneman stared at him for a moment.

"No, Walter. You of all people should know perfectly well that we do not allow religious clubs on campus."

"Well, I protest," Wally said.

She sighed.

"Well you just go right ahead and protest to your heart's content," said Ms. Stoneman, looking down at her paperwork.

"Okey Dokey," Wally said. "Here's a letter of protest." He put it on the desk and started out. He turned at the door, "See ya later, Ms. Stoneman." He waved a cheery hand and left.

Ms. Stoneman picked up the envelope and stared at it. She was beginning to have a bad feeling about this.

On the telephone that afternoon Damkins was getting excited. He pressed his ear to the phone to make sure he understood through Wally's accent: "So," Damkins heard Wally say, "we try start crub at skoo. Atheist crub. They not ret us. They say no. Happen just today! I even write retter of protest."

Damkins began to see possibilities. Persecuted atheist. Persecuted athiest foreign student. Clear evidence the school district was negligent in its duties and maybe hostile to athiesm. And - though not a major consideration, of course - it would be another chance to get on television.

"We have protest tomorrow morning," Wally continued. "Rots of students. Want you and terivision be spesher guest."

Damkins was eager and arranged to bring a television news crew and meet Wally on the sidewalk in front of the school fifteen minutes before the bell rang. The publicity would be good for the cause, Damkins thought. And besides - though not a major consideration, of course - he'd get to be on TV again.

The next morning Wally and Sarah, Tom, Robert and Gabe got to school early. Gabe carried two poles whose ends were wrapped in what looked like a wide strip of bedsheet. Wally carried a bullhorn. Sarah and Tom and Wally stopped students on their way into school and told them they might get to be on TV if they stuck around, so a crowd had gathered when Damkins appeared with the news van close behind.

Wally rushed up to Damkins. "Sank you velly much for coming, Mista Damkins!"

He led Damkins to the top of the first flight of steps, overlooking the crowd. Below, the news camera was set up and Sarah and Robert were in the front row already taking video with their phones. Gabe and Tom had quietly disappeared behind Wally and Damkins.

Wally began speaking to the crowd. He toned down the accent.

"We are gazzered here today to protest great injustice at Robert Frost High School!"

Damkins wondered momentarily why Wally hadn't said "Skoo," but let it pass.

"And to say many tanks to Mista Roger Damkins. He is athiest, president of Free Lofton From God Association, and rike many athiest, he openminded and not rike injustice and make special trip to Robert Frost High School to help us start a theist club on campus."

Damkins wasn't quite sure, but he seemed to hear "a theist club" this time instead of "atheist club."

But Wally pressed on, and Gabe and Tom unfurled a banner behind them that read, "We Want a Theist Club!"

"Thank you, Mr. Damkins," Wally said, looking right at him and dropping the accent entirely. "Thank you for supporting our right to have a theist club even though you yourself do not believe in God." Wally put a hand on Damkin's shoulder. "You are a true man of principle! Would you like so say a few words, sir?" He handed Damkins the bullhorn.

Tom and and Gabe and Wally and several in the crowd clapped and cheered for Damkins, and Sarah and Robert and the news crew kept filming.

It was now clear to Damkins what was happening, but he was stuck.

"I, uh, well, I uh wasn't prepared to give a speech." (That would be the first time, Tom thought.) "But I guess I just want to say that, um, we appreciate the efforts of all good people to... uh, resolve, um, differences, and to improve the, uh, quality of our schools and, uh, help our community grow. Uh ... thank you."

He handed the bullhorn back to Wally and slipped away as quickly as he could.

"Hiya Ms. Stoneman!" Wally walked into her office without knocking.

"I don't think it's a good idea for me to carry this bullhorn around all day," Wally said. "Do you? Somebody might disrupt class with it. Can I leave it here until after school? Thanks a lot!"

He waved goodbye and ran out without waiting for a reply.

Ms. Stoneman sighed. She had heard all about what had happened. Three times she'd heard. Three times by three very amused teachers, and as a fan of Roger Damkins it annoyed her. A lot. But ... on the other hand, at least she had come through unscathed.

The principal, Mr. Andrews, watched the television news report and the video Sarah and Robert had posted on the Internet. He chuckled. He watched the clips again, then laughed out loud and shook his head.

If somebody had to go up against Walter Lim, he thought, he was glad it was Roger Damkins.

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