Two days before the election Zelda’s parents were summoned to the principal’s office. They arrived annoyed at being inconvenienced by their offspring and on the verge of firing yet another full time nanny for dereliction of duty.
“Thank you for coming in, Mr. and Mrs. Brownstein,” the principal opened as he always did.
“There had better be a damn good reason why I’m here instead of on the tennis court,” came Mr. Brownstein’s reply. He and his wife took the two open chairs across from the desk. The pair bookended a third seat, which was occupied by the accused.
The offspring known as Zelda sat sniffling between her parents. Her hands absently smoothed a large, crumpled sheet of paper in her lap. Several similar sheets lay crumpled in the wastepaper basket alongside the desk.
Mr. Brownstein attempted to answer his own question. “So what is it? Cheating? It can’t be cheating. We taught her better than to get caught.”
“Goodness, no. Zelda is a top student,” said the principal, “perhaps too much so.”
An overdue observation nudged Mrs. Brownstein into joining the conversation. “Is that my Kenneth Cole blazer? She is wearing my blazer. Why is she wearing my blazer?”
Not only was Zelda attired in the aforementioned outerwear but she also wore a skirt and heels and liberal amounts of makeup, with her hair tucked primly in a conservative bun. A shining pin depicting the red, white, and blue flag of the United States of America adorned her left lapel.
“I think we had better come to the point,” said the principal. He held out his hand. Zelda hesitated, wavering between standing her ground and facing the music. An impatient harrumph from her father catalyzed her capitulation. She handed over the paper. On it was printed a yearbook photo of a middle school boy with the caption “Justin Matthews wants you to eat his boogers and that’s a fact.” A blue and red logo in the corner accompanied the slogan “Zelda 2012: Educate.”
“Who is Justin Matthews? Why does he want me to eat his boogers? I’ll sue him if he tries!” Mr. Brownstein avowed.
It was his wife’s turn. “No, he made the girl eat his boogers, didn’t he? She deserved it, didn’t she?”
“Although I am not privy to the inner workings of Justin’s mind, I can assure you with some confidence that he does not want anyone to eat his boogers,” the principal reassured himself more than any of his guests. “What he wants is to be the next class president.”
Mr. Brownstein said, “The sign said it’s a fact.”
“It is not a fact, Mr. Brownstein, and that brings me to why I asked you here.”
Touching the pin in her lapel for inner fortitude, Zelda straightened up, flashed her trademark thousand watt braces, and distracted her audience from the real issue: “Dear parents, I know you would rather not be here in the principal’s office right now. I know you would rather be at a posh cocktail hour regaling clients with the legend of your backhand. But let me ask you something. Are you better off now than you were before you had me?”
“Well,” said Mrs. Brownstein.
“Don’t answer that,” said Mr. Brownstein. “It’s another of her rhetorical tricks.”
“You’re at least not worse off, at least?”
“That’s enough please, Zelda,” the principal said. To Mr. and Mrs. Brownstein he added, “Your daughter is also running for class president. This is one of her campaign posters.”
“She made this?” Mr. Brownstein asked, taking the poster from the principal’s hand for closer inspection.
“I’m afraid so,” said the principal.
“Did you make this?” Mrs. Brownstein asked Zelda.
Zelda nodded. “No, really. You?”
“I’m afraid so,” said the principal.
“I’ll be damned,” said Mr. Brownstein. “We raised our girl right.”
Zelda walked over to the wastepaper basket and extracted several more campaign posters of similar taste and content and presented them proudly to her parents. They clucked approvingly.
“I don’t think you understand,” said the principal.
Flashing her trademark thousand watt braces, Zelda said, “Thank you so much for your time, Mr. Principal. I do hope I can count on your vote on Wednesday. Remember: Educate.” She grasped his hand between both of hers and shook it for three firm seconds while maintaining eye contact.
Hand in hand in hand the family left the office and headed down the hallway, stopping along the way to wave and shake hands with every student, teacher, and doorknob they encountered. Near the front entrance Mr. Brownstein removed a flyer for the Model U.N. club from the wall and used the tape from it to hang up Zelda’s campaign poster.
They bumped into Justin Matthews at the door.
“Shame on you,” Mr. Brownstein said.
“Disgusting,” Mrs. Brownstein said.
Justin Matthews cried. Two days later he lost.