After Labor Day ended, Pumpkin walked to school with Cheese and Recycler per the usual. On the way, he made up a poem in his head about the holiday:
On Labor Day we celebrate
The hands that built this land;
That dug the ditches, shoveled coal,
And tilled the soil and sand,
The hands that fought, the hands that healed,
The hands that held the tools...
But must we celebrate the hands
That built these stinkin' schools?
Pumpkin couldn't stop thinking about the poem...until he got to school and stood outside the classroom. He wasn't exactly pleased. "Ten more seconds," he said, staring at his watch. "Ten more seconds until we walk into Ms. Cheesefiend's room and see her ugly face. Seven...six...five...four...three...two...one..."
"Hello, kids! Hello! Come on in!"
It was a robot!
"Blast-off!" said Pumpkin, grinning. He turned to the robot. "Where's Ms. Cheesefiend?"
"She's on sabbatical," the robot replied.
"It's kind of a meditation."
"So, you'll be subbing for a week, or--"
"A week? Oh, no! I'm a long-term sub!"
Pumpkin couldn't believe his ears. He immediately burst into a huge grin and his face flushed. "Are there three more beautiful words in the English language than 'long-term sub?!' You're not goofin' on us, are you? Is Ms. Cheesefiend really going on sabbatical?"
"I...I just...it's too...it...YES!!!"
"You've made us very happy!" said Recycler.
"No, really: Are we on Punk'd?" said Pumpkin. "Say, I think I remember you from last year!"
"I'm Mr. Robotika, and yes, I subbed a few times last year."
"But not for Ms. Cheesefiend!" replied Recycler. "She's never absent!"
"Except when she was close to giving birth!" said Pumpkin.
"But that was two weeks!" Recycler pointed out. "This is five months!"
"Right. This is longer. Longer is better."
"Plus, this time she's not producing another Cheesefiend!"
Mr. Robotika rolled his eyes. "Let's take our seats, shall we, boys?"
After first period, Pumpkin was still going on and on.
"September...that's one...October...that's two...November...that's three...December...January...five months! With Ms. Cheesefiend on sabbatical until February, we won't lay eyes on her for five months! Five months without Ms. Cheesefiend! Five whole months! Five glorious months!"
"You're drooling," Cheese pointed out.
"Am I?" Pumpkin went in the other direction. He entered the principal's office. "Ah! Ms. Fowl! The fair flower of the principal's office!"
"Hello, Pumpkin," said Ms. Fowl.
"Yes! Shredded paper! I hoped you'd have some!" Pumpkin scooped up a huge handful.
"What do you need that for?"
"Well, you know about Ms. Cheesefiend going on sabbatical, right?"
"I'm planning a ticker-tape parade during recess."
Mrs. Fowl frowned. "Ah."
An hour later, Principal Zambaux heard some noise in the hallway. He turned to see a group of kids partying, led by Pumpkin. He had used the paper for confetti!
"Pumpkin? What is going ON here?" cried Zambaux.
"Just a little party, Zambaux!" answered Pumpkin. "A little celebration! Ms. Cheesefiend going on sabbatical calls for a bit of a blowout, don't you think?"
"Why, NO, Pumpkin! This is totally--"
Pumpkin cut him off. "Say, you're the principal! You were probably the one who approved her sabbatical!"
Zambaux didn't know where this was going. "Hm? Well...yes! Yes I was..."
"LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, OUR GRAND MARSHALL!" Pumpkin announced, pointing to Zambaux.
Zambaux gritted his teeth.
The next day, Mr. Robotika had something fun prepared. "Okay, gang, we'll be watching a video this morning."
The students cheered.
"See?" Pumpkin said once the cheering died down. "This is why you're so much better than Ms. Cheesefiend! She always gives us a quiz on Thursday mornings!"
"Did she? Hmm...actually, that makes a lot of sense, since Wednesdays are our chapter review days...yes...that makes perfect sense! CLEAR YOUR DESKS, PEOPLE!"
"Nice move, Dorkus," Recycler whispered with a frown.
"You know, the cartooning club isn't as fun these days," Pumpkin said to Recycler.
Recycler looked up from his drawing. "Whatya mean?"
"Well, I used to spend all the meetings drawing insulting comics about Ms. Cheesefiend...but with her on sabbatical, that just seems...I dunno...hollow."
"You miss Ms. Cheesefiend?"
"Huh? No, I don't--"
"PUMPKIN MISSES MS. CHEESEFIEND!!!" Recycler shouted across the room.
"Shut up! Shut up!" Pumpkin sputtered.
"What's this about Pumpkin missing Ms. Cheesefiend?" asked Cheese, running over.
"He does!" said Recycler.
Pumpkin could feel his voice rising. "No, I don't! All I'm saying is that with her on sabbatical, I can't make fun of her anymore! I don't miss her, I miss being able to rag on her because I hate her so much!"
"But it's a fine line between hate and loooooooove!" Cheese taunted.
"Oooooh!" Recycler lamented.
Pumpkin growled. Even on sabbatical, she's ruining my life.
The next day, they headed back to class. "Hey, Al!" said Pumpkin to Mr. Robotika.
"It's your new nickname, Mr. Robotika! We call you Al G!"
"But...my name's not Al."
"Of course it isn't! "Al G" comes from the initials A.L.G.!"
Mr. Robotika rolled his eyes.
"You see, Mr. Robotika, the fact that the students have given you a nickname means that you've made it!"
"You're no longer thought of as a sub! Subs don't get nicknames! But real teachers do!"
Mr. Robotika put his hands on his hips. "According to whom?"
"According to me! I'm the commissioner of nicknames!"
Mr. Robotika sighed. A self-appointed post, I'm guessing.
Just then, in came Robert. "Pumpkin? I think I've got a good one for Mr. Bore."
"Let's hear it!"
"I was thinking of Sominex."
"Ah. You're referring to the fact that Mr. Bore puts you to sleep. Sorry, Robert, but that's a little tame, a little flat. Try to come up with something more inventive and get back to me, oka?" He turned to Mr. Robotika. "As commissioner of nicknames, it's my job to maintain quality control!"
Mr. Robotika rubbed his chin. "Veto power. Very impressive!"
"Bye, Al!" said Pumpkin. "See you tomorrow!"
"Pumpkin, I understand that you've got nicknames for everyone, but please...just call me Mr. Robotika."
"Al." Good grief, thought Mr. Robotika as he started writing a note. Suddenly, a thought struck him. I actually kind of like that.