Welcome Back, Kotter #5 – The Sweathog Sit-In
By William Johnston
First Published in 1977
Published by Tempo Books
My September review of William Johnston’s The Sweathog Newshawks — the second of six novels he wrote based on Welcome Back, Kotter — was very negative. His fifth novel, The Sweathog Sit-In, was much better. The plot was once again threadbare but the characters felt familiar and the humor more representative of the series. The front cover to my copy is in pretty bad shape, with a sticker-sized square torn off. And the book is just plain beat up, hopefully from being read and enjoyed over and over again.
As the novel opens, Gabe and Julie Kotter learn that James Buchanan High is going to be torn down and its students sent to Chester A. Arthur High, a new, spacious school. Unfortunately, that means the sweathogs may be broken up and Gabe may be out of a job. Julie isn’t at all thrilled to hear that:
“We can go out and buy up all the papers off all the stands,” Julie said. “If nobody reads about what’s going to happen, noboiy will know about it, and maybe it won’t happen!”
“All of the newspapers on all of the stands in the whole city?”
“You’re right–that’s not practical.” She thought for a moment. “I’ve got it! I read an article the other day on how to build a homemade atom bomb! We’ll blow up the entire world and your job will be safe!”
“Now, you’re thinking,” Kotter said.
Nor are the sweathogs thrilled with the idea of moving to a new school, being split up or losing Mr. Kotter as their teacher. They may hate Buchanan but it’s a hate they know and love. Arthur is too new and too clean. So, with a little urging from Kotter, the sweathogs decide to do something about it and get some answers. But getting answers from the school board isn’t as easy as it sounds. With Juan Epstein as leader and Mr. Kotter advising, the sweathogs decide to go to war.
Unfortunately, the rest of Buchanan doesn’t seem all that concerned about moving to a new school. A call to the board of education leads nowhere. The sit-in referred to in the title is equally ineffective. So, they decide to march on the board of education. They’ll need signs and buses and will have to get past Mr. Woodman, who hopes to be moved to a position away from students when Buchanan is torn down. They do eventually make it to the board of education’s offices, after first being carted off temporarily by the cops, but a riot breaks out and they decide to make a strategic withdrawal.
Ultimately, Mr. Woodman is responsible for saving the day after he calls in a favor from an aide at the board of education. He sends his secretary, who insists she has no influence, but after hearing how badly the sweathogs want to stay at Buchanan she somehow sets the necessary wheels in motion and it is Chester A. Arthur High that is torn down!
There’s an odd minor subplot in the last third of the novel in which Vinnie Barbarino insists he’s converted to a new religion: tomato sauce. It fizzles out once the march on the board of education ends. And I don’t recall any usage of “up your nose with a rubber hose” or a variant thereof. But even without that catchphrase, The Sweathog Sit-In was a decent story that fit nicely into the mold created by Welcome Back, Kotter.