OTTO

NOTE: This might seem like a scatter-brained, spaghetti-headed piece of perfect nonsense, but I worked out the details of it with the old tried and true “smoke and mirrors.” I classified it under “Politics” because one can’t miss the whacko overtones so well defined in today’s America. See if you can follow it and stay clear of the mental ward all at once.

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A grizzled shadow stretched itself over my office floor. Silhouetted against outside light, its threatening form convinced me that the zoo had certainly lost a dangerous inmate. And then, to my horror, it stepped inside! Two glaring eyes, almost lost in facial brush, peered at me. I darted into a darkened corner. We eyed one another silently. Gradually it became clear that whatever it was, it was human. A beerbelly under a skin-tight undershirt struck a profile similar to an ape forced to stand erect. His trousers bagged until it seemed certain that an entire family had vacated them. Emblazoned across his chest appeared the word:

Shocked and still reeling, I ventured from my dark corner and asked, “Wh … what can I d-do for you, mister… mister… ?

“Just call me Otto, maaaan.”

His speech articulate, the voice was as one who had doused his vocal cords with thousands of gallons of alcohol; clouded and barely audible.

“Uh-huh, okay, ah…Otto, is there a problem? Your child is one of our bus riders?”

“Jimmy Johnson’s my kid”, he said. (Ah yes, Jimmy. Not a violent kid; just infused with the spirit of a orangutan.) “Whatever your mode of therapy is for resolving juvenile rowdyism, it is quite effective, maaan. It has transformed my boy. Why, he thinks the bus ride home is better than home itself. I must say that you are an excellent pupil transportation manager. Our School district is fortunate to have you on its staff. But that’s not the purpose of my visit. Actually, my colleagues would laugh me to scorn if they knew my reason for consulting you, but, well, your successful method of counsel might assist me in resolving a personal physical problem.”

(Hah! My “method” was simply an exercise in practicality. All I did was wipe snotty noses, clean up vomit, root like a neurotic for the team, snatch heads bald, and astutely place my foot on deserving seats. The kids loved it. Besides, I was backed by an old fashioned school principal who brandished a three-foot paddle with holes bored in it. His graduates knew the exact size of their playground and where the gate was. I was Otto’s senior by a number of years, but I couldn’t recall Otto ever attending our school.)

“Okay,” I said, stunned, “this is most unusual, but I’ll help if I can. What is the problem?”

He glanced around the room furtively. “I lost track of which hand is which and up and down.”

If allowed, a grin would have crowded my jaws. “I see, Otto. Ah … lessee…you, ah, where … I mean … what do you do? For a living, I mean?”

Again, the glance around. “I’m a psychology professor over at the university.”

Hilarity whistled past my ribcage and burst out as a fit of coughing. (Surprise should not have taken me–this was the mid-seventies.)

” You should see a doctor, maaan!”

“I’m okay. You lost track of what?”

“Up and down and which hand is which.”

Momentary silence. “Uh-huh. Up and down and left and right.”

“Right, maaan, left, right, up, down.”

“Left, right, up, down.” (Isn’t that a psychiatrist’s trick or something? Parroting your client is supposed to keep him spilling his guts.)

“Why are you repeating me, maaan?”

“Ah, never mind, Otto. Why do you think you can’t tell up from down and one hand from the other?”

He shuffled further into my office, (Converted utility room) and stood before my full-length mirror. (It allowed student offenders to watch themselves lie).

Slowly lifting his right arm, he waved to me in the mirror. “Which arm did I raise, maaan?”

I chuckled. “Your right, Otto; so what?”

He stepped forward with his back against the mirror and waved again, but this time with his left.

“See, maaan? First time I waved, it was my right, but you can plainly see that from the plane of the mirror both arms were on the same side of my body.”

More silence. I scratched my head. Suddenly I wasn’t sure which hand I did it with.

He scuffled with two chairs. By the time I switched hands and scratched again, he was prostrate across the chairs facing the mirror, left arm down, right up.

“Now which hand is waving?”

Your hand or the one in the mirror?”

“In the mirror.”

“Uhhh…right”, I said hesitantly.

“Okay,” he said, “but if I move over there with my back against the plane of the mirror, my…

“Uh, left would be waving. Look, I realize it’s a little confusing, Otto, but…”

“A little confusing! Man, here I am with my right up and my left down, but you just said that from a different perspective my left was up and my right down all at the same time. Don’t you see that down is up one way, up is down the other and left and right are easily switched? The question is which one is correct?”

Stunned silence.

Surely there was a simple explanation for this cockeyed scramble of reversals. Let’s see: If I had my…

Suddenly he was standing on his head in the chair, his trousers bagged in reverse!

“Now, maaan. My undershirt–is it right side up or upside down?”

“Ah… the one on you, or…”

“Either!”

“Upside down!” (Confidence mounted. It was upside down either way).

He flipped to his feet, caught the tail of his undershirt with both hands and, in one swoop, peeled it off and held it before me inside out, upside down.

“Which is it now, maaan? Right side up ? Upside down?”

“Hah! Upside down, of course!”

“Wrong! I changed the state of it when I turned it inside out. You’re thinking of it in its former state. If I turned it to what you call right side up I must either switch the left to right or the back to the front. The only way I can maintain its new state of inside out is to keep the left left, the right right, the front front, the back back, the tail up, the neck down. What’s more, I’m sure you’ll agree that simply because an undershirt is inside out shouldn’t mean you can’t wear it. But in its new state of inside out, the only way I can wear it right side up, which you say is not, is if I walk around upside down.”

“Wh …! Uh, well, I…yeah but…”

“But look in the mirror, maaan. There it changes state again. The left is right, right left. Even though it’s inside out I can turn it neck-up so right is right, left left. But notice: the only way I can wear it inside out and walk on my feet is if I got into the mirror with it where I’ve turned the neck up so my right arm will go into the right sleeve.”

“Well, yeah, but it’s jus…

“So you see, maaan, my left is left on me and my right right, but the mirror says my right is my left, my left right. If my right is up, in the mirror my left is up, right down. Inside out my undershirt reverses right side up and upside down, thereby switching right and left to left and right. I should be able to walk normally with my undershirt on inside out, but the only way is in the mirror where upside down has been switched to right side up.”

Agonizing silence.

Even more silence.

“Any comments, maaan?”

“Iyahhhhh…”

“I can tell, maaan, your method of counsel isn’t working for me.”

Otto left, his sandals slapping his heels down the walkway.

A sudden fear came over me.  Loose in society, this man might multiply and confuse an entire generation! He might collapse everything from law and order, to churches, families, nations, even a whole world! I rushed to the door and raised my arm to hail him back–and that confounded mirror caught me in the act. Now, which arm…no, I must do this with the other … but, no, I’m right handed … no no, in the mirror…

I visited Fourth street last week where the protesters, gurus, chowder-heads, whiz-bangs, dope addicts and draft dodgers used to gather back in the seventies to encourage one another. Suddenly a slick-faced, baldheaded fellow in a white robe stopped me and said he was Otto. He finally found contentment, he said, in a personal mixture of eastern mysticism, transcendental meditation, voodoo,  environmentalism, aquarianism, and something to do with hoot owls, dinosaurs, bird beaks, yak’s feet, platypus’s, Egyptian mummies, and many other such figments.

We talked a bit, and when we parted I glanced back. Ceremoniously standing on his head, his robe had fallen into a little pile surrounding it, exposing his beerbelly and two gangly legs rod-straight through his loin cloth. If he was wearing his undershirt, I thought, it would read:

I grinned. Hah! All along down was down, left was left, up was up, and right was right. And I’ll bet nobody ever noticed that when I wore my undershirt inside out it was actually upside down………I think..

DA

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My Love Affair With Mildred

Years ago my upholstery shop also served as a home repair center and jammed storage room, the perfect haven for spiders, almost the only menu of the mud daubers who discovered the trove and moved in. I couldn’t bring myself to fumigate them, mainly because I was among them, so the whole bunch took full advantage of the impossibility of keeping them out.

This weakness involved me in a comedy. I worked while mud daubers whizzed by my ears, over my head, close under my nose and between my legs. They collided with me, dropping their mud balls or spiders on my clean upholstery. Meanwhile, two or three might be perched on an upturned chair, another sitting on my shoulder, another riding my arm, another my stomach, all of them twisting their button heads this way and that, watching me work. They seemed to be trying to understand this alien intruder who chose their quarters for such odd goings on. Changing shifts occasionally, they continued their miniature investigation until all seemed satisfied that my presence was permissible.

Meanwhile, the shocking news reached the dense spider population. Terrified, they cowered back into corners, built webs in obscure places, or left outright. The brave hangers-on who previously ambled nonchalantly across open spaces, now took exposes in a flash. Overcome with curiosity, I decided to research the subject. Our set of Encyclopedia Americana got caught in the overflow from our tight-quartered mobile home and joined me in the shop. My fingers ran along the spines, K… L…”M” for mud daubers. Grasping the volume, I… but it was stuck tight. A flashlight revealed that a huge mud dauber nest had it welded to the rear of the bookcase! It loosened stubbornly and I turned to my subject: “Any one of a number of nonsocial wasps of the genus Scelipheron of the family Sphecidae. The females work up ­mud with their saliva, forming a clay with which they build tubular cells which they attach, sometimes on top of one another, to the woodwork of buildings or to stone. When a tube is completed, they paralyze small spiders or insects with their stings and fill the tube with them. laying their eggs in the spiders so that the larvae will have fresh food. The males apparently die soon after mating.” (1961 ed.)

Interesting. I could have researched further, but since by now I was so personally involved with them, I wasn’t sure I wanted an entomologists cold explanations. Early death of the males meant my friends were all widowed mothers. Knowing who was building where, I doled out names for each . The one in the bookcase became Mildred. While doing paperwork at my makeshift desk, I sat squarely in her path to the window. “Buzzzzzz” right under my nose.” Whizzzzzz” past my ear; “peck” into the side of my head, dropping her mud ball on my paperwork. Honestly, it seemed she was distracting me every minute. Deciding to time her, I looked at my watch as she flitted by me and out the window for another mud ball. I looked again when she whizzed by my ear. Exactly sixty seconds. Again I checked her. Sixty seconds. Thinking it coincidental, I checked her several times that day, but each time at exactly fifty-nine seconds I could simply look up and, with absolute precision, she’d be there! I checked some of the others too, and though their trip lengths were individually different, each was equally precise to the second. Oh, how I envied such discipline!

Our crowded quarters meant courtesy was the order of the day. If I met Hazel or Maxine in the line of duty, a moment of hesitation came before courteously moving around each other. Often I would open the door to leave, only to meet Hazel face to face with no more than a few inches between our noses. Usually we would have the standard sidewalk mix-up, both of us moving left or right at the same time. We finally settled on a system where Hazel would hover, I would stop, then she would fly slowly and carefully around my head. She left no doubt in my mind that her unstartled movement as she passed my ear said “Thank you!”

A closed window created frenzied terror for other insects. They couldn’t cope with a see-but-can’t-go situation, so they would thrash themselves all day long on the glass and end up as carcasses on the ledge. But not Mildred; lighting gingerly on the glass, she would immediately head for the nearest hole. This led to my discovery that these shrewd little females could, apparently by sheer intuition, shortly find the most obscure hole in a closed room, even if it was the only hole!

Christine surely brought concern to her peers. By some freak of nature she failed to posses initial know-how for building a nest. Not that she didn’t have courage to try. Picking a grand spot for it in an obscure corner, she then proceeded to smear mud all over everything. She strung it up the wall, built silly nodular topsy-turvies, flattened some out like pancakes thrown against the wall, she even tried to build a bazaar little nest on the end of a string I left dangling from the wall! Evidently the rumors fairly buzzed about her. I think they took her aside and instructed her in the fine art of mud molding, because she finally got it together in late August and built a fine little pod, poked a few spiders in it, laid an egg, and left. I couldn’t fault her on such ineptness; that’s about how I started my upholstery business..

On to Cleo. If Christine was inept, Cleo was downright strange. Her flight was weird, nervous, even sounded different. High pitched, it matched her other eccentric behaviors. Once established, mud daubers always fly an indelible route, no matter how odd it might be, but Cleo’s was purely ridiculous, just no reason for it. She would whiz through the window with her mud ball (skimming my hair, kicking it up in her wake), fly to the middle of the shop, hover, settle to the floor like a tiny helicopter, then set out on foot! Although she had ample room to fly the distance, she ran at breakneck speed about ten feet across the floor and vanished under a chest of drawers. This antic never failed to put a smile on my face. During the dash she leaned sharply forward, her tiny legs pumping like pistons, wings held high in dignity as though she was a proper lady holding her skirts tidily aloft while she engaged in a somewhat undignified sport. Reappearing, she would immediately take flight, spiral upward, then dart out the window. This illogical absurdity went on all summer.

But there’s more on Cleo. Some sort of comical fly waited on a ledge for her to appear, then he launched himself like a shot, tailing her across the room about two inches directly behind her. When she hovered to the floor he landed on a shelf and politely waited for her exit. Again he tailed her, landed on the window ledge and waited for her return. It happened at great speed, for Cleo was no slowpoke. In fact, I had to be quick to observe it, usually held to only a glance; but when I was quick enough, there flew the little booger, zipping along behind as though water skiing on an invisible hair. Why? Beats me. I’ll bet an entomologist would say he was an egg thief or something. Maybe. But I like to think he was simply enthralled with her beauty, the most glorious creature he’d ever seen, and he simply couldn’t help himself. But it was a short-lived affair; he failed to show up one day. I figure he broke his neck chasing her.

By mid-October we had all seen a busy summer. A sad time as well, for mud daubers live only a few months. I was sitting at my desk when Mildred landed on the desk just inches in front of me. Quite naturally, as though she were a person, with chin-in-hand I began a line of small talk.
“How are you today, Mildred?”
“Weather’s getting colder, isn’t it?”
“You’re looking tired, Mildred; better slow down.”

During my discourse, her little head would turn toward me, then she would turn it the other way as though looking longingly out the window, toward me again, now back to the window, then back to me, as though listening to every word. Suddenly she settled her full body to the desk, breast to tail, stretched all of her legs straight out, and gently laid her head forward until her mouth rested on the desk. How very strange! There she lay totally relaxed while I rattled on. At first I thought it a little ill mannered, her going off to sleep while I was talking, but I decided not to disturb her, knowing that in those few moments we were savoring both fellowship and kinship, both enjoying a wonder of our native planet–the breath of life pulsing in each of us. But hers grew short. Then, as though sensing the end of our warm encounter, she quickly drew herself upright and flew out the window.

A few days later I found her little body on the floor by my desk. I picked her up and turned her over in my palm. What a beautiful, fantastically designed tiny creature! Yet she had seemed so personally close to my own existence.

In self-surprise, I realized that I loved these little friendly, obscure creatures. Suddenly I remembered Mildred’s apartment house. She had bequeathed to my trust her progeny, perpetuating our friendship! Excited, I collected all the nests I could find in hazardous places in the shop and stacked them together on a high shelf, forming an enormous condominium complex.

The following spring, out burst my little friends in fresh life, chasing spiders and filling my day with friendship and entertainment, all over again.
Me and my Mildred
You know, I would be remiss if I failed to point out the spiritual lesson in this true story. Acts 1:8 says, “…and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Some believe God Himself will mysteriously get this done in His own good time and Providence, forgetting that these words were His command to His church to get it done by going in the power of His Holy Spirit. If we name the name of Christ, we have a Divine commission He expects us to keep, even as we sit idle waiting for Him to do it. He waits for us to obey, as we wait for Him to do our job for us, instead of inviting Him into our lives to get it done through us.

The lesson is this: Inadequate as we all are in our own strength, God expects us to take Him into our separate, distinctive personalities and do the singular task of telling every willing soul on earth the glorious truth of Divine salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. No one is exempt. We may feel inept, like Christine, and smear our little ball of mud in crazy ways, or be like Cleo who wastes much time crawling when she could fly the distance. We might be like Hazel or Maxine, whose courtesy to a fault prevents them from forging ahead into the unknown, or like so many who sit on the pastor’s arm, or shoulder, or stomach, listening to and observing interminably as to who he is and what he’s about, but never putting what he says to use. Yes, and like Mildred, who glued the Book to the shelf, never finding out what’s in it.

But God made each of us separately, and He will judge us the same way. We used to sing an old Gospel song entitled, “Right In The Corner Where You Are.” May we all ask ourselves that question: What am I doing in my own little corner?
–DA

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Muscles, Mooneyes, and Hairy

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ROMANS 8:38,39

The base plate of truth underlying our understanding of this Scripture may be illustrated using the following inane story:

Muscles Rockdale, a muscle-bound caveman shuffled toward his cavernous lair with a billyclub in one hand, dragging his happy chosen female, Mooneyes, by the hair in the other. She had fallen for Muscles because he was strong enough to kill a dragon, and owned the biggest cave around. She felt safe with him because he offered her lifetime security and she didn’t have to worry about a gorilla stealing her.

Skidding along on her back, Muscles pulled her right past the lusting eyes of his biggest rival, Hairy Chimpson, who gave her a beckoning wink. Hairy wore the latest fashion in leopard skin, slicked his hair with monkey grease, wore a diamond nose ring, and took the cave girls on frequent flights over the nearest volcano on his pet Pterodactyl. There he stood, handsome, dashing Hairy, with his streamlined club in one hand, a stalk of bananas in the other.

Mooneyes’ eyes lit up like geodes! “Whoa! Wow! Where did YOU come from, handsome?” Her heart palpitated like a lizard’s throat.

Hairy took advantage of the opening. “Hey, babe, why don’t you ditch this stick-in-the-mud and come away with me for a rollicking time of fun?”

Mooneyes looked at Muscles and what he offered, then back to Hairy. Security with Muscles, or excitement with Hairy? Ignoring the fact that Muscles had what it took to give her all the excitement she could handle, she still couldn’t refuse the dashing sparkle, the colorful leopard skin, the monkey grease, and especially the thrill over the mouth of a smoking volcano. Caught up in the moment, she reached inside her sheepskin, whipped out the newly invented pair of scissors Muscles gave her to make her happy, and clipped off her hair which Muscles used to drag her. Free now, she leaped on Hairy’s back and they disappeared on a grapevine into the trees, Hairy yelling his victory.

Yes, Muscles had truthfully shown himself to be Mr. Security with all the amenities Mooneyes could ever want. He could truly say that nobody, but NOBODY, was big and bad enough to whip him and take what belonged to him. But—Muscles overlooked one small detail: That gorgeous little gal had that trusty pair of scissors he gave her to make her happy.

So, Muscles, heartbroken, shuffled back to his big cave. He knew he couldn’t have her against her own will, unless he locked her in his cave and walled it in so she’d be a prisoner for life, scissors or no scissors. She was no good to him that way. She had to be free and his, or he couldn’t have her at all. Maybe someday she’d come to her senses and come back to him, but it would have to be her own idea, not his. Until then, there she was in the woods with Hairy because, well, that’s what she wanted. Hairy beat Muscles time, but not without Mooneyes’ free consent.

However, Dr. Piltdown Humpover, science professor at Gravelton University of higher learning, a man much higher on the evolutionary ladder than normal cavemen of his time, developed a complex formula requiring six whole banana leaves to record it—a formula so advanced that it contained very difficult two-syllable words between grunts, such as “Con-trol” and “Un-known,” comparable to our modern words like Supralapsarianism, and Supercallafragilisticexpeallidocious. His formula proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that even though Muscles gave Mooneyes those scissors for her use, Muscles, according to all those banana leaves, still owned and was in full and absolute control of those scissors all the time. Even though by all appearances Mooneyes did it, no way could she clip that hair on her head unless it was a mysterious plan cooked up by Muscles himself, not Mooneyes. No cave person could ever understand how that could be, but Humpover assured them that, no, it makes no sense now, but it will someday. Meanwhile, they should not trust what they on their lower evolutionary scale had evolved into calling “common sense.”

However, Dr, Humpover met an unfortunate end. You see, he developed a companion formula even more complex, using ten banana leaves to record it. Unbelievably, he also proved beyond a shadow of a doubt—are you ready for this?—that he could fly! To test his figures, he hired Hairy to take him for a ride on his pet Pterodactyl. At a great altitude, Dr. Humpover bravely dived off! But suddenly a mysterious force grabbed him and pulled him downward.  Hairy said he disappeared into the jungle below, still flapping his arms. He was never heard from again. His wife, Lucy, missed her Piltdown so much she never remarried.

It confirmed Mooneyes’ and Hairy’s belief that Humpover was completely out of touch with “common sense.” Nobody has ever been able to convince her that those bright scissors in her sheepskin are not her own, and nobody else’s. She just seems to know, banana leaves or no banana leaves.
—DA

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Words And Meanings

One of the best humorous stories I know of to illustrate the importance of Biblical words and meanings is one about two brothers who got a job driving railroad spikes. Neither of them were “raised” by their parents, but were jerked up by the hair of the head. The youngest one didn’t have a lick of sense, and the older one’s good judgment went south long ago. Being oldest, he assigned his little brother to operating the sledge hammer, fearing he couldn’t hold the spike steady. So the older one carefully planted the spike in place and said, “Okay now, Joe, when I nod my head, hit it.” -DA

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