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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