Friday, June 13, 2008

Characters: "Otto Van Otterson" (pt.1)

The Route 1 bus lurched to a squealing halt and the air in the hydraulics fired off as the door opened and the bus lowered. Marcie stared at the bus stop.

A laughing and rustling sound of paper bags slipped lazily into the cabin and the driver rolled her eyes, looking into the mirror bored.

"Oh my god, honey, don't look, don't look..." Marcie whisperes, grabbing my arm with one hand, hiding her face behind her ever-ready People magazine with the other and looking at me behind it wide-eyed, smiling and obviously keyed up.

Of course, this usually meant I had to look. Marcie would likely be asking me questions about the experience she told me to avoid. I looked and Marcie ducked her head completely into her lap, her magazine over the top and back.

"Heeee hee, ohmigod, stop, ohmigod," she squealed under her breath.

There would definitely be a quiz later. I paid close attention.

An elderly and scruffy gentleman clambered onto the bus, each foot stopping on each step, side by side one step at a time. He stared down as if to watch closely for any danger at his feet, then stomped as he reached the top, nodding to the driver.

"Muhuh?" he laughed, gesturing around at the bus and scanning me and my fellow riders as if asking a question. "Muzzum Muzzum Muzzum."

He was dressed in a brown, pinstriped suit, a derby hat and tie, all somewhat grimy. Beneath his buttoned jacket one could discern several different shirts, all button up, all enclosed by a tie, their collars stacked and close on his throat.

"You have your fare, sir?" the driver asked, her impatient face obviously familiar to the point of some tired contempt. She bit her lip and glared in the mirror.

"Muzzum, Muzzum," he said, clearly affirmatively, then pulled two crumpled bills from his pocket and raising them high over his head, his free hand now sweeping toward the back of the bus as he glanced around again.

I understood the gesture and offered him applause. He bowed and then deosited the bills into the farebox. The bus driver glared at me now.

"You need to not encourage him or we are never getting out of here," she said.

Marcie grabbed my arm, still hiding her face, but obviously laughing under the magazine, and pulled me onto the bench.

"Eh heh shesh mechuzzum muh," the odd man said, smiling at the driver with his hand out, another cocked on his hip. He looked away smugly, waggling his head a bit.

"You want a transfer?" the driver asked, snatching one of her pad and slapping it into his hand.

He snapped it into his palm, crumpling it and shoving it into his pocket in a smooth and practiced way, then picked up his half dozen grocery bags. Their contents were a mystery, but I inspected him discreetly as he strutted past in his own little world.

He was a hodgepodge of accoutrement. In place of a handkerchief in his pocket, he had donned a fresh paper napkin and, quite carefully placed, a spoon, fork and knife set against it. He wore a watch on each wrist, and several bits of string, plastic binding and even a white plastic grocery bag on them as well. He bore a lapel pin. It was Underdog.

His personal hygiene was a mixed bag. When he passed by, a strange mix of Old Spice, stale water and roting feet wafted past. He had a gray and white beard that was not well-trimmed but appeared impeccably combed. His fingernails were clean but his hands were filthy. He was a walking contradiction.

He looked around at each person as he walked by, and Marcie stayed down, squeezing my arm as she saw his broken, stained white Keds shuffle past. He sat in the back of the bus and immediately set his face against the window, flattening his cheek as he arranged his bags without looking.

"Ohhh, that is one of our regulars," Marcie said as he passed. "He is a total character. He is like, my favorite CVS urchin ever, but I don't want him to see me when I am not in the store. He stares at me a lot."

I nodded, suddenly imagining something more sinister than eccentric. "Does he bother you? Do you want me to talk to him?"

She looked at me and gave me her, "Are you THAT stupid?" look.

"Honey, he doesn't do it because he's menacing, he's harmless," she said. "God."

She was quiet for a minute as we rolled through Banker's Hill. In a sudden moment of inspiration, she grabbed my hand again and turned to me, whispering. "Did you see his shirts? I think he just layers them on when they get dirty!"

I nodded, and added, "And I think he just ties things to his wrists or puts whatever he finds on like a bracelet. He was also wearing two watches."

"Oh, Oh my god," she said, slapping my thigh with her other hand excitedly as she bit her lip then whispered, extra quietly. "He looks at watches every time he comes into CVS. He has like three watches on chains, one for each vest."

I shook my head and as we hopped of the bus outside of "Gay Ralph's" in Hillcrest, Marcie was holding my hand, obviously pleased to have seen the CVS regular in our area.

She stopped me as the bus pulled off, and said, "Okay, let's wave to Otto!"

And so I did, as his faced, plastered to the bus window, rolled by. He waved back.

"Otto?" I asked.

"Yes," she said. "Otto Van Otterson. That is what I call him. I don't know his real name, actually. I can't ask him because I don't think he ever really talks."

There was much to know about Otto, as I would find out. But there was even more to enjoy in what Marcie filled in the gaps in her knowledge of him with.