Friday, June 20, 2008


We'll continue with Otto tomorrow. I will also return to Marcie's maternal instincts and her caring side as well. I am sure you see that it all shines through in her way of relating to her "urchins."

Marcie's cast will expand into her less-developed characters after Otto, all of whom she wove memorable biographies around. Tomorrow, however, I will be posting a poem and some pictures to look at. I hope you enjoy them both.

I will be working intensively over the next week and attempting to finish off the grant work I have at the district before moving on. Then, the big scouting trip to San Francisco begins. So that's where I am at.

Email with questions if you have any. We return to our regular programming Sunday or Monday.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Characters: "Otto Van Otterson" (pt.4)

Otto had been underground for a while when I finally spotted him again. He was nowhere near his native riverine environs. Otto had moved up in the world.

Otto was living behind The Lamplighter, a karaoke bar in San Diego's Mission Hills. I may not have noticed him in my drunken state as I wandered out and enjoyed a cigarette after way too many drinks. Who knew "The Chauffer" by Duran Duran had so many fans?

Regardless, there I was, staring at a homeless person across the street who worked around the green-handled Mayfair shopping cart, his back hunched, turned to me. Then, with the successful attachment of a piece of wire to his junk-festooned carriage, the man turned.

Otto smiled and raised his hands in a grandiose expectation of applause. I could hear him above the din of the bar as he chuckled then warbled out a celebratory-sounding, "Rumanumanumanuma SKOP!"

He took the handle and, with some untranslable and nearly inaudible utterance, rolled out of sight. It was as if he knew he needed to be seen, my drunken mind told me.

I immediately called Marcie, who met my invitation to join me in a raucous night of debauchery and drink and song with derision earlier that night.

"Hello?" she asked, sounding annoyed.

"Hi, honey," I said. "I have good news!"

"What good news? That you're not nearly as drunk as you sound?" she asked. "Or that you will actually save your last buck and take the bus, not walk home at 2 and skip class tomorrow?"

Well, there was precedent. I had walked home several times to allow one more dirnk or a cup of coffee. It was a bad habit only because she worried.

"Mmmm BETTER news!" I shouted into the phone.

"Oh, dooo tell," she said, softening and now preparing, I assumed, to mock me in my drunken state.

"Guess who I just saw," I demanded, smiling as I did. "It's someone important!"

"One of your many cousins?" she asked.

"No, no," I said. "Important to you."

I steadfastly refused to tell her, despite her demands, but also told her she would regret not trying anyways. She relented.

Jane? No. Chrissy? No. Chip? No. My (her) parents, brother or my father? No, no and um, no way. She threatened to hang up.

"I found Otto!" I exclaimed.

"Otto van Otterson!" she said, laughing. "Where is he? You didn't try to talk to him, did you?"

I relayed the whole incident and she peppered me with questions. Was he wearing his suit? Yes, but it was a new suit, it appeared, and only one of each kind of clothes. How did he look? Healthy, but his hair was really long and his beard was, too.

"So was he wearing his silverware still?" she asked.

And there was the question I had hoped she would ask. He had, indeed. but there was something new and classy to relay.

"He had what appeared to be actual silver flatware," I said. "He also had a can opener next to his new knife."

I had spied the change from across the street, clearly seeing the utensil heads and heir dull sheen, the triangular head of the opener drawing the eye in a stark display against the other new element in his dress.

"He had a black handkerchief or maybe a fancy napkin in his pocke," I said.

Marcie cackled into the phone. "He was wearing his formal dinnerware," she said, cracking up. "He was, he was... he was probably headed to Saint Vincent De Paul for an important address at the General Asembly of the United Urchins!"

She gasped in ragged breaths and I stayed quiet after a chuckle, listening to her laugh and then, "Oooh, that's good, honey," she said. "Thank you for telling me. You're very thoughtful."

"I'm glad your friend is okay, honey," I said.

"So am I," she said. "Have fun tonight, and try not to overdo it."

I let that hang in the air a bit. It had already been overdone. But her happiness was very clea, as was her relief. I was in awe of her compassion, despite her teasing and mocking tone. She doted on Otto in her own way. That mothering again, I guessed.

"I love you honey," she said. "I'll see you later."

"Okay, baby," I said. "See you then."

And though she was relieved, she simply had to lay eyes on him herself. And while we stalked the ambassador, Herr Otto Van Otterson, Marcie would amaze me with her idea of what lay behind Otto's life.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Characters: "Otto Van Otterson" (pt.3)

Though he would come to be a familiar sight to us, we did not see Otto again immediately. In fact Marcie expressed her concern for him a month or so later, noting his absence from the environs surrounding CVS.

"Honey, remember my little friend Otto?" she asked, her lower lip out a bit. She looked sad.

I nodded as I prepared for tennis class. "Yes, I do... is he okay?"

"I don't know," she said, her hands going from palms up as she looked to the ceiling a moment, dropping against her thighs. The release of bottled-up tension was always like this for her. She was obviously a little upset.

I gave her a hug and tucked her head in my neck, getting a little kiss there for my efforts. She sighed.

"He's just so old and so nice, even if he is a little crazy, so he's vulnerable" she said. "I get worried because I never see him with a group, he's always alone. Now he's gone missing."

I sat her down and held her hands. "He's going to be fine," I said. "He has been there this long, he'll be there again when he wants to. Has he disappeared before?"

"Yes," she said, her voice higher. "But he usually just goes away for a month and it has been like three now."

"If he has been on the street this long, what makes you think he is vulnerable?" I asked.

"Well, I don't know," she said. "But he's a gentleman. I kind of look at him as the ambassador of the people wearing the crazy pants. He is dignified but different."

I guffawed and looked at her, giving her my "tell me more" wide-eyed, fascinated, eyebrow-arched look. She bit her lip and looked off into the corner and then back at me, holding and shaking both my hands at once, then letting go to gesticulate.

"Okay, so he always has a handkerchief in his breast pocket under his jacket," she said. "And he never says anything I can understand or the girl can, but it always sounds the same when he greets us as he walks in."

I nodded and lowered my head, mouth open, prompting a little. Marcie leaned in.

"It's like 'Gooda Morgadanga' which sounds like good morning, but he say it at any time of day," she said, her hands lazily circling as she dished a bit. "And he always adds this stuff to it, like 'jergamergagubbelmub," or some other gibberish. You heard him!"

I nodded. "So he's like the ambassador from the country of Pantalonia Loca? Where the river people wear their traditional crazy pants, multiple vests and watches for all of the possible time zones they could be in at any time? And they speak something Germanish, with extra babble?"

She smiled and her beautiful, more delicate cackle, more of a bubbling, lilting laugh, rolled out. She was reassured and happy again. "You forgot his official ambassadorial plasticware and napkin," she said.

"Well, what's that for?" I asked. "Is it something everyone in Pantalonia has?"

"Well, actually, I call his little country Riverland," she said. "And the plastic utensils are in case a meal breaks out and he has to think fast."

"Like an emergency diplomatic meal?" I asked, chuckling.

She fell forward again, laughing and doing her in-laugh. "Yes!" she gasped out. "Or in case he needs to bring his own utensils for a state dinner... at the... at the mission!"

She started regaining her composure.

"He has had the same golden plastic utensils forever, or he had a good supply of them," she said. "I saw him eat a whole McDonald's Happy Meal with them when I went to lunch with Amy once.'

She looked at me and sighed. "He was very careful to clean them all and place them in order, inside to outside, spoon, fork, knife, and to replace his napkin and put the little fold in it to make it all official."

I nodded and held her hands again. She kissed me on the cheek. I was going to be late.

"So you will tell me if you see him, right?" she asked.

"Oh, sweety, of course I will," I said. "I promise to keep an eye out for him."

And as luck would have it, Otto was not far away at all. If anything, he was closer then ever, if in a new venue.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Characters: "Otto Van Otterson" (pt.2)

The random appearance of Otto on the bus Marcie used was a considerable diversion for her as we roamed the aisles at Ralph's loading our cart with goods. She was spilling over the whole time.

"Otto is one of our store urchins," she said. "I love that word. It totally conveys a sense of wretchedness, of abandonment."

"Isn't an urchin just an orphan or poor kid?" I asked.

Marcie bit her lip and rolled her eyes, pleased that she was about to impart some telling bit of knowledge on me. "It means poor and mischievous child," she said, touching my arm and then grabbing me to pull me close. "Or hedgehog!"

She made her "tongue slips out of her gaping mouth as her eyes open wide" before biting her lip, prompting me for the correct response.

"So Otto is like a mischievous urchin with a prickly side?" I asked.

"Yes!" she said. "He is toooootally mischievous and you have to be nice or he gets extremely offended."

I nodded and she turned, pushing the cart as she scanned apple sauce and explained. She was obviously relaying long-established lore, as she rattled off the tale without much focus.

"Otto, which is what everyone at work calls him, thanks to me, is full of the devil," she said. "He comes in, he goes up and down every aisle, he gets one of almost everything, then he comes up to buy it."

She started chuckling silently, suppressing her laughter in her chest. She turned to me and stopped the cart and let out one of her delighted guffaws. She looked off to the side and clapped her hands together, bouncing at her knees as she relayed the story.

"Okay, okay," she said. "So Otto brings up like an entire cart full of things to the counter EVERY time he comes in."

She continued, still bouncing and clapping, smiling.

"He wanders the whole store, and he makes a big production out of it all," she said. "Every thing he wants, he takes off the shelf, he inspects it with his glasses, which are different every time we see him and usually don't have lenses, then he holds it up high and drops it in the cart."

She demonstrated with a small box of granola bars, holding them up with her thumb and forefinger, then dropping them into our own cart, smiling smugly with her free hand on her hip, nonchalant.

"He smiles like this, like he has struck gold every time, and he looks at whoever is watching him or nearby," she said. "It's a crackup."

I nodded. "So he's proud of what he is buying? What does he buy?"

She leaned way back and then forward, smiling and bouncing again, clapping.

"Everything," she said. "It is so random. One time, he took every bottle of lens cleaner and rewetting drops off the shelf and loaded them onto his cart, then he piled a bunch of stuffed animals and every kind of candy we hadon top. Another time it was our cheap granny bras and trash bags with some soda and an empty battery display."

She was trying to hold in the big secret, so I prodded. "So that is a lot of money. How much did it cost to get all that?"

"It didn't matter," she said. "He'd pile it all into his cart, roll up to the counter and smile, then slowly have us check everything, saying nothing and just grinning from ear to ear with his little coin purse and wallet in his hand."

I nodded, wondering if it didn't matter because he was a well-to-do senior or because he seemed to have vast reserves of cash. It turned out that such a boring twist was not in the offing.

"It could be radios and walkmen and batteries and gum by the box or a ton of baseball cards or whatever, he just picked anything," she said. "When his cart was full, he would come up, smile and watch you put in all the prices. He watched you do it, then waited."

She stopped bouncing and clapping and looked at me, biting her lip a little sideways. She shook her head, "I learned my first day. I thought I was doing so well, and I kept asking if he wanted things behind the counter and he would nod or gesture. he had like $300 in stuff."

I nodded and her hands went to her hips as she tilted her head sideways.

"And wouldn't you know it? He only had two dollars," she said, smiling, then laughing. "It's funny now, but I was mad. Then he took like ten minutes to choose a pack of gum, a box of cookies and a mini Kleenex pack."

She tilted her head back a little and smiled, then let her eyes close. "I was... sooo... mad. I could have screamed. I could have just screamed. It took me an hour to put everything back. The girls thought it was a big joke."

I was chuckling with her. "So what did you do after that? Kick him out of the store?"

"Oh, no," she said. "I would let him wander around and if he came up to me, I just looked in his cart, tapped on the register and said, 'Okay that will be a million dollars, sir!' and he would give me his money, then I would tell him how much stuff to pick for his budget."

"Well, that was nice of you," I said. "Was it always kleenex and gum?"

"No," she said, clapping and bouncing again, looking off then at me. "I usually had him get a watch, some candy and a random hygiene item. Then he was out of money and had to go. I would have one of the girls put his things back. They hated him."

"So how did you end up naming him?"

"I noticed him and I knew I wanted to keep an eye out for him, because he was just this totally fascinating character," she said. "So I gave him a name."

"Why Otto?" I asked.

"Because he speaks his own little language and it sounds like German, but it's nonsense and he only speaks to himself usually," she said. "You heard it on the bus."

Indeed I had. "So why is he named Otto van Otterson?" I asked.

Marcie looked at me and leaned in close. "Because he is like one of the river people" she whispered conspiratorially. "And I can imagine him floating on his back, speaking his language and backstroking down the San Diego River."

Her eyes went wide, and she looked at me as if she had just let me in on a huge secret. I appreciated the little story with a chuckle and added, "I guess I could see that."

It was quite the image, but Marcie had even more to relay. Otto was more than an urchin to her.

Otto had his own mythos, and every time we saw him, she told me more. Soon, it seemed, we saw him everywhere we went.