Sunday, November 23, 2008

Otie Zerfus

Every year I teach Oedipus Rex to my senior world literature class. I always smile in delight when some boy in the class invariably says, "Dude! He's doing his mom!" as the horror of realization dawns on him. And then I tell them this little story from my childhood.
As you know, I grew up in a very small town. We did, however, have a "taxi" service in town, but nobody ever used it. In the first place, it wasn't listed in the phonebook or anything; it was more a word of mouth business. Secondly, it was owned and operated by the Zerfus family. (My dad actually had to take the taxi to work once when I accidentally drained the battery in his truck by leaving the door ajar after making a hasty exit from a makeout session with my boyfriend in the garage... but that's a story for another time.) The Zerfuses were a freakish family, even by the standards of our town, which had more than its share of families with skeleton-stuffed closets, my own included. But the Zerfuses left their closet door open -- unpardonable.
They lived about two blocks away from me, on the other side of the cemetery, in a white ranch house that looked like any other house in the neighborhood except for its peeling paint, its trash-strewn, unmowed yard and the torn red drapes that hung in the picture window. Otis Senior was never home. He practically lived at the American Legion. When it was closed, he drove around the town for hours at a time in his very old dark green Plymouth Fury III with the word "Taxi" spelled out in duct tape on the side. Mrs. Zerfus (whose first name I never knew, nor did anybody else for that matter) was insanely, wretchedly obese and practically a recluse. She could occasionally be seen riding shotgun with her husband when they went grocery shopping in the next town. Their only child, Otis Jr. (the main character of this story), was anywhere from 20 to 30 years old and was well known to be clinically insane.
My only personal experience with Otie Jr. was when I was in sixth grade. I had some girls over for a slumber party. We had just watched Halloween on HBO (my dad was working until 1 a.m. and the temptation to watch R rated movies was far too great to be overcome) and thought we would give ourselves a thrill by very quickly pulling open the drapes on our large picture window to see if the glowing gravestone in the cemetery across the street was putting on its show. Instead of ghastly, glowing granite, we saw Otie's face pressed up against the glass of the window, a glowering look in his eyes. Chaos ensued as we screamed, ran in circles, and randomly slapped and punched each other as we scrambled for the safety of the basement. Four girls called their parents and went home immediately.
Otie's insanity was further demonstrated by his habit of standing in the cemetery in the middle of the night, Bible in hand, scream-preaching about the moral dangers of the use of marijuana until the cops came to take him home. I can't remember a word he said, but I will never forget the sound of his comically high-pitched voice; nor will I forget the image of his massive, shadowy form (he stood about 6'2" and weighed almost 300 pounds) as he stood amongst the stones, his long greasy black hair dripping across his pasty white face.
One day The Richland Observer contained a most interesting birth announcement: To Otis Sr. and Mrs. (?) Zerfus, a baby girl. This was definitely news in our town; what were they doing having another kid with a full-grown boy living at home as it was, for Christ's sake? Lots of jokes also circulated about what it would look like to see those two in the sex act, a most distasteful image, I must admit. About a month after the birth, my dad was at the Legion having a drink with his buddy Larry when the door opened and in walked Otis Sr. A guy at the end of the bar yelled out, "Hey! There's the new daddy! How's that baby doin'?" Without batting an eyelash, Otis Sr. took a seat at the opposite end of the bar, and yelled back, "Why don't you ask the boy? It's his."


Beverly Hamilton Wenham said...

Very funny Scarlet Potty!

I wasn't even really awake. Do you know how long I stared at that page before I noticed that!

I am going back to sleep!


Eva said...

SQUEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!! *runs to the basement*

This is really the stuff legends are made of...

Beverly Hamilton Wenham said...

Have the names been changes to protect the... innocent?

Ana said...

Eva -- yeah, that was definitely the scariest part of the story for me too.

Bev -- no, but I should have. See my next post.