I, of course, have a
funny story regarding Mr. Jordan.
In his earlier
sideshow days, Otis was always "lectured on." The
inside lecturer (emcee for the sideshow vernacular
impaired), would introduce Otis, tell you why he was
called "The Frog Boy," (in case your imagination
wasn't up to making the quantum leap to make this
observation for yourself) and then do a
quasi-medical explanation of his condition. Some of
these "lectures" were pretty brutal, particularly
when the lecturer mangled medical terms, or worse
yet, invented new ones. When I first knew Otis, the
magician was also the lecturer. To be as charitable
as possible, he was a good magician. Each day, I
endured his Walter Brennan-style delivery of,
"Little Otis was born in a small town in Georgia of
normal parents." I often wondered how many people
went home and tried to locate Normal Parents in
their Rand McNally.
At any rate, the
lecture would wind up with brief question and answer
"How old are you
"How tall are you?"
exhilarating exchange the lecturer would pitch Otis'
miniature bibles for fifty cents, the proceeds of
which, ostensibly, did everything from starving off
off-season hunger pangs to building a national
research center to cure frogboyitis.
There were human
oddities on the circuit that did their own lecture,
doubtless inspired into doing so to salvage whatever
dignity they could after being subjected to the
Otis was terribly
"mike shy." When I began doing this lecture I tried
to expand on the little "man-on-the-street", segment
by tossing in questions that required more than a
monosyllabic answer. I'd either get a terrified look
or an inaudible grunt in return. It appeared that
the audio portion of the Otis Jordan show was always
going to remain at "thirty-two" and "twenty-seven"
Then came a
sweltering hot night in New Britain, Connecticut. It
was Otis' first year of employment with me and I'd
managed to buy him a nice little trailer that had
everything except an air conditioner. We closed the
show at around midnight and it was still about 85
degrees. I'd just finished dropping the banners and
walked back into the tent, prepared to carry Otis to
"Gonna be awful hot
in there tonight," Otis said. "Think maybe I'd
rather sleep out here," adding, "got my gun, I'll be
It was a
rubble-strewn urban lot and we'd already had
problems with neighborhood gangs. I knew Otis could
handle his Pirates of Penzance-looking gun pretty
well, but I was uneasy about leaving him alone in
the tent. He was, however, not about to give up the
idea of "camping out." Reluctantly, I trudged off to
my own humid trailer.
My wife and I had
almost fallen asleep when she nudged me awaked with
a hushed, "Did you hear that?"
Whatever "that" was,
I didn't hear it.
It was kind of
electronic buzzy sound interspersed with a faint
"Somebody's tv.," I
"Light plant's off,"
"Get up and check,"
she said ignoring my comedic efforts.
I opened the trailer
door and listened. The sound was coming from inside
the tent. Drawing myself up to my not particularly
imposing five foot eight inches, I lifted the
sidewall, expecting to find Otis holding a group of
things at bay with his comic opera pistol.
unexpectedly melodious baritone voice was singing. "Ain't
nobody here but us chickens."
Oblivious to my
sidewall entrance, Otis continued to croon into the
mike. "Ain't nobody here but us chickens."
"A star is born!" I
announced from the shadows.
"Didn't think you
could hear me," said Mr. Jordan with a
The next day Otis
began lecturing on himself.
Otis' final years of
sideshow performing were spent in Coney Island in
the employ of John Bradshaw and Dick Zigun.
Here Otis appeared as
the "Human Cigarette Factory" rather than "The Frog
Boy." The age of political correctness was now, upon
us. Other than the new title, nothing changed in his
handicapped sideshow acts performed some feat or
another to illustrate how they'd overcome their
particular disability. Armless people would, for
example, draw, typewrite, or knit using their feet.
In Otis' case he'd roll and light a cigarette and
then puff smoke rings and make it disappear and
appear-"sleight of mouth as I referred to it. Hence
the new "Human Cigarette Factory" title.
Ironically, if Otis
was still alive today he'd be out of business with
that title, as cigarette smoking has been added to
freak gawking by the tongue-clucking set.
A new title for Otis?
Well, I'd probably lock horns with the legal folks
at Reader's Digest, but my vote would have to go to,
"The Most Unforgettable Person I've Ever Met." It'd
be the most factual title I ever painted on a
from James Taylor's -
Shocked and Amazed)