• Karl Thunemann

Miss Otis Tidies up

When my pal Gertrude first suggested that my official diagnosis of “mild cognitive impairment” should have a name, I undertook that quest with a mixture of heretical skepticism, whimsy, and fear. Who in their right mind would want their name to become associated with such a lamentable condition?


Nevertheless, my subconscious launched the search in good faith, dogging my conscious with an obscure meme for a song that I was able to track down as the Cole Porter song, “Miss Otis Regrets.”

Miss Otis is in no position to reject such naming: Being fictional, misbegotten, and a pariah, how could she object? It is her fate to accept whatever we of the “real” world project onto her. When I explained Miss Otis to my correspondent, Mary Scriver, she responded that many of us have frequent visits from Miss Otis these days.


It is not as if Miss Otis is becoming a Scrabble player. It’s more that she has a natural sense of order and cannot stand seeing all these words left in a hideous clutter. So she lays them out where I can see them …

Still, I continued to think of Miss Otis dismissively—a convenient shorthand with no substance—until I began noticing her handiwork in my beleaguered brain. This could happen only after I pledged to stop using such invectives as “my brain has turned to mush,” and to treat it as an organ intent on finding new ways to present itself.


Some of these ideas showed up in the strangest, most trivial ways. I love playing Scrabble solitaire “against” an ancient CD. You can check all acceptable words, which I do after I have chosen my play. And I would see the same words time and again without remembering them, not even after checking their definitions. Not familiar with that word, I would mutter, even as it slipped out of mind. And then I began seeing these words as possibilities, gambled on playing them—tauon, cibol—and found them admitted to my inner spelling vocabulary, thrown together with the words labeled by the CD as definition not available. (Must be a copyright thing.) These days, when I take a flyer on such words they turn out to be acceptable two-thirds of the time. And they are not always short words. Sometimes they are cobbled into seven letters—the bingo that every Scrabble player yearns for.





It is not as if Miss Otis is becoming a Scrabble player. It’s more that she has a natural sense of order and cannot stand seeing all these words left in a hideous clutter. So she lays them out where I can see them, without regard to their meaning. And she will not discuss the matter. I would mention other such similar phenomena in our shared life, but just now they lie out of reach.


Conversation is difficult. I learn implicitly that she is a reborn wraith with a strict sense of propriety. She is much older now than implied Porter’s song. No longer a denizen of lovers’ lane. She feels me sizing her up—it’s impulsive, I can’t help myself—and she says I don’t mess with no married men. I assure her I wouldn’t think of it. She loves hearing her eponymous song and wishes she had a record player. I don’t even have any records. She has her favorite singers. If she had her way, their songs would be playing loud—all the time.


There must be a legion of old people tacitly accept help from Miss Otis. I wonder what would happen if we formed a network (The Society of Miss Otis, we would call it) and for once in her many lives Miss Otis—many years older, oh-so-stiff on the dance floor, and less swift of mind—would be the belle of the ball.