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Authors: Beverly Cleary

Otis Spofford

BOOK: Otis Spofford
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Beverly Cleary
Ellen Tebbits
Illustrated by Tracy Dockray
Contents

1
Otis Gets His Man

T
here was nothing Otis Spofford liked better than stirring up a little excitement. Otis was a medium-sized boy with reddish-brown hair, freckles, and ears that stuck out. He often wore a leather jacket with a rabbit’s foot tied to the zipper, and he always laced his shoes with the kind of laces that glow in the dark—pink for the right shoe and green for the left.

Otis found it hard to stir up any excitement around home. He was sure it would be easier if he lived in a house with a yard to play in, like the other boys and girls in Room Eleven at Rosemont School. Instead, he lived with his mother, Valerie Todd Spofford, in an apartment. Mrs. Spofford was away from home most of the time teaching ballet and tap-dancing lessons at the Spofford School of the Dance over the Payless Drugstore.

Otis wished his mother had more time to spend at home, so that Mrs. Brewster, the manager of the apartment house, would not have to keep her eye on him. Mrs. Spofford was never very cross with Otis for wanting to stir up a little excitement, but Mrs. Brewster made it plain that she did not like dirt, dogs, or noise, and that she stood for no nonsense from boys.

School, however, was different. Except for learning things, Otis liked school. He could find so many ways to stir up excitement.

Once a week Otis’s teacher, Mrs. Gitler, took her class to the auditorium for folk dancing. Otis was the only member of the class who did not like this period.

I’d rather play dodgeball any day, he always thought as they marched down the hall. I see enough dancing at the Spofford School of the Dance.

The class had learned several dances, like “Stupid One Hopping on One Foot” and “I Lost My Way in the Gooseberry Bushes,” but for the past few weeks they had been practicing a Mexican folk dance for the
fiesta
Rosemont School was planning for a Parent Teacher Association meeting. Each class in the school was to give a Mexican dance. Afterward, the mothers in the P.T.A. would sell cookies and punch to raise money for visual aids for the school.

Otis was not the least bit excited about the
fiesta
. He was sure the P.T.A. would rather see a good ball game.

There were three more boys than girls in the class. This meant that two boys had to dance together, one of them, against his wishes, taking the part of a girl. The third boy danced alone. Otis was usually the third boy. No one wanted him for a partner, because he liked to hop on his right foot when he was supposed to hop on his left. This was hard on his partner’s toes. He didn’t care if no one wanted to dance with him, and today as he went through the steps alone, he amused himself by dancing stiff-legged.

Mrs. Gitler stopped the phonograph. “Otis, be a gentleman,” she said.

“Mrs. Gitler, I don’t see why I have to be in the old
fiesta
,” complained Otis. “There are too many boys in the class anyway.”

“Me, too,” said Stewy Hicks promptly.

Leave it to old Stewy, thought Otis. That was the trouble with Stewy. He liked to get in on whatever excitement Otis was stirring up.

To Otis’s surprise, Mrs. Gitler smiled and said, “I have a different plan for the three extra boys.”

Now what? wondered Otis, thinking he might get into something worse than folk dancing.

“We are going to have a bullfight in the center of the circle of dancers. One boy will be a toreador and the other two will wear a bull costume.” Mrs. Gitler paused while the class laughed at the thought of two boys dressed up like a bull. “At the end of the dance, when the toreador wins and the bull falls down, the girls will all take flowers out of their hair and toss them at the toreador.”

Otis was pleased with this idea. He could see himself dressed up like a bullfighter, waving his red cape in front of the bull and stepping nimbly aside when the bull charged at him. He would bow to the crowd while the girls showered him with flowers and the audience cheered. Maybe he was going to like the
fiesta
after all.

Mrs. Gitler spoiled his daydream by saying, “Otis, since you do not care about folk dancing, you may be half the bull.”

The class laughed. “The front half or the back half?” Otis wanted to know.

“The front half,” answered Mrs. Gitler. “Stewart, you may be the other half. George, you may be the toreador.”

Otis could see that George felt pretty good about being the toreador. Oh, well, thought Otis, being the front half of the bull was not so bad. It was better than folk dancing, and he and Stewy ought to have fun.

Then Mrs. Gitler had the three boys practice bullfighting. Stewy put his hands on Otis’s hips and the two boys charged at George, who twirled an imaginary cape in front of them. When George pretended to stab the bull with a sword, Otis and Stewy fell to the floor.

“All right, Otis,” said Mrs. Gitler. “I don’t think it is necessary for the bull to die with his front feet in the air. Falling to the floor is enough.”

Otis lay on the floor and watched George bow, as the girls pretended to throw flowers at him. He thought George looked very pleased with himself.

When the bell rang for recess, Otis followed George around, singing:

“Toreador-a,

Don’t spit on the floor-a.

Use the cuspidor-a,

That’s what it’s for-a
.”

Of course Stewy joined in. Otis was a little disappointed when George only grinned and said, “Aw, keep quiet.”

When the afternoon of the
fiesta
finally arrived, all Rosemont School bustled with excitement. The teachers wore white blouses, long full skirts, and flowers in their hair. Even Mr. Howe, the principal, wore a Mexican hat and a red sash. While the ladies of the P.T.A. worked to get the cookie and punch booths ready on the playground, the teachers worked to get the children ready inside the classrooms.

Mrs. Gitler’s face was flushed. She was hurriedly fastening paper stripes down the legs of the boys’ jeans with Scotch tape. Otis and Stewy already wore the leg parts of their costume, which looked like pajama pants made out of gunny sacks. They were practicing walking like a bull. Otis had worked out a few variations, like skipping backward. He could hardly wait to get the top part of the costume.

The girls, who were wearing white blouses and full skirts with crepe-paper ruffles basted around the hems, were busy pinning flowers in their hair.

“Now, Otis, I want you to behave yourself,” said Mrs. Gitler, as she started to tie crepe-paper sashes around the boys’ waists.

Otis, who had not done a thing yet, felt a little guilty. How did Mrs. Gitler know that he was looking around for a little excitement to stir up?

Otis watched Ellen Tebbits tug at a lock of her hair, and he heard her say to Austine Allen, “I wish my hair would hurry up and grow long enough for pigtails.” Then she tipped her head back and shook her hair so it brushed against the back of her neck. “It feels longer when I do this,” she explained.

Otis enjoyed teasing Ellen more than anybody. He did not know what it was about her that made him feel that way. Maybe it was because she was so neat and clean and well behaved. Or maybe it was because he knew he could always make her mad. Now he tipped his head back in imitation of Ellen. “I wish my hair would grow long enough for pigtails,” he said in a squeaky voice.

“Oh, for goodness’ sakes,” snapped Ellen.

“Oh, for gunny sacks,” said Otis. He was pleased when everyone laughed. “Oh, for gunny sacks,” he repeated, to get another laugh.

Then Otis stopped teasing Ellen, because the door opened and George walked into the room wearing his toreador suit. Otis stared with the rest of the class. There were no jeans with paper stripes for George. He was wearing black velvet knee pants and a velvet hat that Otis had seen one of the P.T.A. ladies making out of an old dress. Around his shoulders was a splendid cape that no one would ever guess had once been the skirt of someone’s evening dress. Stuck through his green sash, he wore a short wooden sword. George did not walk. He swaggered.
“Adios,”
he said grandly.

“Chili con carne,”
answered Otis, using the only Spanish phrase he knew. He had learned it from cans that his mother sometimes opened for lunch when she was in a hurry.

“He sure thinks he’s smart,” observed Stewy.

“I wish Mrs. Gitler would hurry up and let us have the top of our bull costume,” remarked Otis, who did not like to see George getting all the attention.

But Mrs. Gitler was in no hurry to have a four-legged animal running around her classroom. Otis grew more impatient as she finished the boys’ sashes and began to hand out tambourines to the girls. When she ran out of tambourines, she distributed old milk cartons filled with pebbles. The lucky girls with tambourines banged them happily, while the girls who had to take milk cartons sulked. Otis noticed that Ellen, who was one of the best pupils in his mother’s dancing classes, had a tambourine and was practicing steps she had learned at the Spofford School of the Dance.

While Otis was trying to think of a way to tease Ellen some more, George swaggered by and looked scornfully at Otis’s and Stewy’s burlap trousers.
“Adios,”
he scoffed.

“Old Fancypants,” muttered Otis, and began to sing
Toreador-a, don’t spit on the floor-a
.

“All right, Otis and Stewart,” said Mrs. Gitler. “You may go to the auditorium for the rest of your costume.”

“Oh, boy!” shouted Otis, as the two boys raced out of the room.

“And no running in the halls,” called Mrs. Gitler. Of course, they paid no attention.

The P.T.A. ladies helped Otis and Stewy into the top of the costume. Otis’s end had a head with a fine pair of horns, made out of rolled-up cardboard. Stewy’s half had a tail made of rope fringed at the end. The head was fastened to a stick that Otis held inside the bull’s burlap body. It was dark inside the bull, but Otis could see where he was going, because there was a peephole under the bull’s jaw.

Otis was satisfied when the ladies laughed at him and Stewy in their costume. He made the bull nod its head, paw the ground, and run out of the auditorium and down the hall. Now maybe he could stir up a little excitement.

The class shouted with laughter when they saw the animal. Otis felt someone pat his head, which looked like the bull’s shoulder from the outside, and heard Tommy say, “How’s old Ferdinand?” Through his peephole Otis saw that George paid no attention. He was too busy twirling his cape.

“All right, boys and girls,” said Mrs. Gitler. “Let’s get in line. It’s time for the parade. Come on, George, you go first. Bull, you’re next. Find your partners, everybody.”

Otis could not resist poking George in the seat of his velvet pants with the bull’s horns. Old Fancypants, he thought.

“Cut that out,” said George.

“Come along, people,” said Mrs. Gitler, as she led the way out of the classroom.

All the classes in the school paraded around the playground, which was supposed to be a village square. The mothers sat on the bleachers on three sides of the square. The baseball backstop, covered with crepe paper, was on the fourth side. In front of it was a platform with several chairs, a phonograph, and a microphone.

When Otis saw the audience, he was carried away. Now he could stir up a little excitement. He made the bull nod and bow and paw the ground. When everyone laughed, he made the bull wave. This was difficult to do, because he had to stand on one foot while he waved the other. The audience laughed harder. Otis began to skip and Stewy had to follow.

“You cut that out,” ordered George. “You’re supposed to walk behind me.”

Otis lowered the bull’s head and started to charge, but by that time the class had come to its section of chairs in front of the bleachers. Everyone sat down except Otis and Stewy, who had to stand up.

Mrs. Gitler leaned over and whispered to Otis through his peephole. “Some of the mothers can’t see over you. Maybe you boys had better wait behind the backstop until our turn. We come on after the kindergarten does its Mexican cowboy dance.” The bull trotted behind the backstop, where Otis could hear the principal welcoming the mothers.

BOOK: Otis Spofford
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