With Mayberry Days upon us for another year, I suppose it’s appropriate to ask a timely question, not what’s in your wallet? — but which character or characters on “The Andy Griffith Show” do you identify with most?
Many people might choose Barney, Andy, Opie, Thelma Lou, Floyd the barber or Aunt Bee, but I tend to appreciate those Mayberry denizens who are less conventional.
If I were answering the question about who’s my favorites (and I guess I should since it’s the basis for my column today), I would reply without hesitation that they are Ernest T. Bass and Otis the town drunk.
To me, the character of Ernest T., the wild man from the mountains who pays visits to Mayberry from time to time, represents the ultimate free spirit.
I mean, who wouldn’t enjoy an existence whereby you live by your own rules and rarely have the need to answer to anybody?
The only time Ernest T. really embraces convention is when he uses it as a means of obtaining female companionship, which happens to the best of us and is thoroughly understandable.
In one episode of “The Andy Griffith Show,” for example, he desires to join the military — not to serve his country, but to gain a uniform so he can impress the girls back home.
Then there is the segment titled “My Fair Ernest T. Bass,” about him wanting to become a cultured gentleman in order to have a relationship with a woman he calls “my darlin’ Romeena.”
I also admire the incredible energy and resourcefulness exhibited by Ernest T. Bass, who often jumps around and engages in hilarious antics. On those rare occasions when he gets arrested, he uses those abilities to simply break out of jail.
And you can’t ignore his talent as a poet, either, such as when Ernest T. is asked how he managed to escape: “I ain’t talking, I ain’t talking…the more you ask…the more I’m balking.”
The rock-throwing prowess of Ernest T. Bass is also something to appreciate (although he sometimes uses bricks instead). Most people think of this in reference to him breaking windows of the jail, local businesses or homes, but I also recall an episode when he employs that talent in another way which I occasionally feel compelled to copy.
After Andy gives Ernest T. a job as a temporary deputy, he is assigned to work the school crossing. And when motorists refuse to stop, Ernest T. throws rocks at their cars.
Many times I’ve wanted to do the same thing in modern-day Mayberry, which is full of rude, reckless drivers who have little or no regard for pedestrians or bicyclists (but that’s a column for another day).
Then there is Otis Campbell.
Without going into a lot of detail, let me just say right off the bat that I personally identify with this character — especially given my Irish roots. Otis certainly enjoys life, sometimes a little too much, including the time when he injures a knee playing football with his wife, and another when he rides a cow.
He also has an extreme fondness for alcoholic beverages, which explains why he is known as the town drunk.
As a typical newspaperman, your humble columnist possesses some of that same appreciation, but where I draw the line with Otis is in recognizing the need for moderation when it comes to consumption of same. Just as there is a reason to exercise moderation with food, gambling, sex, Facebook and other things that can be detrimental if one’s consumption is not controlled.
Otis was, of course, a colorful, funny and lovable character, but in the context of “The Andy Griffith Show” he’s presented as somewhat of a bad example of what can happen when a person imbibes too much. This includes inevitable brushes with the law to the point that Otis routinely checks himself into jail and locks the cell door.
One thing many fans don’t realize is that none of the main characters on the show are married, except for Otis — and he stays drunk all the time, so I don’t know what statement this makes.
Anyhow, in Mayberry of yore, Otis is basically an outcast of society who lives in a dry county and must depend on an illegal supply bootlegged from moonshiners in the surrounding hills and hollows.
Yet imagine what life would be like for Otis in modern Mayberry, with its array of wineries, craft breweries, an ABC store, restaurants on nearly every street corner selling alcoholic beverages, etc., where he could more than satisfy his cravings.
He’d not be viewed as an outcast, but probably as fitting right in with many other folks in town.
Tom Joyce is a staff writer for The Mount Airy News. He may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.