Saturday 4 February 2012

Popeye the Sail 'Er Man

I’d barely started on my breakfast when there was a loud knock on the door.

At first I ignored it. It was only eleven o’clock, and polite people aren’t supposed to visit anyone that early.  But the knock came again, more persistently, as though it would never stop. I couldn’t even keep my mind on my food.

Sighing, I pushed away my hamburger and went to open up. As I’d more than half expected, it was Popeye.

“What d’you want?” I’m afraid I was a little on the abrupt side, but in my defence I’m seldom at my best when I haven’t even got the twentieth hamburger of the morning inside me. “Hasn’t anyone ever taught you not to drop in at the crack of dawn?”

“It’s more like duh crack of noon,” he mumbled round his pipe. “Look, Wimpy, I have ta talk to yer.”

When Popeye says he has to “talk” to you, that’s usually a good time to begin looking for an escape route, but taking a second look at him, I realised that he wasn’t quite all right. He was so not all right, in fact, that both his eyes were open and he was wearing his pipe the wrong way in his mouth.

“Come in,” I said reluctantly. “I was just having breakfast, so...”

“Eating, eating,” he mumbled round his pipe, ignoring the hamburger I put in front of him. “Yer can always eat later. Here’s my world going to pieces and all yer kin think of is eating.”

“Well, I bet you’ve had breakfast,” I snapped, as soon as I finished swallowing the remaining half of my twentieth hamburger. “So it’s fine for you to talk.”

“Look here, Wimpy,” he said, tooting a cloud of black smoke into my nice clean living room. OK, I may be greedy, but I’m not a slob. “I need yer advice.”

I can tell you that that floored me. Nobody ever asks my advice on anything except hamburgers, on which, of course, I’m the world’s leading authority. I was so surprised that I paused, my twenty-first burger half way up to my mouth. “Advice?”

“Yuh,” he agreed. “Olive Oyl is leavin’ me.”

“Leaving you?”

“Yuh,” he admitted. “She told me this morning. She’s leavin’ me right away.”

“That’s...surprising,” I said. It was more than surprising; it was astonishing that she hadn’t left him already. “Did she say why?”

“Yuh, but it don’t make sense.” He looked down miserably at his forearms. “She says muh arms make me look like a freak.” He held up his swollen appendages and waggled them in front of me. “I ask yer, do they make me look like a freak, huh?”

I promptly lost what little was left of my appetite. If you find that difficult to believe, just try to imagine Popeye’s forearms, growing out of those stick thin biceps, and now imagine them wagged in your face to the accompaniment of a cloud of toxic pipe smoke. Can you visualise eating breakfast now? No?

“Is that all?” I never had a high opinion of Olive’s intelligence, but surely she wasn’t blind? Didn’t she notice his forearms all these years? “Did she say anything else?”

“Yuh,” he said, more downbeat than ever. “She said she couldn’t stand muh smokin’, said as I was poisonin’ her. I told her, I yam what I yam – you take me, you take my pipe.”

“Oh? And what did she say to that?”

“Nothin’, just began coughin’ and coughin’. Wouldn’t stop coughin’ till I hit her. And then she fell down.” He paused, aggrieved. “I tell yer, Wimpy, these wimmin’ don’t know what’s good for them.”

“Oh? So she can’t stand your forearms and your pipe. Did she have any other objections?”

“Yuh, yuh,” he muttered. “Said I was massacrin’ the langwidge, an’ cussin’. Said I was settin’ a terrible example fer all the kids we might hev had if she’d wanted them. Said I’d ruined Swee’Pea already, but she wasn’t havin’ me ruin any other kid of hers.”

“Were you thinking of having kids?” My mind boggled at trying to imagine what a child of Olive’s by Popeye might look like.

“Naw, she said she was afraid they’d all turn out to be cursin’ one-eyed freaks with swollen forearms, swillin’ spinach and beatin’ everyone up. She said just lookin’ at Pappy an’ at me was enuff ter scare her off breedin’. ”

You can understand how surprised I was by all this when I tell you that I took off my hat and scratched my head. What, you can’t understand that? Well, have you ever seen me with my hat off? No? There you are. Anyway, I removed my hat to scratch my head. “Popeye, old friend,” I said. “I can’t understand why all this should have begun disturbing her all of a sudden. Did something happen recently to set her off?”

“Yuh, thet’s whut I can’t unnerstand.” He tooted his pipe aggrievedly, and my living room nearly became a gas chamber. “Just yesterday she was bright an’ sunny when I dropped in on her an’ we went for a walk.”

“You did? And what happened on that walk?”

“Nothin’.” He brooded into his pipe. “Bluto came along and started sayin’ sweet nothin’s to her, so of course I beat him up.”

“Of course,” I agreed. It was nothing more than routine. “Did anything else happen?”

“Well, then Olive got angry an’ started chewin’ me out.” The memory rankled so much that his pipe swivelled round twice in his mouth. “Said I was overreactin’ to a harmless compliment an’ I was a brute an’ on an’ on an on’. So of course I smacked her to shut her up.”

“Of course.” That, too, was routine. “What happened after that?”

“Then Bluto came with a crane an’ snatched her up.” He muttered some uncomplimentary things about Bluto which I won’t repeat in this chronicle. “So I ate my can o’ spinach an’ smashed up the crane.”

“You don’t say,” I murmured. “What happened then?”

“Olive fell from the crane on a street,” he said. “There was a bus comin’ towards her, so naturally I gave it a tap to stop it.”

“A tap,” I repeated. I could see the pile of wreckage, the mangled corpses.

“Yuh, a little bitty tap. They don’t build these buses worth a damn.” He waved his hand dismissively. “Olive was yellin’ an’ hollerin’ fit to bust. Said why didn’t I just help her up instead of wreckin’ public property an’ killin’ an’ hurtin’ people. An’ then –“

“Yes?” I asked encouragingly, before he could release more poisonous fumes. “And then what happened?”

“Then Bluto came in a helicopter an’ snatched her up.” His pipe began swivelling round and round like a helicopter’s rotors. “So I took another can o’ spinach an’ began flyin’ after them, but Bluto began shootin’ at me with a machine gun.”

“And,” I said, knowing what was coming, “you began punching those machine gun bullets away, didn’t you? What did they end up hitting?”

“Well,” he said aggressively, “how should I know those bullets were goin’ tuh hit a Jumbo jet and make it crash? They don’t make planes worth a damn. Pappy always used ter say...””

“But you got Olive back,” I said, as he sank into another bit of baleful muttering. “That’s what matters, doesn’t it?”

“Oh, yuh, I got her back. That was after thuh helicopter crashed in thuh ocean.”

“In the ocean?” I raised an eyebrow. “How did you get her back from there? It must have been quite a swim.”

“Swim?” He looked surprised. “Why should we want to swim?”

“What? You just told me the helicopter crashed out to sea.”

“Yuh, so I sat on Olive an’ sailed her back. She makes a grand boat, and her skirts made a great sail.” He smiled reminiscently, then winced. “But wasn’t she half mad!”

“She didn’t appreciate your saving her?”

He shook his head sadly. “Said I was disrespectin’ her an’ mistreatin’ her. Said Bluto was takin’ her on a va-cay-shun ter the South Seas, which I yam too much of a cheapskate to take her, an’ I had no right to get her back. Wimmin!”

“And today,” I said, “she told you she’s leaving?”

“Yuh...said she’s going to Bluto.” He shook his head and tooted his pipe, filling the room with poisonous smoke.

“After all you did for her?” Absently, I took the hamburger from his plate and ate it. “Talk about ingratitude." 

 “I yam what I yam,” he said, through the cloud of smoke.  “I’ve always been what I yam. But wimmin...”

Let's see,” I added, through the mouthful of burger, "you beat up Bluto for complimenting her, you beat her for protesting, you wrecked a crane, a bus, a Jumbo jet and a helicopter, you deprived her of a vacation, and then you used her as a sailboat. And she still isn't grateful?"

“I don’t get them,” he admitted sadly. “I shore can’t understand wimmin at all.”

 Copyright B Purkayastha 2012

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