Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Sunday Memory Drawer - My First Hero

When you're five or six and your leisure hours are spent in front of the television, it's only natural that your very first obsession would come from the tube.  

For me, it was Popeye the Sailor Man.

Back when, I waited for the late afternoon hours when cartoons prevailed on WPIX Channel 11 in New York.  The station had all these staff announcers who would do station breaks.  To maximize their salaries, they'd then dress them up into costumes and let them introduce the fare for the kiddies.  You had Joe Bolton who became Officer Joe Bolton when they put him in a policeman's get-up.  He'd introduce the Three Stooges, which was sort of verboten in my house. I'm thinking my parents were afraid I'd follow suit and hit my grandfather in the head with a metal pipe.

The guy I really waited for was Captain Jack McCarthy.
Once again, another staff announcer who was costumed for the youngsters.   Around 4PM every afternoon, he'd walk in on some boat set constructed for three bucks.  He'd ring a ship's bell and extol...

"Three bells, four o'clock, time for Popeye the Sailor..."

I never understood how three bells signified four PM, but I didn't care.  I'd lie down on the floor in front of the television and revel in my spinach-eating hero.

I hear today that kids are turned off when watching anything shot in black-and-white.  That was not the case with me.   The older, the better.  And that went with Popeye cartoons as well.  I'd long for the ones from the early 1930s because they were the best.  

It was sheer euphoria for me if the cartoon opened with those opening and closing boat doors.   Because those were my very favorite Popeye adventures.
Those were indeed the funniest cartoons.  Oh, sure, they all followed the same script and plot line. Popeye is out with Olive Oyl.  Bluto tries to steal her away. Popeye gets pounded into a manhole cover or an iron press.  Out comes the spinach.  Munch, munch.  And Bluto gets his ass thoroughly kicked.

But the oldest ones featured this guy Jack Mercer's voice as Popeye and the man loved to ad lib.   So, as a result, you had to listen closely to the words because Popeye was always muttering something funny under his breath.  So, every time a cartoon was rerun for the twelfth or thirteenth time, I was still mesmerized.   My ear was glued to the soundtrack because I was convinced I had missed something funny.  Or maybe I thought there would be new jokes replacing the old ones.  

Yeah, I was a weird kid.

Of course, my obsession carried over to other facets of my world.   

Popeye pajamas.

A Popeye doll that kicked Zippy the Chimp out of my bed for a while.

A toothpaste company had a promotion.  If you sent in two box tops, you got this nifty Popeye hand puppet.

Of course, to quote my grandmother...

"You're too rough with everything."

In short order, Popeye's head went the way of Marie Antoinette.   This forced Grandma into action.

"Don't come into the kitchen.  Popeye is having an operation."

I waited dutifully outside in the same way that my grandmother the orthopedist had surgically repaired Jerry Mahoney's arm onto this body.  He was soon as good as new.

I then spotted sheer ecstasy.  In Shipman's Toy Store on Fourth Avenue in Mount Vernon, New York.  The ideal melding of my favorite toy and my beloved TV hero.

I was a Colorforms nut.  And now Popeye was the subject of its newest edition. I never quite grasped the concept of Popeye's career change.  But I was in heaven.  Of course, as I did with most of my Colorforms, pieces kept disappearing.  My mom would find them all over the house.

"I found Wimpy's hamburger in the living room ash tray."


Now my mother apparently hoped that my Popeye mania would extend to the dinner table.  Just like my hero, she wanted me to develop a taste for spinach.   The first spoonful that went into my mouth?


Okay, so I wasn't completely Popeye-driven.

It's funny that, as I look back upon this time in my life, this obsession never really changed.  A few year back, a DVD company put out all the black-and-white cartoons in one set.   I devoured them one rainy Sunday afternoon.  And I was still straining to hear Popeye's ad libs as if a new one had emerged.  

Meanwhile, on my desk at home, there are two bendable plastic figures.
If I'm writing and I am stuck on something, I will pick one of them and channel back.   To that day when I first heard a funny line muttered by Popeye under his breath.  All of a sudden, I'm five again.

But, the more things stay the same, some do change.

I will happily eat a spinach salad these days.

Dinner last night:  Steak, fries, and vegetables.

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