After several peculiar cartoons it’s almost a comfort to have a slightly boring one to write about. Boring’s not a fair terms, really. There’s a reasonable pace and flow to Popeye’s Used Car. It’s just that after a couple weird ones, a basic competent narratively-linear cartoon feels less exciting. It’s a basic, easy-to-follow plot. To keep up with Brutus, Popeye buys a car, and doesn’t really know how to drive. There’s no threat of breaking the time barrier here.
What I do like is the decorations put on this structure. There’s some fine little visual jokes, such as the freeway sign warning, “Enter at your own risk”. Or, on the dashboard of Popeye’s car, buttons for drift, draft, droop, and drip. A traffic signal working as a slot machine.
Better is the dialogue, though. Popeye describes his bouquet of flowers as “a bit of fragrant frivolity perhaps, but they’re from my heart”. It’s a complicated way to say what he’s doing, and that’s good. It’s got personality, if not for Popeye then for the cartoon. People put things in funny ways throughout the short. When Popeye crashes his car into Olive Oyl’s bedroom she scolds, “Your manners are atrocious!” An angry driver yells at the too-slow Popeye, “Move it or milk it!” This is a funny enough image that I’ll probably use that next time I encounter someone doing 35 mph on the Interstate. Popeye’s traffic-school certificate graduating him “magna cum louder”, which could be the certificate or Popeye being silly. Popeye speaking of how Olive Oyl’s “heart is swayed by the glitter of chrome and whitewall sidewalls”.
Wimpy gets cast as the used car salesman. It’s hard thinking of Wimpy as having a job, but this feels close enough for him. His spinning that out into offering driving lessons feels weirder. That seems like more of an effort than I expect from Wimpy. He’s not as fun a driving teacher as I’d hope. I could see this work. Wimpy moving with an airy indifference to the chaos around him should make for good driving jokes. This might be the point where Milt Schaffer ran out of writing energy.
I do like the charming casualness with which Olive Oyl and Popeye take his smashing his car into her bedroom. They’ve been through this sort of thing before, and they know they’ll be through it again, and it’s not worth getting upset about.
Before setting off on your car trip there are some things you should check. The first is to check that you have a car. While it’s often permitted, it’s socially awkward to just be running along in the middle of a highway without any kind of vehicle. Not least because you have to signal all your turns using your hands instead of with electric lights. This is great if you want to feel vaguely like you’re in a cartoon about wimmin drivers from the 1950s. But do you really want to feel like that? Yes, if it’s a heartwarming cartoon about being part of a family of cars. But otherwise no.
Similarly you want to check that you don’t have more than one car. I mean that you’re driving at one time. It’s fine to keep a second car in reserve, ready to leap into action when it turns out the first one has mysterious buttons on the door with labels like ‘ASW’ that don’t seem to do anything. But you only want to operate one at a time, unless you have extremely long arms and legs. Similarly you want to include yourself in the car trip. There’ve been great developments lately in self-driving cars. But these fully autonomous vehicles won’t take over the purpose of a car trip until they’re able to get to a spot, deal with whatever it is you were going to deal with, and drive home, and get annoyed that their podcasts are ten minutes too short or five minutes too long for the journey. There’ve been some great developments in this field lately, with research going in to how to make podcasts a prime number of minutes long. But the work isn’t yet complete.
If the relative count of cars and you’s turns out matches up well you can go to other checks. The first is that you’ve locked the house door. The second is that you’ve gone back and made sure you’ve locked the door. You can be confident you’ve gotten the door locked by no method known to humanity. But it’ll clear the issue up when you start pulling out of the driveway and realize you left your phone in the house and don’t have your podcasts with you. This will be a chance to run back into the house and go through the door-locking all over again.
Anyway before you do set off you should do a safety inspection of the car. This includes walking the entire circuit around the vehicle, looking for any signs of damage or wear or other problems, such as a tire being flat, a body panel being cracked, a muffler dangling loose, an animal hiding in some part we’re just going to go ahead and call the “manifold”, or any part of the electrical system being on fire. Responsible drivers have done this walk-around inspection an estimated four times since the invention of the automobile. You should also check that the mirrors are attached and showing the areas behind the car. If they are not, try taking them off and putting them on upside-down. This will not help matters, but making the effort will reassure you that you’re doing all that one could hope for. Really it might be easier to be an irresponsible driver.
It’s also worth checking that there aren’t traffic problems along your projected route. The radio could be a good source for information. The news station, for example, will happily let you know that there are delays on the Tappan Zee Bridge. They’re always reporting there are delays on the Tappan Zee Bridge. This gives you the chance to ponder the question: how often does there have to be a delay before the delay stops being a delay and just becomes normal? And wait, didn’t they replace the Tappan Zee Bridge years ago? In fact, didn’t they tear it down? (They did not. They just stopped hoping it would not fall down while anyone was watching.) Also, the Tappan Zee Bridge isn’t anywhere near you. You live somewhere like San Jose, California, such as Louisville, Kentucky. And in what ways is San Jose like Louisville? In what ways is it different? Can you answer in 700 words or fewer?
I mean, if anyone still wants to at this point. I understand if you’ve just decided to write off the whole project. I’m not convinced that starting from scratch wouldn’t be less work myself. But then there’s this letter just run in the local alt-weekly:
Your August 22 issue highlighted an amusing dichotomy in Lansing City finances: on page 6 you report that residents of various neighborhoods are upset with the City’s continuing failure to enforce its overnight parking ban, and that the Mayor says, “We don’t have the resources to have a police officer dedicated specifically for overnight parking.”
Yet on page 5 you note that the City budget this year is giving the money-sucking black hole that is Common Ground Music Festival $140,000 — easily enough to fund TWO parking enforcement positions.
We recall that in the heyday of the Roman Empire, there was a reliance on bread and circuses to keep the rabble pacified. It’s heartwarming to see that over the millennia, a few things have not changed.
T E Klunzinger, Haslett
I had not seen the spotty enforcement of the municipal ban on overnight parking as a serious issue. I’m a little excited to hear that we do have law again. I’d like people not to be parked on the street if they’re going to be plowing the snow. But I live on a tertiary street. This means can only expect the snow to be plowed on the third day after the third storm of the third year after the last time our street got plowed. So it doesn’t matter whether there’s any cars in the street, not before February 2020 anyway. And I’m not complaining about this. I understand there’s higher-priority roads. I only need my street to get down to the corner anyway. (That line sounds like it should be a joke, but I can’t defend it. I think if you read it exactly the way I imagine delivering that line in my head it has enough of a joke shape to pass. I apologize if it’s not passing you.)
I also haven’t been to the Common Ground Music Festival in a couple years, but that’s just because they seem to schedule it when we’ve already got a week out of town planned. Maybe they’re avoiding us. I enjoyed it last time I was there. We watched the Violent Femmes performing their renowned album “Why Didn’t I Get To Have Sex”. We also heard, wafting in from over the gentle hill that divided us off from another pavilion, MGMT playing their instant classic “That MGMT Song That’s Always Playing”. Also a Michigan-area band named Flint Eastwood because that’s just the way we make band names anymore. Anyway if it’s not snowing, I don’t much care if people are parked on the street overnight, since I’m not on the street overnight either.
Still, if all it takes to avert the imminent collapse of civilization is cutting the city’s underwriting of the music festival and hiring two parking-rule-enforcement-cops? That seems like a small enough effort to make. Heck, I could even be coaxed into hiring a third parking-rule-enforcement-cop, as long as they understand they’re expected to issue, like, eight-dollar citations for parking, and are not to issue reasons they had to gun down that black person.
Except. This week one of the lights on our street fell down. It looks to me like it was knocked down. I would assume by a careless driver, but it’s just one house away from ours and I didn’t hear anything. This signifies nothing. Back in college I slept through when they set off fireworks in the dorm hallway, I am told. Anyway Tuesday I looked out the window and there was the lamppost, fallen over, with the glass dome rolled over on the sidewalk, and some guy at the next house over re-blacktopping the driveway. I don’t think he had anything to do with the lamp.
And here’s the thing. People keep going out and taking pictures of the lamp. I did. My love did, too, which is how we learned the glass dome covering it was actually plastic. This discovery left us feeling like we had been ripped off somehow. People walking up the street have been taking pictures. People have stopped their cars, parking on the wrong side of the street — of course, the No-Parking-This-Side sign was on the lamppost, so people can fairly claim there’s no way to know they were on the wrong side — to photograph this fallen lamppost.
So getting back to that bread-and-circuses thing. Our neighborhood must have a major circus deficit if a fallen streetlamp is this interesting. I’m not saying that we need to have MGMT coming around every few weeks. But it does look like we need some entertainments.
Anyway they’ve rolled the lamppost off the sidewalk, and put orange traffic cones on either side of it. And I’m figuring to set up a souvenir shop and go into business as my own little roadside attraction. I don’t figure the boom time for my street’s tourist trade will last, but there could be something good while it does.
Please, take what you can use. There’s so much more to give.
Overpants. — Cut because which of the two logical ways do you go from there? A new article of clothing solving some body-hiding problem we didn’t before suspect? Maybe. A method of disguising the United States’s ever-crumbling infrastructure particularly for highway travel? Maybe. Plus there’s probably some obscure article of possible Victorian-era clothing actually called “overpants”. I bet it has a Wikipedia entry that manages somehow to be six hundred words longer than Wikipedia’s entry for the Taiping Rebellion.
So you could do a story recasting the struggle about bimetallism and the gold standard and all that as a secret history. It’s really the struggle for power and survival between different types of dragons. Like, the silver dragons would be pushing heavily for gold to be the only recognized human specie. That way there’s less demand for their scales as units of trade. They can get used instead as scales. Whereas gold dragons might be well aware there’s no keeping humans off of them. So backing the Populists would at least lessen the demand on their scales. Or make trouble for the silver dragons. Meanwhile I the copper dragons are off to the side grumbling about how everybody is happy to use them and yet nobody respects them. The precious-metal dragons answer hey, who tarnishes beautiful around here? Fractional-reserve fairy folk pushing for a wholly notional medium of exchange could solve the whole problem. But they’re too longwinded and boring to listen to. — Cut because oh good heavens this could be the most anti-commercial story ever. Publishers would line up to gawk at this and ask who, exactly, is the supposed market for a dragon-fantasy story about the 19th century United States specie debate? “Look,” I can see them saying, “you were on to something spectacularly unmarketable with that idea for a 4X video game about standardized time. I mean, or we mean, in unison, you had a perfect capture of a nonexistent market with that. But this, this is just … this could destroy the very concept of money.” Anyway, if you can do anything with the premise go wild. I’m thinking the true secret power behind it all: aluminum dragons trying to destroy the concept of money. I know, there’s no doing anything with this.
And in your refusal to recognize that fifteen years of demands for ever-more stringent shows of loyalty just might result in one of the people who thought themselves friends expecting the slightest show of consideration from you — Cut from that still-unsent letter because you know, it is getting harder to figure out why I want to save this friendship after all.
Overwear. — Cut as being just the overpants joke again and no more promising this way.
Exclamation points are way too much. You can’t go on demanding that sort of attention if you’re an even slightly introverted person like me. And I admit I don’t set records for introversion, but still, an exclamation point is too much. Even a period feels too much like a demand on people’s attention. I’d love to end my sentences with ellipses, since that makes writing look more like it’s from an old comic strip. And it makes sentences look less like I’m committed to them. Except you make ellipses out of three periods. That’s three times as much period as one period would be. It’s even more attention-demanding. We need something for people more reserved. — Cut because while “punctuation for introverts” might be a good idea it’s going to draw out people trying to push interrobangs. Interrobangs aren’t happening, people, and trying to push them is just sad at this point. It’s not as annoying as people trying to push how chickens are dinosaurs. That’s not doing anything to make chickens look better and it’s not doing dinosaurs any favors either.
Overshirt. — It’s too far away from the overpants concept and is just a hoodie anyway.
It’s a fine trafficky day. The kind of day that makes you want to surround your car with a fifteen-foot-thick block of not-too-compressible foam. — Cut because it wasn’t all that much of a day. But I bet people would love to ride one of these. Or watch a YouTube video of it. But if the foam block does extend fifteen feet in every direction then you’ll need cars modified to have extremely tall wheels. And if you manage that then the cars will have trouble on the highway by the overpants.
Here are some of the things you missed at the fast food place during lunch:
Karen-with-a-y (we don’t know either), the cashier, is explaining the new Reuben sandwich to Craig, who’s never liked Reubens, although not to such an extent that he’d volunteer to jump into an alternate timeline where he sandwich was never invented. Actually, sometimes he gets a Reuben just because he enjoys how much he doesn’t like the taste or the texture or anything about it, especially grilled. Karen-with-a-y is explaining that their particular Reuben substitutes a chicken-based bologna-like substance for the corned beef, and uses cheddar in place of Swiss cheese, and the sauerkraut is replaced with a very dry cole slaw, and they’re making it with bleu cheese dressing. At this point Craig is just dragging out questions about what else is substituted because as far as he can tell the only actual part of the Reuben left is the rye bread, and he’s about to learn they’re serving it on a kaiser roll instead. Neither knows why the billboard out front spells the sandwich “Rueben”.
Underneath the ventilation system pumping enough heat to melt the styrofoam cups, the Books We Were Supposed To Read In School literary society is going over this month’s text, E M Foster’s Howards End, to correctly rank the order in which each character needs to be punched senseless. Mary-Lane, trying desperately to remember any of the characters from the book she’s spent the last two weeks reading, nominates “the fellow who’s starting a little automobile factory”, which draws general support as definitely deserving to be in the top five at least. A careful examination would reveal that they seem to be bringing a character from Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons into the book, and not really fairly at that, but then Helen-with-an-e (no idea) is still sufficiently angry at Alec Clare from back in Tess of the d’Urbervilles that this drives the entire conversation, and everybody agrees he’s the most punchable character even in the eight books they’ve read since that one. While agreed to this point, Jack finds he is completely unable to deploy the trivia he found instead of reading the last quarter of the book, that the words “here”, “our”, “thought”, “through”, “Tibby”, and “why” all appear in the book 126 times each. James-with-a-j (as you’d expect) meant to agree to all this more prominently but found that a little too much work and settled for putting slices of lemon in his Diet Coke.
Carol is repeating to her group the story of how she went out of her way to warn the person watching over the self-service check-outs at the supermarket that someone, not her, abandoned a bag of frozen shrimp by the start of the check-out lane, and something should be done about that. She expects her friends to be more in agreement that the ages she spent at this — others would estimate it at about ten seconds — are probably why she’s been running behind schedule all month. While her heroic acclaim is slow to come everyone does agree that the shrimp shouldn’t have been abandoned like that and certainly somebody ought to have done something about that.
Vladimir, who had been staring at an empty table with a pile of napkins atop, has noticed that a button’s popped off his winter jacket. He’s never buttoned his jacket, not even when he tried the jacket on in the store, because he’s always afraid of buttons popping off and now to have it just come off by itself feels like a particularly unnecessary insult on the jacket’s part. He buries the loose button in the jacket pocket, which he never uses because he’s always sure he’ll forget whatever he’s put in there, and discovers the button that came off the other side of the jacket last winter that he resolved to get sewn back on just as soon as he thought of it. On reflection, he can’t figure where either button should go.
Pamela, taking her order out, crossed the street not because she needed to but because cars in both lanes of the road opposite saw her and came to a full stop. Given this attention it was too embarrassing to keep going where she actually meant to be.
Overall it was probably less awkward to bring lunch today.
September 12. Police summoned to a traffic incident at the intersection of Yarrow Lane and Levi Mortin Street. Examined collision between giraffe with improper license plates and illegally oversized wheelbarrow filled with rubber balls. Both operators ticketed for conspiring to appear in an unnecessarily delayed police blotter item. Wheelbarrow operator also ticketed for having only a confident attitude as insurance card.
We saw a young person driving an Oldsmobile Ciera. I forget what kind it was, but it had a bunch of letters after it, because that’s how car makers in the 90s used up their excess typewriter capacity. She was awfully young, though, and we joked that maybe Oldsmobiles were becoming hip among kids looking for a retro thrill. Then we realized we were stuck in traffic and the giddiness wore off.
Still, the merry little joke might’ve been right anyway. Back when teenagers and college kids were wild for the Stutz Bearcat, in Movie 1920s, the car was already out of production. In the late 70s you could barely get down the Interstate without seeing a college kid nursing a beat-up Skylab back into road-ready condition. There was that period in the late 40s when kids were all into ironically driving their Edsel Citations, which wouldn’t be made for another ten years. This is often thought to be the result of a typographical error in a history of young adult fads written in the early 22nd century, but was actually a copyright trap. By the time it was done it had recovered sixteen separate copyrights, including one not previously known to science.