Memories of Popeye

Occasionally, something will pop into my head quite unexpectedly. A random thought or image, scraps of memory seemingly unconnected to what I was doing at the time. Hence, when the song

“Strike up the band
for Popeye the Sailor.
Cash in his hand,
fresh off a whaler.
He’s a cinch
but every inch a sailor”

began to play in my head, sung by a baritone voice accompanied by a tinny sounding orchestra, I began to think back as to when I last heard that sung. It was sung during the opening credits of a 1933 Popeye cartoon featuring the usual cast of Popeye, Olive Oyl and Bluto. Not that I saw the carton when it originally ran in 1933, I am far too young for that. I first saw it during the Saturday morning cartoons on WKZO in the early 1950s. As far as I can determine, it was the only Popeye cartoon which featured this particular song and was itself a takeoff of the 1900 song, “Strike up the Band, here comes a sailor.” I doubt that either version was meant for immortality. In addition to this song, the cartoon introduced Popeye’s theme song “I’m Popeye the Sailor Man.” It also featured the cartoon character Betty Boop dancing topless in a grass skirt, a lei discretely covering her exposed breasts. She also sings “Strike up the band” during the opening credits. This cartoon was made before the film industry censorship codes, and the Betty Boop dance scene was expunged from the version of the cartoon I first saw. Should you be interested, the restored cartoon can be viewed on YouTube. What brought it to mind after almost 60 years will remain a mystery.

Earlier in the week, I had read an article where the author predicted that in the not too distant future, people, perhaps even some who are living today, could expect to live to 1,000. He went on to relate what advances in medicine and genetics might make this possible. It boggles the mind – to live to 1,000! I have seen other predictions which suggest that living to 150 might be the norm at some future date, a modest increase when compared to 1,000 but even that modest increase would require a rethinking of our lifestyle. Retirement at 65 would no longer be practical and I doubt that the various retirement plans now in effect would be able to carry an individual for 85 years after retirement. A conservative Congress, such as we have now, already sketchy in its desire to allow for proper health care for retirees (not to mention the poorer segments of society), would most certainly balk.

Think of retiring at 65 and living to be 1,000; 935 years of Social Security would beggar society and further distract lawmakers. I am reminded of a French woman who sold her house to a man with the proviso that she be allowed to live in it until her death, a common practice in Europe. She survived him and two other such investors before going to her reward at 117. Without trying to sound ghoulish, I can imagine these three men anxiously scanning the papers over their morning coffee, looking for her obituary. That one of them didn’t get the idea of helping her along is admirable. Somewhere in the halls of bureaucracy, I can imagine a succession of civil servants carrying out the same watch for 935 years and wondering, as time wore on, if a little help might not be in order. Hey, it could happen. Societal issues and Congressional inconveniences aside, we could work until the age of 850, for example, but 150 years of retirement might still be too much to expect.

Yet there are problems on a personal level that I think need to be addressed before we become too intent on radically increasing life expectancy. And the first one that comes to mind, courtesy of Popeye, is one of memory. Can our brains be expected to hold the memories of 1,000 years or will we have to shovel them out occasionally and, if we did have to purge our brains occasionally, how would we choose what to keep and what to throw away? Would you toss the thrilled terror of successfully standing up on water skies for the first time? Or that first shy kiss? Sitting in the driveway in a cold car with your fiancé listening to “Carol of the Bells” on a dark Christmas Eve? But these are my memories, you surely have your own.

Thinking about them now, what would you chuck and what would you keep? There are some people who have passed through my life that I would gladly forget but many more whose memories are dear to me. Would you opt to keep all of the good memories and toss out all of the bad ones, especially as you realize that some of the bad ones were the most instructive? And what of the pleasure of the occasional forgotten memory passing through, the renewal of old acquaintances. “Strike up the band …“

It is likely that the ideas put forth by the author of the article are a chimera. Something in me suggests that the possibility of reaching 1,000 will never become a probability. We are, after all, a fragile species and we will figure out a way to fiddle with the actuarial odds so as to keep life expectancy low. Even to reach 150 in the foreseeable future probably will be a rarity, not the norm.

Personally, I joke about Willard Scott reading my name on the Today Show. Then I learned that it is very difficult to have your name mentioned by Willard on your 100th birthday. There are more people reaching the century mark than there is time to read them on the once weekly spot. Maybe I’ll just settle for downloading that 1933 Popeye cartoon once again.