As a young man, I was pretty good, but had my moments.  Anyhow, I was on my way to the Assistant Principal’s Office, courtesy of my English teacher, Miss Taylor.  (“Ms.” wasn’t even a title in 1963).  I went in to his office with a small degree of comfort; Mr. Leister also happened to be my neighbor.  He and his son, and my older brother and I played two on two basketball all the time at the backboard in my driveway.

The greeting wasn’t real warm, “so Bill, I hear you’re being a smart ass again”.  I sagged a little, shrugged my shoulders and replied, “No Sir, not this time”.   “Well Bill, that’s a little hard to believe.  Miss Taylor explained to me that you cut up a little on her latest exercise.  My understanding was that the assignment was to identify what fictional character you most identified with.  Does that pretty much sum up the exercise?”  “Yes sir, it does”.  “Well Bill, you would have to admit that your answer was a smart ass answer.  Of all the charismatic characters, American hero’s and even larger than life villains, your answer was a bit whimsical.  For the record, who was it you mentioned?”  My answer – “Popeye the Sailor Man”.

I think Mr. Leister struggled to not smile, but instead asked, “yeah, but wasn’t that a smart ass answer”.  Once again, I sagged a little, shrugged my shoulders and replied, “No Sir, not this time.”  “O.K. Bill, I’ve got some free time, so what don’t you tell me why Popeye the Sailor Man is the fictional character you most identify with.”

“Well, Mr. Leister, I’ve been a little mixed up lately.  My girlfriend Susie Snodgrass just broke up with me.  She started going out with Larry Eubanks.”  Mr. Leister asked, “Isn’t he the quarterback on the 9th grade football team.”  “Yes sir, he is, but between you and me, I’ve got to tell you that he is about half way dumb.  I think he’s got muscle in more than his arms and legs.  We were all at a party recently, and he swaggered over and danced Susie right out of my life.”  Mr. Leister replied, “Bill – you are 14 years old, and my bet is that you are going to have a lot more girl friends.  You are going to grow up, get married, and have a great career.  If it is any comfort to you, I don’t think Larry has anywhere near the potential that you have.  In fact, categorizing him as half dumb gives him more credit than he deserves!  Is this all that is bugging you right now?”

“Actually, it isn’t the only thing.  I know that you knew Chris B?”  “Yes Bill, I knew Chris, and his suicide was a real shock to all of us.”  I explained, “Chris was one of my best friends.  I really wanted to talk to him about Susie, and I know that he could have made me feel better.  He was always a person that I could talk to about anything.  I actually came close to calling his phone number and asking for him.  It is just hard to believe that he isn’t here anymore.  I used to think I wanted to be just like him.  He was a favorite of my Mom’s.  She said that he reminded her of a young Paul Newman.  I just miss him a lot.”

Mr Leister was silent for a few moments, but finally said, “Bill, I’m glad that we are having this conversation, I really am.  At the same time, I’m having a hard time understanding what this has to do with what happened in Miss Taylor’s class.”  “Mr. Leister, if I tell you, will you promise not to laugh?”  “That’s easy – I promise I will not laugh.”  “Well, I’ve had a lot and my mind and I’m really struggling with who I am and who I want to be.  The other day, I went downstairs and my younger sister was lying on the couch watching TV.  She was watching cartoons, Popeye the Sailor Man.  I didn’t watch or even remember the whole cartoon, but part of it was Olive Oil leaving Popeye and going out with Brutus.  Some stuff happened, and Olive came back to Popeye.  She came back because Popeye was the right guy.  He didn’t change the way he looked, the way he talked, the way he acted, or anything.  He said something that spoke to me.  He said, “I yam what I yam and that’s all what I yam, I’m Popeye the Sailor Man – toot, toot”.  You may not believe this, but I wrote that down and it is posted on the bulletin board in my bedroom.  It just caused me to think that maybe, I yam what I yam and that’s all what I yam.  I’m Bill Hogg, and maybe that’s not so bad.  Do you think that is stupid?”  Mr. Leister was quiet as he wrote down a note in big letters, posting the note to his own bulletin board.  “I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam, I’m Popeye the Sailor Man.”

Bill Hogg

Pine Mountain, GA

July 12, 2009

Bill Hogg is  a member of St. Nicholas, and resident writer of poems, prayers, and late-night musings. You can contact him at bhogg@contractoffice.com.