It seems strange to me that an obscure icon of my childhood is anything more than that. I'm not talking about commercially advocated and mass-produced toys or images or pop culture. As far as I'm concerned, My Little Pony, Hyper-Colors T-shirts, and Strawberry Shortcake cereal belong to everybody (especially now that many of us have kids of our own, and the toys of our youth have made quite a come back... but that's a different story entirely.). When some random combination of sights and sounds forms a memorable blip in my emotional and social development, it usually ends up being a fairly personal and introspective affair. Example: when I was a kid (young enough--and lucky enough--to have no real concept of global affairs outside of general poverty and historical wars), the US government held the Iran-Contra hearings. "Iran" and "Contra" were words I would only hear on the car radio when my devoted mother was driving the carpool, or driving me to Hebrew school, or soccer practice, or the orthodontist, or piano lessons...you get the idea. But I would also hear "Contra" on the car radio in the context of Contra-Costa County (a county in the East San Francisco Bay Area, as in "Traffic is moving slowly in Contra-Costa County as you make you way toward the Bay Bridge...I'm John McIntyre in the KGO skycopter--traffic and weather together every ten minutes on the eights."). Slowly but surely, my juvenile brain melded these two contra terms together, and before I knew what was happening, I was convinced that some sort of guerilla-terrorist-hijackers from the east bay were coming to kill us all.
But the thing that's getting me today is the Western Exterminator logo. There's a Western Exterminator building in Burlingame off of highway 101, and it has this huge cartoon-ish statue on top of a man staring down rat, and the man is holding a large mallet behind his back. In my young mind, not yet corrupted by marketing and advertising, I would gleefully exclaim "Popeye!" every time we drove by the building.
Apparently, to me, every cartoon man was Popeye. I know, I know, I was absolutely precious. The disturbing part is this: Popeye does not belong to me--far from it. He has a web page explaining his history, he was a mascot for a Van Halen tour, he even appeared in a Zippy the Pinhead strip (which is actually pretty neat). I know it's not as if some rebel fighters in in South America started calling themselves the Iran-Contra-Costas, but it makes the connection I've had with Popeye all these years a bit less intimate than it had been. Fortunately, I drive right by Popeye twice a day, five days a week. It shouldn't take long for us to rekindle our special bond, the kind of bond that only exist between a girl and her giant advertising statue.