the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Popeye Attacked by Anti-Spinach Mob


The title of this post is misleading.  I was going to write a humor piece about Popeye, but as I sat down to watch an old Popeye cartoon on YouTube, a long-repressed memory was awoken, much as the memories of childhood of Proust’s narrator in “Remembrance of Things Past” was awakened by the aroma and taste of a madeleine dipped in tea.”

As i listened to the final “boop boop” of the Popeye closing credits, I went back to my childhood, when I used to watch reruns of Popeye on a local New York TV channel.  I must have been very young at the time and I was fascinated by the triangle of Popeye, Olive Oyl and the villainous Bluto.

The plot lines in the animated cartoons tended to be simple.

A villain, usually Bluto (later renamed Brutus for a time), makes a move on Popeye’s “sweetie”, Olive Oyl. The bad guy then clobbers Popeye until Popeye eats spinach, which gives him superhuman strength.

I especially liked it when Olive Oyl melted in Popeye’s arms at the end, after he defeated Bluto.


As an only child, I was competitive with my father for my mother’s attention.  I think Freud would have loved to analyze my childhood obsession with Popeye.

I would ask my mother to cook some frozen spinach.  After they were cooked, I would have her  put the cooked spinach into a used can of Spaghetti-Os so I could make believe that I had a can of spinach like Popeye.  I have no idea why we just didn’t use a can of spinach!   Once I had my can of spinach as my acting prop, I became Popeye — in the same way Sir Laurence Olivier became Hamlet.  My mother was Olive Oyl.  She would go into her bedroom or the kitchen and cry for help.  I would eat some spinach out of the can with a fork, flex my bicep, and rush in to save her from whatever danger she was in.

Jeez, no wonder I repressed this.  How embarrassing!


I called up my mother tonight.

Neil: Guess what I’m going to write about in my blog tomorrow?  “Popeye and spinach!”

Mom: Really?  Be careful with spinach.  There’s all that bad bagged spinach coming out of California.  Remember to wash it first.

Neil: I’m not calling you about spinach.  Do you remember watching Popeye?

Mom: I never watched Popeye as a child.  I never liked him.   He had this one eye.  And creepy voice.  And weird body.


Neil: But you watched him with me.  Remember?

Mom: Did we?

Mom: Mom, it was a big deal for me back then.  I would be Popeye and you would be Olive Oyl — and I would rescue you?

Mom: We did that?

Neil: Yes!  Don’t you remember you would cook frozen spinach and put it in a Spaghetti-Os can?

Mom: Wouldn’t it make more sense to just buy a can of spinach?

Neil: I was going to ask you that!  Why did we do that?

Mom: I don’t remember this at all.  Maybe you played it with your friend Robert.

Neil: I played it with YOU.

Mom: I remember playing Scrabble with you.

Neil: Oh my god!  You’ve repressed the memory — just like I did!

Mom: And well… maybe it’s better that way.


  1. treespotter

    you sure that wasn’t an imaginary thing? you know, you’ve established a rep for imaginary dialogues and similar things.


  2. ams

    Sometimes I do worry about you Neil!!!

    No matter how cool I thought Popeye was though, you couldnt have forced me to taste spinach as a kid!!! UUUUUGHHH healthiness!!

  3. justrun

    Haha! She couldn’t even remember and yet, she was still right on. What a mom!

  4. M.A.

    He was pretty creepy, Neil. Do you remember the live action movie with Robin Williams?

    His Popeye gave me nightmares.


  5. Edgy Mama

    And my mother accuses me of fictional repressed memories?

    A boy’s first love is always his Mom! Very cute, really.

  6. amanda

    oh, i love mrs. kramer. to me, having two sibs, it’s really interesting that your mom played with you. at the berlin house, i just dressed my sister up like a boy and made her walk into the room and said “peta, oh peta, oh thair you ah peta, you scad me…” not sure who peter was, not sure why i said it all with an english accent, not sure why i needed my sister to dress up like a boy when in reality we also had a brother, not sure where that scene even came from. talk about being a weird kid.

  7. Jody

    I love that your Mom calls this a “blodge”. Reminds me of when I got promoted to Audit Manager and my Mom told everyone of my promotion to “Office” Manager. Gee Mom thanks for the demotion! 🙂

  8. Anomie-Atlanta

    Growing up without cable, I had limited television viewing options, so I too watched Popeye. I still have an aversion to short men who smoke pipes and a strange attraction to large burly men who look like Brutus.

  9. Dana

    At last, the mystery of the two names Bluto and Brutus is solved! I’ve been worrying about that for YEARS and finally you’ve explained it to me! There WERE two names, after all!

    I used to make my mom be Auntie Em to my Dorothy. But my dog refused to be humiliated into playing Toto.

  10. Dagny

    I loved Popeye as a kid. Didn’t run around pretending to be him though. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    Oh, and Mrs. Kramer, it’s only in SoCal that people don’t drink the water. It’s hideous. There are still folks in the northern part of the state who drink tap.

  11. Cover Your Mouth

    This is so so so so cute. How mothers keep a straight face through childhood games like this, or refrain from saying, “honey, I love you, but this is a little creepy,” is totally beyond me.

  12. Alison

    Blodge! I love it!

  13. 2nd Pearl Past the Post

    Life has odd intersections. I just watched a Daily show special on this Popeye fellow, gay icon it seems. 😉

  14. EEK

    Little kids are so weird. I used to dress up our cats in babyclothes and stroller them around the house in a tiny plastic shopping cart when I was young.

    Your mother is so dead-on about Popeye seeming like a pervert, though I never thought so myself until just now. As a kid I was always a little put-off by Mister Rogers. I didn’t like his puppets.

  15. Roberta

    Few things.
    I love your mother.
    I never understood the Bluto/Brutus thing.
    Sounds and smells are VERY potent memory joggers.
    A guy I work with was in the hospital last week with the E.coli. He believes the deli up the street used baby spinach on a sandwich that was supposed to have arugula.

  16. Lux Lisbon

    i LOVE spinach! when i was a kid i would take spinach from a can and put it on white bread with mayo. mmmmmm.

    i wish i had your mom! mine only played bartender and customer with me.

  17. sarah

    I totally forgot about the bagged spinach thing (i dont know how), until your mom mentioned it! ha.

    Thats quite a funny story and Freud would have a lot to say about it. Though I’m afraid to think too much into how Popeye could be a perv; as I dont want another childhood memory dashed!

  18. Viscountess of Funk

    I love that your mom calls it a “blodge.” Perfect. I thought Popeye was creepy, too. And I never figured out why his forearms were so deformed, like he had elephantitis or something. And why the weird eye?

  19. Neil

    Actually the spinach scare is the result of modern farming practices.

    From Rebecca’s Pocket:

    according to an editorial in the New York Times

    [E. coli O157:H7] is not found in the intestinal tracts of cattle raised on their natural diet of grass, hay and other fibrous forage. No, O157 thrives in a new — that is, recent in the history of animal diets — biological niche: the unnaturally acidic stomachs of beef and dairy cattle fed on grain, the typical ration on most industrial farms.

  20. Jules

    Nothing to do with your mother, but I could never understand why two men would fight over Olive Oyl! She was not very cute nor smart, plus I think she had an eating disorder.

  21. scott

    My wife pronounces his name “Pie Pie” instead of Popeye. Wouldn’t that drive you nuts? She also says “Oranjuice” like it was one word. Wouldn’t that make you a little irritable, and understandably so? She also calls a garage a “groj”. So, what can I do? I drink. You really can’t blame me, right?

    Blodge. Ha!

    Hello, Neil.

  22. e.

    I can’t believe your mother wouldn’t remember such a clever ploy to have you eating your vegetables! I’m with Jules; Olive Oyl irritated me.

  23. Karla

    Don’t you see what’s going on here? Your mom has deliberately wiped those painful memories from her mind because she can’t bear to recall the incredibly inappropriate and illegal scene that took place between you to directly following your heroic “rescue” of her. You’re a victim of incest, Neil, and your mother is either shamed into denial or merely afraid of prosecution. Never speak of this again. My recommendation? Get on with your happy, productive life, and don’t dredge up this tragic memory.

  24. Danny

    I love repressed memory stories—my whole childhood is full of them. I do remember watching “Popeye” and thinking he was like those creepy guys who sat at the back of movie theatres. I didn’t care for the Robert Altman film but thought Shelley Duvall was perfectly cast as Olive Oyl, a woman I always assumed was a concentration camp survivor.

    (I also vote Scott’s comment above as the funniest one I’ve read in a loooong time!)

  25. Sweet

    I’m cracking up because I was tempted to write a ‘What’s Popeye going to do?’ post when I heard about the ‘spinach scare.’ Too funny. Glad to know we’re on the same nutty wavelength.


    Hmmm, I remember playing Popeye with my brother and strangely, my mom does not seem to remember our childhoods either.

  27. deannie

    Was Olive Oyl worth all that fighting?!? I could never see it. Brutus always seemed more sexah to me. I guess I must like bad boys….

    Blodge. Classic.


  28. Bama Girl

    This post resonated with me most in the conversation with your mom. My mom never remembers things happening the way I remember it. Then she accuses me of making things up. It’s so frustrating. I’m the one with the younger, fresher mind here!

  29. Carly

    I’m disappointed there was no mention of the Robin Williams live action movie version of the cartoon. Which was hideously bad, and yet oh so good.

    Also, I find the canned spinach phenomenon odd. Doesn’t it supposedly have less nutrients than fresh?

  30. treespotter

    Neil, i actually don’t remember much of Popeye until i go look for the theme song just now.

    now i been playing it for the last 3 hours non stop. you’re baaad.

  31. Rhea

    I felt sad that your mother did not remember this very important childhood experience of yours. I also wanted to say it always looked so cool the way Popeye squeezed the can so that the spinach would come sailing out. I, too, became intrigued with spinach after seeing that.

  32. lizardek

    I think your mom is right, it DOES explain a lot! 😀

  33. Dustin

    I was always mad at Olive for being tempted by Bluto/Brutus. Why couldn’t she see that Popeye was the more suitable and stable provider and that Bluto/Brutus would probably just end up abusing her and then cheating on her on the next 2-bit hussy that came along.

    My over-analyzation tendencies started young.

  34. thephoenixnyc

    One of my fondest popeye memories came not from the cartoon but the Robin Williams Popeye movie.

    Those big, hairy, oversized Robin Williams as hobbit forearms.

    Pure moviemaking magic.

  35. ElizaF

    Reporting from the ‘Mom’ front or ‘Mummy’ as we British/Irish ones are known; I am glad to tell you that stories to inspire our children to eat greens have changed. Now it is “eat it or I’ll take your train set away” 🙂

  36. *lynne*

    blodge?? LOL! reminds me of a friend who insisted that it was a “blob” despite my polite corrections to the contrary.

    And hey – you had a parent who actually PLAYED with you?? Lucky kid! My mother was too wrapped up being bitter about her lot in life while my father was playing golf as often as he was able. Fun.

  37. Tara

    Popeye made me sad when I was a kid. I’m not sure why. Maybe because Bluto/Brutus scared me so much.

    We always sang the song:

    I’m Popeye the sailor man.
    I live in a garbage can.
    I eat all the worms and spit out the germs.
    I’m Popeye the sailor man…

    I’m Popeye the S

  38. Atomic Bombshell

    I’m trying to laugh, but after spending a week in the hospital because of bad spinach, it’s a little rough on my kidney. 😉 XOXOX

  39. Amy K

    Neil’s Mom Rocks. Blodge? Awesome!

    The movie with Robin Williams irritated me because all he did was mumble the entire time.

  40. Neil

    Atomic — I’m so sorry. My biggest fear was that someone would read this who got sick from the spinach! I’m hoping you’re feeling better. Maybe it doesn’t pay to eat healthy anymore.

  41. ms. sizzle

    who in the hell doesn’t know who popeye is?! that concerns me.

  42. cruisin-mom

    I’m still trying to get over the fact that you had to post a link for people who don’t know who popeye is.

  43. Neil

    Have you never looked at your stats? I don’t know about you, but I get people reading my blog from Saudi Arabia (even though they are usually just looking for photos of “naked America women.”) But on the chance that one guy says, “Hey, let me actually read one of Neilochka’s posts and see what the hell this blog is about,” I didn’t want him to be left out of the fun if he had never heard of Popeye before. It’s all part of my plan to unify the world through blogging.

  44. Deborah

    Zat iz veddy strange Neilochka.

  45. Postmodern Sass

    This post was about Popeye? I’m still stuck back at trying to figure out where Proust got a teacup big enough to dip Madeleine into.

  46. plain jane

    Ok, that story is a little scarey.

    Mom Kramer forgot to mention another reason to suspect that Popeye was a perv…he had a tattoo. Back in the day anyone with a tattoo was a carny or a perv. Right?

  47. kapgar

    Neil, you need help. I’ve heard of parents coming up with creative ways of getting their kids to eat veggies, but putting spinach in a Spaghetti-O’s can? That takes the cake. And that it was your own suggestion just makes it that much better.

  48. Lynn

    1. Frozen spinach is better than canned any day.

    2. I don’t think I ever played any games when I was a kid in which I saved my mother. I fantasized about hurting her, but that’s another story. (And don’t get all pissy with me people, they were just fantasies. I never acted on any of those thoughts.)

    3. I went to the gynecologist the other day, and he made a comment about how women could get vaginal E. coli infections by sticking a bunch of spinach up inside themselves. It was a very poor attempt at humor, and I think that’s much more disturbing than your story about playing Popeye with your mom.

  49. Violet

    When we were kids, my mum wouldn’t let us buy fish’n’chips from the shop. So she would make some from scratch and then wrap it up in old newspaper so that it looked just like the bought stuff. Not that this has anything to do with any TV cartoon show.

  50. Bev Crook

    what is this?

  51. Neil

    Bev — This is what they call in the biz as a “mediocre blog post.”

  52. ken

    How can I get a link to a wav. file of Popeye, laughing or tooting his pipe and saying” Well blowww me down”

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