Scarfson reached into the pockets of his overalls and pulled out two handfuls of assorted monies. Change, mostly, but a few dollar bills. He leaned forward and dropped the entire amount on the boss’s desk.
“I counted it,” he said. “Seven dollars. And fifty-three cents.”
“That’s it?” The boss started to lift himself to his globular feet, but quickly decided against it. He rubbed his unshaven face with a hand the size of a Frisbee. “What’s your problem, Scarfson? When I first hired you, you were pulling in thirty bucks a day, easy. And that was years ago! Losin’ your touch?”
The man’s tone was needling and his toothless grin was mocking. The gaping maw caused Scarfson’s stomach to turn. In fact, everything about The Boss made Scarfson nauseated. The Boss noticed.
“I disgust you, don’t I, Scarfson?”
“No, sir. I…”
“You’re a damn liar, but I don’t blame ya. You’re mine, Scarfson. Nobody else would hire an old fella like you. An old guy with no experience at anything, except sellin’ ice cream every day, dealing with a bunch of grubby little bastards with caramel stuck in their hair and chocolate plastered around their mouths. I hate kids.”
Scarfson said nothing, although he thought that The Boss’s description of the kids would be just as apt if applied to The Boss himself. Especially the bastard part.
The Boss swiveled in his chair and opened a floor freezer that resided just behind him. Reaching inside, he pulled out a handful of Chocolate Crunch ice cream bars and unceremoniously ripped one open. Within moments, the wooden stick was bare. The Boss closed his eyes and an expression of rapture crossed his face. It took a long time. At last, the expression had completed the trip and The Boss reached for another ice cream.
“Well, there’s no easy way to tell you this, Scarfson. But if you don’t start producin’ revenue, I’m gonna have to let you go. I can’t have slackers on my team. For all I know, you’re not even going out on the route, just parkin’ around the corner and eatin’ up all my profits!”
Scarfson knew for a fact that The Adipose Ice Cream Company hadn’t made a profit in twenty years. The Boss lived at the garage and lived on the products. By the time the trucks were maintained and the drivers paid, there wasn’t anything left over. Not that the pay was good. It was common practice among company employees to dip into the stock on the trucks as compensation for their low wages.
Looking down at his own reasonable waistline, Scarfson knew he was the lucky one. He didn’t like eating ice cream. It was cold and slimy. He didn’t like selling ice cream, either. He didn’t like driving the truck or dealing with grubby children. And he certainly didn’t like working for The Boss. Most of all, however, Scarfson hated…The Song. He had listened to the same song for thirty years. Eight hours a day. For thirty years.
“Mumph?” The Boss was enjoyed yet another frozen confection.
“I want a different song.”
The revelation caused a sudden, but expected, response from The Boss. “What! A different song? ‘Popeye the Sailor Man’ is a classic! It’s a money-maker!”
“Think how little ya would’ve made had you been playin’ somethin’ different,” The Boss pointed out. “No, the song stays.”
“I can’t take it,” Scarfson insisted, surprising even himself with his forceful tone. “Today I almost hit a small child with a Dilly Bar. On the head.” A small tear slipped from the corner of one eye and he turned away to hide the fact.
“We ain’t changin’ the song.” The Boss was unyielding. “It’s a proven bidness model.” He turned back to the freezer, retrieved several more treats, and gave Scarfson a dismissive gesture. “Scarf, Scramson. You’re just tired. A good night’s sleep will fix ya right up.”
Scarfson went home, but didn’t go to sleep. He couldn’t sleep, because The Song was running through his head, as it did every night. The hours eased by and with every tick of the clock, Scarfson hummed another note from the dreaded song. Da dada da da da da. Da dada da da da da. Da dada da da da daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!
At last, Scarfson managed to drift into a fitful sleep, his frenetic dreams populated by an extremely obese Popeye, who defeated his enemies by beating them with ice cream sandwiches. He awoke to the insistent beeping of his alarm clock, covered in cold seat and breathing heavily.
It was only through the force of habit that he was able to drag himself from bed and complete his morning hygiene regimen. He left the house with plenty of time to spare and arrived at work ten minutes early, his usual practice.
Scarfson was not himself, but was operating on sheer routine. Walk to the truck, unlock the back, stock the freezer, start the truck, drive onto the street, turn on the song…. Turn on the song. Turn. On. The. Song.
He didn’t want to do it, but slowly, inexorably, Scarfson felt his hand travel toward the switch that would release the insidious tune. He watched the hand move as if he were a casual observer, as if that traitorous appendage belonged to another, much crueler, person. The index finger flexed, recoiled, then reached out again and slowly flipped the switch:
“Da dada da da da da…”
A small child approached the side of the truck, a few coins clutched in his grubby, outstretched hand. Scarfson saw him coming. And loathed him. The boy was by the open side window, now, and pointing at an item on the menu.
“’ant that,” he said. “Gimme.”
Scarfson took the proffered money and dropped it into the cashbox. “Thanks, kid,” he said, and drove slowly away.
The child watched him drive off, an astonished expression on his face, and then began screaming with rage and disappointment. Scarfson had just enough time to see the boy’s mother come running from the house, before he drove leisurely around the corner and out of sight.
By noon, Scarfson had perpetrated this crime on nearly a dozen children, all with the same results. The payment, the get-away, the tears, the running parent. A few of the robbed even tried running Scarfson down, but he craftily maintained a speed just fast enough to stay out of their reach.
“I’d like an orange push-up, sir.”
There was a man standing by the truck. Scarfson nodded, accepted the money, and dropped it into the box. He was just about to drive away, when the man suddenly reached up and Scarfson felt something metallic hit his wrists. There was a rapid clicking sound and, looking down, Scarfson saw he been handcuffed. The customer reached into his pocket and withdrew a wallet. Flipping it open, he brandished a gleaming badge.
“The name’s Officer Hargroves,” he said. “You’re under arrest.”
* * *
A rough hand pushed him in the back and Scarfson stumbled forward into his cell. He stood there looking around as the door slammed shut behind him. At last, he dropped onto the empty bunk and leaned against the cinderblock wall. The cell wasn’t much to look at, of course, but at least he was away from The Song.
A large, muscled man looked up from where he was lying on the opposing bunk and grinned at him. “Welcome to Cell #9,” he said. “Glad to finally have company.” He extended a hand to Scarfson, who took it with more than a little trepidation. The man was huge, not like The Boss, but strong and sinewy.
As they shook hands, Scarfson noticed a myriad of tattoos on the man’s arms. One piece of artwork jumped out at him. The man noticed and followed his gaze.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “That’s my tattoo of Popeye. Quite a guy, was old Pop. Aye, he was. A hero of mine, in fact."
“Oh, yeah,” the man said. “I’ve seen all the cartoons and read the comic books. I used to love the song about him. Sang it all the time, in fact. Couldn’t go to sleep at night without singing it at least once. Only problem is, I’ve been in here so long that I’ve forgotten how it goes. I’ve tried to remember, but I can’t. It’s been driving me crazy for years."
A familiar tune began wafting through Scarfson’s head. He wasn’t sure if he was singing it aloud or not. It didn’t matter. He couldn’t stop. “Da dada da da da da…”
The man jumped up from his bunk, an expression of child-like excitement on his face. “That’s it!” he said. “That’s exactly it! It’s all coming back to me!” He crossed the cell in a single step and grabbed Scarfson in a colossal hug. “Now I can sing it all I want!” he said, bursting into song. “I’m Popeye the Sailor Man…”