by dm gillis
You remember that guy, Vlad Oswald? He lived in that room in the Roosevelt Hotel over the Ladies & Escorts entrance for about twenty years. Until he inherited the Oswald Bitulithic fortune. But that’s another story. The far more interesting story about Vlad Oswald has to do with his Popeye dreams. He only had two, but it kinda went like this.
In the first dream, he’s in this really high end restaurant, all chandeliers and flash. And he’s sitting at a table with Popeye the Sailor Man, swear to God. Popeye’s working on this huge lobster with a pair of lobster crackers, and he’s shovelling the lobster meat into his pie hole while this gypsy-looking sort of character plays the violin next to the table. Vlad Oswald looks down at his plate and sees he’s got a lobster, too, but he ain’t hungry for some reason. This is surprising, even to him, because you remember what a lunchbox ol’ Vlad was.
Finally, Popeye puts the last little morsel of lobster into his mouth, and sits back with this big grin on his face.
“That was delishkis,” he says.
Then he grabs a bottle of champagne out of an ice bucket and he chugs the whole thing, just like that. When he’s done, he belches loudly. Vlad’s starting to wonder if this is the start of a nightmare. Now Popeye throws the empty champagne bottle across the room, turns and looks hard into Vlad’s eyes and says, “Invesk everyting ya gots in Coke. Calls yer couskin Elmer Warchuck tomorra, and tells him yer wririn’ him da cash. Tells him to puts it all on Coca-Cola.”
Then Olive Oyl sashays into the dream wearing this black leather corset, fishnet stockings and spike heel boots. She grabs Popeye by the ear and says, “Time to go, big fella.”
And that was it. Vlad Oswald wakes up and it’s 7.30 a.m., blurry eyed and needing a shave.
Now everybody knew that Vlad Oswald was a little nuts. Real lower lunar orbit, what with the voices and all. So, when he calls his cousin Elmer Warchuck, who’s a stockbroker in Winnipeg, to tell him that he wants to put $500 on Coca Cola, Elmer says, “No way.”
This was 1949, after all. Coke was safe, but not a climber. It paid only slighter better than a savings account. Elmer tells Vlad to put all his dough into plastics instead. Which would be the right thing to do for a conventional thinker like Elmer, but not for Vlad?
Vlad says, “Hey, I had this dream where Popeye the Sailor Man tells me to invest everything in Coke. So that’s what I’m gonna do.”
Well, here’s where Elmer loses it over the long distance line. “In a dream?” he says. “Popeye tells you to invest in Coke? And so now you’re going to do it?”
Elmer refuses to do the deal. He tells Vlad to go check out his local soup line. He says that every one of them bums in that soup line is someone who invested in a dream. But you remember how Vlad Oswald could get. He insists and wears Elmer down. Finally, Elmer says fine. And when Vlad’s cash arrives via Canadian Pacific wire two days later, Elmer makes the investment.
So, here’s the part that almost no one knew at the time because the Coca Cola Bottling Company was keeping it real secret. They were in negotiations with the Soviet Union in 1949. The Soviets were this close to opening up their market to Coke. It would be the bringing together of two evil empires. A softening of relations. Market dominos would be tumbling in favour of Coke and western merchandisers for years, or even decades, to come. Did the Popeye in Vlad’s dream know this? Who can say? But a week after Elmer put Vlad’s $500 on Coke, Coca Cola announced what it intended to do in Russia.
Shares in Coca Cola went into the stratosphere. Brokers, like Elmer, were caught with their pants down. They were pouring their clients’ cash into munitions, shipyards, transportation and plastics. They stood there flatfooted and watched slack-jawed as Coke rose through the ceiling. Then they jumped on the band wagon, and transferred hundreds of millions in investment capital.
Meanwhile, Vlad is also watching. His investment doubles, then triples, then quadruples; it just keeps going up. Three weeks after Elmer Warchuck bought the stock, Vlad Oswald’s $500 has turned into $100,000. He calls up Elmer and asks what to do. Should he pull out? Reinvest? But Elmer says to stick with it, kid. Coke and the Soviets are only talking, and look at the result. Just wait until Coke actually gets in, and these Bolsheviks bastards get a sip of that icy cold refreshment. It’ll pull Communism down round the Supreme Soviet’s ears faster than an H-Bomb over Moscow on a Saturday night. Okay, says Vladimir. He’s no financial guru. Elmer’s all he’s got.
That night, Vlad gets into the sauce. Kinda to celebrate. He buys a big jug of Seagram’s, and heads up to his room with that Natalie Lucarino broad that used to hang out in front of the Roosevelt fishing for loggers and servicemen. She knows Vlad goes off mental sometimes, and she feels sorry for him. So, she charges him a little less for her company. It’s like a friends and family discount, sort of. She’s also aware of this weird rumour going round that Vlad’s about to come into some cash.
Anyway, they’re up in his room over the Ladies & Escort entrance, listening to the radio. They even have a dance or two when the music’s right, real sweet. But at some point, Natalie gulps back one too many shots of rye, and starts to go berserk. She sticks her head out the window and starts yelling obscenities at the dames going in and out of the Ladies & Escort entrance. This, of course, attracts the cops who head up to Vlad’s room to extricate the offending Natalie Lucarino.
When the cops bang on the door, Natalie Lucarino panics and drunkenly jumps out of the window. Of course, Vlad’s room is just on the second floor so Natalie only breaks her right ankle and the heel of her left shoe. She goes to the hospital, and Vlad Oswald is thrown in jail for the night for disturbing the peace.
Now the Vancouver lock-up is locally famous for a lot of things, but two things stand out for me and a lot of other mooks who’ve been compelled to spend time there. First is the food, which is inedible crap by anybody’s standards. They even mix the coffee with the tea, like that’s a real joke. Har dee har. The other thing is that the bunks are all metal, and they give you this thin mattress sort of thing, but no blanket. You can either lie on top of this thin crappy mattress, or use it as blanket. Either way, you freeze. It’s all supposed to dissuade you from wanting to come back, and it works.
So, there’s Vlad in a cell with no belt or shoe laces and his thin crappy mattress. He’s so tanked that he lies down on a metal bunk, and lets the mattress fall onto the floor. In a second, he’s asleep. Snoring like a buzz saw. And guess who shows up in his dreams. That’s right, Popeye the Sailor Man.
Popeye says, “Time ta gets outta Coke, Vlad, me hearty. Takes the money and run.”
Then Popeye opens a copy of The Anarchist by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, and begins to read. And that was it. Vlad wakes to a jail guard banging a tin cup on the bunk frame. And after a breakfast of watered toast and coffee mixed with tea, Vlad is off to find a phone.
“Sell!” Elmer hears Vlad say long distance from Vancouver. “Sell it all, and wire me the dough.”
“No, no, no,” says Elmer. “Skinny has it that Coke’s about to make a deal. You gotta trust me on this one, Vlad. My info is solid gold.”
“Nah,” replies Vlad. “Popeye says sell.”
“Popeye again,” says Elmer. “You’re killin’ me.”
“Just sell and take your cut,” Vlad says, and hangs up.
Next day, Vlad picks up a wire transfer from the Canadian Pacific office in the amount of $130, 679, and puts it into the bank.
Later that day, Elmer reads the Business page of the Winnipeg Free Press. The Soviet Union decides to reject western capitalistic ideologies that criminally repress workers and unlawfully seize all means of production. Just like that, no Coke for Russia. Coke shares fall. People lose money. Clients are enraged. Elmer leaves town that night on a train headed east. No one ever found out where.
After Natalie Lucarino’s ankle healed, Vlad Oswald bought her a new pair of shoes and took her to Atlantic City by train. They gambled and drank away the entire $130, 679. After that, Natalie met a Marine Corps Sergeant on the boardwalk named Armand Nathaniel who, through sleight of hand, could pull silver dollars out of her left ear.
Vladimir hitched back to Vancouver alone where he went to work washing dishes at the Ovaltine Café on Hastings Street. When his Uncle Alowishus Oswald, owner of the Oswald Bitulithic fortune, died without an immediate heir, Vladimir inherited it all. But that’s another story.