All for a laugh

Right In The Middle

In this gloomy era of swine flu, recession, terror attacks and scams, the popular comic strips and cartoons are my only source of cheer. A daily staple, they serve as a tonic that peps me up and banishes the blues albeit temporarily.

Over the years one character who has consistently done more to keep me in good spirits than a bottle of Scotch is Beetle Bailey — the skinny, cynical-looking American GI with his cap perpetually covering his eyes, even when he’s in bed. If GI stands for galvanised iron, then Beetle is certainly that and more. For the irascible Sarge, his boss, ruthlessly uses him as both a punching bag and stomping ground, quite literally, to work off his ire and frustration. Beetle, of course, is the bane of Sarge’s life and his constant target.

Yet, Beetle epitomises resilience and resourcefulness. He knows all the tricks of the trade to survive in Camp Swampy where his sparring partners include an odd assortment of GIs, besides Cookie, the beefy chef with a heart tattooed on his arm whose speciality is SLOP — an acronym for ‘Stewed Leftovers On Potato’ — which is anathema to the men.
Beetle’s an expert at catnapping undetected during working hours, unfailingly botching his assignments, outsmarting Sarge and dating the General’s pretty secretary, Miss Buxley. Once a colleague asks her, “How did your date with Beetle go last night?” “Fine,” she replies, adding stoically, “The dinner cost me 35 dollars.”

Sarge’s eccentricities include a pampered mutt called Otto who sports an army uniform and cap and shares his master’s bedroom — with a cot of his own. Inevitably, the canine is the butt of Beetle’s jokes. Sarge is also food-crazy. Once he sends Beetle to pick up three doughnuts from the canteen.   When the latter returns with only two, Sarge is riled. “But I asked for three!” he snaps. “Sorry,” says Beetle quite bluntly and truthfully, “I’m afraid one didn’t make it here!”

Contributing to the high jinks are the bewhiskered General and his shrewish wife — Beetle often gets enmeshed in their tantrums — and the army chaplain who dutifully doubles as the soldiers’ conscience-keeper.

Beetle Bailey and a sexagenarian like me may seem strange bedfellows. But I’m an unabashed escapist who banks on Mort Walker’s lovable creation for a much-needed chuckle or laugh. Indeed a friend tells me I’ve a Beetle in my bonnet.

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