Harold and the Purple Women

January 20, 2010

This is Harold. You may have heard of him. He’s famous because on July 19, 1955, when he was four years old, he was given a magical purple crayon. Anything Harold drew with the crayon became a real thing.

He drew purple pies and then ate them.

He drew a purple moose, which also ate the pies.

He drew a purple boat and sailed the purple sea that he also drew.

If he were smart, he would have drawn more magical crayons and sold them for a 100 percent profit. But you can’t expect that sort of ingenuity from a four-year-old.

A writer named Crockett Johnson became fond of Harold and wrote a book about him called Harold and the Purple Crayon. The book became wildly popular, partly because it didn’t have to compete with video games and electronic pets for kids’ spending money. A billion copies have been sold, and it’s been translated into many languages, including Finnish. Most books written in English aren’t published in Finnish, so you know that this was a wildly popular book.

Crockett Johnson became Harold’s official biographer and wrote many other books about his adventures. Harold made $2 million off the royalties. He bought a mansion in Malibu, California, and filled it with pinball machines and cotton candy machines.

Harold would celebrate his birthday almost every day with giant cakes and paid celebrity appearances. Here is a complete list of the celebrities who were paid to appear at Harold’s fake birthday parties: Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio, Buddy Holly, and President Harry S. Truman. Crockett Johnson would stop by too, but he was never considered a celebrity because America has never properly honored its public intellectuals the way Europe does. But that’s neither here nor there.

The point is, Harold didn’t know how to handle his success. His so-called friends were only friends with him for his money, so Harold stopped being friends with them. He would stay inside his house all day eating cotton candy and counting his money. Crockett Johnson stopped writing books about Harold because he no longer went on adventures to write about. Who would read a book called Harold Eats Cotton Candy and Counts Money?

The royalty checks stopped coming in, but Harold continued to live lavishly.

The mansion was seized by the banks.

His gums were perpetually swollen with cold sores from kissing celebrities with loose morals.

He foolishly invested $20,000 in a fly-by-night space-travel corporation.

By the time Harold was 20 years old he was flat broke. To make ends meet he had to work the carnival circuit doing impressions of famous comedians. This was very humiliating work.

When he wasn’t on stage at a carnival, Harold spent his days in a tiny bed bug-infested motel room in West Hollywood. It was all that he could afford.

Even Crockett Johnson lived better.

Harold was a loser, but he still had one thing going for him: his magical purple crayon. If he wanted a pie, he could draw one and eat it. If he wanted a Wiffle ball, he could draw one and toss it around. If he wanted an oboe, he could draw one and make terrible music with it.

Most importantly, if he wanted a woman to take out on a date, he could draw a woman and take her out. He wasn’t a good artist, so all the purple women he dated were lopsided and they drew stares from people.

Harold never drew them houses for the purple women. After a date, the women would have nowhere to go and would stick around Harold’s motel room and stare at the walls.

On St. Patrick’s Day 1970, Crockett Johnson stopped by to drink green beer and listen to records. There were 17 purple women living in the room with Harold.

“This is ridiculous,” Crockett said. “Why don’t you pick one woman and date only her?”

“I haven’t drawn the right one yet,” Harold said.

Harold went on so many dates with so many purple women that he earned a reputation and gossip columnists started writing about him. Reporters would see him on a date at a restaurant and write articles about what he ate, how much he tipped, and how unappealing his purple date was.

One of his dates, whom Harold had named Marilyn Monroe after the famous model, got very upset when she read a nasty article about her misshapen shoulders.

She threw coffee on Harold and said, “Why did you create me?”

“So I wouldn’t be alone,” Harold said.

The next day Marilyn packed her bags and hitchhiked to Lake Tahoe, California, a small town devoid of gossip columnists.

Harold named another one of his dates Bettie Page after the pinup model.

He gave her big round eyes and long legs and a third arm so she would be extra useful around the house. Unlike the other purple women, Bettie didn’t always obey Harold when he told her to do something. He’d ask her for a cotton candy sandwich, but she’d make a beet salad instead because she thought it was healthier.

Harold would say, “Go outside and check the weather and tell me if I need a sweater.”

And Bettie would say, “Go check it yourself, Harrison.”

“My name is Harold.”

“Whatever, Herbert.”

Harold was intrigued.

Soon enough, the motel room was so full of purple women that Harold couldn’t walk to the bathroom without stepping on one of them.

“That’s it,” he said. “Everybody out!”

He turned to Bettie and said, “Except you. I’m going to keep you around.”

Some of the purple women went to Lake Tahoe and joined Marilyn on the hippie commune.

Others applied for work at diners and bars, but very few landed jobs because it’s hard to get a job when your mouth is a triangle, as was the case with Marlene Dietrich.

Others wandered the desert and eventually expired from lack of water.

Harold and Bettie began a normal life together, like a real human couple.

One day, after finishing a beet salad she’d made for him, Harold said, “I like you, Bettie.”

“I like you, too, Hubert. Now do the dishes,” Bettie said.

Everything was going well.

Until Easter morning, 1972. That was when Harold decided to draw a purple hovercraft.

“Hey Bettie, would you like to go on a hovercraft ride with me?” he said.

“Oh yes,” she said. She packed a picnic and put on a bathing suit.

The Pacific Ocean was choppy that day. Sail boat captains kept their boats docked and lifeguards ordered swimmers to stay out of the water. Bettie was worried. “Maybe you could draw a new ocean that isn’t so rough,” she said.

“That would take hours,” Harold said. “Get in the hovercraft and stop being a brat.”

At first the hovercraft ride was pure fun. Harold even let Bettie drive while he ate a turkey sandwich.

Bettie wanted to see dolphins, so Harold drew some purple dolphins.

Bettie wanted to see a mermaid waltzing underwater with a merman. Harold drew that, too.

But as they got farther and farther away from the city, the waves became choppier and choppier.

The hovercraft rocked back and forth, and the picnic basket flew overboard.

The frightened merpeople stopped dancing and retreated to their underwater kingdom.

“Can we go back to the city now?” Bettie said.

“No,” Harold said.

“But it’s getting dangerous. The hovercraft can’t handle these waves,” Bettie said.

“That’s nonsense,” Harold said.

“I think you might be wrong, Harold,” Bettie said.

Harold was sick of her back-talk. “I didn’t draw you a mouth so you could talk to me like that.”

Rain soaked the hovercraft, and Harold was happier than he’d ever been. He was finally having an adventure, like the kind Crockett Johnson used to write about.

He waved a purple pirate flag and said things like “Arr” and “matey” and “Arr, matey” to no one in particular.

“It’s time to go back,” Bettie said. “I’m so cold.”

Her purple skin had turned a purplish blue.

“Not until I say so,” Harold said. “Not until I‘ve had enough fun. Arr, matey.”

“You’re not a real pirate,” Bettie said. “You’re just a loser in a purple hovercraft.”

“Why do you have to be such a brat?” Harold said.

“I’m not being a brat,” Bettie said. “I’m being safe and sane.”

“I’m trying to have some fun before I’m dead and buried,” Harold said. “You live how you want to live, but I’m going to jump up and down and wave my pirate flag while I still can.”

Harold jumped up and down and waved his pirate flag

And here’s where the trouble really starts: While jumping up and down and waving his flag, Harold hit Bettie in the face and she fell overboard.

Bettie had three arms, but that didn’t mean she could swim. She sank to the bottom of the sea and landed on a colony of coral. The coral was beautiful, but dangerous. Fact: Some types of coral are safe to touch; other types will sting you. This type was the stinging kind. It stung Bettie so badly that she began to cry. And nothing is sadder than a pretty girl crying underwater.

Harold dove in and swam down to Bettie. He grabbed her by the hair and brought her back up to the hovercraft.

Bettie was in bad shape. The coral had left plum-sized welts all over her body, and she was so cold she couldn’t talk. Harold asked if she was OK but, again, she was so cold she couldn’t talk. She slipped into a coma.

If Harold were a doctor, and not a wannabe pirate, he would’ve known that Bettie was suffering from hypothermia. He began administering CPR, albeit in a grossly accurate fashion. There was some tickling.

He pounded her chest. And again. And again and again. He pounded it so hard that her frigid body shattered.

Hundreds of purple bits scattered about the deck of the hovercraft.

He collected her shards and dumped them into a bowl. He steered the hovercraft back toward the city, docked it, and got in a cab.

“To the hospital!”

The doctor was optimistic. “I can save her,” he said. “But she’ll need surgery.”

“How much does that cost?” Harold said.

“Let’s see… Do you have health insurance?”

“Yes,” Harold said.

This was a lie, which the diligent hospital administrators soon discovered. Harold and Bettie were told to leave and start praying to God for a cure.

Weeks passed. Harold tried to forget about Bettie and move on. But he couldn’t.

He drew a new Bettie and gave her a trial run as his new girlfriend. This is how they would interact:

“Hello, Bettie.”

“Hi, Mr. Harold.”

“Make me a cotton candy sandwich, Bettie.”

“Certainly.”

“No! You’re supposed to not make me one. Ugh.”

It wasn’t the same. He kicked out the fake Bettie. He missed the real Bettie. He needed to bring her back. But how?

He brainstormed. He braintsunami’d. His brain hurt.

And just as he was about to give up, he thought of a plan: “I’ll draw my own hospital. A purple hospital with purple doctors and purple nurses.”

He quit his carnival job and drew all day and all night.

He drew doctors and nurses. He drew breathing machines and iron lungs and super-modern baby-delivering devices.

His hands were covered in calluses and blisters from all the drawing, but he kept drawing.

Crockett Johnson stopped by, hoping to catch up. But Harold was too busy and couldn’t be bothered.

“Nobody has any time for old Crockett anymore,” Crockett Johnson said.

After putting the finishing touches on a pet monkey he thought the children in the hospital would like, Harold ran out of crayon. Now it was time to save Bettie. He dumped her bits onto the operating table.

The doctor got to work.

“Sutures, stat!” the doctor said.

“I’m losing her,” the doctor said.

“She is not stable,” the doctor said.

“She is stable!” the doctor said.

Harold waited in the lobby. He regretted not drawing a bar in the hospital as he could’ve used a purple scotch.

Twenty hours later, the doctor emerged from the operating room.

“I have some good news and I have some bad news,” the doctor said. “Which would you like to hear first?”

“The good news,” Harold said.

“Bettie is in one piece,” the doctor said.

“Oh sweet God, yes!” Harold said. “I vow to spend the rest of my life with my sweet Bettie. No more purple hussies for Harold!”

“Well,” the doctor said, “you should hold off on that promise until you hear the bad news.”

“What’s the bad news?” Harold said.

“We couldn’t make her into the shape of a human.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m not a real doctor. You just drew a person and called him a doctor. You can’t draw medical experience. It has to be learned. Real doctors go to school for years.”

“So what shape is she in?” Harold said.

“She’s like a square. More like a stump,” the doctor said.

“A stump?” Harold said.

“Yes. It was the best we could do.”

“Bettie is a stump?”

“A stump.”

Harold brought Bettie home. Life was different now. Without her arms, she couldn’t make beet salads or clean the house.

But Harold didn’t care.

There was no more purple crayon, so he couldn’t draw anything.

But he didn’t care about that either.

He didn’t want to draw more Wiffle balls or hovercrafts. He didn’t need another cotton candy machine or more pies. And he didn’t need any more women.

He just wanted to sit on his stump. He just wanted to be with her.

 

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