Monday, August 29, 2016

The Return Of Hollering Martin Mandible

'Tis not the nightingale, but the lark...

Hollering Martin Mandible surveyed the alley, filled from edge to edge with mirth and celebratory boisterousness, and it pleased him to no end. 

"I can't believe you all came!" he shouted at the top of his lungs. "What a homecoming - I am truly overwhelmed. After all that I've been through, I wouldn't have been surprised to have been greeted by the songs of crickets, and the sad gurgle of the storm drain emptying into the creek."

Most of the assembled revelers let out a cheer of equal parts celebration and sympathy. One of the revelers - the one who was only eight - turned to her mother and asked, "Why is he yelling? Is he angry? And what's wrong with his mouth?"

The child's mother placed a silencing finger to her daughter's lips. "Quiet now, Margaret. He's happy. He's just so very happy to be home. It's been so many years since he's been with his kin - I don't blame him for being a little rowdy. And his bottom mandible hangs a half-inch lower than it ought to, resulting not only in his odd appearance, but also in a ten to twenty-decibel increase in the volume of his voice. Now, mind what your father taught you, and be kind, hospitable, and welcoming. This is a very, very good day."

"Okay, Mama," the girl said, skeptically. "I'll be nice."

The sounds of amorous crickets and the babbling brook carried on at the same volume they always had, but tonight they were overwhelmed by the happy cacophony of reunion, of story and song and drink and the making of merry. It was a rare thing indeed for a hobo to make his way home, but Hollering Martin Mandible had done it, and his friends couldn't help but rejoice. Twice, the celebrants had stopped gabbing, banged on their various drinking vessels, and demanded words from their guest of honor. Twice, their friend had given them mere platitudes, as in the opening quotation, above. By the third go-round, it was clear to Hollering Martin Mandible that they needed to hear more.

"My friends," he hollered, hands extended in surrender to popular demand, "my brothers and sisters in spirit, I stand before you in August of the year of our lord, nineteen forty... nineteen forty... um..."

"Seven!" One of his friends offered.

"Yes - in nineteen forty-seven, I stand before you to say that I have seen another world. It is fully two years since we all wept with joy at the end of the second World War. It is said that we are a nation reborn, and I cannot refute that notion. Now, now. I hear your boos. I hear your consternation. And your misgivings are not without foundation."

"Those of you who know me well will surely know that my jaw became deformed long before I joined the ranks of the hobo nation. I worked at a steel mill in Johnstown Pennsylvania, and I got clipped by a runaway ore car, on account of not looking both ways before crossing the ore car track that I had crossed without looking seven thousand times before. Blah blah blah - yes - sorry, I don't mean to bore you, Barb. Please don't stab me."

"And most of you know about the untimely deaths of my parents - my pop, choking on a soda fountain CO2 hose on a bet, and my mum, by firefly overdose, two weeks later. But what you might not know is that I tried to enter the World, not just this past year, what with all the postwar jobs and all - but also in 1939."

[Oohing and ahhing from the assembled party people]

"Yes, it's true. Twice now have I ventured into the office, suit on back and coffee cup in hand. And let me tell you, brothers and sisters, in 1947, as in 1939, it is entirely the same. I could describe for you at great length the intolerable physical conditions of torturous so-called air-conditioned comfort, the monotony, the degradation, the hopelessness, and the self-loathing, but for one thing - nothing I can say would do justice to the wretchedness of the modern electric office. And for the other, and more significant thing - there is no sky."

"I'm sure a lot of you are thinking, 'Gee, Marty - air-conditioning and ashtrays and a steady income - what's not to like?' And I hear you, loud and clear. But hear this, brethren: No. Sky. There is no sky, in there. There's also no dignity and no honor and nothing whatsoever to be proud of, but think no further than... no sky. That is why I have returned to you, today. It is not that I couldn't make a go of it in that world. It's not that I have something against suits or paychecks, or pretty secretaries or any of that sweet noise. It is simply that in their world, there is no sky."

"We get it, Martin," one of the revelers affirmed. "The life of the hobo is just plain better. We're just wondering why you yell so much."

Martin Mandible thought for a moment. "I... I don't know. I'm just naturally loud, I suppose. Joie de vivre, and all that. Anyway - it's really good to be back. I'll never forsake my stick and bindle for a suit and briefcase again. You have my word."

Tonight's missive was prompted by my friends at Studio 30 Plus, who asked for something with "boisterous" and/or "rowdy."

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Decryption Of Gyppo Moot, The Enigma Machine

Translation: "Hoboes welcome, but most boil up before entering town."

Gyppo Moot was a gifted man, and unique among all of Hodgman's 700 Hoboes

Like most of his brethren in the wandering unwashed transient workforce of the 1930s, Gyppo was adept at reading and writing cryptic hobo messages. They were scrawled on telegraph poles, sheds and barns, and their purpose was to inform the 'bo behind you - be it an hour or a year behind - about the surrounding area; cops, friendly ladies, dogs etc.. What made him unique was his unmatched ability to encrypt his messages, leaving the 'bo behind him to guess their meaning. He had a way with hieroglyphs that made utterly indecipherable messages look completely normal. It was said that once, a hobo attempting to read one of his coded signs was stricken insane.

No one knew where he could have obtained his gift. His formative years and his transition from the real world to the hobosphere were unremarkable. His father was a French Gypsy, and his mother, an English Army nurse, emigrated alone to the United States with their unborn son in 1919. She never told the boy (given name Winston) who his father was - partly because she wasn't sure who it was, and partly because it didn't matter. When Winston was nine, his mother was crushed to death beneath a collapsing iron fire escape, while walking home from the library. Clutched in her dead hand was a book for her boy - a book called "The Call Of The Rails." It inspired Winston to leave his next home - obviously an oppressive New York orphanage - a few years later, and embark on a new life as Gyppo the hobo.

On the road, he was a typical hobo in all ways except for the signs he scrawled as he crisscrossed the country. Sadly, his track-side messages were so brilliantly encrypted that none of his fellow hoboes were able to read them. They were not understood or appreciated until many years after Gyppo's death, when all the code-breakers came home from the war and turned hobo, in the second half of the 1940s.

A few examples:

[large stick-figure dog (smiling), small stick-figure dog (frowning), crucifix, top hat] was assumed to mean "Watch out for the little dog, and free meals at the church as long as your head is covered." However, when properly deciphered years later, it was discovered to read, "I will never outlive the guilt of knowing that my mother died going to the library for me, while I played stick ball behind the shoe factory with Jimmie Belisle and his brothers, instead of doing my math homework."

The message [stick-figure woman, stick-figure cow, smiley face with halo, Ford Model A with an X through it, lightning bolt] was misinterpreted as something along the lines of "Keep walking brothers - there are no free waffles in this town, and no matter how friendly a lady looks, she will run you over with her husband's car." No one at the time reckoned that the real message was "My feet hurt so much, I don't even want to talk about baseball. I just want to stop walking."

Finally, if you saw [lightning bolt, bird, bird, upright-walking stick-figure cat, frowny face, star, chicken leg, wheel, dog, upside-down dog, stick-figure cop], your natural inclination would be to dab three drops of hobo wine beneath your right earlobe, curtsy to the sky, recite the Lord's Prayer aloud twice, and keep on walking because no one here was going to hire you.

You'd be wrong.

That message, Gyppo Moot's last, actually read "My Dearest Hobo Brothers and Sisters, I am aggrieved. I remember, when I first hit the road, hoboes were decent. They might not have been saints, but they had respect for each other, and for human life. But lately, guys - I don't know. I walk and I work and I keep to the Code, but all around me, I see 'boes stealing and stabbing and pissing on the street. I see hate and hate and hate. I go to church, and I hear more hate, disguised as God. I don't even like gum anymore, since that time I saw it fashioned into an effigy FDR and hung from the underside of the 3rd Street el. Why, I don't remember the last time I saw a hobo do anything nice for a non-hobo. Isn't it hard enough out here, surviving this way, without so much fighting and infighting and rage and stupidity? Whatever happened to 'We're all in this together?' I don't want to sound like some old-timer from Reconstruction Days, but boy, this is just crab apples, fellas. Does 'Do unto others' ring a bell? How about 'Judge not...' No? Well, nuts to this world, I say! I'm going to save my pennies, buy myself some new clothes, and go back to real life. That's what I say to your hate and your stone-throwing and name-calling. I'll get myself a job. I know it won't be much - probably lucky to find a broom to push or a furnace to stoke - but I'll do it, and I'll do it with a smile on my face, and when you hoboes come around, I will not know you. I won't hate you - I'll answer your hate with compassion and love. But I will not know you. We are no longer brothers."

I won't share the story of Gyppo's death, weeks after he left the above missive on a bridge outside of Trenton, but suffice to say it was ugly and sad and involved machinery. I will share that the "Moot" was added to his moniker posthumously, since his hobo brethren were aware that he was a human coding machine, but his brilliance was completely useless, with no one able to decode any of his signs.
This post prompted as usual by both John Hodgman and his list of 700 hobo names, and by my friends at STUDIO 30 PLUS, who wanted to see "reckon" or "guess" in the post.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Two Notions, In 100 Words


I've said it before (HERE), and I'll say it again. Super Bowl Monday needs to be a national holiday. Even if you're not a sports fan - if you don't even watch the game - that Monday is always pointless.

See? Pointless.


I count the days until Pitchers And Catchers Report, and I get eye rolls from non-fans. Listen - It's not about baseball! It's an idea. It is the notion that Spring is coming. Sure, there's some winter left, but it will end, and that relief is hard to describe to someone who doesn't loathe it as I do.


Once again into the wilds of the 100 Word Challenge. Try it - it's fun!

100 Word Challenge

Sunday, February 7, 2016

As The World Spurns

Clear the street - laundry emergency!

"Out of my way, people!" spat Antigone Spit, as she barreled through the shoppers on Main Street. Her best friend, Mallory Many-Bruises, trailed twenty feet behind, struggling to understand not only Antigone's rush, but why she appeared to be starting to undress as she hustled up the street.

"Say, where's the fire, Antigone? And- whoa! Don't take those off! Have you lost your mind? If you have, I'll help you look for it, but I assure you, it's not in your trousers!" 

Mallory's many bruises complained bitterly, but she managed to catch up to Antigone, just as she made a hard left into the Uptown Laundromat and immediately began disrobing in earnest. Mallory quickly doffed her long, raggedy coat, and held it up between her frantic friend and a handful of stunned launderers.

"What on earth has gotten into you? This is the expensive laundromat. We should go to the one on Tenth."

"It's fine," Antigone said, slipping her makeshift burlap dressing gown over her head. "Two loads for twenty-five cents. It's worth it."

"That's ridiculous. How is it worth what I assume is your last two bits?"

"I have to wash these clothes right away," Antigone insisted. "Loving Vincent Hugsalot is back in town."

Mallory Many-Bruises needed no further explanation. But for the rest of us...

Born Vincent Gates, he had been a hobo for fifteen years, since just after the economic catastrophe of 1929. He described his childhood home outside of Chattanooga as "the most huggin-est house in America," where even the mailman got hugged daily. Within weeks of the onset of the Great Depression, he lost his job at the lumber yard, his sister married and moved to California, his younger brother moved to Atlanta to look for work, and his parents died in a beekeeping accident. His transition from life in the world to life on the road was a story oft repeated in 1930. It was hard, blah blah blah, but he learned and survived. 

Vincent's affectionate nature made hobo life even more challenging, as he was simply unable to meet a person without attempting to hug him or her. The wandering homeless of the thirties were not huggers, and thanks to a glandular disorder, Loving Vincent Hugsalot was an especially smelly and lousy hobo. No one wanted to touch him. His embrace attempts were universally spurned, from Chicago to New Orleans. When he did manage to land a hug, his unwilling partner would flail and struggle, so that it looked as if he was wrestling a giant, flapping duck. Once, he tried to give Ol' Barb Stab-You-Quick a friendly greeting, and he was quickly stabbed.

"Oh, Antigone," Mallory said, "You should save the twenty-five cents, and just burn those clothes."

"I got away after only a few seconds, so a good hot washing machine should do the trick," Antigone said. "Honestly, as gross as he is, I feel bad for the guy. All he wants to do is hug people, and no one - no one - will hug him back."

Mallory nodded. "I once saw him try to hug Overly Familiar Fung. That guy loves everybody, but even he was having none of it. It must make him terribly sad." She sighed heavily, and the two women fell silent for the duration of Antigone's emergency laundry session, as they ignored the disapproving stares of the non-hobo patrons - something to which they had become well-accustomed.

Ninety minutes later, as they approached the railroad tracks at the end of Main Street, they saw him. Loving Vincent Hugsalot was trudging along the tracks alone, heading out of town. They stopped, and Antigone groaned at the sight of him. Mallory turned to her friend.

"Hold my bindle, Antigone. I'll be back in a minute."

"What? What are you going to do?" Antigone asked.

"Many bruises be damned - I think it's about time somebody hugged that man back."

This post brought to you at the prompting ("Unrequited" and/or "Spurned") of my friends at STUDIO 30 PLUS. Check 'em out!

Thursday, January 28, 2016


By 1986, space shuttle launches had become routine, so I can't recall why I recorded this one (maybe because it was an early-morning launch, and I thought it would be more spectacular than most). When I got home from class around lunchtime and turned on the TV, I thought it peculiar that they were still live, on the air. 

A mission delay, I thought. 

Tom Brokaw said "let's take another look at what happened this morning." They rolled those few critical seconds of videotape with only the cockpit-mission control audio, and the fateful "Go for throttle-up..." 

It haunts me, still.

My first 100-WORD CHALLENGE! Try it - it's fun!

100 Word Challenge

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Waiting For Buck Mope, or Jack Skunk's Last New Year

Remember Jack Skunk and Jack Skunk Fils, his son? And remember their New Year's tradition? I think it was something about how the father-son hobo duo made their way as far east as possible every December 31st, so that they could be the first to see the dawn of the new year. We last witnessed this feat as 1931 became 1932. Jack Skunk was twenty-seven, and his son was all of about twelve. 

Fast-forward ten years. Jack Skunk Fils, after missing two New Year's Eve celebrations with his father, has joined him at the muddy edge of the San Sabastian River in St. Augustine, Florida. They're camped beneath a few scruffy trees, wedged between Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast Railway and North Ponce de Leon Boulevard. Jack Senior's old friend Goofus is there, and is a welcome addition to the evening, as it appears that Jack and Jack Jr. have little to say to one another. We're not sure why.

"Take it easy on that wine, young man," Goofus said to Jack Jr.. "You don't want to pass out before the sun comes back."

Jack Jr. snorted. "Yeah, yeah. I know what I'm doing, old-timer - but do you really think it's fair to call this hooch 'wine?'"

"Oh, it's wine, alright," growled Jack Sr. as he dropped a freshly-gathered pile of sticks next to the fire. "You gonna do anything tonight besides complain, son?"

"Probably not, Pop." The younger Jack watched as his father bent over to poke at the fire for a moment, before groaning through the obviously laborious task of returning his body to an upright position. The old man was a couple of years shy of forty, but he looked twice that.

Goofus watched as Jack Jr. watched his father. He nodded sympathetically, and his customary jocular demeanor burned off like a morning fog in time-lapse. "Yep," he said softly, "yep."

"What's goin' on, Pop?" Jack Jr. asked. "Is it your back?"

Jack Sr. coughed out a dry laugh. "It's my everything. Say, Goofus - my cup is empty. Help me out, here."

Goofus obliged. "You see why we had to come to Florida for this New Year's, kid? Your old man never would have made it to the coast, up north."

Jack Jr. stared at his prematurely ancient father as if seeing him as he actually was for the very first time. "So, what is this - you're dying? What are we doing out here with the bugs and the damned gators and who knows what else? You need a doctor!"

"Let's change the subject," Goofus suggested. "I had the most glorious dream, this morning."

"Aw, nuts to your glorious dreams, you screwball!" Jack Sr. barked. "Let's list our resolutions. I want to be done before Buck Mope gets here."

Goofus gave an exasperated shrug to Jack Jr., as if to say "do you see what I have to put up with?" He cleared his throat demonstrably. "I resolve to get cleaned up and join the army," he declared. "Also, Buck Mope is a fictitious hobo who is not coming, tonight or ever."

Jack Sr. choked on his hobo wine (it was closer to a paint thinner than an actual beverage, but it did its job and seemed to take great pride in it). "You're fifty! I don't care how many Japs there are - Uncle Sam doesn't need fifty-year old infantrymen. And Buck is real, and he'll be here - you'll see!"

"I'm fifty-three, Jack. I'm not talking about fighting - much as I'd like to, after what they did to our boys in Hawaii. I think I could be a hell of a trainer."

"You couldn't train a monkey," Jack Sr. laughed. "Leave the war to the young men. That's how we win."

"That's how we lose another generation of men," Jack Jr. muttered.

"It's how we win, son."

"Anyway," Jr. said, "What makes you think Buck Mope would want to watch the first sunrise of 1942 with us? I mean - he's sorta famous, ain't he? He saved all those fellas from the Hindenburg."

"He gave his word," Goofus said. "He'll be here. So, you got any resolutions this year, kid?"

"You know it," Junior said. "As always, I resolve to survive."

"Ugh!" groaned Jack Sr..

"And I resolve to finish my hieroglyphic novel, scrawled in creosote on bridges, sheds, and telegraph poles from coast to coast. I think people are going to like--"

"That reminds me," Goofus interrupted, "I also resolve to write down all my best jokes and magic tricks, and find a worthy heir teach them to."

"What about you, Pop? Are you going to make yet another New Year's resolution to get cleaned up, find a job and rejoin society? Again? For the umpteenth year in a row?"

"Don't be smart, Junior. And as a matter of fact, I have a new resolution. I resolve to enjoy the hell out of this sunrise, and to relish the next breath."

Goofus and Jack Jr. looked at each other, then at Jack Sr.. "That's it?" they chorused.

"That's it. Sunrise. Next breath. Done. Look fellas - speak of the devil..."

"Buck Mope?" Goofus looked around excitedly - or perhaps in mock excitement. "Where?"

"No, you dolt. The sun. Ol' Buck Mope's gonna be sorry to have missed this. Look..."

Jack Jr. moved to his father's side and put a steadying arm around him. 1942 was dawning, and he recognized the magic in that first light. "It's nice, Pop. Real nice."

Jack Skunk raised his chin, as if sniffing at the glow rising in the southeast, over the river. He smiled the smile of the fully contented, then sat on the ground, leaned back against a tree trunk, closed his eyes, and thoroughly enjoyed his next - and final - breath.

Buck Mope arrived two hours later, with new hats for everyone. He was indeed sorry, but then, goodbyes never were his thing.


Happy New Year to you all, and don't forget to check out some of my friends at Studio 30 Plus, who prompted us this week with "jocular."


Sunday, November 29, 2015

From The Beloved Dale Thankyounote


[found in Potomac Yard of the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railway, scrawled on a sheet of plywood in the traditional hobo hieroglyphs (eastern dialect) - unearthed during construction of Metro's Blue and Yellow lines in 1976]

Dear Niles Butterbal, The Frozen Turkey,

I thought a note was in order. Hopefully, this one finds you well and happy.

Ol' Barb and I had a lovely time with you and your crew on Thanksgiving, and we are immensely thankful, not only for your hospitality and the wonderful day, but for your invaluable friendship. Your very presence in our difficult lives is one of our most precious blessings.

We thoroughly enjoyed the aspic made from coagulated crabgrass oil, lint, and peanut shells, and your decorations of dead leaves and squirrel skins was second to none.

I especially appreciated the hobo wine. Its foundation was solidly buttery, but its subtle notes of dandelion, hat sweat and lint, hovering just above a subtext of creosote and cinder gave it a complexity that few road brews can claim. Sure, Ol' Barb thought it tasted like a dog poo salad baked in the Texas heat for two days before being strained through a used birthing cloth into a week-old diaper - but she thinks everything tastes like that, so don't pay her no mind. I thought it was yummy.

We were also impressed by your holiday attire - newspaper top hat and tails, burlap gown - not to mention pants! And shoes! So fancy. I know you said it was no big thing, but please accept, once more, my apologies for our appearance. In Virginia, tar is considered clothing. We'll do better, next year - if you'll have us.

As for the meal itself, what can I say? The pigeon was roasted perfectly, and the doghouse straw and sludge added a distinctive pungency that words cannot adequately describe. The mashed dirt was smooth as can be, and the sour pus, human bacon and wild onion grass topping was criminally-delicious. So salty and alive!

Your incessant insults and utter failure to miss a single, solitary opportunity to contradict, correct, or otherwise reprimand or publicly shame us were really just icing on the cake.  We can't wait to see you again, in our camp, for Christmas.

Thanks again!

Love, The Beloved Dale Thankyounote, and Ol' Barb

Prompted, once again, by my buds at STUDIO 30-PLUS, this was in keeping with the theme of "Thankful."