Monday, April 16, 2012

She Called Him Nit Louse (Hobo # 11 of 700)

[Recovered pages of the April 1935 issue of Hobo Times magazine - "Hobo Interview Of The Month: Nit Louse." There was a two-paragraph introduction, but the decades have rendered it completely illegible.]

HT: So, Nit Louse. First things first. How did you acquire your hobo moniker, and do you have any recollection at all of your Christian name?

NL: The lady said you wouldn't ask about my name - or crimes. She promised. "Strictly off-limits," she said.

HT: I'm sorry. I usually start things off by asking about a hobo's name.

NL: And what's the idea calling it a "Christian name?" Shouldn't it just be a given name? I think I might be Jewish.

HT: Really? I had no idea. Alright. Nothing about names. Let's talk about your earliest memories. Do you remember your childhood?

NL: I remember my father getting run over by a streetcar in Indianapolis when I was about ten or so. I remember my mother dying from the polio a couple years later. I went to live with my aunt, but her husband was a drunk, and he beat me something awful, so I hit the road in the middle of high school.

HT: That sounds terribly difficult. Did you become a hobo right away?

NL: No, I got a job at a meat-packing plant. Worked there for almost a year, before my foreman started hassling me about being too slow and whatnot. After I got canned, I tried lots of other jobs, but I wasn't good at anything. It was only a matter of time before I joined the hobo nation.

HT: You must have had some better days before utter vagrancy set in. Tell me about your wife.

NL: My what?

HT: You were married at some point, were you not? I see you still wear what looks for all the world to be a wedding band. Did you ever marry?

NL: Say, what is this - some kind of Spanish Inquisition? 'Cause I didn't expect no Spanish Inquisition.

HT: No one ever does. Look, I'm not here to put you on the spot or make you look foolish. We just want the readers to get to know you. Share as much or as little with us as you're comfortable sharing.

NL: Well, as a matter of fact, I was married once - to a real swell girl from Evansville. Her name was Veronica, and we were so young, but I really thought we'd make it through, you know? She stuck by me through a couple of moves and the loss of, I don't know, three or four jobs. We even had a ki-- We had some good times. But in the end, she said I was a good man, but I'd never be able to support her, and she left me. Remarried six months later - a city councilman, I think. I got no hard feelings. She was right. I couldn't give her the life she deserved.

HT: Are you okay? Do you need a minute?

NL: [wipes his nose on his tattered coat sleeve] I'm alright.

HT: Do you think you can tell us about your child? You tried to stop yourself from saying it, but now that it's out...

NL: Gee whiz, you reporters don't miss a trick, do you? All right, so you got me. Veronica and I had a kid. A daughter. Little Norma. She might not even know it, but she's the one who gave me my hobo name. She was about five when her mother kicked me out. I haven't seen her since a couple of years after that. It's actually her birthday, today. It's the one day every year when I make sure I have two quarters in my pocket. She's eleven, now. Or twelve. Probably eleven.

HT: Okay. I have to ask what's with the quarters, but first, I beseech you...

NL: The name? Aw hell, why not? It's pretty simple, really. My given name is Nicholas. My friends called me Nick, but that would never do for Veronica. She never called me that. It was always Nicholas. When Norma was just learning to talk, she tried to imitate her mother and call me Nicholas, but it came out "nit louse." We tried to get her to call me Daddy or Dada or Pop, and she seemed capable, but no. All day long, "nit louse, nit louse, nit louse." When I turned hobo, it was the only name for me. I know what it means to most people, but to me it's a gift from my baby girl. It's all I have of her.

HT: That has to be the least offensive and disturbing hobo name story I've come across in five years of doing these interviews, sir. Thank you for telling it. Now, about those quarters...

NL: Well, it's her birthday, like I said. Every year I come back to Fort Wayne - where she and her mother and mister city-slicker live, now - and I get cleaned up and go to the Emboyd Theater and wait for my girl. When she was little, she made me promise to take her to a picture show, and I just never had the time or the extra cash. I promised I'd come back to town every year on her birthday and take her to see a movie, but her mother said we'd have to meet outside the theater, since her new husband can't abide having bums seen at the house. I should be heading over there, right about now.

HT: That's a fine gesture, Nit Louse. Has she ever shown?

NL: [checking the clock on the wall] Not once. But I gotta a feeling this is the year. I must be going.

HT: Godspeed, Nit Louse. And thank you.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

700 Hoboes: The Whispered Lies Of Whispering-Lies McGruder

"Everything I whisper is true."

"That's my bindle. I've had it for years."

"My father owns this railroad."

"I know the Chief of Police in this town, and we have an arrangement. He lets me and my buddies camp behind the freight depot and bathe in the water tower, and we let him buy us breakfast at the five-and-dime."

"I got this scar in France in 1917, in a hand-to-hand fight with a 265-pound German. He got hold of my bayonet, and I grabbed his, but it was cold and raining and I lost my grip and dropped it in the mud at the bottom of my trench. I had to fight him in close quarters, hands versus blade. He cut me bad, but I just kept punching and praying, punching and praying, and finally down he went. I found that bayonet, named it Nancy and brought it home with me, but some hobo stole it a few years back as I slumbered under the Southern Railway trestle in Lynchburg, Virginia."

"I got no kids that I know of."

"That sign means 'A dog is buried here,' not 'A mean dog lives here.' It's perfectly safe to camp here."

"Babe Ruth was a hobo before he made it to the big leagues. I rode the rails from Cumberland to Baltimore with him and President Harding's stepson, Marshall for the better part of a month. He was a maestro on the harmonica, and a hell of a cook."

"I had a full scholarship to attend Notre Dame. I was recruited to run track in the spring and play quarterback in the fall. I tore an Achilles tendon while bowling with my buddies the night of high school graduation, and they disqualified me. By the time I was running again, the war was on and I was off to North Africa to fight."

"I didn't steal your beans."

"I don't know what it means to lose the love of a good woman."

"I'm stronger than I look."

"That library used to be a speakeasy. The basement is still full of hooch. If you sweet-talk the spinster librarian, she'll take you down there. If she likes you, you might leave with a gallon of the stuff - and a smile on your face. The trick is to recite Shakespeare to her, but you have to stick to the sonnets, and you have to rearrange them just so - to have the cadence and rhyme scheme of a limerick, without changing the words. It's not as easy as it sounds. But don't go falling in love with her; she's very pretty."

"Those ain't my fleas. I had a bath this morning."

"I stole your beans."

"I don't care to know anything about my father or mother."

"One day I'll get a job and leave all this behind."