Friday, July 20, 2012

Hobo #17 of 700: Name Withheld

In 1937, the House Committee on Hobo Re-assimilation was given the daunting task of defining an underground nation of transients in order to make recommendations as to how the US government could transition the track-side drifters back into civilized society.  Early on the third day of what had been rather low-key, downright cordial testimony, they reached Hobo #17 on their witness list, and things took a turn.

Rep. Cigar-chomper (D - MN) - Welcome, Mister... (checking his notes)... Mister Number Seventeen on The List.  "Name withheld?"  Do you really feel that's necessary, Number Seventeen?  And who is this gentleman?

#17 - This is my attorney, Judge Roughneck, sir.  He's here to ensure I don't slip, lest I wind up ensnared in some so-called treason of your own invention.

Rep. Fat-cat (R - NY) - Mister Seventeen, this is not that kind of hearing.  You are not charged with a crime, nor are you so much as a suspect in any wrongdoing whatsoever.  Your... "attorney" is completely unnecessary, at this point...

Judge Roughneck (whispered to #17) - [inaudible]

#17 - Just the same, sir, I have a constitutionally-protected right to legal representation at these proceedings.  With all due respect, of course...

Rep. Fat-cat - Suit yourself, Number Seventeen.  We are not adversaries here, today.  By the way - I do believe your legal representation has fallen asleep.  I'm afraid you may be wasting your hard-earned money on this so-called attorney of yours.

#17 - Oh, I'm not wasting any money at all, sir.  Judge Roughneck works... what was that word, again?

Judge Roughneck - Pro-beano.

#17 - Pro-beano.  Yes, that's right.  He works for beans.  He'll take 'em barbecued, but Boston style are his favorite.

Rep. Cigar-chomper - That's fine.  Well, we will not keep you and your esteemed barrister long, Number Seventeen.  We just want to ask you a few questions - questions, the answers to which might point us and our colleagues in the Federal Government in a direction that will be mutually-beneficial to us and to you and your vagrant brethren.  Now, how long have you been a hobo?

Judge Roughneck (whispered to #17) - [inaudible]

#17 - I am not a hobo, sir.

Rep. Pork-barrel-chest (R - IN) - Oh, here we go...

Rep. Fat-cat - Number Seventeen, let me remind you that this is not a grand jury.  You are not even under oath, at this point.  We are here to try to find a way to help you, to guide you and your friends back to the light, back to America.

#17 - Bah - America...

Judge Roughneck (whispered to #17) - [inaudible]

Rep. Cigar-chomper - And sir - if you are not a hobo, then I am Little Orphan Annie.

Rep. Fat-cat - Mister Seventeen, it says here that you ride the rails of Pennsylvania, mostly along the main line from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg, as well as the B&O as far south and east as Meyersdale.  What would you say are the biggest obstacles to a man such as yourself finding true love?

#17 - Well, my hygiene, first and foremost.  I mean, a fellow can't just drift into the Priory Hotel in Pittsburgh on a Friday night and-- say, what's the big idea?

Judge Roughneck (whispered to #17) - [inaudible]

#17 - I have never been to Pennsylvania, sir.

Rep. Pork-barrel-chest - Of course you have, you dolt!  The Pennsy Railroad police have a five-page arrest record on you.  Our agents picked you up track-side in Somerset County.  This is an outrage!  Just answer the questions!

Rep. Three-piece Suit (D-MA) - Gentlemen!  Let's not lose sight of the spirit and intent of this hearing.  Mister Number Seventeen - we want to help you find your way back.  We have the backing of the Federal Reserve and the New Deal.  We can have you working and paying your own rent again by next year.  But you have to meet us halfway.  Now, we know you are a hobo.  We know you have been a hobo for at least the past nine years, and we know that your travels have been limited to southwestern Pennsylvania.  Now...  Oh, now what?

Judge Roughneck (whispered to #17) - [inaudible]

#17 - Then why did you ask?

Rep. Fat-cat - Excuse me?

#17 - If you know all of that, then why did you ask?  I appear to be... [leans over to let Judge Roughneck whisper once again into his ear]... superfluous to these... [more whispering]... proceedings.

Rep. Three-piece Suit - Can we lose the hobo lawyer, please?  Sir?  Do you even have a law degree, sir?

Judge Roughneck (looking skyward) - Move to strike?  Badgering!

Rep. Fat-cat - This is not a trial, sir.  And-- wait.  What is that?  Is he urinating?  Are you urinating on the floor of the House of Representatives, sir??

#17 (looking under desk) - Yes, your honor.  Yes, that is what counsel is doing.

Rep. Fat-cat - Page!  Page - get this man out of here!  

Rep. Pork-barrel-chest - Order!  I will have order in these proceedings!  (bangs gavel)

Rep. Three-piece Suit (head in hands) - Number Seventeen - we can't help you if you insist on behaving in such a manner.  Now, I understand your misgivings - your distrust in the men gathered before you.  My brother was a hobo from 1921 until his death in 1932.  We are not here to take away your freedom or your stick and bindle or your cans of beans.  We just want to help.  Help us help you.  What can the US government do to help you, sir?

Judge Roughneck (whispered, from the chamber doorway as he is dragged away) - [inaudible]

#17 - I want what most men want.  I want to be left alone.  I want my belly to be full.  I want to feel that if I should fall, someone will give me a hand and help me to my feet.  Nothing more, mind you - just to my feet.  I want shoes that fit and don't let the mud in.  I want a good winter coat, and some coal for my fire.  What else is there to want, sir?  

Rep. Three-piece Suit - That's what we're here to find out, Mister Seventeen.

#17 - Well, do your worst, you curs - I ain't talkin'!

Rep. Pork-barrel-chest (to a Congressional page) - Get this man something to eat, twenty-five dollars cash and some coal from the boiler room, then take him to Woolworth's and buy him a good long coat and a proper pair of shoes.  Do it now, page.  Unless, that is, there is more that Mister Number Seventeen would like to share with this committee.

#17 (leaning toward the now-vacant space next to him, most recently occupied by Judge Roughneck)  What do you think, Judge?  Oh...

Rep. Fat-cat - He's gone, sir.  Just talk to us.  What else can we do?  Do you need training?  Have you any experience in a trade?  Are you a veteran?  A high school graduate?  There are no right or wrong answers, here.  We have no interest in keeping honest people who are willing and able to take part in the great recovery from doing so.  Please tell us what you want.

#17 - Can I have a shot of bourbon?  I could really use a good belt right about now.

Rep. Fat-cat - Done!  What else?

#17 - Well, now that you mention it, I've always wanted to ride a sled down Capitol Hill on the first December snow...

Rep. Fat-cat - Sir, my page informs me that when he and the Secret Service jettisoned Mr. Roughneck - if that was in fact his real name - from the Capitol, snow was observed falling from the afternoon sky.  I'm told that several inches have already fallen.  Will that suffice, in your estimation?

#17 (smiling) - Yes.  Yes, sir - I think that is just what the doctor ordered.

Rep. Pork-barrel-chest (banging gavel) - This hearing is adjourned.  It's snowing!!

Friday, July 13, 2012

700 Hoboes: Sistery Brothery Nabob - She's the Man!

Nancy Jeanne Terwilliger died of polio in 1932, at the age of eight.  Her fraternal twin, Robert Theodore, did not die at age eight.  Somehow, he escaped the wrath of the insidious disease when it invaded Hope Falls, Pennsylvania.  It took Nancy and sixteen other children between the Christmases of 1930 and 1932, leaving Bobby and only a half-dozen other kids alive in its wake.

While it is true that polio didn't kill Bobby Terwilliger, the loss of his twin sister left a hole in his life, a wound from which he never recovered.  Nancy and Bobby had an adoring baby sister, Katherine, who was three-and-a half when Nancy died.  Kat couldn't quite grasp what had happened to her sister; she only knew that she was gone.  The Terwilliger kids' father had been killed in a terrible explosion at the nearby Hope Mountain coal mine when Kat was an infant.  Their mother was a strong, stocky Irish woman who worked as a nurse at the same mine, and she soldiered on as best she could after her husband's death, but when polio came and took Nancy, she turned to the bottle to numb her incalculable pain.

Bobby tried to take on the "man of the house" role after his father's death, but he was just too young.  When Nancy died, he tried again to expand his job description, this time adding the duties of a big sister.  It worked.  He was Kat's big brother, protecting her from spiders and things that went bump in the night and teaching her how to fight and wrestle and spit.  He was also her big sister.  He braided her hair, helped throw tea parties for her dolls and listened to her when she spoke.  He even let Kat call him Nancy.  He took his split role as brother and sister very seriously, and he excelled at both.  When Kat's high school beau broke her heart by kissing some other girl at the Enchantment Under The Stars dance, Bobby had beaten the louse to a pulp and been home in time to meet his sobbing kid sister at the door.  He had stayed up all night with her, as she wrestled with her teen angst and grief and hurt.

By the time Kat had found a husband and moved to Harrisburg, most of Bob's friends had begun calling him Nabob, a name that didn't hurt him nearly as much as they had hoped it would.  When he, like so many of his contemporaries, had finally given up his life of day-labor queues and bread lines in favor of the hobo road, his reputation as the sister-brother man from Hope Falls was stuck to him like flypaper.  And it wasn't just a name.  He was the best man and woman any of his hobo brethren had known, and he made no apologies for that.  He was a brother.  He was a sister.

He was Sistery Brothery Nabob.  And he was fine with that.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Meanwhile, Back In The Camp Journal...

I spent June in a state of self-induced torment called Camp NaNoWriMo, a summertime version of National Novel Writing Month.  The goal is simple:  Write a novel of at least 50,000 words, and do it within the span of 30 days.  I've completed four of these months since November, 2009 - two November sessions and two Camp sessions - and I have loved and hated each one.  The idea behind the summer camp version is that November is too busy for a lot of us, and that we'll have more time to crank out all those words in June or August.  Yeah, maybe.

I've been doing the blog thing, writing mostly about hoboes, for a while now, and switching gears from short-form to long is a challenge.  In blogging, efficient writing is important, and I try to use an economy of words.  That's actually a good practice in most writing.  These NaNoWriMo exercises basically demand wordiness.  To add to the challenge for this one, I abandoned the zombie apocalypse of my last two novels and instead started from scratch.  I love my undead friends, and I'll revisit those projects soon, but zombies are easy.  I wanted to stretch myself a bit.  I also kept a camp journal, because as these marathons drag on, I tend to forget who and where I am and what's going on.

I didn't really keep a camp journal.  Are you kidding?  50,000 words in 30 days.  That's almost 1,700 words a day - with a full-time job.  But if I had kept one, it might have had excerpts like these:

June 1st - Only managed 917 words.  Someone brought rum to camp!

June 2nd - Hard to write when Stephen Strasburg was pitching for the Nats and it was on TV in the counselors' cabin, but after the inevitable victory, I was on fire.  I have 4,132 words and a headache.  There are people in my book.  So far, they haven't done much of anything - except of course for Brock Swackhammer, who is a man of action.

June 3rd - Maybe rum at camp is a good thing.  Over 8,100 words, and Swack's already behaving badly.  There's also been sex-quality coffee, and apparently everyone in my book is a smart-ass.  I know!  How is this happening?

June 11th - Wait... You want another 1,667 words today?  I just gave you 1,667 words.  What is this, a labor camp?  And why are my characters making decisions for themselves?  I did not authorize any of those shenanigans at the beach.  Who's writing this thing, anyway?

June 16th - I got lost on the stupid nature hike, and had to make fajitas without a grill.  My story has wandered off and is now totally bossing me around.  I miss my wife.  I miss my blog.  I miss my hoboes.

June 19th - Didn't write.  At all.  Who knows what my characters are doing without my supervision.  I thought I saw an albatross, this morning flying over the camp from the east.  That's why I couldn't write.  Everyone knows the appearance of the eastern albatross, especially within four days of the summer solstice, signals nothing but heartache for those who type drivel at any rate that falls between 30 and 40 words per minute.

June whatever 27th or something - Why is there camp on weekdays, too?  It's stupid and I hate it.  I'm never doing this again.  And if those fictitious little buttheads make me cry in front of the other campers again, I'm deleting them.  See if I don't!  

June 29th - It's 102 degrees outside.  You iron a lot of cars but don't say why you won't call the textbook example of rotisserie bonanza fire.  My grip is fine, why are they attacking me?  I'm just a bill, and I wasn't but askew will never infield fly rule.  Right?  RIGHT??

June 30th - Okay, seriously - what is a "derecho?"  Knocking the power out on the last night of camp may seem like a cool idea - roughing it and whatnot - but it's really not.  I'm one of the lucky ones, though.  Many campers are dead, or worse - still have no electricity.  I have over 50,000 words, but my characters simply will not shut up, so I have to keep typing during the bus ride home.

I've been home for a week, and I have a Camp NaNoWriMo T-shirt, and a badge to stick on my Facebook page, and a patch.  That's the best thing about camp.  You get NOTHING for succeeding.  Nothing.  In fact, if you wanted to, you could just copy and paste 50,000 words from any source on your computer - or anywhere on the whole wide world interwebs - and paste it into their word-count verifier and "win."  You'd be a giant loser, but you could do it.  

Only then you wouldn't have the one good thing they do send you home from camp with - a rough draft of a novel.  I'll make myself crazy again for 30 days come November for another one.  Maybe it'll be about hoboes.