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."


Saturday, November 21, 2015

That Thankfulness Thing - Attack Of The 2015 Edition

Oh yea, oh yea, oh yea - The Court of Thankfulness is now in session and will come to order. Honorable Justice 2015 will preside. For your reading pleasure-- I SAID SIT DOWN.  Thank you.  Now, for your reading pleasure, here are no fewer than thirty (30) things for which the writer hereby declares he is thankful - and you, dear gentles, should be well-grateful that some of them are very, very brief in their depiction. (way more brief than 2012, 2013, and 2014)

To wit:

  1. Baby bear Bei Bei, at the National Zoo. He is a treasure, and [Maris] and I cannot WAIT to meet him.
    Mei and Bei, November 2015.
  2. Another MLB playoffs without atlanta and with almost no yankees.
  3. Halloween - and its décor. 
  4. Celebrating five years at the Humane Society of the United States. This is my longest tenure at a job since I left Erol's Video in 1992. I know!
  5. Our neighbors - the ones whose first dogs ever are pit bulls (poor dogs) - have packed up what we assume is their meth lab and (hopefully) moved away. Now, the wishing for good renters to replace them begins...
  6. We and our loved ones have not been the victims of a terrorist attack. Yet.
  7. [Maris] hit five years, too!
  8. My brother's 20-game plan at Nats Park. Love that Section 405 - close enough to Ben's Chili Bowl, and right next door to the Dogfish Head beer tap.
  9. Legs. Yes, again. Also, not objectifying women.
  10. Lionel trains. It's about time. Only been playing with them since about 1975.
  11. My father-in-law. He left us this year, rather abruptly, and we all miss him, but are thankful to have known him.
  12. Bryce freakin' Harper. Youngest man ever to win a unanimous MVP vote. Maybe not an easy guy to like, but we love him nonetheless.
  13. Black-footed ferrets. More on these little cuties later, if my book ever makes its way beyond the walls of my house...
    ...but which one is Bingo?
  14. Finding out that the young lady to whom I was assigned as "spiritual steward" has turned out to be utterly secular. My work here is done.
  15. My first year since 2008 without a novel to show for it. Wait. No. Not good. Not sure I'm thankful for that.
  16. This Mortal Coil. Such moody music. (nostalgic sigh)
  17. Marriage equality. Because really, who F-ing cares if everyone has the same rights? Oh wait - we all do (should).
  18. Richard Blade. Best DJ since Weasel.
  19. The littlest of my 8 nieces and nephews. Cuz she's just so darn cute!
  20. The return of Bloom County. I cannot begin to express my gratitude for Berkeley Breathed's comeback, and my relief at finding that reconnecting with his world has been effortless, like picking up a 20-years-dormant conversation with an old friend.
    (c) 2015 Berkeley Breathed - used without permission.
  21. Dame Judi Dench. (swoon)
  22. While we're at it - Bill Nighy. (equal and opposite swoon)
  23. The fact that Bubba still talks to me from his grave in the backyard, and that his answer to "how are you" is always, "still dead!" See also: Bubba Drives Away
  24. Smart phones. When they work, they represent more power and connectivity than even the flying cars people promised us - right there in our pockets!
  25. Bubbles, because bubbles.
  26. 10-Cane rum. May it rest in peace - or better still, come back to life. (Moment of silence)
    In memory of the finest of the sugar cane rums. Our mojitos will never be the same.
  27. Attacks of the galloping dumbs, especially when they strike my entire country at once. We're experiencing one right now, and hoo boy, is it ever super-fun!
  28. [Maris]. Words fail.
  29. Writing. Not everyone can do it. Fewer still can do it at all well. Apparently, I has write good. Food for (my) thought...
  30. White noise. Oh, woe unto those around me, should I ever lose my white noise.

This post features double-barrel inclusions of the current Studio30Plus prompt, "Attack." Please check out some of my long-lost bloggy brethren (and sistren) and their bits of written cleverness and mirth!


Monday, September 7, 2015

Why Hidalgo, The Devil Stick Artiste, Was Not

"...People are stupid."

What's in a name?  For most people, nothing.  For some, everything (see: John Fitzgerald Rockefeller Carnegie Getty).  For the American hobo of the 1930s, a name could make or break you, and so much of that equation was out of your personal control.  Such was the case with Hidalgo, The Devil Stick Artiste.

He was a hobo to be reckoned with, they said.  He was fiendish and evil and made of the darkest, blackest magic.  They said.  He'd just as soon jam a rusty blade in your gut and mutilate your innards as he would say hi.  It was said that he could manipulate a devil stick so deftly as to render it invisible, creating a hole in the universe through which Satan himself could speak, luring unsuspecting victims like a carnival barker.  Hidalgo was considered so dangerous that several cities had placed old-west-style bounties on his head.  Naturally, one of those towns was Indianapolis, where stupidity and ugliness were worn proudly.

Sadly, as was sometimes the case with our list of the poor 700 Hoboes, Hidalgo's name was all wrong - or at best, terribly misunderstood.

He was not, in fact, "a Mexican," nor was he named for any "Spanish devil," as it was supposed he was.  His parents, émigrés from France, had met in a Parisian library in 1897 when, hoping to read about the great American mustang named Hidalgo, they both reached for the same newspaper.  They married immediately, and sailed to New York that same year.  When their son was born, there was only one name that would suit him.

Hidalgo's father was killed by poison gas in 1916, defending his native France.  "Mother died soon after," Hidalgo would later recount, "of sadness, and rickets."

As for Hidalgo's skills in the dark arts, his devil-conjuring, and so forth, these attributes of his persona were the products not of exaggeration, but of pure ignorance and speculation.  

Devil sticks were simply batons, used by jugglers.  For juggling.  Hidalgo was indeed a "devil stick artiste," but not in the way that jugglers were devil stick artists.  He did not *USE* devil sticks; he couldn't juggle and had absolutely no aptitude for manipulating the sticks.  No - sorry, conspiracy theorists - he *MADE* devil sticks.  He carved them, usually out of walnut or cherry wood.  He was called "artiste," on account of his Frenchness, and the fact that his sticks were masterfully carved.

Nothing more.  

He was actually a very nice hobo.  Kept to the code, shared and worked and helped and everything - even went to church, when he could get away with it.  But he spent his days, from 1930, when he first joined the hobo nation, to his death of exposure in 1938, fleeing misinformed persecution, because people didn't know what his moniker meant.

It is said that his dying words, in the snow and freezing rain of Lexington, Kentucky, were, "People are stupid."

Prompted once again by my bloggy people at Studio Thirty Plus, this week I went with FIENDISH, although as you have just read, not really.

Monday, August 31, 2015

And The Song Will Fade Out (I Predict)...

The Future - In Color!

Long ago, I declared that I would turn out to be vatic - sorry, to have been vatic.  Finally, my prediction of clairvoyance has been proven true.

What was it that occurred as I foretold?  Several things, actually, but what comes to mind at the moment are the following (in no particular order):
  • In 1993, I predicted that "Achy Breaky Heart" was not the worst thing that Billy Ray Cyrus was going to do to us.
  • The first time I saw MTV (in 1984 - I was a little late), I said, "Well, there goes the radio star."
  • When Go-Pro cameras came out, I said, "Great - we already have sex tapes; now I bet we'll have crimes recorded in 1st-person perspective and posted on social media."
  • When I bought a Camaro convertible, I predicted that some jackwad would flip his and die, and my insurance premium would instantly increase by $129/year, despite my completely ticket- and claim-free driving.
  • When donald trump said, "In no way, shape or form is a Certificate of Live Birth the same as a Birth Certificate," I said, "Oh just you wait - it gets better!"

Pretty impressive, yes?  So... I'll bet you're anxious to see my predictions for the future, looking forward from August 31st, 2015.  For the sake of argument and a blog post, let's just pretend for a moment that you are.  K?  Here we go...

  • The trump thing?  As Yoda taught us, "Always in motion is the future," but I'm afraid he figures prominently in our declining nation's coming years.  Fear not, however, for A) We survived Bush, B) We survived Obama, and C) meh - who cares...
  •  Global warming will not result in the human devastation that so many thousands of climate scientists currently predict.  The reason for this is... man-made intervention.  Remember "Y2K?"  The world's computers were all supposed to fail at midnight, December 31, 1999.  We spent countless billions of dollars to prevent catastrophe, and when it didn't happen, we all bitched and joked about those billions spent, when in reality it was those spent billions that had prevented the catastrophe.  It will be the same with global warming.  Trust me.  It will.
  • Eventually, wireless electronic devices will become uncool, and people will only use them ironically.
  • In another 5-8 years, sex tapes and nude photo leaks will be so commonplace, so de rigueur, that the public will tire of them, and celebrities will once again be forced to actually bring something to the table, in order to garner and hold any substantive attention.
  • The south shall rise again.  HAHAHAHAHAHA just kidding - can you imagine!
  • The Nationals and Orioles will meet in the World Series.
  • Kanye West will have an Oscar.  It will be Emmanuel Lubezki's, for "Birdman," but still.  He will have it.  From an estate auction.
  • "Yes Dear" will be appreciated as the greatest television show of any generation ever.
  • Trains will be replaced by newer, faster trains.
  • Flying.  Cars.
  • Two words:  President Timberlake.

And don't even get me started on where "Bloom County" will take us, in the future.

There.  You're welcome.  

P.S. Winning lottery numbers available, but they'll cost you.

This week, I'm writing in response to a prompt from my Studio 30-plus friends -- for a change!  This time, we were given "vatic" and/or "clairvoyant," and told to GO.  I went.  I'll go again, maybe.  See if I don't!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Then I Don't Wanna Be Czar, Anymore!

Hope springs eternal...

The shadows were getting long.  It was almost time.  The council would not wait beyond moonrise.  Tonight, moonrise would occur a mere twenty-two minutes after sunset.  Czar King Rex the Glorious Leader knew that.

"How do you know that," asked Horus, the Bird-Headed Fool - Rex's jester.

Rex chortled confidently, failing to break stride as he maintained a nine-foot distance between himself and his fool, trailing behind.  "You have to know these things, when you're a czar."

"Oh yeah, well, obviously.  But, aren't you..."

"Aren't I what, Horus?" Rex growled impatiently.

"Aren't you - you know - obfuscating the throne, or something?"

Rex stopped, prompting the fool to stop and back up a step and a half to maintain the nine-foot separation.  "Abdicating, man, abdicating.  And yes, I am.  That's why we're in such haste to meet the council before moonrise.  I plan to renounce my title.  If they won't amend the charter, then I don't want to be czar, anymore."

"Oh yeah," the bird-headed fool said, resuming his march nine feet behind his once again mobile king. "You told me already.  I remember.  I was just wondering if you'll still know stuff like that business about when the moon comes up, when you're not king anymore."

"Of course I will, Horus," the soon-to-be-former glorious leader laughed. "I'll know everything I know now.  The only difference will be that no one will listen when I speak.  And that will be more wonderful than you can ever know."

"Oh, don't misunderestimate me, Rex.  I know a thing or two.  I've heard what the council says about you.  I've seen the scrawls on the poles and barns and bridges.  Your reign has been nothing but headaches for you.  'Rex is a buffoon, Rex is a Marxist, Rex can't do anything, blah blah blah.  I don't know how you put up with it for this long."

"I don't know either, Horus, I really don't.  But no more.  There's the smoke from the council fire.  My freedom is nigh."

"But what am I to do, oh glorious leader?" the fool asked.

Czar King Rex stopped again, and so did his fool, nine feet behind.  "I told you, man.  You will be free, as well.  You can be the next leader's fool, and bring him the same invaluable joy and distraction and relief that you provided me, these past eight years, or you can walk away - a free hobo - to find your own tracks."

The bird-headed fool thought for a moment.  "Can I walk with you?  I don't care if you're the king, or the president, or just another walking dead loser.  You're my friend.  I'll go with you."

"That'll do, Horus," Rex smiled.  

"Can I ask you one question, though?"

"Of course."

"Why are you... abdi-whatever-it-is your throne?"

"It's simple, my friend.  I want to marry Hard-Flossing Hope Peak, and the charter says that I can't, because hoboes aren't supposed to use dental floss.  I tried to get the council to pass an amendment to the charter, and they refused to even bring it to a vote.  I love that woman more than I love being the glorious leader, so there you have it."

"That's the best thing I've heard all day!" Horus declared. "To hell with the council!  Hope is a swell gal.  You're making the right choice."  

"Of course I am, Horus.  Life is short.  Life out here is even shorter.  I'm going to share what I have with Hope, flossing be damned."

"Say, boss?  Maybe we can do a double wedding.  I've been courting Ol' Barb Stab-You-Quick, and it's getting pretty serious."

Rex shook his head.  "Horus, my friend, if you can get that woman to say yes without putting a hole in you, you're on."

 Another bit of hobo fluff, prompted by my writey mates at Studio 30-Plus.


Monday, August 10, 2015

How We Remember It

Calling all eastbounds...

Ted sat on the rusted-out former tractor that had languished atop the hill at the western edge of Seneca Farm since 1970.  More accurately, Ted sat on the Washington Post sports section, which he had intelligently placed between the disintegrating machine and himself.  He stared at the railroad tracks, shook his head, and sighed despondently.  A small rock hissed past him and pinged off the far rail of the near track.  He turned with a neck-straining start, knowing whence the projectile had come, but angry at the loss of another ten years of his young life at the hands of his best friend.

"Dammit, Swack!" he protested.

"What's up, loser?"  Brockton Swackhammer stepped out from between two rows of Maryland corn, now nearing seven feet high, and stopped, basking in imagined applause.

"Nothing.  Just contemplating the famous last words of Socrates.  'I drank what?'  Hey - did you bring beer?"

"Don't quote movies at me, dork," Swack admonished. "We're eighteen years old, now.  And no beer.  That dick at Belby's almost called the cops.  I lost my best fake I.D.!"

"Holy shit, dude!  That sucks.  I could've used one - or twelve."

Swack climbed the front of the tractor and sat astride its dusty engine block, facing his friend.  He reached into his jeans pocket.  "Have a Life-Saver, kid.  Wanna talk about it?"

Ted did indeed want to talk about it.  He had spent the past several years spilling his guts to Swack, lamenting one failed date or unrequited crush after another, and somehow, despite his friend's stereotypical jock callousness, it had always made him feel better.  This time, however, the only person with whom he wished to talk about it was Astrid, but as Astrid was sort of dating Swack at the moment, that was out of the question.  So, Ted opted for Plan B.

He tilted his head back to face the weight of the oppressive July evening air. "Swack, do you remember that last night in Santo Domingo?"

Swack stared at Ted for a moment, searching his memory.  "Huh?  Oh, wait.  Yeah.  How could I forget?"

"You could have forgotten.  I've never seen someone drink so much Cuban rum in one day."

"Fair enough - but I remember, and I want 'Inventor of the Mojito' on my tombstone when I die."

Ted rolled his eyes.  "Yes, we know.  We'll take care of it.  But do you remember what the general said to us?"

"You mean the general who was trying to kill us, or the generalissimo?" Brock asked, returning the Life-Savers to his pocket.

"The generalissimo, obviously.  He said no matter what happened, we would be beloved for generations in his country, for what we had done to save the revolution during its darkest hour..."

"He said our pictures would be on their money!" Swack enthused.

"We have to find out if that ever happened, man.  But, do you remember the airport?" Ted asked, turning his head slightly to aim an ear at an approaching eastbound train, rumbling in the distance.

"Oh come on, Ted," Swack groaned.  "I hate this."

"Search your memory, Brockton Swackhammer.  Look in the deepest, darkest corner.  You know.  You remember.  We have to live with it.  It happened, and it's a part of us."

"Don't make it sound like that.  Gross."

"Can you see the guards?  Close your eyes, Swack.  Can you see them?"

Swack mentally rolled his closed eyes.  "Yes, Ted.  I see them.  Now what?"

"They were just kids, man." Ted whispered.  "They were no more than ten or eleven years old.  I mean... what we did..."

Swack jumped to his feet atop the old tractor.  "We did what we had to do!" he insisted. "It was the last plane out!  What choice did we have?  It was us - and the democratic revolution, the very future of San Juanés - or them!  You've got to let it go, man.  Another 24 hours, and the freakin' SOVIETS would have been there, and then God only KNOWS what would have happened."

Ted shook his head.  "There had to have been another way..."

"Dude!  There were lots of other ways, but most of them would have resulted in nuclear winter, or DefCon 1, at best. You're alive.  We're alive.  The world will never know, and that's that.  God, this is exhausting."

"I know, I know.  But I still have the nightmares," Ted sighed.  "Heads up, man.  Train comin'..."

"I know you do, buddy.  I know it.  Just keep living.  'Keep yourself alive.'  Wasn't that the last thing the generalissimo said to us?"

Ted smiled at his lap.  "Yes.  He was nearly drowned out by the growl of those old Pratt and Whitney engines spooling up, but I heard him."

Swack smacked his friend's shoulder.  "Right.  Now let's go get some rocks.  Train's comin'!"

"Keep yourself alive," Ted said.

"Keep yourself alive," Swack affirmed, barely concealing his pride at having kept up with Ted's latest story of lies.  Santo de-what? he thought to himself.

And we're back!  Again!  With the brilliantly-simple prompt of "fib" and/or "lie," from my buds at STUDIO 30 PLUS, I have ever so tentatively returned fingers to keys.  This is the preliminary result.  Hope you like it.


Monday, July 13, 2015

Walking The Lowly Highley Way

Aaron Three-Shirts, so deprived of oxygen that he barely clung to consciousness, ran up to his raggedy friends.  "Our stuff!  Our stuff!  It's all gone!  Someone raided our camp and took all our stuff!"

"No!" cried Paste-Smeller Luke. "Oh goddammit, no!"

"It's true,"  Aaron said, bent over with hands on knees, breathing hard.  "All gone."

"Not again," sighed Lowly Highley.  "That's the third time this month, and I had almost two hundred bucks in that old bean can - but it'll be alright..."

"Yeah, it's-- hold on.  What'd you say, Lowly?"

"I said it's the third time this month..."

"Not that part," growled Luke, "the part about what was in the bean can."

"Oh.  I had about a hundred ninety-five dollars saved up, and it was in that rusty ol' can," Lowly sighed.  "Oh well, at least we didn't get beat up, this time."

"Which brings us to the part of what you first said that *I* want to talk about," said Aaron Three-Shirts.  "That business about, 'it'll be alright.'"

"What about it?" Lowly asked.  

"I'm just wonderin' how you figure anything's gonna be alright - ever."

Lowly Highley tilted his head at Aaron and Luke. "What do you mean?"

"Well," Luke said, "we been out here since the big crash - that's goin' on four years, now.  How come no matter what happens to us - no matter how desperate and dirty and sick and poor and lowly our lives get - you still got that positive outlook?"

"Yeah, Lowly," Aaron added, catching his breath, "how can you be so sanguine in the face of this never-ending shit-storm?"

"'Sanguine?'" Luke said, looking askance at his fellow hobo.

"Don't judge me, you bum."

Lowly Highly looked at the ground and began to shake his head slowly.  He had tried to explain it to them many times, over the past four years of homeless, stricken wandering.  How else could he say it?  His childhood had been one of freezing deprivation in Halifax.  His adolescence and teen years had been spent in an orphanage of horrors, where he prayed for death.  He started his twenties in the mud, blood, and damnation that was the trenches of France in the Great War, and ended them in a nightmare-addled, poor, hungry, homeless dust bowl.  

Since then, he had wandered like his brethren, worked when he could, suffered and struggled and survived.  He was a dead man walking, but he harbored a strange certainty.  He knew that he'd seen the worst of his days, so whatever happened next was surely gravy, by comparison.

He smiled at his trudging companions.  "It's gonna be alright, brothers.  It just is.  That's all."

And we're back!  As are my buddies at STUDIO 30-PLUS, whose prompt this week was "sanguine."  I had to remind you (and myself) that there were hopeful hoboes.


Sunday, May 17, 2015

And Not Speak Again


I must be about forty-five or fifty years old.  Seen a lot of things, known a lot of people.  Some of those things, the stuff of nightmares.  Some of those people, worse.  

And I've had enough. 

I was born in Baltimore, Maryland on what Ma always said was an exceptionally chilly October morning in 1888.  My school on North Howard Street had two negroes, and only one Jew - me - and no one ever said much about it, so I never thought much about it.  We were just kids, you know?

That was a long time ago, and let's face it - for all their wisdom, kids are stupid.  We had no idea.  We didn't know that we were were better than the poor black kids from Barclay, or the poor white kids from Dundalk or Woodlawn - or any of those gypsies and their bedraggled old glue horses.  We had no notion that we were nowhere near as good as the folks who lived in Ruxton.  I barely knew the significance of my being Jewish.  We were all just kids.

I never learned these social delineations.  Maybe it's because my parents perished when I was very young, before they had a chance to instill such things in me.  My father broke his neck, assembling my second-place-winning 1899 Charles Street Soap Box Derby car, and my mother, who turned to a life of North Avenue prostitution in order to keep a roof over my head, died of syphilis about a year later.  

So, after a couple of hard decades of street-sweeping and streetcar maintenance, when the Great Crash came, my inability to blame the blacks, or the immigrants, or the socialists, or the rich people or gypsies or anyone else made me an odd sort of outcast - and no one liked an odd outcast.  I hit the road, and joined the ranks of America's wandering poor of the 1930s.

I had been a loquacious child, and I was a loquacious hobo.  I simply loved to talk, and I abhorred the slightest pause in a conversation.  To me, silence was time wasted - time that could have been filled with the exchange of thoughts and sentiments and ideas.  I wanted to tell the world who I was and where I came from, and I had an unflagging desire to know everything about each and every fellow I met.  

I had questions, and oftentimes I had ready questions for the answers.  I craved discourse.  I wanted to know all the why's and how's.  I barely knew the difference between Lutherans and Presbyterians, or between Jews like me, and those mysterious Orthodox Jews.  And I longed to meet another man named Solomon, so that I could ask him if he knew just want his parents were thinking when they gave him that name.

I had questions - and maybe, I let myself believe, a few answers.

But no more.

I've said too much.  I've asked too much.  My words have started more fights and ended more friendships than I care to recount.  It's 1938.  There's a movement in Europe to wipe "my people" from the face of the earth, and no one can tell me exactly why.  War is coming, and it sounds bad.  My hobo brethren never cared for my talkative nature, to begin with, and now almost everything I say begins with the word, "why."  

No one  likes questions that start with "why."

I've been beaten and robbed and chased and bitten and arrested and beaten some more, and worse - and most of this, it seems, has started with my inability to hold my tongue.  But no more.  I will not speak again.

No longer will I answer to "Maryland Sol Say-too-much."  They can call me Sol Saynomore.

But I won't answer.

Yet another post prompted by my good buds at STUDIO 30-PLUS.  This time, we were given the "loquacious" and/or "talkative."  I know *I* fit the bill, but did my hobo?  Yes, probably.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

2015: Oh, How I Miss Those Commies

I am fully prepared for the heaps of derision.  Some of you will likely heap derision on me for what follows.  Heaps of it!  Well, do your worst.  I've heard it all before, and then some, so heap away.

Most of your ridicule will undoubtedly stem from the simple fact that I am, by some measures, "old."  Some of your mockery will target my broad oversimplification of a myriad of current issues and events, deliberate though it is.  The remainder of your scorn will come from parts unknown - the "just because" effect.  

As I said - bring it.

"For we who grew up tall and proud
in the shadow of the mushroom cloud
convinced our voices can't be heard
we just wanna scream it louder and louder and louder..."
- Queen, "Hammer To Fall" (1984) 


A critical stretch of my formative years took place between the late-1970s and mid-1980s. Despite being raised in a rather liberal home (thank the atoms for that!), with parents possessed of enough inside information (thank the CIA for that) to allay youthful nuke-death fears, I often found myself unable to sleep. I was held awake by hazy, depressing fantasies of atomic fire raining from the suburban-DC sky, or by rampant, uninformed speculation as to the nature and timing of radiation poisoning from bombs that missed DC, but were close enough (my father was certain that the Soviets' guidance systems were so bad that their warheads targeting the Pentagon would surely score direct hits on Bedford, PA or Cumberland, MD).

These fears, at the time, were not at all irrational.  It could have happened. There were moments, I'm sure, when it almost did happen. I wasn't mature enough to embrace the "you can't live your life in fear" mentality, so it was rather stressful, when I allowed myself to think about it. Which was often.


I still live in the Maryland suburbs, fifteen miles outside the Beltway. Occasionally, just for old times' sake, I consider the realities of a nuclear strike on the Nation's Capital, but such thoughts don't even begin to keep me awake. Actually, nothing does.  Except cartoons. And caffeine. And west coast baseball games. And the assorted pangs and pains of aging. And the litany of threats and horrors of the 2015 world. 

Yeah, litany. Don't make me list them - and DO NOT try to come at me with any of that crap about how harmless and far away it all is, and how super-duper safe I am from every single possible liberal-media-invented (or, to be fair, conservative-media-invented) threat - domestic or foreign - to my way of life, if not my very existence. There are threats, large and small, and they warrant anything from a raised eyebrow to at least a healthy respect. And I don't even have children to factor into the equation. Imagine if I did! Then, all my fears, irrational or otherwise, would be justified!

Anyway.  Bombs, guns, riots, science stuff, crime, terrorism, sleeper cells, gangs, road rage, atheists, guns, religious extremism, guns, cartoons, bombs, Ebola, deficits, suicide bombers, guns, republicans, epidemics, taxes, guns, war, alex rodriguez, beheadings, genocide, mass extinction, homemade nukes, guns, democrats, gas prices, health care, poor people, racism, Hollywood, gay rights, guns, religion, bee deaths, oil, bombs, Kardashians, pornography (speaking of), decline, Seth MacFarlane, guns, Fox News, and MSNBC.  And that's just the things that will kill me before I can finish this Cruzan and Coke! 

And that, my friends, is why I MISS THOSE COMMIES.  Seriously.  I miss them SO much. We knew where they lived.  We knew what they could do, and how they would do it. Hell, we knew how long it would take. We knew what we would do if they did what we knew they could do. It was mutually-assured, and I think they called it "destruction." It was scary as hell, but at least we knew where we stood. The playing field was pretty much level.

Now, not so much. 

No, my chances of suddenly meeting a horrific fate have not dramatically increased, since the end of the Cold War, but I miss having just the one main monster in my closet. It's not a large closet, and it is becoming exceedingly crowded. I have dreams, as do we all, and sometimes they're bad dreams.

Bloom County, by Berkeley Breathed - used without permission (please buy all of his books/collections, because he is brilliant and I don't want to get sued)
Let the derision-heaping begin!

Another prompted piece inspired by my friends at Studio 30 Plus - this time incorporating "derision" and/or "ridicule" into my post. Heap away, guys...


Monday, April 20, 2015

Random Act: What Just Happened?

Last Thursday, I witnessed an act. 

I think it was one of those "random acts of kindness" that people try to tell me occasionally happen.  It seemed random, and I'm fairly certain it was kind.  I know it was over before it started, and I'm pretty sure no one else on the train saw it.

What I know:
  • The Green Line train was extra-crowded.  There were Nationals fans (and some Phillies fans), in addition to the regular 5:30 crush of weary commuters.  This always makes for a somewhat uncomfortable mix of happy, excited riders and tired, annoyed ones.
  • Across from me, there was a young black man, probably in his mid-20s, holding a sleeping 4-to-5-year old girl, presumably his daughter. He was 3/4-asleep, himself. Next to them, another daughter, approximately 7 years old, was also failing to stay awake, her book bag on the floor between her feet.
  • At L'Enfant Plaza station, a young white man, probably also under 30, stooped briefly in front of the snoozing family, as if picking something up from the floor, handed it to the groggy dad, and quickly exited the train.
  • The young father was reticent. And no, I do not mean "reluctant," because A) I know the difference between reticent and reluctant, and B) There was no time for reluctance. This guy just appeared, put a folded piece of yellow paper into the dad's hand, and was gone.  The young father, his hands literally full, was shy. He had been keeping entirely to himself and his small brood.  When the older girl had asked how many more stops, no one heard his reply but her. When the man handed him the note, which was folded around at least a few dollars in cash, the dad remained silent. He glanced up in surprise, but quickly closed his hand around the note and returned his focus to his sleeping children.
  • At the next stop, after giving the older girl a couple of gentle pokes and a quiet "one more stop," he looked around briefly, then snuck a peek at the note and the cash. He smiled. It was an exhausted, but surprised and - I think - touched and grateful little smile. He tucked the gift into the only pocket he could reach - that of his sleeping little girl.

What I do not know:

What had just happened? Technically, I cannot completely rule out the possibility that the dad actually had dropped the item. Nor is it 100% impossible that he and the young white male know each other, and that the item handed off was expected. I do rule these out, though.  I just do.

So... My mind was off and running. How much money? Why? What did the note say? Was it even KIND?

What it probably said was, "God bless you," because that's what it probably said. 

It might have said "Next time you take the train, hand this to the person next to the door as you leave."

Or... "Pay it forward."

Or... "I found this $35 on the platform. I want you to have it."

Or maybe it was a large amount of money, and the note said, "You need a car," or "For college."

But maybe it wasn't at all as it appeared to be.  Perhaps the note said, "Get that kid some shampoo, loser!"

Or... "Don't spend this on booze/drugs/anything that says 'Frozen'/gummy bears."

Or... "I don't like seeing kids on the train - take a cab next time."

Or... "I have made a LOT of assumptions about you and your situation, so please take this and let me go home and feel good about myself."

Or... "Metro's too expensive."

Now, I can't pretend to know what the guy was thinking, when he handed the note and cash to a fellow Metro rider. It's possible that he was utterly misguided. The father and his two girls showed no outward signs of need; they weren't sitting there in rags, and their final stop turned out to be the Navy Yard/Nationals Park station - not exactly the projects. The altruist may have made any number of flawed assumptions, here. For that matter, I may be doing exactly the same thing, now, because really I simply do not know what it was that I witnessed. 

But here's the thing:  IT DOESN'T MATTER. It doesn't matter what the giver's motivation or intention was. It doesn't matter what the receiver's situation or level of need was. A gift was handed from stranger to stranger - a gift that may or may not have even been needed - and neither race, nor income, nor station in life nor anything else mattered in the moment that that gift went from the one hand to the other.

What matters is that someone appeared, did something for someone else, and moved on.  Whether it was a token gesture, or a life-changing event, what matters is the fact that it was done.

Once again, I am here (rather belatedly) prompted by my friends at Studio 30 Plus, who this week gave us "reticent" or "shy." 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Exit: The Unanswered Question of Timothy

[The following was found in 1937, scrawled in the hieroglyphic patois of the American hobo, on a 3-by-4-foot piece of plywood, in Katy, Texas. I did the best I could to translate it.]

My Dear Brothers,

If you are reading this, I am already dead.  If you are not reading this, I am already dead, just the same.  If you are reading this and I am for whatever reason NOT dead, I apologize, because I fully intended to be dead, by the time you read - or did not read - this.

Anyway... I thought about making a hole in the water, but I couldn't find any, in this dusty wasteland, so I decided to grease the track - to take the hobo shortline.  I wanna say that I'm awful sorry to the crew of the train that hit me, and for the mess I must've made.

So.  I'm dead.  Boo hoo.  Some of you will wonder why.  Was it all too much - the hard days and cold nights and hunger and whatnot? Was it one too many miles on my bad knee, and all that agony? Was I just following in the footsteps of my suicidal parents? Maybe, but there was no way I was going to kill myself with a meat grinder, like my father did, or a puppet, like my dear mama.

You might think it was my gimpy, hooch-rotted liver that drove me to do it. Or maybe I took the easy way out, rather than face Ol' Barb Stab-You-Quick, who was mad at me. You might think I just wanted the attention. Another good reason could be the lifetime of bullying I've endured, at home, in school, and on the road. I'm sure somebody out there thinks my fear of beans must've had something to do with it. Of course, my poor broken heart should come to mind as a motivation for my suicide.

But the real reason might surprise you. I chose to grease the tracks because-- hang on. 

Sorry. I hear the westbound comin' for me. I'm so sorry.


The Unanswered Question of Timothy is not buried here. No hoboes are buried here.

Another fun writing prompt from STUDIO 30-PLUS. This time, it was PATOIS. Also, please note that the hobo names used herein come from John Hodgman's list of 700 hobo names, from his brilliant almanac, The Areas Of My Expertise. More about that, HERE.