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.


  1. Poor Gyppo, unappreciated until after a unfortunate death.

    1. Aren't we all? Aren't we all?
      Actually, sometimes, I feel that I'm unnecessarily cruel to my hoboes. But then I'm all like, meh - life is hard, man! :)