Monday, March 1, 2021

Rumpshaker Phil And His 25-ish Piece Lonely Hoboes Club Orchestra, And Their One Hit

 

"I got the high part! I got the high part!"

People (no one) often (never) ask me about hoboes and music. Did they play instruments, beyond their simple and awful-sounding whiskey jugs, washboards, and rusty harmonicas? Did they sing, and if so, can any of their lyrics be reprinted here, without fear of being banned from the internet for life? Could they read music? Could they stand to be in close proximity to one another long enough to harmonize? Other questions?

Well. Let me tell you. Legend has it, there were indeed numerous hobo bands, throughout the 1930s and '40s. Surely you've heard of The Pullman Brothers, or Coney Island Skee-Ball Bonanza, or The Wayward Yard Dogs. But while those acts might have attained some notoriety within hobo circles, none of them managed to break through. They never played the dirty back room at the Kit-Kat Klub, or score a hit record - or any kind of record. No, those distinctions belong to one hobo musical act, and one alone.

Rumpshaker Phil, after finding himself jettisoned from gainful employment at the international freight terminal of the port of Philadelphia a few months after the start of the Great Depression, had become a Pennsylvania Railroad hobo. On the docks, he had been called "the maestro," because he could conduct the work of men and machines, such that during his shifts, merchant ships were loaded and offloaded twice as fast as they were under any other foreman's watch. When he was laid off, he tried to bring legal action against the ports authority, for unlawful termination due to his handicap (did I mention that his arms didn't work, 'cause they totally didn't) - but as it was 1930, there was no such thing, and the judge laughed at him.

He learned to survive on the road and master the way of the hobo, but the unheard music wouldn't leave his head, and he knew that he needed to hear it - and conduct it. He set out to make a band. It took years, because he knew only hoboes, and hoboes are, on the whole, profoundly un-musical. But he was nothing if not determined, and one by one, he filled out his Lonely Hoboes Club Orchestra. In order of "signing," we have...

  • Spasmodic Hilary - Percussion, usually in 5/7 time, but often in no discernible time signature at all, because she hated to see her audience "get bored and start tapping their toes or nodding along like donkeys."
  • Crispus T. Muzzlewitt - Long horn (this was actually a trombone).
  • Grant Sharpnails, The Scratcher - Chalkboard. He was not well-liked by people who could hear.
  • Mmmmm Dandy Dundee - Humming.
  • Randal Mouth-Harp - NOT harmonica. He played a teeny, tiny harp. With his mouth. Look it up. It sounded like a toy piano, or maybe a toy harp. He could also tie gift wrap ribbons into beautiful bows with his tongue and uvula. Fun at parties.
  • Maury The Monsoon - Bassoon. He cut his own reeds. Sadly, he could not read music, and had no capacity to learn - and the only thing he could play was a badly-memorized version of "Peter And The Wolf," which can be heard meandering beneath the otherwise majestic hit record by Rumpshaker Phil's band.
  • The Ornamentalist - Exclusively played those delicate blown-glass Christmas ornaments. Often became overzealous in the first few measures, broke them all, and spent the rest of the performance tap-dancing on the shattered remains.
  • NPR Willard Hotz, The Soothing-Voiced - Your host and emcee for the evening.
  • Frypan Nonstick McGee - Black kettle. Also skilled in the popping of corn.
  • Nicholas Crackknuckle - Musculoskeletal Percussion.
  • Amazin' Jack Caroo - Played the kazoo, the most favorite instrument of his niece, who was two, and couldn't pronounce her Z's.
  • Tom False-Lips Real-Teeth - Trumpet, obviously.
  • Whitman Sampler - Fairlight CMI Series III. Yep.
  • Sir Mix-a-Lot - Chief Engineer.
  • Fry Pan Jim Fry - You probably think this hobo banged on a frying pan like some sort of early Disney cartoon character. Oh, yes you do. So did I. Until I listened to the record. Jim Fry's soulful, yet meticulously thoughtful and diligently-practiced flute-and-guitar arpeggios will make you weep. He learned them by studying the sounds his musician father made, over months and years of falling asleep with his ear against the bedroom wall. He was okay on flute, but his work on the six-string was inspiring. Speaking of guitar...
  • Self-Taught-Guitarist Edmund - His scratch-built electric guitars sounded like nothing else ever made by man or god, and did you know that he could play piano? He could. He was a genius and a gentle, happy soul, most at peace when blazing through a 100-decibel improvised solo in front of 15,000 screaming fans. We'll not see the likes of him again.
  • Lamant The Junkman - Percussion (junk).
  • Roadrunner "Meep Meep" Fabong - Didn't play an instrument; just occasionally went "MEEP MEEP," as needed.
  • Sssssssssssssssss, The Hisser - Used only on "Snake Jazz," the orchestra's failed followup to their lone hit record.
  • The Railbender - When steel rails were stressed or bent, they emitted high-frequency shrieks/squeals. It was most unpleasant, but art does not care it it hurts your ears.
  • Fleabottle Boone - Because the band was sorely lacking a jug player, and this was the best they could find.
  • Slam Dance Dooze - Jumped around a lot and crashed into his band mates.
  • Amanda CeeCee Strobelight - Dooze's girlfriend. She was always trying to turn the band on to the music of the B-52's - especially their early stuff.
  • Salad-Fork Ron - Utensils. Also pots, pans, rocks, cats, and sitar. And Hammond organ. Probably triangle, but only if right.
  • Warbling Timmy Tin Voice And His Voicebox - Soloist. With a larynx made of tin, well - you do the math.
  • Souvenir-Selling Mlodinow - See him in the lobby for tacky caps and pins.
  • Owlie - Hoot-hoot sounds, as needed. It is said the band's one hit would never have made the airwaves at all, were it not for his haunting backing vocals.
  • Astonishing Shaun Eyelash - Played several instruments - perfectly - with his eyelashes. Piano, harpsichord, glockenspiel, timpani, stand-up bass, and French horn, to name a few.
  • Mr. Pendleton - First chair (and also lead) violin. He was not actually a hobo, and his time in the band sent him into a desperate, violent depression, which doesn't make a lick of sense, but it doesn't matter, because when their record made the Hit Parade, it was all that he had ever dared to dream, and more.

There. Go look up that record, now. It's like "Gates Of Delirium" meets "Bolero" meets "Eruption," with a backing track of "Star Wars Imperial March." You're welcome.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Ante Vaccine Living, 1A - 1B - 027 - HO Arriba!

So. I owe my friend Godfrey O. Ozzenbarq III (not his real name) an email (yes, we still use email. sue us), and I haven't produced a blog post in almost two months. I'm nothing if not efficient (that's a lie; I'm not efficient - at all), so I thought I'd combine these two tasks and save myself like five minutes...

 

From: Your friend Joe, via Mostly Harmless Drivel

To: Godfrey O. Ozzenbarq III (not your real name)

Date: Saturday, February 20, 2021, 8:49 PM EST


Old-timey Dude,

Your list of categories of people who are ahead of you in the long and winding COVID vaccine queue was almost as amusing as it was depressing. I mean, you're behind blue-eyed Arabs, and it's not even close! Jinkies! That's bad. Carnival barkers and retro duckpin bowlers and Waffle House assistant managers in training - and ALL of the Roberts and Svens?? That list was daunting. I feared that your estimated vaccine appointment date would land several years beyond your expected life span. 

 

A small sample of the people ahead of you

 

But dig THIS!

I was checking out the 71 vaccine information websites for Maryland (2 of them were NOT 100% fraudulent!), and it turns out that you are in better shape than we thought. Yes, you're still behind appendicitis victims (2000-2012), Calvinists, Blockbuster Video clerks, self-parkers, all motor car operators since 1899 and everyone who has a "proper name," but there has been some kind of reassessment of prioritization. I'm happy to report that, because somebody sued the state of Maryland (probably that dimwit asshat Robin Ficker), you have officially moved ahead of:

  • Teachers
  • Nurses
  • Police officers above the rank of recruit
  • All other first responders
  • The elderly
  • Model train store operators, but only "O" and "027" and larger scales
  • Movie theater lobby carpet sanitizers
  • Ultra-high-speed poultry slaughter line monitors and their victims
  • Hoboes
  • People who still haven't tried the Popeyes chicken sandwich because they know damn well it's far superior to KFC's, and makes Chic-fi-la's (learn to spell, you assholes - and learn to make food) seem like a slurry of human thumbs, breaded in deer hair and deep-fried in cellulite. That's not really fair, that bit about Chic-fi-la, because that is precisely how they make their "chicken" sandwiches (although because I am a gentleman, I left out the step with the unhealthy person urine).
  • Barbara Bach. Is she alive? If she's alive, you're ahead of her. If not, then sorry but you gotta get behind her.
  • All "regular" bar patrons at Applebee's
  • Me
  • Okay, you were already ahead of me, on account of your advanced age, but I thought a reminder might make you feel better.
  • Teetotalers
  • Gen Z (it was determined that they are as unnecessary as they are invincible)
  • Accountants (they are the WORST)
  • Veterans of Up With People
  • While we're at it - the Starland Vocal Band
  • Other duties as assigned

So, yeah. Not so bad, right? Now, with our respective vaccination dates so fast approaching, let's get back to our normal routine of bitching about literally everything and inventing complex, vulgar, horrifically-insulting nicknames and descriptors for politicians and Kardashians. 

Yours in doom,

JMSeriouslydudewearejustasdoomedaswewereamonthagomaybemoreso

P.S. How's it going?

Saturday, January 2, 2021

The Storm

 

A storm...

"Life is a shitstorm, in which art is our only umbrella."

- Mario Vargas Llosa

 

I've been thinking about New Year's resolutions - my own, and those of my (which here means John Hodgman's) 700 hoboes. Lately, thinking has been a struggle - and creativity, normally one of my core strengths as a human, has become depressingly hard to summon. A few months ago, I scrolled back to the beginning of this blog and reread every post. I cringed at a few lingering typos, and at some clunky prose and even clunkier ideas, but I laughed a lot, and came away feeling pretty good about a lot of it. I also couldn't help but notice that all that fun and frolic and productivity has dropped off rather precipitously since sometime in 2015. Over the past five years, I've managed to peck out about seven little blog posts per year. In the five years before 2016, I averaged 31 (with that drop-off starting in 2015). You might see where I'm going with this.

Oh, tell me you're NOT going to attempt to blame five years of writer's block on the President!

Okay, firstly - it really is a shitstorm, out there. Look:

See? Stormy! Told you!

Secondly - I haven't truly had writer's block. Over those same five years, I did manage to crank out five more of my little Camp NaNoWriMo novels - and one or two of them may even have some potential. And the few blog posts I've emitted haven't been bad. It's just a challenge to create, lately. Joy is in short supply, and hope has been outlawed.

But, yeah. I kinda DO blame my personal creativity drought on the bloviating tangerine Mussolini currently stealing the silverware and setting fire to the White House and the nation, flipping the Monopoly board over as he tantrums his way toward the door. Okay - technically, I blame the storm, but we all know it is partly of his making. You've seen it. It's real. It's everywhere. It's bad. It's a shitstorm. No need to waste time describing it. It started in 2015, and has built and built and built its way to the Category Five monster that rages around all of us, today.

So. What to do? First, I'll find the horizon. Remember that all storms end. Eventually:

Yes, I know the horizon was visible in the first two pics. Shut up.
 

Second, if I can't be funny or creative, then dammit I'm gonna be twisted. Like, baby-hobo-in-a-blender twisted. Here:

America.

That picture will be old enough to rent a car, this year, and it still says more than most of my other photographs. I resolve to get the old Nikon out - and maybe the ancient 35mm Minoltas - and take some weird pictures. There! A resolution! I probably won't do it.

Ooh! Wait! Here come some more!

  • If the country continues to burn, I'm gonna toast some marshmallows.
  • I will become a better pickpocket, and not get caught all the time.
  • I guess I'll try (harder) to avoid the plague like the plague.
  • Once the smoke clears - and yes, there will be smoke - I'm going to go downtown and take a good, long sniff, just to prove to myself that even the foulest four-year stenches can dissipate.
  • I will finally find an editor or agent or something, and try to get my 2013 novel published. You guys know anyone?
  • I'm going to go through the building where I work, and take down all the calendars. They're all stuck on March 2020, and they make me sad sometimes.
  • I will see the stars for what they are, and feel the cumulative age of their light.
  • Two words: ferrett-juggling. I guess that's one hyphenated word. Whatever. Gonna need one more ferret for this.
  • I resolve to get one more endangered black-footed ferret, for the ferret-juggling, if [Maris] says yes.
  • [Maris] said no. It'll have to be 2 ferrets and a panda.
  • This year, I will find a new place to hang the cute little lighthouse cross-stitch my sister gave [Maris] and me when we got married. The new towels in that bathroom don't quite go with the colors in the cross-stitch, and while it's not a problem at this time, I fear it could become one. UPDATE: [Maris] would rather just change the towels. Crisis averted!
  • I'm going to get my grilled cedar-plank salmon to turn out as perfectly as my late father-in-law's always did.
  • Gonna find my Ebn-Ozn t-shirt.
  • Mirrored contacts. I've wanted them since I was fourteen.
  • Who am I kidding? I will never get my grilled salmon to come out the way Dad-in-law's did. 
  • I resolve to take the Christmas tree down.
  • I will learn to like snow. HAHAHAHAHA just seeing if you're paying attention.
  • Drink more water. I'm not going to do this. I'm telling YOU to drink more water. Please.
  • Okay, I'll drink more water, too. There's water in gin, right?
  • I will laugh at the typo on my 10 years of service certificate at work, every day - instead of rolling my eyes at it.
  • I will demand a better future.
  • I will stop making lists.
  • I will stop making lists.
  • I will stop repeating myself.
  • See what I did there?
  • And I will hold [Maris]'s hand more - especially when she's trying to type. [blogger's note: on my phone, I have a shortcut set up so that when I type two m's, I get the full [Maris]. I keep trying that on this laptop, and obviously it doesn't work, and it wasn't until about the third try that I realized why.]
  • I resolve to be a little smarter, maybe.

Okay, that's all for now. If you're still here, you are a trooper, and I applaud your patience. Thanks for climbing inside my head for a few minutes. It's time for my martini. I will toast to the end of the storm - and to the art that protects us in the meantime...

Photo by mm - see? I did it again! Photo by [Maris]

 

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Monkey's-Paw Patterson's Final Wish

 

I wish it weren't so dark in there-- no, wait!

Nope, nope, nope, thought Matthew "Matty-Patty" Patterson. I'm not falling for that, again. He frowned at his lucky monkey's paw - now 90 percent disintegrated - and dropped it into his ratty overcoat pocket. I'll take my chances with this dank old tunnel. "Not yet, paw..."

In December of 1934, after four years of unemployed, train-hopping hopelessness and near-starvation, Monkey's-Paw Patterson had only one wish remaining on his monkey paw. He had been about to waste his fifth and final* monkey paw wish in order to illuminate the interior of the Catoctin tunnel - which, if we're being honest (which we ARE), isn't long enough to require interior illumination - when he remembered the old fortune teller's admonition from three years prior. The rules were literally set in stone (somewhere): Thou shalt not wish for additional wishes, and thou shalt be wary of that for which thou wishes (wisheth?).

Monkey's-Paw Patterson's hobo-ing companion, Hell's Own Breath Hinkley stopped momentarily. "What?" he asked.

 "What what?" Patterson replied, hoping that he wasn't about to embark on an infinite feedback loop of "whats."

"Thought you said something - 'Not yet, pa?' Something like that?"

"Oh - yeah," Patterson laughed. "Sorry. Just thinking out loud again, I suppose. Almost used my monkey's paw to light up this tunnel, but I only got one wish left, and I ain't wasting it on that."

Hell's Own Breath Hinkley nodded in the semi-darkness. "Smart. Say - that thing ever really work?" He heard the sad sound of Matty Patterson's bum left foot as it dragged, zombie-style, across the railroad ties, occasionally sending a piece of ballast gravel skittering ahead of them - and he cringed.

"Well, yes and no, pal. It kind of works, but there's always some awful gotcha. First thing I did when I got it was wish for my parents to not be dead. They died of infected pigeon scratches, in the bird war..."

"No kidding? That's terrible," Hinkley said, laying a hand on his friend's shoulder.

Patterson continued. "Yeah, and I just wanted to say goodbye and tell 'em I loved 'em. So I took the paw to their grave and made my wish, and sure enough, the ground shook and split open and out they popped. They weren't dead - but they weren't really alive, either. They growled and lunged at me, and bit me on my foot as I struggled with them. I barely got away in one piece. My poor foot ain't been the same since."

"That's horrible," Hinkley said, inadvertently launching an invisible cloud of hell's own breath in the direction of Patterson.

Monkey's-Paw Matthew gagged. "Oh, God - Hinkley! You're killing me!"

"Sorry."

"Anyway," he coughed, "My second wish was so simple, I thought it was a sure bet. I was hung-over something awful, after a night of drinking hobo wine, and I had the kind of headache that makes you think dying might be better. I wished for that headache to go away, and POOF! Gone in an instant."

"...And?" prodded Hinkley, remembering to cup his hand in front of his mouth. "What was the catch?"

"My guts pretty much exploded out my backside - right then and there, and for the rest of the morning. I would have had to rally just to die."

"Good Lord!"

"Damn right," Monkey's-Paw growled. "So, my third wish was wished in the heat of the moment. Ol' Barb Stab-You-Quick was fixin' to stab me - quick - so I wished for her to, you know, not stab me."

"That musta turned out okay," Hinkley said. "I mean, you're still here, ain't ya?"

"Oh sure, pal. She didn't stab me, no siree. She hit me with a hammer, instead. I think she probably fractured my skull. Took a half-dozen other 'boes to get her off me."

"You sure have had it rough, my friend. It's hard enough being a hobo, these days. Maybe you should throw that paw away. Sounds like it's more curse than blessing."

Patterson sighed heavily. "I might, I might. The fourth one was insulting. I'm telling you - it was just plain mean."

"What was wish number four?"

"Well - you know about my bum foot, right - on account of my undead old man biting me?"

"Yeah..."

"Well, that's not the foot that got bit. He bit my right foot. That was the gimpy one. So, I wished for it to go back to normal, and boy, did it ever! And just as quick - the left one went bad. It might even be worse than the right one had been. So, yeah. I gotta be real careful with this last wish..."

"You're a little slow on the uptake, ain't ya?" Hell's Own Breath Hinkley said absently. 

"Watch it, bub."

"Oh don't get sore with me - it's almost Christmas. And besides, you really should've learned your lesson by the second wish. So, what are you thinking for number five?"

"I don't think I'm supposed to tell anyone," Patterson semi-lied, having not been given that specific instruction. "Come on - it's getting dark. We better get camped, and get a fire lit..."

Late that night, with Hell's Own Breath Hinkley snoring stinkily away by the fire, Matthew Patterson stepped quietly to the edge of the firelight, removed the decomposing monkey's paw from his coat pocket, rubbed it gently, and began to wish. I'm begging you, paw - please make this Depression better. I want to work. I want a roof over my head. I want to see a doctor when I need one. I want to eat real food. I want everyone else to have these things. Please, please, please fix our broken country. I don't need the twenties back - the twenties weren't great for regular folk like me, anyway - I just wish we could all get well, okay? Not great. We'll take care of great. Just... fixed. Please?

A few days later, trudging through Hagerstown, Maryland, Monkey's-Paw Patterson saw a discarded newspaper. Its top two headlines: "America's Recovery Making Steady Progress Under 'New Deal,' and "Nazi Party's Swift Rise Alarms European Leaders."

"Well, hell," Patterson muttered. "I tried."

 

*We are well aware of the fact that W.W. Jacobs said the monkey's paw would grant three wishes, but we think that's dumb, on account of monkeys having FIVE digits, and the number of wishes corresponds to the digits and that's that. End of discussion.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Gravybelly Dunstan Is Doing Very Well

 

These are not railroad tracks.

 I can't believe I have to do this, again, Stitches The Railyard Sutureman muttered to himself as he approached a makeshift lectern made of stacked fruit crates, AGAIN. He looked out at the assembled hobo press corps - which here means the ten hoboes who could read and write - and sighed the sigh of a man defeated.

"Gentlemen, I'm pleased to report that Gravybelly Dunstan is doing very well. In the three days since sustaining his injury, in the Cumberland terminal hump yard, he has made great progress, and I am very, very impressed. I've never seen a patient make so much progress so soon after--"

"Excuse me, doc," one of the gathered reporters interrupted, "Did you say three days?"

"What?"

"You said it's been three days since Gravybelly's injury?"

"Oh, yes. That's correct. And as I was saying, given the nature of the injury, his recovery has been remarkable."

Another hobo raised his hand, sending a little cloud of dust into the cool Maryland air. "We were told that this happened early yesterday. It was all over the hobo telegraph. An empty boxcar came rolling down the hill from the hump and clipped him - took his left arm clean off."

The Railyard Sutureman frowned. "That's correct. Before dawn, yesterday. I cauterized the wound with a hot iron, which is an experimental technique I've invented--"

"I'm sorry," another grubby hobo reporter interjected, "to be clear - you're saying this accident happened early yesterday?"

"Correct. And he's really doing very great. So great. He's the greatest patient I've ever treated. I mean, to lose your right arm at the elbow, and and five days later, to be sitting up, eating beans and begging to be released from the hobo hospital camp - it's just amazing."

The raggedy press corps exchanged confused glances. The young reporter from Gravy Times stood up. "I think I speak for everyone here..."

"You don't," several others chorused, beneath their collective breath.

"...when I say that we are very relieved to hear this wonderful and encouraging news about everybody's most favorite hobo. Thank you for your wonderful work and groundbreaking new - what did you call it - cauterizing technique..."

Another hobo snorted. "People have been cauterizing wounds since five minutes after the discovery of fire - and did you say, 'five days later,' Stitches?"

"That's correct."

"But you just said it was early yesterday."

The hobo surgeon shook his head. He silently cursed himself for allowing his life to reach this point. In his pre-hobo life, he had been a student, two years into medical school at NYU. His dream of becoming a doctor had disappeared when his father was ruined in the first months of the Great Depression. His mother left them, one night, never to be heard from again, and his father contracted lethal hiccups soon after, and died from a combination of exhaustion and exasperation. 

Stitches (which was his given name), unable to pay for school - or to find work in the city - joined hobo nation in early 1930. He quickly gained a reputation as a skilled wound sewer-upper, and he wandered the eastern half of the country tending to hobo injuries large and small. He was admired. He was a contributor to hobo society. He came very close to respecting himself. 

Then, he was "hired" to be the private full-time sutureman to Gravybelly Dunstan, the most widely hated hobo since U.S. Fool. He paid in actual pennies, instead of the customary lint, but every other aspect of this "job" was terrible. 

He took a deep breath and looked at the hobo reporter who had asked the last question. "Correct. We cauterized the wound early yesterday. The incident that caused the injury occurred on Sunday. Simple explanation."

"Sunday was six days ago, sir," the reporter said.

"Exactly."

"So, you're saying that Gravybelly was maimed six days ago - not three or five or one-and-a half days ago?"

"Yes."

"And he's doing well?"

"As far as you know, yes."

"What?" The reporter shrugged at the hobo next to him and mouthed the words "Help me."

"As far as we know?" repeated the next hobo.

"It's very simple, fellas," Stitches said. "Gravybelly Dunstan was struck by a runaway caboose on the Western Maryland Railway outside of Frostburg a week ago Thursday, suffered a compound fracture of his lower right leg, was brought to me this morning for surgery, and is healing faster than anyone ever has from anything ever, because he is the strongest and smartest and best, and--"

"But--" 

"No further questions! God bless Gravybelly Dunstan!"


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Sully Straightjacket's Third Mini Freakout

...than a pile of iguana.


"Do I exist?" Sully Not-yet-called-Straightjacket asked. 

His traveling companion, Plastic-Moustache Mortimer Tall, shook his head, as if trying to free swimming hole water from his ear. "What?"

"Just - just tell me I exist," Sully No-Nickname-Yet said, as the two of them shuffled along the rails from east to west down the old Santa Fe mainline on the outskirts of Topeka, one chilly April morning in 1935, rousing tiny clouds of frosty brown dust as they trudged.

Plastic-Moustache Mortimer Tall needed a moment to formulate a response - one that would clearly demonstrate that of course he was listening to Sully, but at the same time would fall short of full engagement. As per usual, this delicate balancing act manifested itself as a second "What?"

Sully stopped and turned to Mortimer with a look of profoundly lost helplessness. "Do I exist? Am I even here? Just tell me I'm real."

"Oh, Lord," Mortimer groaned. "You're real, you're real. You're as real as my moustache. Simmer down."

"Gasp!" Sully gasped. He had an annoying habit of saying the sound he needed to emit. "Your moustache is as fake as the New Deal! Look at it - it's plastic! Oh, surely I am not here. I'm but a vapor. A thought passing through your head, without a place to be or an ounce of realness. Oh, this is bad."

Mortimer took Sully by his ratty hobo shoulders. "What's this about, buddy? Look at me. What's eating you?"

Sully looked his friend in the eye for a nanosecond, then turned his attention to the ground, then the sky, then the ground again. "I just... don't feel real, is all. Since the world went to hell, I ain't hardly seen another living soul, apart from you and the occasional cop - chasing us across this wasteland of jobless, homeless depression. Nothing else. Just us and some tormentors. I kinda feel like maybe I ain't real, no more. Like, I ain't even here. Maybe like a ghost or something..."

"Oh, for Pete's sake - you're here and you exist and all that. We just left Topeka. We had an honest-to-God meal, last night at St. Thomas Church. Remember that? Gravy all over top of the whole dish?"

Sully licked his lips. "That was something. Still. Could've been a dream - some kind of phantasm that a ghost would remember..."

"You're not a ghost. You're not dead. You're real," Mortimer grumbled, trying not to lecture his anxious hobo friend. "We're hoboes, Sul. Have been since November '29, when you lost your job at the Ford plant and I quit for insubordination at Sears & Roebuck. That was a half-decade ago, and since then we've stolen train rides and walked and run I'd say ten thousand miles or more - from town to town and job to job, just keeping to ourselves and surviving."

Sully moped. "I'm a ghost," he sighed.

"You're NOT a ghost! But you keep this up, and you're gonna be!"

"Oh don't get sore, Mort. I'm just having a hard time, again. When we started out on the road, I knew the world was gonna end for a while, but I kinda thought, you know, maybe a few months. Next thing I know, it's a year, then two. The world's still done for. I walk through it with you like a feeble little dust bunny..."

"Dust bunny?"

"Yeah. Like a ghost made of dirt." Sully looked at Mortimer, who appeared to be stifling a laugh. "What?"

"You were nuts before this started, weren't you?"

"Oh, and how! I was loonier than a pile of green iguanas."

Mortimer, his laughter now successfully stifled, blinked slowly at Sully, as he once again searched for the appropriate response. "How loony is a pile of green iguanas, pal?"

"You don't want to know. Boy howdy, they can get up to some shenanigans."

"You don't say. So, for the uninitiated, like me - what kind of shenanigans can a loony pile of green iguanas get up to?"

A wry smile slowly worked its way across Sully Soon-To-Be-Nicknamed-Straightjacket's face. "Well, for starters, they rigged the election in favor of Hoover. Then, they invented Prohibition, and Fascism, and Suffrage, and automobiles - all on dares - just for fun. They're bonkers, I tell you."

"Ah. I see. And you are loonier than they are?" Mortimer said.

"Yep."

"Yeah, okay. You exist, Sully Straightjacket. You're the realest fella I know."

Sully signed contentedly, and resumed walking westward. "Good. Thanks, pal."

Friday, March 27, 2020

Socially Distant: Lonely Heiney Alan Meister's Life In Black & White

Grafton. Neither words nor pictures can do it justice.

It is a rare and wonderful thing to have the opportunity to interview an actual, living hobo, for obvious reasons - not the least of which is the stories they possess. I prefer to share these using the hobo's own words, but Lonely Heiney Alan Meister's interview answers were so riddled with profanity and other offensive language (don't ask), I thought it best that I paraphrase liberally. 

To wit:  He "found" a camera - a Woldemar Beier model Ia with only the first shot of film exposed - in Grafton, West Virginia. Paraphrasing: Grafton looks like a diseased colon turned inside-out, and it smells about the same, but the B and O hotel sure looked nice. Between 1933 and 1944 he shot the 11 remaining frames of a 12-exposure 35mm roll.

I hear her voice, in the morning hours she calls me...
The second shot - smoky greatness in the mountains surrounding Clingman's Dome, Tennessee. Up there, I was never more alone - or farther from the rails. Don't get me wrong - I liked people. I only walked alone because I was sure I still carried the Spanish flu that killed my folks (Well, my mother. My father fell off the sidewalk.) in 1918.

Wait. What?
Frame #3: A pelican - possibly in Florida or Georgia. I don't know. Somewhere on the Gulf Coast. Near Biloxi, maybe? That bird was NOT at peace with my proximity. But I threw him a fish from some fellow's bucket, and he followed me halfway to Birmingham.

Cows.

More cows.

Okay. Kind of a lot of cows.
What's with all the cows, says I. The fuzzy cows were in Winchester, Virginia in 1934. The black steer is near Leesburg, the same year. The dairy cows are outside of Dickerson, Maryland, 1935. What? I went through kind of a cow phase.

What happened... to the trees...

Ah. Logging railroad. Got it.
The images of a hillside nearly stripped of trees, and a shay locomotive told me all I needed to know, but I asked anyway. Bald Knob, West Virginia, he said (minus seven expletives). They cut down trees not even planted yet. I loved watching those shays churn their way up those hills, but the destruction made me sad.

More cows. Okay. Back on track...

Woodland cows. Why not?
Near good ol' Harrisonburg, Virginia, I think. Them cows didn't seem to mind the floodwaters, none, but boy howdy they didn't want their picture took. Those heifers in the woods next to the N&W in Shenandoah Junction [West Virginia] didn't mind me or the train. I spent the rest of my days aspiring to that kind of coolness.

Appalachian prison... oh what the hell???
Next: Alcatraz. What? So I went to San Fran. Lots of hoboes did. I don't have to answer to you!
 
How long did you have this camera, man?
Is that a modern RF tag on that there longhorn, I ask. Texas, he whispered, as if recalling a sighting of the great white buffalo. Texas. I walked alone, because I listened to the doctors. I would be damned before I'd pass that flu on to some other kid's parents. So I walked alone. Saw a lot of whiz-bang stuff. Took a few pictures. Kept on walkin' and had a pretty good life. I don't know much, but I know I got to this here bed without makin' anything worse.

That must count for somethin'...