Sunday, February 10, 2019

On The Cultivation Of Another Alternate Memory

Harvest Time Approaches (photo by J. Scott 1997)

It had been a year and a half since their last visit to the ancient tractors that watched over the railroad tracks that bordered the last cornfield in Dickerson, Maryland - and almost twenty-three years since the second-to-last visit. This time, it was Ted who had requested it. He had become addicted to his phone - more specifically, to the unceasing torrent of sludge that was the 60-by-60-by-24-by-7-by-365 bad news cycle - and he needed a bit of his favorite therapy. He needed someone well-versed in his particular brand of escapism. He needed Nicole. After two days of back and forth via text, it was arranged.

This time, it was Ted who was late, for a change. He emerged from the eight-foot-high corn that should have been harvested last September, and found Nicole leaning against the "new" old tractor, smiling and pointing at her watch.

He decided not to address his lateness. "I think this corn is probably past its sell-by date, at this point," he declared.

Nicole chortled. "Yeah, its pretty high."

"It's as high as an elephant's eye," Ted said.

"It's higher than Astrid on prom night," Nicole added, as Ted stepped up and wrapped her in a warm bear hug. "But you know what's really sad?"

"You bringing up Astrid, before we've even said hello?"

"I smelled you coming."

Ted stepped back and blinked several times. "Excuse me?"

"I could smell you before I heard or saw you," she sort of clarified but not really.

Ted made a show of sniffing at his armpits. "I know it's like 65 degrees in February and all, but come on..."

"I mean your cologne, sweetie."

"Oh."

"It's nice. What's it called - eau de Midlife Crisis?"

"Geez, Nic. If I wanted to be insulted, I'd watch a White House press conference."

"Ha. I think they canceled those," Nicole said with a roll of her eyes. "Too many questions, or something."

"Don't get me started."

"Hey - you brought it up, buddy," she smiled. "In fact, you're the one who called this meeting. It sounded serious. Are you okay?"

He looked at his shoes for moment, then at the unseasonably warm Maryland sunset, then back at Nicole. "I'll be okay," he said quietly. "But enough about me - let's talk about you..."

"Let's not," she said flatly.

"It's been almost a decade since we lost Bobby, and I know it's nobody's business, but--"

"It's been eight years, eight months, and twelve days, Ted. And no, I don't think I'll ever remarry. Why? You got something you wanna ask me?"

"Well, actually..." For a moment, Ted looked so deeply into her eyes that she felt compelled to pull her jacket closed and secure it in place with crossed arms.

"You are not proposing to me in the old cornfield by the train tracks, Theodore!"

"What? No! Not even! I'm just saying, if you ever change your mind..."

"You'll be the first to know, sweetie. I promise. By the way - I heard this old farm has been sold."

"To a developer," Ted added. "I heard. It's sad. I spent a lot of happy nights in this field. I mean, most of them were before you came along and Yoko'd Bobby away from the group, but still..."

"'Yoko'd?' Ouch. That's a bit much, isn't it?"

"Yes. I instantly regretted it," Ted said. "I'm sorry. I like your hair, by the way. I've never seen it so short. It's cute. I hope it's not insulting to say it's cute."

Nicole smiled. "Cute is perfect. Now, what's really on your mind? Did you want to vent about the so-called president, or what?"

Ted inhaled deeply, filling his fifty-ish-year old lungs with overly-warm February air. He watched a half-dozen thoroughly confused little birds chase each other toward the setting sun, chirping excitedly about the end of the world - or maybe just winter - or, perhaps, simply about the end of the day. He exhaled slowly, as if emptying his lungs of warm and satisfying cigarette smoke, and refocused on Nicole. "Lately, I've been thinking a lot about Berlin, Nic..."

"Oh, lord. Here we go," she groaned. "You mean Berlin, the band? 'Cause I saw them in L.A. a couple of months ago, and they were awesome. Don't mess with Terri Nunn, man."

"What? No. I love Berlin. I mean Berlin, the city, and I'm quite sure that you knew that."

Nicole's playful dimples disappeared, and her eyes went all sad and sore, as if watching the ghosts of loved ones suffering. "I know what Berlin you mean," she sighed. "I just don't think I can do this. I don't want to go there again."

"Neither do I," Ted said, "but lately, it's not giving me a choice in the matter. It's like it's come back for me, and it won't leave me alone."

Nicole shook her head slowly and, despite her best effort to resist, rolled her eyes slightly. "It will never leave us alone. It's up to us to shut it out. The Cold War is over, and at least for the moment, we won. We should focus on the here and now. We have lives to live. Did I tell you Claire's graduating in May? My baby's going to have a Master's Degree."

"I know, I know. And that's amazing. But Berlin haunts me."

She took his hand. "I know it, babe. I do. But it's been over thirty-five years. It's so far away, now."

"I can still hear the screams. I can still see the blood in the snow. Why didn't you call? You said you'd call. We were going to quit the business and disappear. It was all lined up..."

"Don't!" she interrupted, her voice shaking, "Don't you dare. There was nowhere for us to go, and you know it. There was only one way for me to disappear."

"We could have tried," he insisted. "The Soviets were awful, but they were so inefficient."

"Yes, but the East Germans weren't! The would have shot me fifty times, before I even reached the middle of the bridge. Look - we did what we did, and we can't undo it. Any of it."

"I know, and knowing what I know now, I'd throw that grenade all over again. But when they caught us, I wish you could have at least given me some kind of sign. They didn't even ask me any questions. They just made me watch as they strip-searched you..."

"Hey - you got to see me naked, didn't you," Nicole laughed, awkwardly.

"That's not funny!" Ted spat. "I thought they were going to slit your throat or something, right then and there..."

"Again, those were Soviets, Teddy. They would have shot me right away, and then spent the rest of the night filling out forms. Besides, the microfilm was already safely at the embassy. Even if they had killed us both, we had finished the job."

"That's not what's really eating at me," Ted said with a sniffle. "And it's not even that you ran off with Bobby, executing what was basically our plan for your escape from Spy World."

"I was a child!" she cried, "I was in love!"

"You knew what you were doing. Wait. Are we doing 'Raiders,' now?"

Nicole looked around, somewhat sheepishly. Eventually, she said, "What?"

"I feel like that last bit is something Marian said to Indy, when he came looking for her father's medallion."

"Is it? I'm sorry. Look - I'm never going to be as good at the Ridiculous Game as you are. I thought I was doing pretty well, for a minute there. I hope it helped."

"You were, and it did," Ted said, hugging her. "Thank you. You're my lava lamp."

"You're welcome, sweetie. Wait. I'm your what?"

"My lava lamp. You're like, instantly calming. Very therapeutic. Don't look at me like that. It's a good thing - really!"

Nicole shook her head. "No, I get the therapeutic part. Bobby had a lava lamp, when we first started dating. It was very soothing."

"See? That's all I meant," Ted said, relieved.

"Oh, I think I do," she smiled. "The thing is, you have to stare at a lava lamp for a while, to get the effect." Nicole turned and headed toward her car, parked somewhere on the other side of the looming towers of dried corn.

"So?" Ted asked, following her.

"So, how many years have you been staring at your lava lamp, Theodore?"

He shook his head at the sky and sighed. "Only since the day we met, Nic," he whispered, "maybe longer."


Spoiler Alert: It's not really lava.


Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Loon Says What We're All Thinking But Not Really

"I'm not a kite! Let me down! Let me down!" Photo by J. Scott 2001




With a lot of the ridiculous hoboes on John Hodgman's list, the back-story is right there in the name. Santa Fe Jinglebell, The World's Most Christmassy Tramp comes to mind, as does Ol' Barb Stab-You-Quick (obviously). Some hoboes were deliberately mis-named, like when a huge man is nicknamed "Tiny," or a bald guy is called "Curly." Occasionally, a member of this rag-tag above-ground underground of untouchables ended up with a moniker that held two or more meanings - both perfectly apropos.

Such was the case with The Loon, a man who is said to have wandered the rails between Wilmington, Lewes, and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware in the 1920s and 30s. Almost all we know of The Loon's hobo years comes from his "leavings" - the chalk and/or creosote-scrawled hieroglyphs he posted on barns and buildings and telegraph poles - and from a bit of oral history.

From the leavings...

"Only I can solve this."

"The yarn remembers, but will never speak."

"400 proof? What is this - Mothers Day?"

"Who is the more of clown - him who wears a squeak-nose and tons of makeup, and falls down to make children laugh, or I, who does the same but with no makeup?"

"The Loon is feeling uncharacteristically melancholy, probably due to his sudden switch to third-person."

"Never trust a rude frog. A prince would have better manners - and listen to your horse!"

"Not twenty years after the world finished burying the dead of the War To End All Wars, we're gonna do it all over again - only much, much worse. Learn your damn lesson, already!"

"One day, they'll let people in motor cars turn right in the midst of a stop signal."

"Stophack whipping tinker deterrent!"

"If you think the bumper cars are swell, just wait 'til you see the flying cages."

"I woke this morning to the horrible realization that there was still a bit of blood in my rumstream."

"I never said I always say that. I always said I never say that."

"I tried to go home, once. My father had left a couple of years prior, and my mother was talking to a coconut with one of his old hats on it."

"Don't blame me. I voted for Al Smith in '28."

"Soon, radios will come with pictures."

"The Loon says The Loon says The Loon says... AA-OOOOOOOO-GA!"

He left loonier track-side missives, but most of those were either too dirty or too violent to be reprinted in a nice wholesome family blog like this one.

The other reason he ended up being called The Loon was largely unconfirmed, having been passed from hobo to hobo for so many years, no one could remember who started it. It was said that the man was a master imitator of north American waterfowl.

That's all. Bye!
       

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Arther Moonlight On Better Worlds

Sunflowers - Somerset County, PA - Photo by [Maris], 2001

When hoboes eulogized their friends, there were usually precious few people around to hear them. Such was the case in August 1938, when Unshakably Morose Flo, Ol' Barb Stab-You-Quick, Knee-Brace Kenny, and Laura Delite gathered between the railroad tracks and a field of sunflowers, just east of Gallitzin, Pennsylvania to remember Mad or Sad Judd (no one could tell), at the invitation of Arther Moonlight. Judd had died five weeks before, having jumped or fallen (no one could agree on that, either) from a bridge into the Susquehanna River at Harrisburg.

"No one else is coming?" Asked Arther Moonlight, so named for both his love of staring at the moon and his impossibly pale skin - and because hoboes didn't know how to spell Arthur.

"I don't think so," Laura said. "Pretty sure it's just us."

"Nuts."

"Hey - five is a pretty good crowd for one of these things," Kenny reasoned.

"Can we make this quick?" asked Unshakably Morose Flo. "I hate these things. So sad."

Arther smiled. "Don't worry - I don't have much to say."

"Were you and Mad or Sad Judd very close?" Laura asked.

"Nope."

"Oh for Pete's sake!" Ol' Barb spat. "None of us really knew him, either! What are we doing, here?"

"Every hobo deserves a respectful goodbye, Barb-- Don't stab me! You know it's true. Let's just bury his stick and bindle, say something nice, and be on our way, okay?"

"Fine."

"Friends," Arther began, "we gather here today to say something nice about our fellow 'bo, Mad or Sad Judd, who caught the westbound last month--"

"He jumped," Flo said. "I heard he was planning to swim down the Susquehanna, down the Chesapeake Bay, and all the way to Europe, to start a new life."

"No way," Knee-Brace Kenny said, "That's dumb."

"YOU'RE dumb!"

"Shush!" Arther shushed. "She's probably right about that, though. I only met Mad or Sad Judd once - he was sad, by the way, not mad. Our only meeting had a profound impact on my life. I was seventeen years old, less than a year into my life as a hobo, and as usual I was standing by the tracks in the middle of the night, staring at the moon. I was considering going back to Baltimore, to try to start over with a job at the port or something. My parents were long-since dead and buried, but I had an uncle with connections at Locust Point, so..."

Ol' Barb Stab-You-Quick snorted. "Gee whiz, Moonlight - you sure know how to put the you in eulogy."

"I told you I didn't know him that well!" Arther snapped. "Let me finish. So, this older fella walks up and stops and stands there next to me for a minute, looking up at the moon with me. I said hello, and something about it being extra bright that night, and he laughs and says, 'There are better worlds, kid. That ain't one of 'em, but there are surely better worlds.' I didn't know what to say. I just stared at him for way too long, and in that extra-bright moonlight I could see a sadness in his sunken eyes that shook me something awful. He wasn't just sad. He wasn't just tired, or suffering, or any of those things we all know so well. He was broken - shattered, really. And he shook my hand, and all that stuff I just seen in his eyes came charging into my hand, like I grabbed an electric fence. I was flummoxed. This beat-down, crushed tin can of a man had just said the most hopeful thing I had ever heard. And he turned and walked away. I only found out who he was a few days later, when a yard cop came asking if I'd seen him."

"What's so great about that? 'Better worlds exist?' So what?" Unshakably Morose Flo said. "We're stuck on this world. If anything, I think knowing that there are better ones - well, that would just make it worse, wouldn't it?"

"Not for me," Arther said. "For me, it meant that I shouldn't ditch the path I was on. It meant, 'Keep looking, kid - don't give up.' That was a good fifteen years ago, and I still say it every day. Better worlds exist, and I'm gonna find me one - and if I can't find me one, I'm gonna make one..."

"You're going to make one?" Ol' Barb sneered. "How do you think you're going to do that?"

"I'm gonna do the best I can, that's how. Today, I'm gonna bury this here bindle sack in the earth, and say a prayer for Mad or Sad Judd, and wish you all well. And tomorrow, I'll look for work again, and take whatever this world gives me, and keep on walking."

"Sounds about right," Knee-Brace Kenny said, grabbing a piece of metal from a trackside scrap pile. "Let's do it. I'm happy to lead the prayer, if you'd like..."

"I appreciate that," Arther said, "but I'll handle the prayer."

"I'll drink to that," Barb declared, pulling a flask (really just an old cough syrup bottle) from her bag. "Here's to you, Mad or Sad Judd - better worlds exist, and I hope you find yours."

"Hear, hear!" the assembled hoboes chorused.

-- for Mary --


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Rubbery Dmitry, the Mad Monk Holds Steady

Black Lightning Strikes The Trees - Photo by J. Scott, 1996

His life was preordained to be one of privilege, wealth, and luxury. He was conceived on March 2nd, 1918 in St. Petersburg, during a riot on the first anniversary of Tsar Nicholas II's abdication. Of course, not everything that's preordained actually comes to pass, and before he was born, Dmitry Kalashnik's parents had lost everything that they couldn't fit into two suitcases, fled the Russian revolution in the dead of night, and washed up on Ellis Island. He was born on Christmas Eve - over two weeks late, and "very large."

Things went a bit downhill, from there. Just before little Dmitry's fourth birthday, his father, whose only marketable skill had been investing and counting money, succumbed to being run over by a streetcar (as so many future hoboes' fathers were). His mother, who hadn't known a minute of work of any kind, back home, stretched her late husband's meager life insurance as far as it would go, but after two years, it was gone. She could bake, and her pirogi were the talk of their neighborhood, so she was able to find work in a bakery, and she followed the shop's owner when he relocated to Pittsburgh in 1928. She married him not long after that, and for her, life began to resemble life, again.

We all know what happened next. The global economy melted into the fire and burned into a stinky smoke, Dmitry's mother and step-father lost their home and moved into a tiny apartment, and focused all of their energy on keeping their sweets and pirogi shop alive. The boy rebounded for a while, but finally left home in 1930, barely eleven years old, and survived as best he could the competing ravages of homelessness and puberty. 

While he learned to live outside, eventually becoming a full-fledged hobo, albeit a terribly young one, his mother learned to live without him, relying on her faith to paint a mental picture of him that wasn't crushingly tragic. In St. Petersburg, she and her first husband had been among the last of the Russian Orthodox Buddhists, and she had spent Dmitry's formative years working to instill in him the values of the great teacher. As she absorbed the sermons of her new husband's American Catholic priests in Pittsburgh, she prayed that she had set her son upon a decent path.

A lifetime later (10 years), having rebounded a dozen times from a dozen different horrors that would have sent lesser men to their whimpering deaths, Rubbery Dmitry, The Mad Monk held steady. He had next to nothing of his own, and that suited him fine. His life was simple. He was walking and riding the rails of freedom and migrant labor, and he was relatively content. He remembered neither the scripture, nor the teachings of Buddha - save for the lessons of stillness, from the latter. "Be still," he heard his mother whisper, "be still."

Life screamed at him to run, or to fight, or to run, fighting into the abyss of the horrible nothing, but he forced himself, shaking, to be as motionless as possible. He mentally reread the headlines of the day - Jews being rounded up and sent to camps, where there were reports of mass slaughter. War machines. Troops here, talks there, fleets, riots, death tolls, more talks, rumors, smoke, blood... 

He practiced his Buddhist breathing. He realized that he hadn't paid nearly enough attention to the lessons on breathing. He shrugged and tried to fake it until he made it, and he breathed all wrong. The world had gone mad, and it was all over essentially nothing, and the opposing forces were sworn to keep fighting until well beyond death, because the other side was so deeply, ungodly WRONG, and that, as they say, was that. 

Rubbery Dmitry, The Mad Monk closed his eyes. He thought. You might say he prayed. You'd be wrong, but forgiven for saying that. He heard his mother again - be still. He snorted, for although he knew exactly what it meant to be still, he had yet to master - or even honestly attempt - the art of being still. 

He took a deep breath, told all of his personal woes - as well as those of the universe around him - to give him a minute, and searched for stillness.

And it stopped. All of it.

And he heard his mother say, "Good, good. Steady... Now what?"

Sunday, December 30, 2018

2018: It's Not "All Good" - At All - But It's All Good

This photograph is old enough to drink - and it probably should. I know I've used it in previous posts, but it's just so apropos, I couldn't help but bring it back. Look how "great" Bart is, again. So much great!

Me: Hey, 2018. Happy last day of your life!

2018: Hi, you! Happy-- wait. What?

Me: Nothing. So. Here we are. It's December 31st...

2018: Uh oh...

Me: Yeah. Uh oh. I knew we'd end up here, because I'm nothing if not a pragmatist - and a realist. So, let's do the band-aid thing.

2018: The what? And you're a what?

Me: This is a band aid, and I'm ripping it off. We're breaking up.

2018: That's dumb. What a dumb idea. I'm the best year you've ever had, and you know it. It's all good, baby.

Me: I'm pretty sure we agreed that "it's all good" was something that we were not saying, anymore. It's so... 1998. Also, calling me "baby?" No. We talked about that, too.

2018: You love it.

Me: I do not. So, listen - I said, at the end of 2017, that it would be a challenge for you to be worse than last year. That sounds almost cute, now. I'm sure it wasn't easy, and I admit that it was close, but congratulations, I guess. You did it. You kinda were.

2018: What are you talking about? I was great.

Me: Okay. At this point, I feel obligated to inform you that I know what gaslighting means.

2018: That sounds fake. I don't know about that fake news stuff. I was probably - lots of people have told me this - I was potentially the greatest year since ever.

Me: 

2018: Are you still there?

Me: I should go.

2018: We have nothing but fun. I don't see what the problem is. Remember March Madness? That was awesome.

Me: I don't remember March Madness.

2018: Well, what about that tax cut? I fixed everything with that. 

Me: You fixed literally nothing, and since I live in a "blue" state, I've spent 9 months living in fear of the refund I'm used to becoming a debt I'll owe, in a few months. Nice.

2018: But I brought much-needed rains...

Me: Floods. You brought floods - and record-breaking hurricanes and fires. You wiped a couple of nice little towns off the map and killed a bunch of people.

2018: They deserved it. They weren't my people.

Me: You're a unit of time. Isn't everyone your people?

2018: They didn't like me, so maybe they shouldn't have done what they did to get killed. It's not my fault. You're missing the point on purpose to make me look bad. Unfair!

Me: The "point?" What is this "point" that I'm missing? 

2018: The point is, I'm the greatest year possibly ever, and you can't admit it, because you've been brainwashed by 2016's deep-year operation, and it's sad. SAD! I treated you so fantastic, and you repay me by showing ZERO loyalty. You're very low IQ, and I just realized you're very ugly, and a loser.

Me: I think we're done, here. 

2018: Wait! Wait! What about the good times? Even your fake memory can't cover up the good times.

Me: Like what? What good times?

2018: Um... Simple Minds?

Sarah, Charlie, Cherisse, Jim, Gordie, Ged,, and a sold-out 9:30 Club.
Me: Okay, that was pretty special - but I think the band and the audience provided that magic...

2018: Nope. All me! I did that! But you can't bear to give me any credit! Disgraceful!

Me: Whatever, '18. I'm hanging up, now...

2018: But what about when I killed those children because their parents tried to save them by bringing them to the US without being white and financially secure? That was hilarious!

Me: Are you kidding me??

2018: Okay, okay. I have to go, anyway. And I never liked you. But I have just two words to say to you...

Me: *sigh* Two words. Fine. What?

2018: Lord. Stanley's. Cup.

The Greatest Player, with the metallic manifestation of his greatest dream.
Me:

2018: See?

Me: You had your moments. Let's just say goodbye.

2018: Okay. I-broke-up-with-you-first-I-never-even-liked-you-and-you're-ugly-and-low-IQ-and-I-win-bye!

Me. *sigh*


Saturday, December 29, 2018

Blind Buck and "Woozy," the Invisible Seeing-Eye Dog - A Fable That Happens To Happen At Christmastime

Can you see me now?

The rails and ties were covered in frost, and the wood smoke from every chimney in Hancock permeated the icy Maryland air. Buck lifted his face to the morning sun, which he could feel but not quite see, and inhaled deeply the scents of a new winter. There was a hint of pine, courtesy of the garlands that the town had draped from lamp post to lamp post, the length of West Main Street.

"Smells like Christmas, Woozy," he said quietly, to the German shepherd that no one ever saw. "It's a big day. How are you feeling, buddy?"

Woozy woofed in agreement with whatever his master had just said, then resumed racing in blurry, nausea-inducing circles on the sidewalk. He didn't even slow down to barf, this time.

Buck sniffed the air again, and frowned. "Oh, for Pete's sake, Woozy. That is just foul. Settle down."

Woozy settled down, which here means continued to run in circles, almost slowly enough to be seen.

"Slow down. I swear, you must be part greyhound," Buck said, with a smile and a slight shake of his head. "Are we still on West Main? We need to turn left on Pennsylvania, then it's another left in three blocks, got it? And please, no more vomiting. I'm already nervous enough. I don't need to worry about your perpetually upset stomach."

Blind Buck was, in fact, nervous. He hadn't deliberately interacted with a non-hobo in at least six years, and he was about to give it a final try. It was December 24th, 1937. Buckley "Blind Buck" Conrad, now over ninety percent blind, on account of his aggressive early-onset cataracts, was shambling through Hancock, Maryland for the first time in about a dozen years - assuming you don't count the time in 1933, when the sheriff paraded him up and down West Main Street in shackles, as some sort of warning to other hoboes not to show their soot-caked faces on this town's fair streets, lest they suffer a similar fate.

Woozy, the invisible seeing-eye dog - who was technically not invisible, but merely very hard to see because of his tendency to run in impossibly quick circles around his human - paused for a nanosecond and poked Buck in the calf with his nose. Buck knew that this meant, be still; there's an authority figure looking our way, so he stopped walking and pretended to be entranced by the nearest shop window. While he performed his fake browsing, his mind took a break, and replayed some of the steps that had led him from admiring this store window as a child to faux-admiring it as a homeless, nearly-blind drifter.

Step one: He was a round-faced little boy with candle-lit blue eyes, staring slack-jawed at the toy tanks and assorted cowboy hats and "Indian" headdresses in the shop window at the corner of West Main and Pennsylvania, clutching his mother's hand, trying in vain to keep her from moving further along the Christmassy thoroughfare. 

Step two: His shell-shocked (whatever that meant) father, slumped in his chair trying to listen to the radio while his desperately drunk and equally unwell mother berated him with passionate, incoherent nonsense. Nine-year old Buckley made himself as small as he possibly could - though not small enough.

Step three: Seven years later, fearing for his life - and that of his broken, inert father - he packed a sack full of pants and shirts and bread and apples, and fled. His father's final words to him were, "You, you can save; for me it's too late. Go, son. But for God's sake, see a doctor about your eyes, first."

Step four: On the run from a gang of high school boys in Richmond, each stride a scorching reminder of the bruises and malnutrition he had endured. A dog bit him, removing a small chunk of calf muscle. He momentarily lost track of where he was, and why he was remembering all this stuff, but Woozy stepped gently on his foot, which meant, focus, boss. 

Steps five through nine: Frostbite took two of his toes. He lost his bindle sack - twice. He sprained everything. The Great Depression was felt literally everywhere. His mother had died (no word on how), and his father now sat in a veterans' home, incessantly asking everyone he saw if they knew when his son would be coming.

Step ten: Buck, now nearly blind and almost as broken as his old man had been when he returned from the War To End All Wars, decided to save his pop, and in the process, with any luck, himself. Woozy bonked him in the other leg, which meant, the authority figure is moving on - let's go...

"I'm going, I'm going," Buck muttered. "Don't rush me." He walked slowly, following Pennsylvania Avenue for one block, two blocks, and three, feeling the pavement with his thin cane as he shuffled forward. Woozy confirmed Buck's intuition, and indicated that it was time to turn left, by racing in spectacularly, invisibly fast counterclockwise circles around him whacking the backs of Buck's legs with his tail on each pass. Buck smelled the canine upchuckery almost before he heard it. "Oh, come on, Woozy..."

He stopped in front of the veterans' home, reached down and patted his trusty German shepherd on the head. Woozy woofed, embarrassed at the public display of affection, and resumed his hypersonic racing about. Buck took a deep breath, felt his way through the front door, and informed the first blurry person that spoke to him that he was Morris Conrad's son, and he was there to wish him a merry Christmas.

"And a very merry Christmas to you, as well," came an ancient, tired, gravel-filled voice from just beyond the fuzzy reception area. "I've been waiting for you. I told you he would come," he nearly shouted to the rest of the room. "I told you!"

"Merry Christmas, Pop," Buck said. "Woozy old boy - this is my Pop. Say hello." The dog opted instead to continue running in tiny circles on the front porch of the veterans' home.

"Yeah, yeah - Merry Christmas - we've covered that," the elder Conrad laughed, "So... where are we headed?"
 

Monday, December 17, 2018

Amorous Luminous Dirk, And How He Thinks He Does It

I'm often asked by no one ever about romance on the American hobo road. Well, in a word, it's.

In two words, it's complicated. 

With the penniless wandering and camping and being chased and beaten and arrested and beaten some more and re-arrested and the losing of toes and fingertips in winter, and the summertime bouts of poison ivy and malaria - and also the bad stuff - hoboes had enough on their plates. Initiating, developing, and sustaining relationships just didn't factor into the average hobo's plans.

Amorous Luminous Dirk was not the average hobo. He was spectacularly successful with the ladies, both hobo and non-hobo. He was the maestro of the hobo pickup line. The reality show bachelors of 2018 could take a lesson from this filthy drifter. 

[Editor's note: It was the 1930s. Times were different. Men were different. Women were different. Everything was different.]

In no particular order, here are Amorous Luminous Dirk's ten favorite pickup lines:

  1. Hi. Yes, that is a lint ball in my pocket, but I am definitely happy to see you, nonetheless...
  2. Did it hurt? When you fell from heaven - or from the running board of the refrigerated box car that carried you here from heaven - or the stock yards? Or Baltimore? I think you know what I'm trying to say, wink-wink...
  3. Top of the evening to you, m'lady. I can just tell that you didn't vote for Hoover... 
  4. My parents died of gangrene, after having their lower legs shredded by an angry mother black bear of whom they ran afoul along the Appalachian trail in 1928 - what horrible fate met your folks...
  5. I'm sure you hear this a hundred times a day, but I would trade all the creosote and plywood in the world for five seconds of holding your hand...
  6. I fought in the Great War, and I came home in one piece. My pension will afford us a lovely little home in Utica, with a yard and a white picket fence and a dog, and I promise you here and now that my drunken night terrors have all but cleared up, so whaddaya say, doll...
  7. Do you like beans? 'Cuz I... Wait - where are you going...
  8. Hey, baby - have I got a New Deal for you...
  9. How d'you do, ma'am - Do you know what bio-luminescence is?
  10. Hi. I'm sorry I am a hobo. I promise that I am a good and honorable, righteous and respectful man. May I please have this dance? I promise to disappear at your slightest frown of disapproval...

He had other lines, some more effective than others, but almost none of them landed. Until, that is, the night in mid-1942 when he snuck into the war bonds fundraiser under the stars in Allentown, where he tried #9 on Ol' Barb Stab-You-Quick, and his whole world changed...

 
Train.