Sunday, March 25, 2012

700 Hoboes: Bazino Bazino, The Kid Whose Hair Is On Fire

[If you're new here, please note that the names of the hoboes come from John Hodgman's book The Areas of My Expertise, and I do not have his permission to use them. I naively hope that, should he find out about my little back stories for his hoboes, he would be all, "I love it! You've helped me to sell many copies of my books. I am totally not going to sue you to death. You're cool!" And I'd be like, "Thanks, man. I appreciate your super laid-back attitude toward what many authors would have considered a totally litigious situation, or something."]

One of the most misunderstood hoboes was Bazino Bazino, The Kid Whose Hair Is On Fire. He was born to Czech immigrants in Newark, New Jersey in 1908, but they were destitute and terrified, and left him on the orphanage steps in an old Friedlander Brothers box when he was five weeks old. The nuns thought he "looked Italian," so they named him Bazino. When he learned to talk, his name was one of the first words he could say, and he always said it twice. He would toddle about the orphanage singing "Bazino Bazino! Bazino Bazino!" and the nuns would laugh and laugh and ask God to bless their little bambino Bazino.

They say legend is born, but myth manufactured. I don't know who "they" are - I heard it in a movie, once. If it's true, though, no one can say for sure who manufactured the myth that was Bazino Bazino's burning hair. At age 13, when virtually every other child who had entered the orphanage had long-since been adopted and/or hired to work in some factory, textile mill or freight dock on the Hudson, he sneaked away in the dead of night, leaving behind a note that read simply "I can't live here anymore, for I am a man, now.
Thank you, Sisters." Within a few very traumatic weeks, he had joined the world of the hoboes. Within a year, most hoboes in the eastern two-thirds of the United States knew his name, complete with the reference to his flaming hair.

Since only a handful of the homeless vagabonds had ever actually seen Bazino Bazino, The Kid Whose Hair Is On Fire, it was assumed that he simply had red hair, Simply Red. Those with more active imaginations would try to argue that the kid's hair was truly en fuego, though their explanations for the phenomenon were childish and impossible - the stuff of Road Runner vs. Coyote cartoons, several decades before their time.

The fact is - and don't ask me how I know this, but please believe that I do know this - Bazino Bazino, The Kid Whose Hair Is On Fire, as many a hobo did, suffered from a terrible scalp condition caused by his vagrant lifestyle and utter lack of personal hygiene. Unlike most of his contemporaries, however, Bazino's head was not infested with lice or chiggers or termites or dermal spiders, nor was it a flaming case of psoriasis. He had an exceedingly rare form of dandruff, such that rather than shedding little salt-grain-sized flakes of skin, his scalp lost its surface cells one at a time, and the process happened so rapidly that his head appeared to emit a pale, dusty smoke.

A few of his fellow hoboes witnessed the smoking hair, added the descriptor to his name, and the rest is legend.

Another source of history's misunderstanding of this young drifter with the smoking head centers around the manner and circumstances of his death. It is widely accepted by the hobo academia that Bazino was killed when a Pennsylvania Railroad passenger special collided with a freight train on Horseshoe Curve near Altoona, derailed and rolled down the steep embankment onto the tent in which the burning-coiffed kid was sleeping.

The few surviving children of hoboes from that time and region - hard to find, on account of how little procreating those guys did - tell another story. Bazino, they say, suffered an agonizingly slow and painful death as the skin on his head literally smoked away until his skull was fully exposed. It continued, with his skull sloughing off over the course of a year, just as his scalp had - as smoke. Once a significant portion of his brain was exposed, a fatal infection developed.

But no one wants to talk about a guy dying because his skull disintegrated, the hobo offspring say. Being crushed in your sleep by a heavyweight Pullman coach is much more romantic.

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