When a couple of hoboes met for the first time, there were several different greetings that could be offered. The most common approach was for both of them to throw fistfuls of dirt at each other without a word and walk on. If one wanted a fight, he would show the stranger his lint ball. If the stranger's lint ball was larger, it was up to him to decide whether or not fisticuffs would ensue. If the challenger held more lint, the fight was on. Some of the most lint-rich hoboes met their doom in this way.
On the rare occasion when hoboes enjoyed civil first-encounters, they generally engaged in games of one-upmanship. Since these tended to focus on how bad each of the two tramps had it, Poor, Poor, Poor Charlie Short usually came out on top. That is, of course, until one early spring day in 1934, when he met Texas Emil, walking along the L&N mainline outside of Montgomery, Alabama.
Poor, Poor, Poor Charlie Short: I see that your lint far surpasses mine, stranger. We fightin' or not? It's your call.
Texas Emil: I ain't much for violence, pardner. My life is hard enough as it is.
Charlie: You think you got it bad? I don't know a man who has it worse than me.
Emil: I doubt that. I know we're all poor as dirt, out here on the road, but I was born poor, back in Texas.
Charlie: Ha! When I was born, I was a twin, but my parents were so poor, they sold my brother to pay the hospital bill and bring me home.
Emil: Oh yeah? Well, back in Texas I was a twin, too, but I was the one my parents sold. I grew up in an orphanage next-door to my parents, forced to watch my sister grow up in the Texas home that should have been mine.
Charlie: You think that's rough? My parents worked triple-shifts at the Wrigley factory in Chicago, and we still had to eat stolen cabbage for dinner every night.
Emil: That's nothing. When I was a five-year old Texan, my so-called parents at the orphanage died in a fire - along with all of my friends. I didn't do it, but since I was the only survivor, I got the blame, and they locked me up in a Texas Juvenile Hall, where I stayed until I turned eighteen. In Texas.
Charlie: Oh, boo hoo! My parents were killed, too. My ma was was accidentally sprayed in the face with pure spearmint extract, which blinded her. She started screaming, and when my dad came running to see what was wrong, he tripped over a crate and crashed into her, and they both tumbled into a vat of corn syrup. She lost consciousness and drowned, as did he - trying to save her.
Emil: Yeah, that's bad, but there ain't nobody in Texas or anywhere else poorer than me. I left Texas without a nickel in my pocket, and I been wandering and missing Texas ever since. I loved Texas, but now I can't afford to keep Texas in my life.
Charlie: You call that poor? I'm so poor, I can't even afford pockets. I keep my lint in an old piece of burlap I stole from a dead hobo. I haven't even seen a nickel in three years - and that one was wooden!
Emil: If I could afford stolen burlap, I'd still be living in Texas! I carry my Texas-size ball of lint in my bare hand, and truth be told can't even afford lint. I'm so Texas that I can't buy a spare Texas for my Texas.
Charlie: That's nothing. I'm so poor-- wait. What?
Emil: I'm just sayin' - There's no way in Texas that you're poorer than Texas. You live like a Texas on the throne compared to my Texas. I haven't Texased a hot Texas in at least three Texases. Don't try to tell me you're so Texas.
Charlie: Are you okay? You're not making any sense.
Emil: I'm Texas. They call my Texas Emil. I'm making perfect Texas. I think it is you who is not Texasing any Texas.
Charlie: You know this was supposed to be about whose life is rougher, right? Not about who is crazier.
Emil: Texas is the Texas who's Texaser! You Texas-damned Texas! I'll Texas your Texas! Get the Texas away from Texas, you big Texas!
Charlie: Okay. I'm gonna just keep walking. That way. You know - toward Texas.
Emil: Texas. Texas, Texas and Texas. Texas.