Grok My Enthusiasm (28)

By: Annie Nocenti
July 20, 2016

One in a weekly series of enthusiastic posts contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars.

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hobo symbols

Humans have been scratching their various itches on walls since the beginning. Cave paintings, Egyptian hieroglyphs, in the catacombs of Rome, Ancient Greece, Pompeii. Declarations of love, political rants, wit, curses, magic spells, ads for prostitutes, satire, secrets you can’t say out loud but can scribble on a wall.

A name dug into wet cement with a stick. A heart gouged into a tree with a knife. A manic plea scribbled on an asylum wall. Crosshatches marking the hours and days in a prison solitary cell, a notched countdown of time served. A toilet stall scrawled with phone numbers, telling the next sucker who to call for a good time. The disenfranchised use walls as a canvas, as their “newspaper of the poor.” Walls whisper and scream messages to no one and everyone. Gangs tag their turf. Graffiti writers tag their monikers on trains that crisscross cities, some tagging their way out of ghettos and into galleries. Tagging has become an extreme urban sport, writers one-upping each other to tag the tallest towers on the planet.

And then there are the marks that light the way, trailblazers marking trees for the next weary traveler. Homeless vagabonds, itinerant and migrant workers, collectively known as hobos, took to hopping trains after the Civil War, peaking in number during the Great Depression in America. The hobo code, written in chalk, charcoal, carved on railroad posts, were pictogram messages between a brotherhood, meant to lift the spirits of the next fellow traveler. A triangle with raised hands meant “man with gun.” A cat was the symbol for “kind-hearted lady.” Those who could read the code knew how to find food and avoid the dangers of mean dogs and meaner men. The first Hobo Convention in 1900 is where, it is told, the rules of the brotherhood were first written up.

Latter-day literary hobo Jack Kerouac wove long poesy yarns, love letters to life on the road. “The hobo is born of pride, having nothing to do with a community but with himself and other hobos and maybe a dog,” Kerouac wrote in “The Vanishing American Hobo” in 1960. “Proud was the way a hobo walked through a town by the back doors where pies were cooling on window sills, the hobo was a mental leper, he didn’t need to beg to eat, strong Western bony mothers knew his tinkling beard and tattered toga, come and get it!” Notorious hobo thief “You Can’t Win” Jack Black wrote in his 1926 autobiography, “There was a high wall between me and society; a wall reared by myself, maybe — I wasn’t sure. Anyway I wasn’t going to crawl over the wall and join the enemy just because I had taken a few jolts of hard luck.” Dust Bowl Troubadour Woody Guthrie wrote songs for fellow travelers. In one, he sings that a sign might say “No Trespassing” on one side, but the other side doesn’t, and so “That side was made for you and me.”

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GROK MY ENTHUSIASM: Rob Wringham on THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | Gordon Dahlquist on WEEKEND | Joe Alterio on MILLION YEAR PICNIC | Adrienne Crew on LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | Josh Glenn on THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | Alix Lambert on THE SKIES BELONG TO US | Adam McGovern on PENELOPE and CHAVEZ RAVINE | Rob Wringham on THE LYKE WAKE WALK | Mark Kingwell on NORTH STAR SNEAKERS & GWG JEANS | Gordon Dahlquist on FELLINI SATYRICON | Erik Davis on AH! | Devin McKinney on WHISPERING AFRAID | Mimi Lipson on 1973 SEARS ROEBUCK CATALOG | Jessamyn West on MOSS | Josh Glenn on THE SCOUT HOW BOOK | Brian Berger on SLACKER | Alix Lambert on ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS | Chelsey Johnson on MONOTREMES | Devin McKinney on THE BUTCHER COVER | Flourish Klink on ONE DIRECTION | Gordon Dahlquist on FULL METAL JACKET | Allegra Huston on CLOTHESLINE | Jenny Davidson on POWERLIFTING | Evan Narcisse on REZ | Deborah Wassertzug on VEGETARIAN MEATBALLS | Chris Spurgeon on WALLACE AND GROMIT | Mandy Keifetz on BENEFICIAL MICROBES | Annie Nocenti on MARKS ON WALLS | Molly Sauter on THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF | William Nericcio on LAND OF THE LOST | Dan Fox on “VOICE OF GOD” RADIO DJS | Brandi Brown on WIKIPEDIA TALK | Claire Lehmann on THE APPARATUS REVEAL | Alice Boone on COSTUME JEWELRY | Colin Dickey on WIDESPREAD PANIC | Anshuman Iddamsetty on THE FULL BODY PROJECT | John Hilgart on MAKING GRATEFUL DEAD ALBUMS | Rob Wringham on STEVEN UNIVERSE | John Overholt on DECKLE EDGES | James Hannaham on HABIT PATTERNS | Jessamyn West on THE PUBLIC LIBRARY SYSTEM | Adam McGovern on THE SPACE GIANTS | Brian Berger on MEDIUM COOL | Chris Spurgeon on THE DUNNING-KRUGER EFFECT | Joe Alterio on TABLETOP WARGAMING | Mimi Lipson on TRASH PICKING | Jason Grote on CZECH CINEMA | Roxane Gay on AUTOMATED CAR WASH | Dan Fox on JULIA DAVIS | Amy Thielen on BINGO | Steph Burt on FEIJOA.

MORE ENTHUSIASM at HILOBROW

KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2017): THE KILLERS | BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | ALPHAVILLE | HARPER | BLOW-UP | & 20 other neo-noir movies. #SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads | GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other new wave songs. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other fantasy novels from 1934–43. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other old-school hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.

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