Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Jam Sessions with Hobos

plural -bos, -boes.
1. a tramp or vagrant.
2. a migratory worker.

I think the word 'hobo' has largely vanished from common usage in the English language. I believe this to be because of politically correct folks who want to supplant words like "bum" and "hobo" with "homeless person." Granted, "bum" has a negative connotation, which is probably why the term has survived. Interestingly, however, "hobo" which actually isn't as negative a term, has largely gone extinct like other such grandly descriptive words like "sluggard."

A hobo, at least in the original sense, was someone who lived a certain lifestyle. They chose to be a vagrant, working occasionally in seasonal jobs. Bums were just, well, bums. But folks who used to describe themselves of "hobos" did so with pride because it was a carefree life almost to the point of being very Franciscan in a way. They enjoyed the adventure and the variety, blowing where the wind blew.

There has been such a person who comes in occasionally to the church where I work. He occasionally asks for a cup of coffee or something, but otherwise he just comes in to sit a spell and get out of the rain. We weren't quite sure what to do with him, but as long as he wasn't causing a nuisance, we leave him be.

I at first made the assumption that he was a homeless person. Ratty knapsack, guitar, and walking stick, were probably the only things the man owned, in this world at least. My boss was gone to a meeting, so when he walked in this morning and said he wanted to talk to someone, I was up to bat. After I had a sit down talk with him, I would describe the man as a hobo. He asked me if I thought he was a homeless person, and I said that I reckoned he was, not that there was anything particularly wrong with that.

He just laughed at the notion that he was homeless because he pulled out a wad of money, which could easily have rented a hotel room or apartment for many months. He seemed to be fairly well educated. He just wanted someone to talk to, not to bum (no pun intended) money so much, but just to have someone to listen to his guitar song he had written. It was a good song, although the years of living outdoors gave his voice a gravelly edge. He loved his life and wouldn't change it for anything, he told me.

I asked him where he was headed, and he heehawed around, saying maybe Arizona or California. I suspect he will hang around here for a few weeks until it starts getting cold. We had another jam session for a few moments, then I had to go answer phones in the office. He smiled as I said good day. "I'd hate your job," he replied with a smirk, "I prefer to be my own boss."

I looked out the window after the phone call, and he was gone. I guess he moseyed onto his next jam session. It made me wonder if we do a disservice referring to all people like that as "homeless people," as if having a physical structure is the sole criteria of a person's worth. I believe that man had a home, but not a home made of brick and wood. Like the lilies of the field, his home was the all out of doors. I doubt that man would have had it any other way.

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