Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Jack Kerouac's "The Vanishing American Hobo"

The introction to my recently-purchased copy of The Dharma Bums mentions this essay opf his — Jack Kerouac: "The Vanishing American Hobo". An exceprt:
    In America there has always been (you will notice the peculiarly Whitmanesque tone of this poem, probably written by old Goddard) a definite special idea of footwalking freedom going back to the days of Jim Bridger and Johnny Appleseed and carried on today by a vanishing group of hardy old timers still seen sometimes waiting in a desert highway for a short bus ride into town for panhandling (or work) and grub, or wandering the Eastern part of the country hitting Salvation Armies and moving on from town to town and state to state toward the eventual doom of big-city skid rows when their feet give out. -- Nevertheless not long ago in California I did see (deep in the gorge by a railroad track outside San Jose buried in eucalyptus leaves and the blessed oblivion of vines) a bunch of cardboard and jerrybuilt huts at evening in front of one of which sat an aged man puffing his 15¢ Granger tobacco in his corncob pipe (Japan's mountains are full of free huts and old men who cackle over root brews waiting for Supreme Enlightenment which is only obtainable through occasional complete solitude.)

    In America camping is considered a healthy sport for Boy Scouts but a crime for mature men who have made it their vocation. -- Poverty is considered a virtue among monks of civilized nations -- in America you spend a night in the calaboose if you're caught short without your vagrancy change (it was fifty cents last I heard of, Pard----what now?)

    In Brueghel's time children danced around the hobo, he wore huge and raggy clothes and always looked straight ahead indifferent to the children, and the families didnt mind the children playing with the hobo, it was a natural thing. But today mothers hold tight to their children when the hobo passes through town because of what newspapers made the hobo to be -- the rapist, the strangler, child-eater. -- Stay away from strangers, they'll give you poison candy. Though the Brueghel hobo and the hobo today are the same, the children are different. -- Where is even the Chaplinesque hobo? The old Divine Comedy hobo? The hobo is Virgil, he leadeth. -- The hobo enters the child's world (like in the famous painting by Brueghel of a huge hobo solemnly passing through the washtub village being barked at and laughed at by children, St. Pied Piper) but today it's an adult world, it's not a child's world. -- Today the hobo's made to slink -- everybody's watching the cop heroes on TV.

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Blogger Steve Hayes said...

The Dharma bums is my favourite book by Kerouac, and I've read it several times.

Have also been having discussions with others about how walking in many places is regaarded as odd, and likely to incur the suspicion of the police, and blogged about it at Peace officers who shoot to kill | Notes from underground

October 3, 2012 at 2:10 AM  

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