Have you ever seen someone with an underbite? Like a wicked freakish underbite that makes them look like Ludo from the movie Labyrinth. And even though that in no way reflects on what kind of person they are, you’re still made horribly uncomfortable by that jutting, rain-collecting maw and you just can’t seem to dispel a feeling of general unease so you try to avoid that person whenever possible?
Because what if maybe they can unhinge their jaw and try to fit your face in their mouth? What if they try to touch you inappropriately, the whole time muttering something unintelligible because their goddamn tongue is swollen and dried from too much sun? That’s how I feel about hobos. Here’s why.
This was the most amazing story I had ever heard in my life, and I’d read Dickens by then (as edited to appeal to children of course, I was barely old enough to drink). It was about 10pm in the summer and I was returning to my domicile from the movies. I lived downtown and was cutting through an alley to get to my apartment when a figure shambled out of the darkness and blocked my path. Have you ever seen John Byner? This was his hillbilly brother.
Like this, only less classy
The man stood before me in the alley and asked if I had any money to spare. I was about to rain down blows with my platinum umbrella and summon the bobbies when Mr. Byner launched into the most elaborate, ripping yarn any squatter has dared devise to separate a gullible fool from their sixpence. It was frickin’ awesome.
He explained to me he was staying at the Holiday Inn just off the highway and right away my heart was breaking, for only murderers and their victims tend to stay at the Holiday Inn. His wife had come to town to get an operation for her cancerAIDSabetes dystrophy, the most serious illness known to mankind and only at the hospital in my humble city could the operation be performed. The man and his wife were from a “rural” setting. By the looks of it, they were probably worm farmers, or farmers of the cups that worm farmers use to store their worms.
The couple had spent all their money getting to town and securing the room and had only a hotplate on which to cook food because the Holiday Inn is the devil. Also, they had no food, so I was curious as to why they bothered to bring the hot plate, but whatever.
Where tape worms start their day.
Now up until this point, I was totally into the story. It had a likable protagonist (this miscreant), an epic journey (the trip here), adversity (the Holiday Inn plus Lou Gehrig’s leprosy or whatever) and now it was trying to chug towards the happy ending. But did I want to give him money? His suffering was kind of poetic, I didn’t want to ruin that. And then BAM! Motherfucker took his leg off.
I didn’t know whether to throw change and clap or snap a photo for future enjoyment, but this dude just bent down and took his whole left leg right off his body and kind of waved it around, explaining why it was hard for him to make money because he didn’t have that goddamn leg!
Like a robot I reached for my wallet and tossed him my last $5. While you might call me a fool, you've probably never been in an alley with someone who’d just taken off a limb. I consider it a minor victory that I managed to restrain myself from giving him my entire wallet and the pants I pulled it from. I escaped while he was reassembling himself, marveling at the ingenuity of a hobo with the courage to take off a leg and enough left over to support his sick wife at the Holiday Inn. Amazing.
And then a month later in a different part of town the same son a bitch pulled it on me again, only his wife had a different disease this time. I had been shanghaied by what is probably the oldest trick in the one-legged hobo handbook.
Most times I consider myself to be a well adjusted and fairly polite individual. If I have to piss outside, I will do it on the side of your house instead of the front door and I always tip my waiter. But mostly I don’t want to touch your crotch-laden hands.
So imagine for a second you’re walking down a busy street in the middle of the day and, on the horizon, you spy a figure in loose-fitting pants and a rumpled shirt and, you may have to squint to be sure, but you’re pretty sure the dude is holding up his pants with one hand while his other one is waaaaay down in there. Way down. Like reverse reach around way down. Did his balls drop their wallet? Did he lose an engagement ring in there like some sort of three camera sitcom/gay pornography hybrid? Hard to say but he’s clearly doing something.
As you approach, the man catches your eye and, lacking any telepathic abilities, you’re forced to assume based on his actions that he just decided you’re a plumber from hell, and man has he been looking for you.
Hells yeah! Our balls are as taught and shiny as doorknobs! Thanks Ball Shiner!
From my own experience, when a partially-panted individual retracts their cheddar claw from the hatch to come towards you in what is either a hand-shaking motion, or a face-smothering gesture, the best course of action is to flee and not leave it up to chance, even if that means bolting directly into traffic. Which I did. Much to my chagrin, the individual followed, hand extended and, as I could now see, a proud thatch of pubic thistles bustling forth from what appeared to be canvas trousers.
At the time, the prospect of being an automobile accident victim seemed a better choice than a meet and greet with dick palm. Fortunately, traffic was so backed up that day that no one was traveling at such a speed that I could not be avoided. After a quick sprint away from some angry motorists, I escaped with my soul slightly scuffed but still intact.
So sometimes I get hungry for pizza and I go to a pizza place and get pizza. Zany, I know. On this particular occasion, before ordering my delicious slice, I asked for the location of the lavatory. This not being a popular chain, rather just an independent business being run from a 60-year-old building, the washroom was located in a dungeon. I ventured downstairs, through a long winding hall and finally came across the room with a little man symbol on the door. You know that feeling of pride you get when you follow someone’s remarkably simple directions and they pan out just as planned? I had that.
When I opened the door I saw a dude shitting in the garbage can. Funny thing about opening a door and seeing a dude shitting in a garbage can, for a second you just watch. Because, for that second, you’re not really sure if you’re actually seeing a dude shitting in a garbage can. Because honestly, why would that be happening? Especially when literally four feet away is a toilet.
So the man looked at me and I looked at him and everything was about as still as a Mexican stand off scene in an old Western movie. Only in lieu of a passing tumbleweed, there was the shit this man was snaking into the trash can. And so I closed the door.
Tumbleweed? More like tumble…weed. Fuck.
I hastily journeyed back up the stairs and informed the gentleman behind the counter that there was a bit of a hiccup with the washroom situation, which is to say there was a dude shitting in the garbage can. The guy behind the counter, a man in his 30s with a few too many gold chains around his neck looked at me and actually said, “Again? Jesus, I’m sorry.” I was forced to conclude that this pizza place, like the famous opera house, was haunted by a phantom. Only in this case it was a dude shitting in the trash can.
A lot of cities seem to have a famous homeless person. San Francisco had Emperor Norton back in the day, a colorful character who claimed to be Emperor of the United States and could often be seen roaming the streets in his military uniform inspecting sidewalks and street cars. My city had an old lady who called me Fuck Face.
Every day after school I would have to travel a stretch of about five blocks on which I would invariably run across the woman locals referred to as Crazy Mary. She was about 4’10” with thinning red hair and a wide variety of brightly colored gypsy-inspired clothes. And a mouth so foul she could make stevedores blush.
10,000 words in this play. All of them are “twat.”
How I came to be known as Fuck Face I’m not sure, but it never changed. She used to call the man with the hot dog cart Cock Hole sometimes, and Ball Juggler at other times. Pretty much any clever combo of offensive terms and/or body parts would find their way into her insult repertoire which, more often than not, was yelled across streets at their victims. But I was Fuck Face, for three years of my run in high school, usually every day of the week.
One can only have a crazed little person call them Fuck Face almost 600 times over the course of three years before nervous ticks and self doubt begin to set in. What if I really do have fuck for a face? Are other people too polite to mention it? Is there ointment I can use?
My most traumatic run in with a hobo lasted no less than 20 minutes and was about as unpleasant as it could get without degrading into a session of hobo spooning. Basically it involved me hiding in a public washroom stall while a hobo used the sink for a bath. Why did it have to last so long and why couldn’t I flee or fight my way out? Well, for starters, and you may not be aware of this, but NASA and the UFC got together to chart just how intimidating Cracked columnists are and this is what they came up with.
As you can see, I have no business trying to start shit with anyone at any time, so if I get cornered in the toilet, I pretty much have to ride it out. It’s science. Plus, if you ever find yourself with your pants down in the same room as a homeless man whose pants are also down, you better remain as quiet as a mouse and pray your clenching reflex doesn’t crap out on you.
This was the first thing that showed up when I Googled “clenching.”
The situation was stacked against me from the start. It was 6am and I was downtown to score tickets for a concert by cleverly being first in line. In fact, the line would not form for another three hours. Unable to wait in a line of just myself for an extended period of time without a restroom break, I wandered to a nearby deserted mall and took up residence in a spacious, relaxing handicapped stall. And as I sat and produced my early morning sin I was interrupted by the sound of the door opening and a faucet turning on.
Looking through the crack in my stall door, I was greeted by the site of a sketchy looking fellow stripping away layer after layer of well worn plaid shirts and assorted other hobo accessories which he lumped into a pile one sink over. The situation became more alarming when the pants followed suit.
If you’ve never been sitting on a toilet, feeling your own genitals retract as you bear witness to a homeless man in his underpants, I don’t recommend it. The closest feeling I can liken it to is that moment, after eating bad Chinese the night before, when you find yourself stuck in traffic and you realize your stomach is not taking prisoners and you have absolutely no way to end this well.
Pictured: Bad Chinese.
So I sat perfectly still as this hobo began the long, curiously detailed task of bathing himself in a sink. My feet and legs went numb and still I made not a sound as I fought with my own inner demons over whether or not I should keep watching through the crack in the door knowing full well that if I kept watching it was likely I was going to have to endure seeing him plumb the depths of his own personal Hades but if I turned away the moment I looked up again his squirrely hobo eye would be pressed to the crack in the door staring at me as mysterious banjo music filled the entire room.
Long after my legs felt as though they’d atrophied to meaty slabs of uselessness, the hobo finally finished his business and, blessedly, took the high road by deciding today was not the day to wash his ass or crotch. He proceeded to dress himself again and shamble out of the restroom without a word. After massaging the blood back into my limbs and lamenting the toilet seat shaped tattoo that would surely be marring my ass for the next several days, I waited a few minutes and then left as well.
Looking back on it all I feel I've come out wiser as a person, but the cost to my own innocence was high. So very high.