Joe Thomson Toronto On a Hobo's Salary

As many of you know a hobo can live on as little as 23 cents per day.  Toronto is a hobo friendly town and you can find one in nearly every corner of the city.  I ran into Chet McKitrick behind my apartment building while he was drinking mulligan stew out of an old Doc Martin he’d found.  Chet, like most hobos, was exceptionally friendly and agreed to let me shadow him for the day as he made his way around our fine city.  We agreed to a salary of 23 cents for his efforts.

After taking a long swig of his stew he offered me a taste and I was pleased to oblige him.  The stew was not half bad.  As we made our way down Yonge St. Chet decided to tell tale of the time he murdered 14 hookers in the summer of 23’.  He confessed he regretted the last murder as he’d become “smitten with’er”, but since she’d watched him ruthlessly murder 13 other hookers he’d had to do her in with his hobo knife.  He had a far away look in his eye as he finished his story.  Love never leaves us. 

After Chet snapped out of it we continued down Yonge, Chet tipping his filthy top hat to every lady we passed.  We ducked into an ally where Chet made a shrewd business acquisition.  He traded the two crushed beer cans that were hanging from his belt to a blind derelict for a ball of rubber bands.  Today was going to be a good day. At Queen St. the streetcar (or as Chet called it “the mechanical moving trolley”) almost hit us as we crossed the street.  Chet let loose a spew of old-timey insults; repeatedly calling the driver a “chowder head”. Chet cooled off and we continued on through the busy streets.

As we approached Front St. Chet became uneasy.  We were entering Railroad-tie Ricky’s territory.  Railroad-tie Ricky is a notorious hobo known to have a particularly disagreeable manor.  As we ambled down to the train tracks we encountered a group of disheveled men.  There was 10-12 of them and they were carrying someone, holding him above their heads.  We had unwittingly wandered into one of man’s rarest occasions.  A Hobo Funeral.

The men carried the deceased hobo out into the middle of the train tracks and laid him down.  They congregated around him and began their ceremony.  As we looked on from a distance we heard it told that the unknown hobo had died from a combination of tuberculosis and polio. I questioned Chet saying “I thought we cured—“  He placed his dirty fore finger on my lips and said “shhhh”. After removing his finger I licked my lips and tasted what seemed like sour milk and leather.  I noticed Chet looking on as the ceremony continued, a single tear rolled down his cheek clearing a path through the years of caked on filth.

Suddenly the Hobo’s scattered in all different directions as a freight train roared closer.  The train sped by us, crushing the lifeless corpse and ending the ceremony.  This is as real as it gets for a hobo, but Chet assured me this was common practice and that all Hobo’s are laid to rest this way “if they’re lucky”.

We left the tracks and silently wandered over to Jarvis St.  As we stood under the Gardner a man crept out of the shadows in a long wool trench coat.  It was Railroad tie Ricky and he was holding a spork.  He thrust the spork at each of us and demanded our shoelaces.  His wild eyes and the snot that was visible throughout his beard told me his demands were to be taken seriously.

We meekly gave up our shoelaces and watched as Ricky backed into the shadows, spork still pointed at us threateningly.  After fleeing danger I decided it was time to leave Chet and make my way home.  I gave him 23 pennies and he peeled off two rubber bands from the jumble he pulled out of his coat pocket.  I declined saying, “no that’s okay Chet, I have plenty of rubber bands at home” Chet fell to his knees in what I though was a melodramatic attempt at begging.  He took my left foot in his hands, lifted and placed the rubber band around my shoe, preventing the tongue from flapping out.  This final gesture made me realize the true spirit of the hobo, and I will never forget it.

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