“Gahhh habal heaeg gwaaarrrrk!”
~That Smelly Guy on the Bus
Every nation has its levels of despondency, where the rich and the poor are separated by a nearly impossible chasm of social status. Some are fortunate enough to have riches beyond our wildest hopes and dreams, while others are forced to live on the streets, trying to find or get enough money to scrape by. In nations such as Italy, the homeless bow down in silent penance, hoping for a kind stranger to hear their wordless plea.
But fuck that noise, America does it right. That’s right, America is home to the craziest sons of bitches you’ve ever seen homeless. There is a rich history of American crazy homeless people, the best of whom have quirky names and known habits. The University of Illinois, for example, has a homeless character named The Rebel. Northwestern has an overweight homeless person named “Big” who the rest of the homeless population despises. And of course, there is shoeshine Lenny, who rides on a bike to inform you that he is shoeshine Lenny, and he doesn’t have any, but if you help him out, someday, we’ll all have plenty.
These people breath a special brand of crazy that only America can breed, and today, America Fun Fact of the Day salutes them.
At ease, hobo.
AFFotD has demonstrated the American traits of a unique brand of Homeless-Person in our Fun Fact regarding Michael Malloy. But even though not every homeless person in America is an indestructible super-boozer, America has several schools of crazy homelessness, with each having loyal supporters. The West Coast homeless person can best be exemplified by the various characters of San Francisco, California. San Francisco is a town where running around without pants just means you probably are boycotting the cotton trade in Singapore, so to stand out as a crazy homeless person takes a lot of work, as seen with the first great West-Coast Hobo, essentially the Tupac of homelessness, Emperor Norton.
Norton had lost all of his money investing in Peruvian rice (because it takes a crazy person intent on being homeless to invest his life savings in Peruvian rice in the 1800s) and after a brief self-imposed exile from San Francisco, he came back and decided to dress in a military uniform and declare himself the Emperor of the United States (and later, the Protector of Mexico). All of this is fact. Emperor Norton would print his own money, which stores he frequented would honor as actual money, and would make a series of decrees, including a demand to dissolve Congress in Washington DC. While it is not as widely reported, Emperor Norton had a pet rat who he named Prince Monty, who he taught to dance a jig while he played fiddle. “Dance Monty, your Emperor demands it!” he would shout, and the rat would just dance it’s tiny rat legs like there was no tomorrow, while passerbys joined in. When Emperor Norton died, thirty thousand people attended his funeral (that’s the actual number) and four hundred pretenders to his throne came out of the woodwork (that number may be exaggerated).
Also, he looked like this.
After Norton, there was a power vacuum in the homeless ranks of the West Coast, which lead to the establishment of several unique West Coast styles, such as the burnt out hippy holding an ironic sign like “Why lie, I just want a beer” or “Too stoned for office work.” This group particularly blossomed in the 1970’s when stupid hippies had nothing better to do with their money than reward these sign creators. Additionally, street performances became especially popular, aided by the generally constant warm weather, compared to the more weather ravaged East. Dancing robots are particularly popular, where the homeless person covers himself with silver paint, and a crowd of spectators gather around and laugh as the lead poisoning takes hold and the robot begins having seizures and speaking in tongues.
It was not until the 1980’s when The World Famous Bushman came around to combine these styles with the incredible insanity of Emperor Norton, that the modern variation of West Coast crazy person took off. David Johnson, after finding it difficult to compete with the large amounts of Hobo Robots in the streets, decided to come up with a unique method to get money from people. The Bushman would hide behind a bush, waiting for an unsuspecting passerby, before leaping out and scaring the ever loving shit out of them. According to Wikipedia, crowds will gather to watch his work, which one would think would only make it a little less surprising and startling for the victim. The jumping serves as the street performance aspect of Johnson’s bit, while the business model of, “If I jump out of the bushes at some random person, they will give me money, and not try to stab me” is where he utilized Emperor Norton’s balls-to-the-walls craziness.
Johnson claims he makes up to $60,000 a year doing this, which shows why San Francisco is the perfect hotbed for crazy homeless people.
While the West Coast Hobos are an eclectic and well established group, they maintain a fierce rivalry with the East Coast Hobos, who employ much more aggressive, insane tactics. The East Coast hotbeds are centered in Cambridge and Philadelphia. Cambridge is home to innovative homeless person techniques, since the homeless also have to battle the freezing winters, while still managing to be publicly crazy. And while many Cambridge homeless have envisioned themselves hunting down a husky Harvard student and slicing him open for shelter like a goddamned Tauntaun, that tends to shorten the career of promising Hobos. Cambridge hobos account for roughly 11% of violent crimes in the community, which is a sharp contrast from the West-Coast style.
Ideas originating in Cambridge have been most successfully employed by the East Coast Hobos of Philadelphia. As seen in the previously linked “Philly’s Crazy Homeless Bastards” craigslist post, various crazy hobos ravage the city, ranging from Gandalf, who once kicked a pigeon into traffic, to Motherfucking Crazy Fuck, or MCF, who stands around a Dunkin Donuts with a broom, holding it like a javelin while screaming at taxis as they pass by.
Many mainstream forms of Hoboing occur throughout the United States, with the most talented of the crazy hobos moving through the ranks to the big leagues, that is, a major U.S. Metropolis. That’s where Windshield-Wiper-Guy and I-Know-Where-You-Got-Them-Shoes-Guy is able to thrive. And there are champions like Shoe-Spray-Bottle-Guy, who begins a conversation with high school students before spraying Windex onto their gym shoes, wiping it with a rag, and asking for twenty dollars. And of course, there are the lower level Hobos still looking for their shot, like, Steal-All-The-Free-Editions-Of-The-Onion-And-Try-To-Sell-Them-For-A-Dollar-Each-Guy, I-Have-A-Riddle-For-You-Guy, and Guy-With-A-Live-Snake-Around-His-Neck, who are looking for their craziness to be recognized with an official nickname. But only the greats get their own nicknames, only the determined, only those with the natural ability to busker like no one has buskered before.
These brave few are the American heroes, the men and women who make us pause our ipods subtly on the train as we think, “holy shit this person is fucking insane, what are they going to say next?” These are the true Americans, showing that, while other nations might try to imitate our crazy, they never can (or if they can, they make the mistake of making them the dictator of their country. Cough, cough, North Korea, cough).
But, you know, we’re not going to give them change or anything…because, come on, we earned that money, get a job you bum. Because that’s America.