“A train is not a man, and a man is not a train. . .” George Milburn, The Hobo’s Hornbook
To live outdoors during The Depression was to have a pervasive fear of animals–packs of feral dogs or pigs, cougars, bears, wolves. . .you get the idea. Beasts. Hobos often relayed tales of being set upon by packs of vicious dogs in rail yards and dumps. To the dogs, hobos were merely a part of the food chain. In many a hobo diary, the fear of “beasts” was a common thread.
I notice it now among homeless people, who are deathly afraid of my 20-pound mutt. Whenever I walk Chooch, the homeless guys make a wide circle around him, never taking their eyes off of him. This underlines a larger condition, which is, to be homeless is to live in fear; of police, of animals, of the weather. . .of each other. It is a life of feeling like prey.
I always try to assure these guys that Chooch is friendly but they keep moving and back away from him, which makes him weird. Before I got him he was a stray and mostly hungry. He is still somewhat food aggressive, so I ply him with treats with the idea that he will one day forget he was ever hungry. I don’t think this will ever take. He eats every meal and treat like they won’t make dog food tomorrow. I feel like any living thing that has ever been hungry is much the same way.
Some of you have written me back lately lamenting my “socialist” leanings. Some of you have been asked to be taken off my list, which is fine. I’m not really a socialist so much as one who wishes for a more compassionate government. I think food should be considered a human right; as should education and adequate health care. Some of you find this idea appalling and I can live with that. Just remember the next time you see someone panhandling or asking for food. . .it could be any one of us.