December 23rd, 2007

Weird Christmases

Some years ago I wrote a piece on hobos for Spin Magazine, and ever since then I've kept in touch with some of the people I met while researching the article and been interested in hobo culture. When I lived in Seattle I used to go down on Christmas Eve to the Mirror Tavern and buy drinks for a few hobos of my acquaintance. Maybe it's peculiar of me, but I've never been much for big family Christmases, and those hobo gatherings were some of the best Christmases I ever had. One year, I remember, we were joined by several people who had been laid off by a downtown department store, and we watched A Hobo Christmas, this cheesy movie about a hobo who finds his family again at Christmas, and everyone had a blast gleefully jeering at the movie and getting plastered. It was kind of like a family Christmas, a down-at-heels dysfunctional family, except for the fact that we all got along. So, in tribute to those Christmases, here's Budapest's Hobo Blues Band pretending to be hobos and singing Tobacco Road in English and Hungarian.



These guys can actually play. Check 'em out.



I've spent a lot of Christmases abroad, including one in Phnom Penh, which was too depressing to recount here, but maybe the weirdest of all was a Christmas I spent in the middle of the Atlantic aboard an Irish freighter bound for Belfast. There were only five passengers, me and my girlfriend, 2 Canadian guys, and old man named FK. The crew was all Irish, except for the Captain, whom they hated. They called him the Spaniard, so I guess he was born in Spain. He sounded Irish to me, though the only thing he ever said to me was "Who the fuck do you think I am?"--that in response to my question, "When will be getting in, you figure?" I asked the second mate, the friendliest of the crew, what was up with him, and he said, "The captain's a wee bit of cunt." There were all kinds of undercurrents going on among the crew, all kinds of whispers about the captain, and I was told the second mate and he were mortal enemies. On Christmas morning, he had us for drinks in the salon. The first mate and he were on one side of the room and the rest of the officers were all on the other side. It was sort of awkward. The captain stayed for one drink and thereafter took to his cabin. Me and the girlfriend stuck around and talked to the radio officer, who wrote Fawcett Gold Crest mysteries in his spare time, then we went back to the cabin and did some mushrooms. It was a calm day for winter on the North Atlantic and we explored the ship, becoming fascinated by funny stains and so on. Around 4 o'clock we climbed to the bridge and knocked on the door, thinking it would be cool if we could get a look out the window. I knocked a couple of times, then tried the door, found it open and entered. The bridge was empty. That was a truly strange feeling. I went though a TZ moment, imagining that everyone but us had been spirited off the ship, or that the shrooms had twitched us into alternate universe without any other people, and imagined that we were going to have learn how to operate the ship. We went belowdecks and knocked on the second mate's door. No answer. I got a little panicked and pounded on the door. The second mate poked his head out and asked what the hell was going on. We told him there was no one on the bridge. "Okay," he said. "Thanks." He didn't really seem surprised and said he'd have looksee. Later we learned there'd been no one on the bridge for about four hours, and this had been the captain's fault--he had drunk himself unconscious. That evening we started getting some heavy weather, the ship tossing about and rolling in the swells. By that time I was coming down from the shrooms, so I went up to the radio room and sat talking to the radio officer. I noticed he had a thermometer affixed to the wall with these gradated marks on the wall on either side. The thermometer was swinging back and forth, almost touching the highest mark on each side. I asked what significance the marks had, and he told me that when the thermonter touched the highest mark, that meant we would capsize. My attention was pretty solidly on that thermometer for the remainder of the conversation.

We docked in Belfast two days later and the captain was taken off in handcuffs. Most of the officers were happy as pigs in shit, especially the second mate. From things that were said, I had the idea that he had set up the captain, but it was nothing I could prove or wished to prove.

Anyway, y'all have a good one, or a weird one. See you in a couple of days,