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A Worry
Is anybody else worried about woodpeckers? Don’t they deserve better than a life spent bashing their heads against tree trunks? Blunt force trauma to the head, every day all day! It's insane...and yet it keeps on doing it! Of course I worry, but sadly, there isn't much I can do about it.
Head First
As I mentioned last May in this space, I am working on a novel. To be more precise, it is a graphic novel. To be even more precise, it is a comic novel.

I’m not sure that a comic novel is even a thing, not up until now, anyway. It may be a bit of a conceit to invent a category of art and then make your brainchild the only entry in it. I’m sorry; I just can’t help myself.

Head First is based on my comic strip, Subconscious Comics. It has been the most challenging and satisfying work I have ever done. I’m now about two-thirds of the way through the art portion of the project. The script was done long ago, but it will undergo fine-tuning right up until the last brushstroke has dried. I will still have the cover and dust jacket designs to make after that, and then the Kickstarter campaign, the printing, and the distribution out into the world.

But right now, I am in the most enjoyable portion of this journey — blue lining, lettering, inking, coloring, and watching my story unfold. I decided to post a chunk of the first page this week on the Subconscious Comics page of The internet renders it a little fuzzier than an actual page from from the book will be, but I just wanted to give you an idea what it’s like. For me, the word has been “fun".

The old black and white Subcons will return next week, continuing the march backward in time from 2000 to 1981. I’ve just finished with 1983, so next week there will be an episode from 1982 on that page. There will be more previews from the book, but with any luck, by the time I post that very first episode of the strip, the book, 100 pages of full-color, hard-cover comic novel, will be out in the world. Stay tuned.
They Stopped Making Those
Back in the 80s (that’s the 1980s), I bought a pair of pants out of the L.L. Bean catalog. They fit perfectly.

Let me repeat that: the pants fit perfectly! I had never had a pair of pants that fit perfectly, not from a catalog, not from a department store, not from a tailor. I don’t think that is an unusual experience for any of us. I believe, in fact, that many people live their entire lives and never find such a garment. That is because no two people on earth have quite the same hip/butt/thigh/waist/crotch configuration. It’s like fingerprints, except that the HBTWC index, as it is called, is much harder to ascertain.

As soon as I realized what I had found, I called L.L. Bean to order another pair, possibly more. “I’m sorry sir. Our supplier stopped making them. Would you be interested in our stretch chinos? I hear they fit like a glove.” No, I said, and hung up. Why would I want pants that fit like a glove? Any more than I’d want gloves that fit like a pair of pants?

If you are wondering how something so ordinary as a piece of clothing could roil the normally placid waters of my peace of mind, let me tell you about these trousers. Right out of the padded envelope, when I put them on, they stayed right there. No binding, no bagginess, no sensation that I was wearing them at all. They came in an earthy sage green with just a hint of blue in the stitching. Very nice. Free-thinking and a little rough, but with a clean-cut feel that matched the self-image I try to project to the world. They didn’t even need a belt — unless it added to the free, clean-cut, rough elan I was already styling.

I could go on, but I sense that I am losing you. I will only say that I wore those pants until they disintegrated. I will always treasure our time together, but that last day was numbingly sad. Kind of like meeting your soulmate, then having her die that same day in a gruesome haybaling accident. That’s never actually happened to me, but I can’t help feeling that the sense of tragic loss would be similar. Yes, it was a sad day, but also an omen of a dark awakening in me. The Law of Supply and Demand, I began to suspect, might be an unjust law.

A few years after the L.L. Bean incident, a show debuted on American TV that seemed to have everything. Max Headroom was funny and edgy and hip and British. Instantly, it became my favorite television show. I was sure that it would not only become a smash hit, but change television programming forever. It died quietly after 14 episodes.

I wanted more, but that did not seem to matter. Americans just didn’t get the joke, or something, so the creators just stopped making them. Stopped making them! How could that be?

This same injustice has been visited on me a number of times since then. In the 90s, I found an athletic/outdoor shoe that was perfect as well. Perfect shoes, as any Zappo’s aficionado can tell you, are almost as hard to find as perfect pants. And yet, there they were on my feet! This time, I was able to order two more pairs from Chaco (even though they were only available in a ghastly color). Once the last pair fell apart, I could not get another. No matter that I really, really wanted those shoes.

And my favorite beer (Ruthless Rye from Sierra Nevada)? No longer available in my area. A small, practical pick-up truck that was cheap to operate? Sorry, they were just too popular. And so on. I have concluded that the so-called Law of Supply and Demand, and capitalism itself, are nothing but a scam.

As proof, I offer these devastating struggles with the “free market.” They are the evidence that our demands, no matter how keenly felt, will not be answered by a correspondingly adamant supply. Oh, once in a while you may get what you want, but it will be cruelly snatched away from you. Truth is, the market just doesn’t care.

I guess I could demand a better system, but that would almost certainly be futile.
There in the Jungle
When I was as lad, my cousin Bob and I searched for adventure in the wildlands among the large, undeveloped tracts of land beyond his suburban Sacramento home. Those wilds are covered over with development now, but in those days, the life there consisted mostly of thatches of unkempt growth and of birds finding their lives among the criss-crossing levees and railroad tracks that cut through the otherwise empty wildness. There was also human life there…a small, squalid concentration of it. My cousin (who has always been more worldly than me) told me it was a “hobo jungle.”

I only glimpsed it once, in a Tom Sawyerish moment when we hunkered down just below the top of a levee and peered with wonder into this alternate reality. We couldn’t see much, just the smoke of campfires and dark forms moving about the encampment. What life might be like in that world was seen only in the unreal realm of our own imaginations.

The hobo jungles of today are not so mysterious. “Homeless camps” is the new term, and their world is now close enough to see clearly — at least if we look quickly enough as we speed by on the freeway. The Tom Sawyer flavor of my adventure is nowhere to be seen. That taste was also a product of our young imaginations. These are simply people, mostly down on their luck and mostly willing, even eager, to work.

My grandfather was a hobo for awhile, before he finally landed a solid job. He rode the rails all over the country, even to the Klondike gold rush in 1899. I know it was a tough life, though I don’t remember him talking about it. He worked wherever he could and slept wherever he could get away with it. He had no shame about that life, my father told me, but was always careful to distinguish between a “hobo” and a plain old “bum.”

That distinction is well-made today as well. There are, to my eye, plenty of hoboes among the homeless, people who are a good break or two away from grabbing hold of the bottom rung of the ladder. For now, though, they are rubbing elbows in the camps with other hoboes, and with bums, and with the mentally ill.

There may even be a few adventurers among them as well, people (men mostly, I would guess) who are curious to dive into a world free of any expectation or the need to obey. That was me, once. It was a real adventure, that is certain. I wanted the freedom at the time, and I wanted the uncertainty. So I hit the road with just a backpack and a vague destination. I slept in places I was not supposed to be, and miraculously I was never hassled by the law.

But I was no hobo. I knew I could return to my old life any time. I could simply hop a flight and end my experiment with disconnection. I was never seriously up against any of the real trials that the involuntary homeless face. There was no chance I would go hungry. I had some money and some friends along the way and people I could call to bail me out. There was some danger, but nothing I couldn’t escape by just moving on. No hobo has that kind of freedom. A bum does, but I suspect he will have an even harder time escaping his way of life.

Believe me, it is a hard existence, even if your time there was spent as a bit of a lark. I was relieved when it was over. I won’t be going back, not if I can help it. My grandfather and all the other hoboes in the jungle didn’t have that choice, nor do most of today’s homeless. They want out of the life that circumstance has dealt them.

There are no easy solutions to their predicament, but as long as they are there, it is our predicament too. Even if we catch only fleeting glimpses of them, they are here with us in the community. Right over there by the freeway, in the jungle.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon