Transient! The word rolls off downward-curled lips in a sneer usually reserved for such lower-castes as prostitutes, shit sweepers, backpackers, and attorneys. Some people seem to think that to live a mobile lifestyle is to be a shiftless lazy no-good bum. Maybe they’re right. Certainly the pan-handlers on the street don’t advance the cause. I’m referring to the people that you tend to smell first, like it or not, before you even realize that what they’re selling is guilt. Thank God for the sense of smell. Bio-molecular scuttlebutt is that half our genes are devoted to it, apparently to know what’s good to eat. It was probably more important in the old days when such things were not written down in cookbooks and therefore much more crucial for survival. Now it tends to have a more negative connotation, i.e. if ‘it smells,’ then it smells bad, at least in most languages, though not
I can remember when there were still real hoboes, long before beatniks, hippies, or hitchhikers without a cause, hoboes who grew up with the railroad, like Chinese using it as a rite of passage into the country, getting a foot in the door and a leg up the ladder long after anyone worried about Chinese junks landing on the shores and long before anyone worried about Chinese junk landing in the stores. I saw them as a child of the 60’s wandering up the hill below my grandparents’ house in
But I didn’t freak out and go sell real estate or anything. I just decided there must be some way to travel and make money, too. They said it couldn’t be done, and they were right. It can’t… any more. It’s funny that I made my living most of my life doing something that hadn’t been done before and probably won’t be done again on any large scale, dealing folk art and ethnic handicrafts. The process of tourism promoting handicrafts promoting cottage industry promoting import/exports has pretty much run its course and left native cultures more or less where they started, usually with improved local economies. That’s all they wanted after all. It’s the northern Europeans and their cousins who have the wanderlust. It’s in our Indo-Aryan speaking blood. We stayed out there on the steppes long after our southern cousins started hanging out with the Semites down on Club Med, learning how to be civilized and corrupt in towns and cities, climbing society’s ladders and jockeying for positions. They act like city people are smarter but anyone knows that’s cow poop. City people are just weaker. They’re servants and store clerks huddling together for safety against the ghosts and fears of their own pathetic imaginations, that they use to substitute for the real lives that they lost long ago, replaced by pictures on walls and silly love songs stuck in the head. The real poetry comes with the wind by the campfire; the real pictures are painted on the sky at sunset, lasting but a moment before the lights turn to darkness and souls take their rest. People of the steppes are hunters and herders, moving with the seasons and changing for their own reasons. They only need cities to prey on, to take what they need and leave the rest. A city of hunters only happens where a campsite becomes permanent and only then by convenience and circumstance, never necessity, for while a hunter may be IN the city, he is never OF the city. He’ll still have a little plot and a few animals, a view of the sky and a view of the future, ready to pack his bags at the slightest provocation, a roadmap etched in permanent memory.
The new landscape includes the web, of course, threatening to catch anything and everything in its sticky filaments. It’s hard to believe now that a computer was ever anything other than an Internet machine. Spreadsheets and databases gave way to e-mail and spam gave way to e-bay and e-banks gave way to MySpace and FaceBook. Now Second Life looks to take up where dreams leave off, a world inside the box, complete with land and money, milk and honey. For the conspiracy-minded this conjures up visions of bio-pods attached to TV screens by wires and tubes, getting their dreams and visions spoon–fed with oatmeal to produce fart-forced bio-gas for the cars in the real world upstairs. This should be where you look for losers and hustlers, a drug-like life for those who have none, hardly the place you find real men, the hunters and horsemen recently arrived from the steppes, right? The Next Big Thing may be fun and fashionable, good for