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Here are the 700 Hobo Names You Requested

Published: Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Updated: Sunday, February 22, 2009 13:02

One of the questions that gnaws on my soul is, "If I were a hobo, what would my hobo name be?" Boxcar Ted? Half-Dollar Funk Nelson? Waspwaist Fritz? I'm sure this question plagues you too, Reader, but don't give up hope. Our prayers have been answered. A list of 700 hobo names has recently been published in John Hodgman's The Areas of My Expertise, a glorious, hilarious book of fake trivia and faux history that is perfect for anyone with a taste for dry, absurd, and intelligent humor. John Hodgman is probably best known as the PC in those annoyingly ubiquitous "Mac vs. PC" commercials, though lately he has made frequent appearances on Jon Stewart's Daily Show. A self-described "former literary agent," Hodgman is pale and bespectacled, with a sense of humor and speaking voice that is almost British in its dryness; in short, he is the perfect curator for this museum of fake trivia, a parody of the old standard almanac. In his introduction to The Areas of My Expertise, Hodgman says that he aims to compile a book of "COMPLETE WORLD KNOWLEDGE," similar to the almanacs of yore, but with one twist: "all of the historical oddities and amazing true facts contained herein are lies, made up by me." Just looking at the titles of the many short sections gives you an idea of his eclectic and absurd sense of humor: "Nine Presidents Who Had Hooks For Hands," "History's Worst Men's Haircuts," and "Jokes That Have Never Produced Laughter," among others. Hodgman's lies are wildly inventive but somehow resemble the truth enough to be almost believable: in the section on George Washington, for example, Hodgman claims that he "grew hemp," "distilled his own rye whiskey," and "had a rudimentary crystal meth lab in the basement of Mount Vernon." It was hard for me to even choose what quote to use to demonstrate the preceding point; the book is so endlessly quotable, you'll find it working its way into your everyday speech (that is, if you have friends who will get it). The best part of the book by far is its long center section, simply entitled "What You Did Not Know About Hoboes." In it, Hodgman constructs an elaborate mythology surrounding the homeless wanderers of early-twentieth century America, including hobo slang and signs, a list of famous hoboes, and the aforementioned "Seven Hundred Hobo Names" (if you wish to name your child after a hobo or become a hobo yourself). This alternate history of rail-riding and hobo nickels is bizarre and entertaining at every turn, from the hoboes' meteoric rise to prominence to their eventual demise as Herbert Hoover and his "dream-thieving machine" release the Great Depression upon them. It's also the best showcase of Hodgman's deadpan delivery and his ability to twist history into hilarious lies, with brilliant sentences like "There had been hoboes in the United States since there had been trains and liquor, which is to say: always." The Areas of My Expertise manages to mix erudition, dry wit, and bizarre absurdity into one thoroughly entertaining piece of intelligent humor. It's not for everyone, but if you've read this far into the review and find the idea of a hobo nation or Teddy Roosevelt having a hook for a hand funny at all ("Speak softly, and pierce their eyes with a golden hook"), pick up this book. In addition, The Areas of My Expertise has recently been re-released in paperback with even more information than the original, making it truly indispensable for anyone wishing to have "COMPLETE WORLD KNOWLEDGE."

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