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“Wendy,” Me, and the Hobo Code of Ethics

"Wendy," Me, and the Hobo Code of Ethics

As my first NYC leg of the hobo tour comes to an end, I want to reflect a bit on my privileged hobodom.

In the past few weeks in New York, I encountered many a hobo (ones with actual problems that when contrasted to my running blog theme, make me look like a bit of an asshole). But I only interacted with two of them. The first was a man around twice my height and width that I accidentally bumped into in the East Village. Even though it was totally my fault, he followed me for 5 blocks apologizing over and over in slurred repetition (I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry) until I found my way into the subway.

The second was not a physical interaction, but a cinematic one. Wendy and Lucy, Kelly Reichardt‘s latest work that was screening at the New York Film Festival. Essentially the film is the story of Wendy (Michelle Williams, breaking my heart) and Lucy, her dog. Wendy, dog in tow, has run away from the Midwest, in search of a job and quite likely some sense of liberation from whatever plagued her previous existence. En route to Alaska, Wendy’s car breaks down in a small Oregon town, and a serious of shit-luck events find her helplessly (and homelessly) searching for Lucy after she runs away.

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This plot description does the film little justice. Shot over 20 days last August on a budget of a reported $300,000, the tiny film bursts with subtle emotion. Reichardt utilizes every moment of her 80-minute running time, creating a canvas of anxiety and dwindling hope. Much of her canvas is Williams herself, who speaks very little dialogue despite being in nearly every shot and pulls together a nuanced and disciplined performance that reaffirms my belief that she is one of the greater actresses of her generation.

It would seem remarkably dramatic for me to suggest I at all related to Wendy’s scenario. If Wendy & Lucy were about a Canadian film journalist who travels from film festival to film festival drinking free booze and sleeping in friends’ apartments, then, well, it would probably lose at least some of its melancholic charm. However, I was very affected by it. And its tone preyed on my own anxiety and loneliness in the first few days of my stint here, drawing me in and pushing me out in a daze that only comes from great works of depressing cinema.

Anyway, to take a step back, I had initially intended to cap of my leg here by going over “The Hobo Code of Ethics.” This is an ethical code was created during the 1889 National Hobo Convention in St. Louis to have a concrete set of laws to govern the Nation-wide Hobo Body. I had not-so-sincerely vowed to try and live by it in a post a month or so back, so I wanted to see how I’ve been keeping up.

But instead – and after the jump – I offer a comparative study of myself and Wendy and how we fare. There are serious spoilers so don’t read if you haven’t seen/want to see (which you do if you haven’t).

Hobo code of ethics

1. Decide your own life, don’t let another person run or rule you.

The initial plot of “Wendy and Lucy” suggests this is exactly what Wendy has done to bring her on this journey. Her sister seems like a total bitch on the phone, and I assume she was a great reason in her departure. Over the course of the film, though, Wendy does kinda let Lucy rule her. I know Lucy isn’t actually a person, but Lucy wastes like two days trying to find this dog instead of figuring out how to get herself out of that town. I realize this is out of love, but it still defies the code.

As for me? Um, I’m realizing now the potential in this exercise for some truths I don’t really want to disclose on a public blog. But I guess if I’m counting a non-humans for Wendy, I’ll admit coffee, cigarettes, a daily need to watch The View, obsessive e-mail checking, and the man at Subway who refuses to acknowledge I don’t want my sandwich toasted all rule me. And I guess that one was a human, so I lose.

Winner: Wendy

2. When in town, always respect the local law and officials, and try to be a gentleman at all times.

Wendy steals food from the grocery store and gets caught, which leads to Lucy getting lost. Local law broken. She also initially parks her car overnight in an illegal-to-park-your-car zone, so that makes her doubly defy the code.

I’m not sure I’ve broken any laws in New York. I guess I’ve jaywalked a few times, and while I’d like to say I try to be a gentleman at all times, I’m curious whether vomiting on the street after the New York Film Festival opening party disqualifies me from claiming that. But still, I didn’t get arrested for anything, so…

Winner: Me

3. Don’t take advantage of someone who is in a vulnerable situation, locals or other hobos.

Wendy’s a pretty kind person. She even gives some of the cans she collects for money to another hobo. She resists help from anyone, and commits a pretty ultimate selfless act in the final act.

I’m totally losing this one. I’m not going to make a list or anything, but let’s just go with the fact that I’ve gotten some free drinks here and there.

Winner: Wendy

4. Always try to find work, even if temporary, and always seek out jobs nobody wants. By doing so you not only help a business along, but insure employment should you return to that town again.

Alright, so Wendy is traveling across North America to find work in Alaska, which I’m no American, but I guess is a scenario not too many of you want to have to resort to. I’ll admit my scenario is bit a more enviable. However, unlike Wendy, I DO actually have a job. So…

Winner: Me

5. When no employment is available, make your own work by using your added talents at crafts.

Wendy does resort to picking up bottles and cans to bring to the bottle depot, but I wouldn’t necessarily call that a talent at crafts. And while I didn’t get paid for it, I did just make a colored marker-inused fancy sleeve for a mix CD I’m mailing to a friend for his birthday.

Winner: Me

6. Do not allow yourself to become a stupid drunk and set a bad example for locals treatment of other hobos.

Winner: Wendy

7. When jungling in town, respect handouts, do not wear them out, another hobo will be coming along who will need them as bad, if not worse than you.

This code kind of confuses me. But I guess it probably should go to Wendy. She’s very respectful of the fact that the security guard lets her use his cellphone and gives her that money. And I think it might take this fun-n’-game too far to suggest anything I was given meant as much to me as that did to her

Winner: Wendy

8. Always respect nature, do not leave garbage where you are jungling.

In an effort to find Lucy, Wendy leaves articles of her clothing all over town and in the woods so her can sense her trail. But I guess I did put a empty coffee cup on the ground when I couldn’t find a garbage can for like 10 blocks. And there’s many a cigarette butt on the New York ground thanks to me. And at least Wendy’s error was made out of love and affection for her animal and not out of laziness and/or deadly addictions.

Winner: Wendy

9. If in a community jungle, always pitch in and help.

Me and Wendy both made no effort to assist our hobo communities.

Winner: Draw

10. Try to stay clean, and boil up wherever possible.

I’m proud to say I usually shower everyday, but then again, I usually have a shower ten feet from my indoor, heated, “hobo” bed or couch. Wendy goes to the gas station every morning and cleans herself out of the sink, and always makes sure she’s wearing clean underwear. I’m sure I did a back-to-back wear at some point due to not having enough quarters for laundry, so I can’t even say that.

Winner: Wendy

11. When traveling, ride your train respectfully, take no personal chances, cause no problems with the operating crew or host railroad, act like an extra crew member.

Wendy jumps onto a freight train car, and though we don’t see how that works out for her, I would assume knowing her she’d be totally respectful. And after what she’s been through, I’m guessing she’s not going to try and cause any problems. But I can’t say for sure…

I on the other hand, can say with certainty that I rode that subway to the Upper West Side for NYFF screenings everyday with total honor. AND I didn’t complain when it stopped for thirty minutes on TWO occasions when “someone was sick.”

Winner: Me

12. Do not cause problems in a train yard, another hobo will be coming along who will need passage through that yard.

I never sat in the handicap seats. I always walked left and stood right. I always waited for people on the subway to get off before I got on. What did you do, Wendy?

Winner: Me

13. Do not allow other hobos to molest children, expose to authorities all molesters, they are the worst garbage to infest any society.

I don’t think this is a place for me to make a joke. Me & Wendy both did the code good here.

Winner: Draw

14. Help all runaway children, and try to induce them to return home.

I don’t think either Wendy or myself encountered any runaway children.

Winner: Draw

15. Help your fellow hobos whenever and wherever needed, you may need their help someday.

Wendy did give those hobos her bottles and cans, as I noted before, but I gave a few some singles… Still, I imagine Wendy’s cans and bottles meant more to her.

Winner: Wendy

Total: Wendy 11, Me 8

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