Dear Dr. Boli: Can you discuss the differences between a hobo, tramp, and vagabond? A rather shabby, unshaven, and, shall we say, fragrant, gentleman has been sleeping in the backseat of my vehicle for the last fortnight. I should think that one should ascertain the proper nomenclature before notifying the authorities. Thank you in advance for your knowledge. —Sincerely, Dixon Herbstreit, Paw Paw, Mich.
P.S.—May I be so bold as to suggest adding a sidebar category “Ask Dr. Boli” so as to allow your faithful readers to more easily access your wisdom?
Dear Sir: You are correct to attempt a clear distinction, as upon this distinction depends not only what you tell the authorities, but indeed which authorities you call upon.
A Hobo is a member of an ancient and honorable fraternity, something like the Masons or the Odd Fellows, but with a more exalted pedigree. These gentlemen take certain vows of poverty not unlike those imposed upon the Franciscans in the days when vows of poverty meant something. Hobos may easily be distinguished by their erudite conversation and frequent allusions to the poetry of Sir Thomas Wyatt. Hobos come under the jurisdiction, curiously enough, of the United States Bureau of Vagabonds & Misfits, which was named in an earlier era when the distinctions among such persons were not accurately understood.
A Vagabond is a happy-go-lucky fellow with no attachments to persons or material things. Under ordinary circumstances, it is easy to identify a vagabond by his habit of bursting into snatches of operetta by Sigmund Romberg. A vagabond who is asleep, however, gives no such indication; although you might listen closely to hear whether there may be an orchestral interlude going on in the background. Dr. Boli would recommend directing the vagabond to any small regional opera company.
A Tramp is a low fellow who has no home and no employment. Unlike the Hobo and the Vagabond, who are poor and rootless on principle, the tramp adheres to no principles whatsoever. Tramps are best dealt with by your local agricultural extension agency.
It is no great struggle to distinguish these three varieties if the subject is awake, but much more difficult if he is asleep. Since you say, however, that the person in question is “fragrant,” Dr. Boli believes that your task may be much easier, if you have a nose for distinguishing odors. Vagabonds smell like roses, but hobos smell like lilacs. The scent of a tramp is indescribable.
Dr. Boli hesitates to mention it, for fear of insulting your intelligence; but, as you mentioned that the gentleman has been “sleeping” for two weeks now, Dr. Boli hopes you have assured yourself that he is not deceased rather than sleeping. Deceased hobos, tramps, and vagabonds come under the purview of an entirely different set of agencies.
Your suggestion for a separate category for these “Ask Dr. Boli” features has been forwarded to Dr. Boli’s secretary, who reports that he is now researching whether current technology will support such an addition.