Settling For A Woodshed

In Delaware once during student days I met my only authentic hobo. He told me he always quit a job after he’d got the hang of it. He said there was no better reason for quitting, that it freed all that much more potential for crossing trackless sands and uncharted seas. I felt there was a flaw in this somewhere but couldn’t put my finger on it just then.

Ask even a non-hobo what his ambitions are and you get some revealing answers. Not just from the boy who wanted nothing more out of life than to be able to toss an egg into an electric fan; nor from the fellow I know who will reply dreamily that he would like to help redress the balance by hijacking Miami-wards the weekly Cubana flight from Mexico City to Havana. No, Captain Cook was the boy for my money. Listen to this: “I … had ambition not only to go farther than any man had ever been before, but as far as it was possible for a man to go.”

Or take Norman Thomas, who died last December at the age of eighty-four. A Presbyterian pastor who became leader of the Socialist party and six-time presidential candidate, he never won an election, never even received a sizable vote. It must have been a Sisyphean process; yet one of his confessed aims was altogether laudable: “To live to be my age.” That’s something for those who go into a premature crumble, saying farewell to youth and ambition simultaneously, and finding themselves among those middle-aged “drawn with dull consent into insipid misdoing and shabby achievement.”

The percipient Thoreau as usual had a word for it, in his journal for July 14, 1852: “The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, or perchance a palace ...

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