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  • Writer's pictureLannie Neely III

Books for Socks

I only remember him as “Hobo Steve.” My mother brought him in for reasons I never asked and let him stay in the house with me and my sister. It was odd that he slept separate from her: My mother preferred the company of rats, and many people before him had made a nest for themselves in her “shedroom” (a shed she had converted into her own private bedroom), showing little of themselves except for when the swamp cooler needed fixed, or the groceries brought in, or just because the living room was larger and they were all tired of getting stoned in a confined space.

A tactless guest, Hobo Steve romped around the house as if he were my much older brother, taking claim to the food and the television as hungrily and as shamelessly as any other beggar. At night he played video games (my games!) and when I awoke for school in the morning, he would be at the end, having never slept a wink. If I brought my friends home, we’d cross our fingers and hope that Hobo Steve would be asleep on the floor rather than greasing up the game controllers; but even if he had fallen asleep, he stirred awake as soon as we started playing. “How d’ya find that door!?” he’d bellow. “I wander’d round there fer three hours last night and couldn’t find nuthin’!”

I don’t recall him ever bathing, and the filth on his arms looked to be as permanent as his tattoos. My friends and I joked about him frequently, imagining fantastic stories about how my mother hired him to scratch all of my Playstation discs in exchange for weed, or how he manifested on our floor one morning out of dirt and dog fur (“…there must have been some magic in that old silk hat they found.”). I think he heard us one night, devising a way to lure him from the television with a beer-filled Twinkie on a string; the volume lowered—it wasn’t hard to hear outside my room, since my door was nothing more than a blanket—and his breathing sounded eerily closer. The next morning, however, he greeted us with the same gap-toothed grin he always did, remarking that he was glad he didn’t have school anymore.

Hobo Steve’s dog—aptly named, Dog—expressed more intelligence than her master ever could. She sat, shook her paws, barked on cue, chased her tail, and so many other tricks that my friends and I thought she must have been stolen from a much smarter person. When Hobo Steve said, “Work for your money, Dog!” she would roll onto her back and spread her hind legs, wiggling her butt around. But her best trick was the scariest: when prompted, she sniffed out any green money hidden in the house like a pig searching for truffles. I used this information to hide my finances in a stinky sock.

The last thing I expected to gain from Hobo Steve was an appreciation for books. He praised Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind, which he had taken from a book cart in prison. Intrigued, I asked a friend to find the book for me, willing to spend my evenings discovering the interest of a grungy ex-convict.

Wizard’s First Rule lit my fascination of books; its adult writing and mature themes presented an angle to literature that I hadn’t learned from school. To this day, I rarely leave my apartment without packing a novel.

Hobo Steve and Dog disappeared, but they left me with the inspiration to read—in place of my money sock.




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