I came across this little symbol a while ago and have been amazed to discover there are many more of them – a whole language of cryptograms employed by hobos almost a century ago. Things like this intrigue and titillate the crap out of me. Scrawled in chalk or charcoal on the sides of barns, on fences, they served to tell other wanderers what they might expect to find at any given place. A dog, a house that offered a meal with a good sob story, a place to find an odd job, where to watch for police, people with guns, or a safe spot to camp with clean water. What initially piqued my interest with this particular symbol, was that it resembled a logo of a certain brand of kitchen utensils I own. I still don’t know if there’s some connection between the hobo-glyph signifying a safe campsite and the ‘Good Grips oXo’ can opener I have. I don’t know why there should be – but it seems an odd coincidence, just the same.
I like discovering things like this on my wanders around the neighborhood – it reminds me of the magic of secret languages, and how they form an exclusive club of their own. You don’t know the language? You’re obviously not a member of the tribe. Who needs a key, a secret handshake, when the ignorance of others is the filter?
I remember the first time it really dawned on me – the way secret languages are used by certain ‘tribes’ to keep the rank and file out of their world. It was a wine tasting, a year or two after graduating from college, and two of the attendees were workers from Boeing. Eventually, the conversation – their own conversation – turned into a sort of pigeon-speak consisting mostly of acronyms strung together with a few words of English mixed in to bind it all together. I sat there thinking that they were both sort of idiots for excluding everyone else, but later figured that if they were just talking about work, I’d really rather not listen anyway…
It is one of the funniest of all phenomena I’ve been witness to living in the Seattle area, home of both Boeing and Microsoft. Boeing people are – well – sort of anal dorks. Lovable, kindhearted dorks – but dorks just the same. I couldn’t imagine putting any of them into a room and expect them to be able come up with even a paper airplane – let alone a 747 – and yet somehow, they actually can and do exactly that. Microsoft people, on the other hand, the ones I’ve met, are meticulous and brilliant and outgoing. They’re the indigo children – folks who work 90 hours a week, cycle for fun in Italy, and retire as millionaires when they’re 35 and then, on a whim, become concert pianists, just because. And yet – you put them together in a room – let them go at it, and they create things like the next shittiest version of Windows. Or the Zune. Go figure.
There is a secret language of cooking – but anyone who cooks – the ones I’ve met and known, don’t want it to be a secret. They don’t want it to be a secret club at all. There’s a pantheon of cookbooks, cooking shows dedicated to simplifying and demystifying things, breaking the complex down into the simplest of tasks, so that anyone can create a meal in 30 minutes, or make a roux, or cure their own bacon… Or master the art of French cooking in their own kitchen… And yet – most people don’t.
For people who do cook – who understand it a certain way – and want it to be something more than just a meal for everyone else, it manifests itself in ways like this blog – long circuitous diatribes about the joys of cooking, romance, and pleasure in the vain hope that someone somewhere else is infected with the same desire to create, tap into that other language. Sometimes, I realize, it’s just doesn’t work that way. Some people don’t want to be a part of that at all.
Throughout my life – that’s been the single most difficult thing to understand – how few people are curious about anything – learning anything new, discovering anything firsthand, especially when it comes to their own pleasure and happiness… I think it’s the reason why some languages will always remain a secret to others; not because they’re kept hidden – but because many people just don’t see them as relevant…