Curios: The Gay-Cat

photogaycat

One of the great, forgotten American road novels, The Gay-Cat: The Story of a Road-Kid and his Dog, is a wonderful example of how a somewhat heavy handed use of vernacular can make a book seem quite different when that vernacular falls into disuse. “A Gay-cat,” according to the book, which thankfully gives a definition a few pages in, is “the scorn of hoboes. He is a fake hobo. He lacks altogether the qualities of a blown-in-the-glass stiff. He will “peach” on his mates.” It goes on in similar fashion, though “peach” could perhaps use a definition.

The book is filled with hard talking hobos, using all sorts of slang. It feels at times a little stilted but then, I am no expert on hobo slang of the early twentieth century, so who knows. I think maybe a dog that the “Road-kid” meets early on is later named Gay-cat, though that seems a little mean given the definition. Either way, the book is filled with great moments of historical interest. A previous owner has written, in pencil, on the front free end-paper a sort of reference page that gives a glimpse of both an unfortunate use of racial epithets among all the other slang, and a concern with labor issues. The first reference labor issues is on page 70 and concerns the importation of cheap labor for work as laborers on a farm, and a fairly astute criticism of the practice. Pages 192-194 concern the I.W.W., while pages 284-286 concern Japanese farm laborers in California. The road-kid is from Grass Valley, a small mining town here in California, not far from San Francisco, and the book takes place largely in California.

“Gaycat, someday when we get tired a bein boes, we’ll go home; back to grass valley and my ma.” Reads the caption.

“Gaycat, someday when we get tired a bein boes, we’ll go home; back to grass valley and my ma.” Reads the caption.

You can come down to the store and check out this and other wonderful titles, or you can find it online, through Abe Books, here.

 

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