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Hobo, Screwball, and Hero

Each week, Mr. Reed will relate the stories of people whose choices and actions make them heroes. See the table of contents for previous installments.


John Patric was a self-described “hobo” and “screwball” who lived out of a car for years at a time. He attended universities in seven states from California to Minnesota and was expelled from three (in Oregon, Michigan, and Texas). He ran for office at least 15 times, as a Republican as often as a Democrat, and paid his campaign filing fees with loose change. To prove how gullible reporters could be, he often falsely claimed he was an FBI agent, a school board member, or other such fabrications. He was, by all accounts, a strange duck. So what makes this guy a hero?

“Americans have the right to be different!”
— John Patric

Paeans to the “common man” abound in literature, magazines, and political speeches. I confess, however, to an attachment to the uncommon — an appreciation that goes back at least 40 years to the time I first read “My Creed” by a New Yorker named Dean Alfange, an immigrant from Turkey:

I do not choose to be a common man. It is my right to be uncommon, if I can. I seek opportunity, not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me.

I want to take the calculated risk; to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed. I refuse to barter incentive for a dole. I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence; the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of utopia.

I will not trade freedom for beneficence nor my dignity for a handout. I will never cower before any master nor bend to any threat. It is my heritage to stand erect, proud and unafraid; to think and act for myself, enjoy the benefit of m…

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