John Patric — a Vagabonding Paleocon Ammon Hennacy

I thought this was a neat find. John Patric was a sort of paleocon version of Ammon Hennacy. Disgusted at how the government was using his tax money, he decided to drop out of the tax-paying world and support himself by going on the road and selling his self-published book.

The following tale comes from a zine called Faith and Freedom that attracted American Christians of a libertarian bent half a century ago. The zine’s editor, William Johnson, wrote this profile for the issue, at the time anticipating that it would be the first of many portraits of eccentrics in an ongoing “God’s Irregulars” column.

Through the front door of a restaurant in Atherton, Kansas, you see a vintage Lincoln stutter to a stop. The driver, a pipe-smoking man, wears a bulky overcoat. as he takes a stool at the counter. In no time he strikes up a lively conversation with the waitress.

His name is John Patric, Frying Pan Creek’s most irregular citizen. The waitress looks at a book Patric has handed to her. You can’t hear the conversation but she smiles, reaches into the pocket of her uniform and hands some bits of silver to the pleasant man in the large overcoat. This is the way he sells Yankee Hobo in the Orient, authored, bound, published and sold by John Patric.

Who is he? He is a man with a free spirit. Where most men pursue fame or fortune, Patric through most of his life has pursued the warm personalities within individuals — the spark that sets them apart. But just as energetically, he scratches and bites, punches and slugs with his literary ju-jitsu against the state’s herding of men into selfless flocks.

Patric’s spirit has escaped; he is one of the happy few. He sees his life as an adventure, a prank now and then, but a great talent for wanting to be — and remaining — independent.

As far as I know, Pat is the only author in America who has met over fifty percent of his book-buying public — one at a time. A highly inefficient way to distribute books you say? After listening to Pat explain why, I’m not sure. You see, Pat wants to reach a different market; one not touched by the conventional libertarian channels.

“I find I’m most effective when I shoot with a rifle; I hide my economics under the best book jacket I can buy, full of cheesecake and adventure.”

He once sold a Hobo to a Jewish laundryman in Paterson, New Jersey who had an addressographed copy of PM on his desk. He went back with trepidation to get his little laundry bundle (he always splits up laundry into as many bundles as possible because he always sells Hobos in laundries) because he knew the laundryman would realize that the book was not quite what it seemed.

“To my astonishment,” Pat reports, “he bought a dozen more and would take no money for my laundry. ‘Ralph Ingersoll wouldn’t like your book,’ he said. ‘But I like it. You are the first reactionary I ever met,’ he said, ‘who really believes in what he says, and has justification other than financial for believing in it.’

“I have big pockets in my clothes; so that I can carry about six Hobos with me, or twelve if I wear an overcoat. I can, in a good small town, and in the course of errands that seem perfectly legitimate (and are, except that I extend their numbers by buying a meal in four restaurants — soup and a glass of milk in the first place; hot beef sandwich in the second; piece of cake in the third; ‘just coffee, please’ in the fourth). I can sell about 35 Hobos in a day of hard work without seeming to have tried to sell any.

“Each Hobo will take about ten hours to read and, because the buyers have met the author and have an inscribed copy, they lend the book more than usual. So I figure maybe that those 35 copies — that’s a top day — would account for 2,000 hours of human time; time in which the reader is exposed to my reactionary poison in doses not too long to interrupt the narrative too much.”

There is a quality about his book (a terrific tale of how one American saw the Orient as no other American has ever seen it) which lets him get away with injecting his philosophy in among such off-beat chapters as “Her Father Consented, in Writing,” and “Rumpin on the Road.”

A rumpin, by the way, is the label Pat gives to his self-portrait. “I was a rumpin, an obscure nobody, a hapless tramp, a good-natured guy who would sleep in a pile of straw, or sitting up; who would eat anything he could get; who required no service; and who got about much of the time afoot, a misadventure in every mile.”

Should your curiosity by this time be nudging your pocketbook, you can order one book by writing Pat at Frying Pan Creek, Florence, Oregon and enclosing a dollar. This wasn’t meant to be an advertisement for Pat’s book; I was merely tipping you off to order just one book the first time. You will order more, I’m sure, but when you send in the quantity order, if it’s big enough, Pat will write you a personal letter; one which will tickle both your intellect and your funny bone.

A friend of mine asked Pat to contribute an article and Pat refused in a ten-page letter. He explained: “Because I wrote you a three-page letter, you bought 13 extra Hobos. Anytime you buy more Hobos, I’ll write you another letter, because then I won’t have to use the time to go around selling them. Yesterday, the day I got your letter, I drove 50 miles or so, sold 17 paper and 2 cloth copies of the Hobo. Today I shipped you 13; not so good as yesterday, but I haven’t driven 50 miles. I drove one mile, to mail your books. I sold a copy to a laundry (cloth) where I left a little bundle, and two (one each) at a hamburger stand where I ate lunch. Breakfast was a jumbo-size can of Rancho Vegetable Soup, 19¢, and a cup of coffee. Dinner was a quart of most excellent milk, and, later, a can of Maine Mussels, 12¢ plus coffee. So, while I earned little today, I had little expense, and did a good many chores in my trailer.”

Refused To Be An Accomplice

Pat lives a spartan life because he rebels at government compulsion. “I have a mania for making personal expenditures with penurious frugality, while spending rather lavishly on anything that is a deductible expense, to the end that I personally pay the absolute minimum to the federal government without falsifying my own return.”

Once Pat turned down a lucrative job because “earning that much would have increased my involuntary financing of the further destruction with tax money of American freedom by the government in Washington.”

In Hobo Years, a book yet to be published, Pat promises to tell us how, to keep from financing the ever-so-voracious government, he shall be living on Frying Pan Creek and its 160 acres on $500 a year.

His hobo budget-squeezing stood him in good stead for his trip to the Orient. To accumulate money for passage and to fit himself for living as an oriental in the Far East, he slept in his car, ate cheap food, walked all he could instead of riding; gave up comfort completely — all to save twenty dollars a week. He would have little respect for the social worker who pleads that the “underprivileged” cannot, without government aid, work out their own destiny. Pat would rather sell the man-in-the-street one book than the man-in-the-board-room fifty. He has cast his lot with the little guy. “I have found all over the world that the simplest, poorest people are least chauvinistic until they have been swayed away from their friendliness by government propaganda.”

Freedom For Me — Not You?

Pat has always resented any reference to “the masses.” “When I hear the term used by an intelligent man, I know he means that he is not one of them; that what’s good for the masses doesn’t apply to him. If he thinks that way, then that man is my natural ideological enemy, however in agreement he may seem to be. Anybody who’s got any ideas for me that don’t apply to him, or any ideas for his kind that aren’t applicable to mine, is highly suspect in my mind.”

Pat doesn’t go in much for pitching in with conservative organizations. “I find myself on all kinds of mailing lists, all kinds of people with all kinds of projects, all wanting help and money. I get mad at one outfit because it’s for freedom but argues for tariffs and against free trade. Another organization sends me some good stuff sometimes but they’re always asking for contributions and besides their name is a misnomer. They’re supposed to be for political freedom but one of their releases proposed to outlaw the Communist Party. Yeah, freedom, if you think like we do! Some gent starts the Ben Franklin Book Club and has selected Hobo for it, and wants some. He sends me his prospectus, containing ‘Ben Franklin’s Famous Expose of the Jews.’ I write him where to go and that’s the end of the correspondence with him. Gosh, I believe in freedom for Jews, too.”

Pat pins most of the responsibility for tyranny’s growth on those that say “Let’s fight all other subsidies, but let’s keep ours.”

Upon the banks of a creek where Pat went swimming as a boy near his home town of Snohomish, Washington, he and a friend own a farm together. Pat reports that his friend wrote him that the government would give them about $100 worth of lime to improve their soil. “He didn’t have the slightest realization that if we accepted this, we couldn’t then consistently oppose anything else the government was going to do for the other guy.”

“Pat Likes Women”

The hundred dollars wasn’t much but Pat is extra careful about the way he looks at money. He believes that men who put money first are always grubbing for it, and find it always elusive. “If you think first of perfection of workmanship and service to the customer, money comes automatically and you needn’t worry about it.”

A woman who has gone out with Pat a few times writes of him:

“Practically nothing. is a ‘side interest’ with Pat. Anything that wins his interest commands his study and attention. He is interested in law, for purposes of using it or circumventing it; he is interested in printing and bookbinding, for purposes of demanding a good job on his own books; he is interested in art work and engraving because he uses them in his books; he is interested in 1927 or 1929 (or some other year at least 25 years ago) Lincolns because he has one and he needs new parts for it now and then.”

“Pat likes women, has had a lot of experience with them, and has even been in love once or twice. He is always interested in getting a woman’s ‘story’ and is always sure he knows just what she needs — him! At least temporarily, for the pattern of his life has so far not really had room for a permanent feminine alliance in it. He counts on his charm and wit, his eccentricity and his reputation as an author to advance his suit — not elaborate dinners and high-priced entertainment.”

Because Pat has reduced his love of money to such a low level, he feels he has reached a relatively high state of independence: Pat has arranged his life in such fashion that he doesn’t punch a time clock, isn’t tied to a desk, doesn’t worry about a pay check, and doesn’t have to stew about getting somewhere on time. Editors and publishers got to restricting his freedom, so he pulled out, resolved to write for only Publisher Patric and to publish for only Salesman Patric. In one of his asides in Hobo he says: “That’s the nicest thing about a book — you can interrupt anywhere to say any gosh-darn thing you please, without having some stuffed shirt editor chop out something which he is sure the readers won’t like because he doesn’t.”

His insight into personal independence helps explain Pat’s theory as to why individualists don’t make much of a show in church politics. “I see the left-wingers invading this field because the right-wingers are too busy working, solving their own problems and paying taxes to give them much opposition. The folk who attend the meetings are always — or at least they tend to be — the ‘let George help us organize’ type of folk. They want group action; that’s why they attend. Men who don’t want group action but do things individually are too busy for such foolishness. The danger is that the unthinking public will assume from the newspaper stories that to be a good Christian nowadays you have to be a leftist.”

Repairmen Will Gyp You

The best thing Pat’s father taught him: “If I learned to like work, I could choose for myself what work to do, and that I could earn more than fellows who didn’t like to work.”

Though Pat flunked English in school because he could never learn the rules of grammar, he is a top-notch reporter. Remember his Reader’s Digest series (with Roger Riis and Lioy May) entitled Repairmen Will Gyp You If You Don’t Watch Out? (Pat inserts a note in Hobo when he mentions the series: “If we cannot always trust humble mechanics among our own countrymen to tell the truth, can we trust our politicians — whose profession is more devious — to tell us the truth about the events leading up to war?”)

Benefits For Camp Followers

Pat’s first rebellion against authority rose against the social-register behavior imposed upon him by his mother. He didn’t kick or talk back; he took his wagon, put a sign, “John Patric — Junk Dealer” on it, and went about the whole community gathering people’s refuse from back alleys.

Some of his best prose pours out when he warns against government’s authority. Example: “Government may benefit in the end only its camp followers, their numbers always growing. Yet it takes ever heavier tithes from humble folk who confuse eloquence with truth, profession with honor and magnificence with merit. This it does until at last, more honored than ever, secure-seeming behind its bastions of bronze and granite and marble, its pronouncements of its own holiness and selfless good, it decays unhurried, but decays so thoroughly that when at last it falls, men wonder how it stood so long.”

He likes to quote Don Marquis’ archie: “If you are a tyrant you can arrange things so that most of the trouble happens to other people.” Pat found time in Hobo to reflect upon the plight of a Chinese coolie (who Pat believed to be intrinsically smarter than himself): “Had I been the Chinaman, he the American, I should have been pulling him, and doing a poorer job. By what triumphant human justice was the American riding, and the Chinese pulling? Well, my forebears and I had lived for a time under the weakest government the world had ever known. We had been free. His people had not for centuries been free. That’s what relative freedom from government had meant to me, and that’s what the government with all its ‘laws for the good of the people’ had meant, in the end [for him].”

What does Pat believe the individual can do against government’s onslaughts? Not much, really. “Reduce by whatever peaceful means a man’s ingenuity may devise, the power of government — any government — to tell him what to do.”

But there seems little limit to John Patric’s ingenuity. These are my favorite stories about his off-beat one-man rebellions. This first one really can’t be labeled as a rebellion against government — but I like it because it shows off his inventive mind. It happened during the presidential campaign. Pat found himself rooting for Wendell Wilkie. In New York, at the time, Pat noted the large number of Westchester County station-wagons sporting Wilkie stickers. The stickers surrounded by shiny new automobiles, thought Pat, would be building protest votes for Roosevelt. As a countermeasure, he filled his pockets full of the largest Roosevelt buttons he could find. Then he headed for the Bowery. He pinned a Roosevelt button on every bum he found lying in the gutter.

A Postmaster Threatened Him

The Post Office has been one of Pat’s chief adversaries. It takes all of his resourcefulness to stay in the hair of this unfriendly monster. Pat’s words here are better than mine.

“The other day I got a letter from the San Francisco postmaster, advising me that he had sent me a money order for $8.77 instead of the $3.77 to which I was entitled. For years and years I have had to conduct all my business with the wholly monopolistic post office in their way; this was my first chance to handle a matter my way.

“So, I thought back on every squawk I’ve ever had about government-in-business, and I decided that, within the framework of an avowed effort to ‘handle the matter in the approved bureaucratic manner,’ to refund the $5 with just as much correspondence, just as many words, just as many individual reports, just as much expense, as I could possibly put into it. The result was a series of four letters to the postmaster in San Francisco. The first was a single page; the second was four pages; the third, five pages; the fourth and last, six pages. It is, I believe, or so it was intended to be, redundantly self-explanatory ad nauseam. I wound up by refunding 29¢ out of the $5.

“Apparently, without having realized it, I hit upon something that strikes a chord in the mind of most anyone who has ever had any dealings with the government. Even at the Registry window of the post-office, where I anticipated a most hostile reception, they said, ‘You are closer to being right than you think you are. You can have no idea of all the red tape we have to go through on even the slightest matters. It must cost a terrific lot of money.’[”]

In past years, Pat has originated several unusual envelope devices. One was a rubber stamp which imprinted a message on an envelope pointing to a row of six half-cent stamps. (The six half-centers had to be hand-canceled for the canceling machine wouldn’t hit them all.) The message, which Pat used a lot before the war, read: “Poor Richard’s Almanac is ‘anti-New Deal propaganda’; so the first Postmaster-General is demoted to little-used half-cent stamps.”

One postmaster called Pat into his private office, where he spread out some of the envelopes and, in a stern voice, said: “You don’t like the way things are being run? There’s a federal penitentiary on McNeil’s Island you ought to know about.”

“Sir,” Pat said, “if you had called me in here for a gentlemanly conversation, that would have been different. But it’s threats I get — so this visit ends right now”! Out Pat started. He called Pat back, apologized for the threat. They had a friendly talk then. Finally the Postmaster let down his hair and said he’d had the staff combing the rulebook to see if there was some way he couldn’t keep from handling mail so treated. He couldn’t find one.

“Do Everything Thou Lovest To Do”

About ten hours each week, Pat devotes to striking blows for freedom — as he calls it. “For instance, as I reach each congressional and many state legislative districts, I send postcards pleading for freedom — without any return address but postmarked as if from one of the legislator’s constituency.”

His inventiveness, of course, sometimes gets him into legal difficulties. But he has a formula for this kind of trouble, too: “Be meek, act stupid, say ‘sir,’ and pretend a respect and  — always — an awe that you do not ever feel.”

Should the extent of his involuntary servitude become too unbearable, Pat will be off for his Frying Pan Creek. There on his 160-acre site amid game, fish and berries, Pat will contemplate the follies of man and the wisdom of God.

Should you ask him why, he may tell you the story about King Dabshelim and his search for wisdom. Dabshelim summoned Bidpai, the wisest of men.

“Make an abridgment, a condensation of my library, selecting only that which is important for me to know.”

After forty years of grueling research, Bidpai condensed the contents of the King’s library. Bidpai reported to the King: “Well, sire, your books on religion, philosophy, morals and ethics, all they say is this:

“ ‘Love nothing but that which is good; and then do everything thou lovest to do. Think only that which is true, but speak not all that thou thinkest.’ ”

“But the rest? The books on jurisprudence, planned economics, military strategy, sociology and political science? What wisdom have you found in them?”

“All they say, sire, can be told in a word.

“And that word, Bidpai?

“ ‘Perhaps,’ sire.”