Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Habib the Paper -- Hurdy Gurdy Man, The


One frigidly cold evening during my freshman year of high school, we found a rolled up copy of The Herald Star lying on our porch. There was a note attached that read:

I am Habib the Paper.
Let me live on your porch.
I will eat table scraps.

Hm...we didn't get the newspaper, but Habib seemed harmless enough, so we let him do just that, live on our porch that is. Perhaps we were stingy, but we never did give him our table scraps. Then one day, just as strangely as he arrived, he was gone.

I still wonder about the old lady from up on the hill who inexplicably did not receive her paper one day and about the strange sense of humor of sixteen-year-old boys.


"Mom, me and Dad are hots and you're a cold."

And, my four-year-old is right: the whole world can be divided into two groups--hots vs. colds.

Hots are those, who like Pete and Sophie, eschew socks, jackets and the like (even in winter) and would never, I repeat never, wear a hooded sweatshirt to bed with the hood tightened around their faces (or maybe even a scarf on a really cold night).

Colds, like me, are the kind of people who ask for heavy blankets for Christmas, who can't swim in the indoor pool at the Y during winter, and who stand in the small patch of sunlight that comes in the teachers' lounge window in the hopes it will raise their body temperature by even one degree.

Colds like to be near Hots, hoping to steal some of the heat that emanates from their bodies.
On the other hand, Hots are confused by Colds, especially when they are constantly recommending cardigans or use the seat heaters in their cars in July.


A painless disease characterized by patterns of indentations on the outer skin layer (epidermis) that predominantly affects children sitting on braided rugs while watching cartoons.

Hunca Munca most commonly manifests itself in the following ways:
  • the pattern of a crocheted toboggan indented on a forehead
  • the bumps of a braided area rug imprinted on the back of thighs
  • the ridges of a sweatshirt cuff slashed on the cheek of a high school students sleeping through class
An attack of Hunca Munca will typically remedy itself within an hour of outbreak; although there is no cure for any accompanying stares or embarrassment. 


My small, Catholic elementary school was never on the cutting edge of the latest textbooks and materials. I think that's why in sixth grade our music book included the 1960s song "The Hurdy Gurdy Man." Our teacher had an accompanying record, with which we listened to and sang along to this ballad.

At the time, my teacher failed to mention, or perhaps I just failed to pay attention to, the fact that a hurdy gurdy is some type of strange musical instrument. Instead, I assumed that "hurdy" and "gurdy" were adjectives that were describing the man. And, the picture those adjectives conjured up in my mind was not good, not good at all. I imagined that "hurdy" and "gurdy" were synonyms for fat, sweaty, and clumsy.

I could just see this man, with his too-tight clothes that were cutting off his circulation in certain places, kind of rocking from side to side as he walked down the road, and he had a beard, yeah, a red beard and some sort of weird peasant type of hat. My suspicions were confirmed when a later lyric mentions the words "roly" and "poly." But what really sent shivers up my spine was the line that went "Then came the hurdy gurdy man singing songs of love.." Yuck! So, not only was he fat, sweaty, and clumsy, but he was singing and coming after some unsuspecting girl? I could just picture him, arms outstretched, ready to clobber her with his off-key love songs. A real nightmare, I tell you.

I believe that this song, coupled with my own imagination, has scarred me for life. And, even though I now know what hurdy gurdy really means, I can't shake my former, and I believe more accurate, definition.


  1. Hahaha! My sister is a "hot". Even in mid winter she's taking off her coat and wearing thin sweaters. Me? "Cold". I wear three sweaters and a tank top under them and look like the Michelin man and still I whine. I am not sure of the science but I think it means I am a better person... Her husband is a "cold" like me so we gang up on her to turn the heat up when I'm over there.

    As for Hunca Munca? Every morning, baby. I sit on that damn train with my blanket mark embedded on my cheek. I sleep hunkered down under those things so I ask for it really but it's not attractive. It's like a big old battle scar till about 9:30am!

    Heh. Habib!

    1. So glad to know that I have the sympathy of another "cold" and hunca munca sufferer!