(Sometimes, writing about nomadism gets distracted by nomadism itself.)
I’ve all of a sudden started to think about The Salesman as a modern social archetype. John Goodman’s character in Barton Fink is, perhaps, its ultimate example, an ebullient and chatty modern nomad whose winning demeanor harbors an undercurrent of, to put it innocently, malcontent. The Music Man, too, comes to mind, with his uncanny ability to rally the people to his cause, painting his intentions in a rainbow of excitement and genuineness.
Simultaneously overwhelming and endearing, the most necessary characteristic of this archetype, what makes them The Salesman, is their nearly-instantaneous winning of the affections of the people around them. Is The Salesman’s infallible ability to find a friend or confidante in every acquaintance indicative of a unique social prowess or a disregard for normative social interaction, a sort of mild sociopathy? It depends, I suppose, on the character in question, and the answer is probably up for debate. I am sure there is a sociological argument in both directions. But what is certain is that not everyone is cut out to be A Salesman.
The unique combination of — dare I call it — salesmanship and sociopathy (by which I mean disregard for societally-normalized interpersonal relationship development) embodied in the archetypal Salesman I have seen reflected in those who adopt nomadism or semi-nomadism, even in those brave enough to simply leave their comfort zones. No, I don’t think we’re a bunch of sociopaths: no one is planning on (Barton Fink spoiler alert) setting fire to a hotel anytime soon, at least as far as I know. But the skills required to survive, not physically but socially and therefore mentally, as a traveler are not universal. Life on the road, or on the other side of an ocean, or in a mountain town, or in a new town, requires these supra-normal social skills.
To be able to consort with all walks of life — people of every age, every culture, every upbringing — is a talent shared by The Salesman and by the modern nomad. If I were unable to find a human connection with anyone in my tiny mountain town, or with the convenience store clerk at a gas station in Kansas, or with a campsite neighbor, or with an old friend I hadn’t seen in months or years, it would be a lonely life indeed. As for The Salesman, without human connection, he cannot sell and fails in his profession, indeed in his life; Willy Loman can tell us what happens next. These lifestyles require us to make friends and make friends quickly wherever we go. Without fast friends we are ricocheting between places empty of faces and effective ghost towns and that is, frankly, a miserable existence.
I imagine there is an argument propagated by Those Who Stay In One Place that fast friendships are, like friendless towns, baseless and empty and this lifestyle indicative of some socially deviant behavior. But even if one has known a person for a mere couple hours is it not more rewarding to, say, share a beer with this acquaintance-cum-friend than to share it with one’s self? Not everyone can do this, after all: meet a stranger and by the time happy hour is over, call them a friend. We might be crazy, with our innocuous variety of sociopathy, but then again, we might not be.