Abbie Hoffman would have been 75 on November 30. I grew up two streets away from the Hoffmans on Worcester’s predominantly Jewish west side. Although Abbie was 15 years my senior, his footprint in the neighborhood was sticky. My father, a dentist, did business with Abbie’s father, who owned a medical supply store. “Abbie has once again given Johnny a heart attack,” my father announced one night in 1968 at the dinner table.
Two years earlier, my closest friend—a world class rock musician—had boasted at age 16 that it was Abbie who had first turned him on (to marijuana). [Getting neophytes stoned was like scoring with a virgin; Abbie had many notches on his hemp belt.]My first exposure to Abbie was as an 11-year-old, in my Saturday morning 6th grade class at Temple Emmanuel. High-minded educators at the temple had asked Abbie to energize us with tales of his civil rights work in the South. For a finale, Abbie urged us to grow up and marry both outside the fold of Zion and the Caucasian race. This was way too much culture shock for 11-year-olds in 1961, not to mention the Jewish liberals who had invited him.
|Abbie to his minions: "Cradle the Rock!"|
Nine years later on April 14 in Boston I learned first-hand about the power of chiasmus. You know, it’s that figure of speech where in a sentence you flip-flop one of two parallel clauses/phrases with the other: e.g., Ask not what your country can do for you; Ask what you can do for your country! or You can take Abbie out of the revolution, but you can’t take the revolution out of Abbie. On that date in 1970 Abbie helped prime a largely peaceful gathering of antiwar sympathizers on the Boston Common for mayhem later in the day in Harvard Square. His call to action: The time to rock the cradle is over; It’s time to cradle the Rock! Follow-up damages included 200 injured and nearly every street-level window in the square shattered.
Abbie’s way with words (and shtick) helped fuel his high-profile books, Revolution for the Hell of It (1968) and Woodstock Nation (1969). Their successor, Steal This Book (1971), was a nightmare for booksellers, especially in Worcester. After it had been picked clean by "consumers" who had taken its title to heart, booksellers refused to stock it. It also vanished from the shelves of Worcester’s libraries. At the Worcester State College Library, where my late friend Dan Dick was head reference librarian, the book was stolen and reordered; stolen and reordered. . . Finally, noted Dan, the library reordered the book and secured it on reserve. Can you guess how long it stayed secure? smirked Dan, a veteran Abbie watcher.