America Hoffman, Part 2

A Conversation with America Hoffman, Part 2

You worked in North Carolina for a while, right?

“I was living in Boston and it got really difficult to live there with the cold. And I couldn’t find an apartment. There are some times during the semester that there are so many college students that you can’t get an apartment or a room or anything. It’s very expensive and cold and dreary. And I, basically with nothing, rode a motorcycle to Raleigh and it exploded half way there. And all of my possessions were in a backpack and I ended up in Raleigh and it was very cheap there. I could rent a basement for two hundred bucks. So I went there until I figured out what I wanted to do with my life. And I become an electrician. I had to learn [being on a construction site] is kind of like being with people in a schoolyard or in prison. People give each other shit all the time. And I had a foreman who would think of the biggest insult he cold hurl at you, like, ‘You from Florida? Nothin’ but queers in Florida.’ (laughter) ‘Where you from? You from Miami? You a queer?’ I guess it’s obvious I’m not from the South, so I’d say, ‘California.’ And he’d go, ‘California? That’s worse!’ (laughter) He was a very interesting person, actually. I was once digging a ditch and he was above me, and he came up to me, and said, ‘You know that movie Deliverance?’ (laughter) I said ‘Uh, yeah. I’ve seen it.’ And he goes, ‘Well, that ain’t true. We ain’t like that.’ (laughter) It was just out of the blue that he was personally offended and defensive about the movie Deliverance… Look, I love American culture. I love hillbillies. I love rednecks. I love it all. I will defend a redneck. And unlike the townies that look down on them, rednecks have been an integral part of this nation. They build things. These are self-made people, ya know?”

Yeah, there are people in my family that grew up without indoor plumbing in the 1950s. Distant relatives who picked cotton just a few generations ago.

“My ex-wife and I went to Asheville. Went to these waterfalls with all this nature and hiking. Went way out there, and we got a feel of what the local people are like. They’re very friendly with you if you’re there with tourist money, but they don’t want you moving in. They don’t like other people moving into their area.”

I’ve visited there too and I got the same impression. It’s kind of like…to them it’s paradise and they don’t want it to be overrun with a bunch of people that aren’t from around there.

“Well, I kind of get a little bit of that. I live in Damascus, Oregon, which is a really small little pocket. It’s just over the hill from suburbanization. And it’s beautiful and rural. Lots of trees. And I don’t want a lot of people moving in or any development. It’s nothing personal. I feel like I’m living in paradise out in the country. I like the freedom of being secluded. I love it. And so I really respect the redneck way of life. They go into the forest with their trailers and trucks and bring back wood to heat their homes with. They know how to fix a car, hunt, fish and grow food… I hate the suburbs. I like living where it’s crime free.”

What’s happened here is that many young upwardly-mobile people have moved to the downtown, midtown area, which has driven up prices, and they have expendable income and can afford it, while everyone else has been priced out. My wife and I were priced out. We used to live in the city, but it’s really expensive to live in the city now. If you move just outside of the city – or what’s called the Perimeter – you’ll be able to eek out a living.

“I just want to say that I didn’t grow up wealthy. I never got an inheritance or anything like that. My mother was a fairly poor single mother just trying to eek out an existence. And actual survival was just kind of drilled into my head as a kid. I’ve seen good neighborhoods and I’ve seen bad neighborhoods. I think my mother did her best. We were apartment poor. You know the expression ‘house poor’ in the South? Where people own a house but they’re broke. All they have is that house, but there’s nothing in it. Not that I’m trying to do a disservice to my mother; I’m actually crediting her. She tried to live in nicer areas, but we were poor as hell. Rent was a major part of our income. And I’m grateful that she allowed me to go to public school in, possibly, nicer areas. I don’t mean rich areas, but regular suburbs instead of poor areas. We didn’t have money, so it was sort of drilled into my head that if you work really hard you might have a job that you don’t hate. That would be the highest thing I could aspire to – to be able to stand on my own two feet. And have a job that I don’t completely hate and be able to support myself. And I arrived at that a long time ago. That was my life’s goal. It was not saving the world. Or anything lofty like being this incredible artist or musician or rocket scientist or anything. It was enough to just make ends meet. And I think I’ve surpassed both my parents because I’ve owned my own house before. I’m on my third house now. I’ve worked very hard for these things. I never thought of saving the world. It’s entirely out of my realm to even think in those terms. Every couple of years, and maybe it’s narcissism, but I will check my Facebook account to see if I have any messages from random people, and a Millennial will contact me that’s protesting or trying to set up something Abbie Hoffman-related, and I have no interest in any of that. (laughs) It puts me in a weird place, because they’re young, and I appreciate their blind optimism about change. But I almost feel like there’s three stages: there’s where you’re larval, and you accept the system and you think the heroes are the President and the police. And then you start to question that, to question authority, right? That’s the second stage. And then there’s the third stage, where you’re cynical about everything. (laughs) And you question everything. And I’ve been in that last phase since I was 15, maybe 16. When I was 16 my mother gave me this book 101 Marxism and I read that. And I read the Communist Manifesto. But I kind of got over that and became cynical at 16. I don’t want to criticize people. I see a lot of articles through my Facebook feed and elsewhere and a lot of it gets me pretty angry. For one thing, I hate groups. I want to be contrary to what everyone’s doing, always. For a while I thought I was a Libertarian, but then a lot of the Libertarians were kind of obnoxious ’cause they were so certain in their beliefs… And even though that’s the most anti-government of all, governments are going to exist no matter what you do. If all the hippies decided to go off into the woods to escape the system, they would end up forming their own government. So government is inescapable. I’ve even thought lately that I don’t like Democracy, because one stupid vote cancels out my smart vote. (laughs) And I don’t think that’s fair.”

I understand what you mean. I feel like it’s almost futile because, like you say, an informed vote can get canceled out. I try to educate myself and vote the best way I know how. But them I’ll turn on the news and see churches busing their entire congregation to the polls, and they’re basically just being told how to vote.

“At the same time I will often vote according to how the little fliers that my union sends me says I should vote, so I’m guilty of that too. With me it’s a very selfish way of looking at things. I will not vote for things that are against my own self-interest. And I feel like everyone should vote in their own self-interest. So if something is going to create more jobs, say to rebuild schools and I’m going to be working on those schools; hell yeah, I’m going to vote for that. It’s going to put money in my own pocket. I don’t know if that’s going to sound self-serving, but I’m not going to vote against myself… I don’t want to save the world. I like to be good to my friends and those around me, and to be a generally polite, nice person, and righteous in my own life. And I think that’s enough. It’s almost like I was handed this huge mantle to save the world. I was around activism my entire childhood, you know? I’ve even been put in front of crowds. I don’t feel like I have to do it.”

Did you feel a lot of pressure to do that?

“I only get the pressure from people who just assume that because I’m my father’s son that I’m carrying on the Abbie Hoffman tradition. And that’s kind of an insult to me because I have my own life.”

Of course.

“There are probably reasons behind the things I believe based on my personal experiences. But this idea that I’m here to save the world – I’ve been put in that position. I’ve had it pushed on me and I don’t particularly like it. And it isn’t something I feel. I’m not arrogant enough to know what everybody else should do. And I don’t really care what they do as long as they leave me alone.”

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