Wednesday, June 28, 2017
Love For Hoffer
I came because I'm a romantic. I’m always searching for the next high but I don’t do drugs. I’m always searching for revelations, making pilgrimages to places I think might be holy. But there are no holy places anymore. There are only holy moments.
As I turned the corner and saw the patch of grass where it was supposed to be, I doubted it was there. A public art installation dedicated to a man, a hero, who didn’t fit in, and not in a shy but charming sense. In a reclusive, grumpy, kind-of-an-jerk sense. His ideas are alternately uplifting and depressing and his life mostly dull. Yet I wish I was more like him. A blue collar pedigree, yet a philosopher's soul. What a combination.
The plaque commemorating it has been vandalized. It’s a standard plaque in that it is supposed to tell the clueless observer what they are looking at. It was made with a combination of small lettering etched in and large raised lettering fastened to the surface. The intention was to make the most important words of the plaque raised and thus more eye catching. The name of artist who created the sculpture got large-letter treatment. So did the name of the person it was dedicated to, the person I’m interested in.
But that raised lettering has broken off so all that’s left on the plaque is the unimportant, etched text. It looks ridiculous. Luckily, the raised text must have held on long enough for the rest of the metal surface to age and wear. Now, you can see the outline where the large text used to be because the metal that was previously underneath is clearly less worn than the rest of the surface. So you can still (barely) make out what it says. More telling than the fact they broke off is the fact that no one has cared enough to replace them.
I took this 5 minute walk from the office to pier 35 in search of a man's soul. A man that I revere. I now push papers a few blocks from where he unloaded shipping containers. I’m tapping away at a tiny computer screen feet away from he scratched out little thoughts on scraps of paper during his lunch break.
About a month ago I stopped at my local library branch for one of his books. I looked up the call number and went searching for it. I quickly found that the number didn't match any of the stacks. I asked the librarian and she pointed out the “CS” designation in front of the call number. She said CS means “Closed Stacks” as in, the vault where they put the books that never get checked out. No one cares about this guy except for me. I don’t get it.
He loved Montaigne. He said that when he read Montaigne, it felt like he was reading his mind, that Montaigne knew his innermost thoughts. When I read Hoffer, I feel the same way. Yet the three of us never walked the earth at the same time. Both Montaigne and Hoffer knew how to listen to their own thoughts. And they were able to identify and amplify the profound while still appreciating the inane. The mind is an incredible instrument and when properly cared for, it can produce a gusher of truth. Truth that rings, that resonates.
“This damn sculpture. It's awful. It looks like a twisted paper clip half stuffed into the ground.”
Hoffer never went to Harvard and that's exactly why I trust him. If you need a Harvard degree to speak about “philosophy” then philosophy isn't philosophy anymore; it's a shell game played by the elite. Although I suppose it always was. It used to be the priests playing the shell game. Now it's professors. One more way that God is dead.
Perhaps a more fitting tribute to Hoffer would have been to make a life size bronze statue of him crouched over a real table at the San Francisco Public Library, squinting through his glasses, reading a thick book, with a library card jutting slightly out of his breast pocket. But this city is far more interested in a statue of Tony Bennett. Oh well. The only time people seem to really notice statues is when they're being torn down.
San Francisco doesn’t even realize the legacy it is home to. A blue collar union worker, holed up in a shack and producing some of the greatest philosophy of the 20th century. We teach our high school students to covet Ivy League acceptance letters. Maybe we should just tell them to start using their library cards first.