“You can always sleep in Central Park during the daytime, although the muggers come out to play at night.”
Thus begins the section called “Fuck New York” in “Steal This Book” (STB). I write this because November 30 would have been Hoffman’s 70th birthday. His “Fuck New York” chapter is dedicated to the feasibility of surviving by your wits in the Big Apple, circa 1970-71. Thus, Dear Abbie’s book is perhaps best viewed today as a barometer of how abruptly the climate of a city can shift. Considered radically beyond the pale at the time of its release, some of Hoffman’s advice appears somewhat quaint when viewed through the jaded prism of the twenty-first century.
Under “housing,” Abbie informs fellow travelers “there’s a poet named Delworth at 125 Sullivan St. that houses kids if he’s got the room.” If you’re “really hard-up,” Hoffman recommends the Stranded Youth Program on West 31st Street, but warns that teenagers 16-20 are sent home. “If you don’t want to go back,” STB suggests you simply “give them phony identification.”
For those in need of nourishment, the late Yippie King advises you try the “host of swank bars with free hors-d’oeuvres” on the Upper East Side. Suggested reading material during your meal might include such underground papers as the East Village Other, Liberation, Rat, and Win. Want some entertainment while you dine? The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (41 Second Avenue) offered a “delicious cereal breakfast” every morning at 7:00 AM, “served free along with chanting and dancing.”
After all that chanting for your Cheerio’s, you might crave sedation. No problem, says Hoffman. By scouting the area near Central Park West in the Seventies and Eighties, he promises you’ll find doctor’s offices that throw out daily “piles of drug samples.”
Here’s another morsel of guidance not suited for life in the post-Guiliani Big Apple: When seeking transportation, STB recommends you get in line at the subway turnstile and “go under.” “The people will block you from view and won’t do anything,” Abbie assures his readers. “Even a cop won’t give you much hassle.”
Oh, the times they are a-changing.
Other STB entries illustrate how dramatically New York society and culture have transformed (or should I say “mutated?”) since 1971. For example, Hoffman writes of free services available at all Wallach stores (sewing on buttons, punching extra holes on belts, free shoe horns, etc.). There’s also contact information for the Black Panther Free Clinic in Brooklyn, the St. Mark’s People’s Clinic, and The Lawyer’s Commune. Remember “dial-a-demonstration” or “dial-a-freakout”? In the age of Disney and The Donald, such ideas appear, uh, remote.
There is one enduring institution endorsed in “Steal This Book” that’s still hanging on by a tie-dyed thread: WBAI 99.5 FM.
So you might wanna tune in and turn on so it doesn’t drop out, too.
Mickey Z. is the author of “The Seven Deadly Spins: Exposing the Lies Behind War Propaganda” (Common Courage Press). For more information, please visit http://www.mickeyz.net.