My Morning with Eric Hoffer

by Michael Ryerson

Ha! Well, it isn’t much of a story, more like an anecdote, maybe. As I said it happened when I was living in Berkeley and taking the occasional temporary job with Manpower to make ends meet, grocery money, walking around money. One morning, they hooked me up with some guy on the waterfront up in Richmond. So I find this guy and he takes me out to a warehouse on the end of a pier, big old building with roll-ups down both sides and across the end. Totally empty. He gives me a push broom and tells me to sweep the place down. He’ll be back around 4:30 and he leaves. This fucking place is enormous. I’m not sure I can do it by 4:30. So I’m working away and about an hour later I get to talking with some old guy fishing from the pier. Nice old guy, short, stocky with a pinch-brim hat and a beat-up tackle box and I realize it’s Eric Hoffer. Shit man, this is cool. He’s kind of retired by now but he’s pretty well known around Berkeley and shows up at school sometimes to give these little talks. I keep working away and going out every half hour or so to check in with him. Ha, I keep waiting for him to say something pithy. I know, I know, I’m pretty fucking dense. Anyway by about 2, I’m seeing I may not finish this goddam job by 4:30 so I’m bearing down and he disappears. No wave, no nod, no good bye, just gone. I think how Eric Hoffer that is. Cool. Cool to be snubbed by Eric Hoffer. I’m almost happy he didn’t say good bye. Better this way. So that night back at the house (up on Oxford Street) I let slip how I spent the morning chatting with Eric Hoffer up in Richmond. At first there is some doubt, some sideways glances but I plow ahead and pretty soon they’re all thinking it’s possible and leaning in for the details which I carefully embellish. It became part of the house lore that I’d spent the morning with Eric Hoffer. Whenever it came up I played it with humility. A couple of months later some of us go down to campus one night to hear him speak. Not just him, there were three of four people speaking that night (I think Nader was there that night) but, of course, we were all looking forward to me reacquainting myself with Hoffer and if the opportunity presented itself, maybe I could introduce a couple of my buds. Well, you know where this is going. We get settled into our seats and I find Hoffer on the dais and, shit(!), it isn’t ‘Eric Hoffer’! I’m having hot flashes, blinking my eyes while my friends are all still busy getting settled. One part of my brain is still trying to decide how to handle this when I hear my voice say, ‘That isn’t Eric Hoffer, uh, I mean, I don’t know this guy’. Oh man, it was brutal. After that my friends would randomly look up, usually over my shoulder, and whisper, ‘I think Eric Hoffer just walked in.’ Fuckers. And it pissed me off when I realized some random old fart wasted part of my morning up in Richmond and didn’t even have the decency to say good bye.