I decided to give Honk if You Love Boise Hafter a try after coming across an enthusiastic Amazon.com review that called it “An Under-rated, lyrical ‘outsider-lit’ classic.” The reviewer, Benjamin N. Pierce, described the novel as,
… something like “Harold and Maude” meets “Celestine Prophecy” but without the strange meanness and over-simplification of “Harold and Maude” (with the exception of this books rather heavy-handed treatment of psychotherapists) and without the horrid pot-boiler writing of Celestine Prophecy. Here is a well-worked out philosophy about the different degrees of non-conformity that I have never seen elsewhere–and the sense of fun is something like Tom Robbins or earlier Kurt Vonnegut. What this book has to offer persons who truly don’t fit in anywhere, would by itself make it worth reading and passing on.
Honk if You Love Boise Hafter was published in 1973, when every other college kid was reading Robbins or Vonnegut, and it’s hard to believe that Wallace’s novel didn’t attract at least a few of these readers, since it’s got just about all the ingredients one could ask for in college cult classic of that era: free love, great clouds of grass, drop-outs and outcasts from the Establishment, and even a big yellow schoolbus turned into a commune on wheels. Well, maybe not so hard to believe when you see that it was published by Bobbs-Merrill, whose neglect of Dow Mossman’s The Stones Of Summer is recounted in Mark Moskowitz’s film, “The Stone Reader.”
Boise Hafter is the tale of one man’s search for his place in the universe. P. R. Riffling is a very unhappy college instructor who spells his time playing “library games” such as searching for unusual stains (shoe polish, lamb chop grease, Kaopectate) and “lost book hunts”, locating books that had fallen behind and under shelves.
In one of these, he finds a letter of rejection from the American Journal of Personality to one Prof. Boise Hafter from Gallitzin College in Pennsylvania. The editor dismisses Hafter’s paper, “Characteristics of Out-of-Sync Personalities: A New Theory of Neuroses,” as “very poor psychology, terrible philosophy, and muddled physics.” Hafter’s paper appears to have been about a series of experiments he’d performed to determine a person’s personality type. In these experiments, Hafter would “sneak up behind him with a sousaphone and blow a concert B-flat on the second line of the bass clef directly at the back of his head.” Oh, and the subject had tuning forks with mirrors on their tips strapped to the sides of his head.
What galvanizes Riffling and leads him to run off in search of Hafter is Hafter’s definition of a special type of personality: the Out-of-Sync. The Out-of-Sync person, according to Hafter, is “Thrust into time a fraction of an inch in front of or in back of the cosmic pulse, the basic unit of space-time,” which leaves them out of sync with the rest of society–particularly the Straights. To the Straights, they are “seen as hopeless failures, usually despised and unwanted by anybody,” despite the fact that they have “the potential to communicate freely among the infinite inner worlds of microtime.”
Riffling realizes he is an Out-of-Sync, as is Miss Dunnette, the gorgeous red-headed librarian with whom he heads of on his journey. They soon locate Hafter’s former lover, Emma, a 70-year-old toker who still lives on the old farm where Hafter established Gallitzin College in the barn and pulled together a Utopian community of fellow Out-of-Syncs back in the 1920s. Fifty years ahead of its time, Hafter’s commune was awash in organic veggies, free love, and home-grown hemp, and everyone worshipped an enormous painting of a nude black woman with a sunflower bursting from her crotch.
Riffling, Miss Dunnette, and Emma decide to convert an old school bus into a rolling commune and head off in search of other Out-Syncs. Along the way, they tangle with Straights, befriend a couple of high school Out-of-Sights (another personality type, the Bart Simpsons of the world), and rescue a mental patient from the claws of a rabid behavioralist (B. B. Mule viz. B. F. Skinner). It’s a wild and wacky ride, reminiscent of the Merry Prankster’s exploits from The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.
I’m probably too much of a Straight to hold Honk if You Love Boise Hafter in the same fond regard as Mr. Pierce, but I did thoroughly enjoy it as a lovely bit of hippy-dippy nostalgia. And for any Out-of-Syncs out there: go get yourself a copy and discover the joys of mouth-popping, elbow-cracking, and chanting “Aljiri!”