Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Hayduke: Getting Even, Getting Revenge—Not-So-Innocent Fun

VICIOUS

When the Hayduke books were published in the late 70s and early 80s, they were carefully labeled "for entertainment purposes only... not for children or the mentally unbalanced." I remember reading them in that spirit, wholly comfortable with the idea of (someone else) wreaking vandalism, humiliation and even bodily harm in the effort to get revenge for some slight. With titles like Getting Even, Revenge and Byte Me! Hayduke's Guide to Computer-Generated Revenge, they were obviously not about turning the other cheek.

Still, they fit with the iconoclastic, Luddite-inclined spirit of the time. If the neighbor persisted in playing his icky music too loud, we'd just see how he liked having dirty words burned into his lawn with vinegar. If the power company kept parking their maintenance vehicle in our favorite space at the restaurant, heck, we'd just gum up the engine with two quarts of Karo syrup! And that jerk who dissed us at the office, well, wait until he gets to the hotel on his road trip—we've super-glued the trunk lock shut over his family's luggage.

At the time the books first appeared, there was some suspicion that "George Hayduke" was a pseudonym of Edward Abbey. The first Hayduke book, a tabloid-size papercover copyrighted in 1980, refers to Abbey's book The Monkey Wrench Gang, first published in 1975. But the main character of Abbey's fictional paean to desert eco-terrorism is a "Vietnam veteran, George Washington Hayduke III". (Abbey's name is also attached to the 1990 publication, Hayduke Lives!, released just after Edward Abbey died in 1989. This book may have been completed by an unattributed writer.)

For these reasons, I think it is more likely that the Hayduke pseudonym was chosen by someone who approved of the anti-development activism message of The Monkey Wrench Gang, and wanted to extend it to the petty spite of personal revenge. The copies I have are filled with pretty low-tech vengeance suggestions, but more recent publications include computerized revenge techniques. Hayduke is also the author of several do-it-yourself manuals for building silencers and other explosive means of making a point.

To repeat as I began, I remember chuckling over the nasty little tricks detailed in these books when I was in college. Rereading them now, in an age of anthrax mail scares and serious terrorist threats, I feel a little chill down the back of my neck. I hope Abbey's last title, Hayduke Lives!, is in error—I'd prefer Hayduke safely under the sod.

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