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History-Some of what happened around here for the last three years.

Some of what happened around here for the last three years.

The WHOLE EARTH CATALOG got started in a plane over Nebraska in March 1968.   I was returning to California from my father's long dying and funeral that morning in Illinois.   The sun had set ahead of the plane while I was reading Spaceship Earth by Barbara Ward.  Between chapters I gazed out the window into dark othing and slid into a reverie about my friends who were starting their own civilization hither and yon in the sticks and how could help.   The L. L. Bean Catalog of outdoor stuff came to mind and I onderisd upon Mr. Bean's service to humanity over the years.  So lany of the problems I could identify came down to a matter of ccess.   Where to buy a windmill.   Where to get good information n bee-keeping.   Where to lay hands on a computer without forfeiting freedom. . .

Shortly I was fantasizing access service.  A Truck Store, maybe, traveling around with information and samples of what was worth etting and information where to get it.  A Catalog too, continuously updated, in part by the users. A Catalog of goods that owed othing to the suppliers and everything to the users.   It would be something I could put some years into.

Amid the fever I was in by this time, I remembered Fuller's dmonition that you have about 10 minutes to act on an idea before recedes back into dreamland.   I started writing on the end papers of Barbara Ward's book (never did finish reading it).

The next morning I approached Dick Raymond at Portola Institute with the idea.  I'd been desultorily working for him for abut a half year, had helped instigate one costly failure (an 'Education Fair' fhich aborted), and was partly into another doomed project, I cailed E l-E-l-O (Electronic Interconnect Educated Intellect Operation).

I told him this Access Catalog was what I wanted to do now.   Dick stened gravely and asked a few questions I had no answers for (Who do you consider as the audience for this 'catalog'? What kind f expenses do you think you'll have in the first year? What will e in the catalog? How often would you publish it? How many copies?). All I could tell him was that I felt serious enough about he project to put my own money into it, but not for a while yet. wanted to move into the scheme gradually, using Portola's office, phone, stationery, and finances (which were Dick's personal saivings, dwindling fast).  He said okay.

For over a year Portola Institute had been nothing but Dick, a secretary he shared, his office, and a few expensive projects with big ideas and little to show. So he rented a nearby set of cubicles hat some architects were moving out of, to give us more room to lake mistakes in.  I was working in my cubicle several weeks later when Dick leaned in the door and asked, "By the way, what do you think you'll call it?" My head filled with the last success I'd had, 1966 photograph-of-the-whole-Earth campaign, which I felt was still incomplete.   I told him,   "I dunno. Whole Earth Catalog, or something."

My activities at this time were mostly visiting book stores and joking at books.   One of Dick's friends at the Checkered Frog bookstoie in Pacifica told, me I could get single copies of books rom publishers if I joined the American Booksellers Association, commitment of $25.  Shortly after that I made the big step and holding my breath spent $60 on note-o-gram stationery from Modern Business Forms.  Dick helped me open a commercial account at a bank.

I was operating without pay but keeping track of my time, to pay nyself back-wages of $5/hr if we ever started to make money.   In July 68 I printed up a mimeographed 6-page "partial preliminary tooklist" of what I'd gathered so far (Tantrn Art, Cybernetics The Indian Tipi, Recreational Equipment, about 120 items). With amples of each in the back of our truck Lois and I set out to visit the market  -  familiar communes in New Mexico and Colorado.  In about a month the Whole Earth Truck Store did a stunning $200 of business.  No profit, but it didn't cost too much and was good education,

On return in August I hired an employee, Sandra Tcherepnin, who came around part-time to type and buoy my conviction that something was going on.  In September Lois and I moved into Ortega Park (formerly Rancho Diablo), 70 acres and house newly leased by Portola Institute as a teachers' laboratory.  She was housekeeper and I was caretaker in an empty mansion.   It was a plush time.

Dick Raymond had introduced me to Joe Bonner, a talented teenage artist looking for work.  He preferred to do layout than janitor for Portola so I took him to Gordon Ashby's design studio in San Francisco for a 10-minute course in layout.   In October 68 we started production on the first WHOLE EARTH CATALOG in the garage at Ortega.  Sandy fell in love with the IBM composer while Joe nailed together light tables out of scrap plywood.  We got some electric heaters and started work. Joe did layout, Sandy typed, and I researched, reviewed, edited, and photographed. Whenever the typewriter, heaters, camera lights, and fry-pan of wax were on simultaneously the electricity went out.   We'd spend an hour on projects like making an exotic border with the composer. A leisurely production. A month or so for 64 white-spacey pages.

We had the contents printed at Nowels Publications, a newspaper press just down the street from Portola Institute, and the cover printed at East Wind in San Francisco (using the picture from a Whole Earth poster we'd already had them print), and the binding done at another place, with us doing the transporting between.  It was a terrible arrangement.   The 1000 copies we printed were a huge chore to cart around.

Our real luck was in finding Nowels Publications and Bob Parks. I've never met a man I'd rather do business with, and to find a printer who is fast, thorough, cooperative, creative, honest, and inexpensive is just unheard of.   We had one CATALOG printed elsewhere and regretted it.

I only dimly recall what we did with that first CATALOG.   We sent them to the 50 or so subscribers we'd got with mailers and personal contact.   We carted some around to stores, who didn't want them, not even on consignment ("Too big.   Too expensive.   What is it?") We traded some with other publications like This Magazine is About Schools, Explorers Trademart Log, and Green Revolution.

Meanwhile we were starting a store.  Dick Raymond had had his eye on the building at 558 Santa Cruz, just across the alley from the cubicles he'd rented.   Formerly a USO, then a Salvation Army store, then a printer's , the place had apartments upstairs and 4000 sq. ft of big rooms downstairs and a nice store front.   The printer had failed and the building was going to be sold.  Dick got with the likeliest buyer and worked out a 5-year lease for the downstairs part at $450/month.  We felt like we were really into the soup now. Five years!  That's 1973.

At Thanksgiving we'd met a girl from New York named Annie Helmuth who had some familiarity with the publishing world, mostly on the publicity end. She was hired to take on publicity and help with research and typing since Sandy had left for woolier pastures.   We soon found out that handling our own distribution was going to be impossible (bookstores wouldn't pay what they owed and hassled us with endless bizarre problems). Annie started looking around for other alternatives.

In December 68 we moved into 558 Santa Cruz.   There wasn't much to move - a chair and some books.  Joe set to work with free scrap wood making the store a funky pleasant wooden place.   We sublet an office in the front to Dave Shapira and a space in the back to lawyer Jim Wolpman.   That cut our rent to $2S0/month.  Joe made desks and tables out of doors and 2 x 4's.   We never got around to changing the walls from institutional green.

From the beginning the pretty little Indian girl Lois, who still has to show her ID to bartenders, was the hard core of the business. She applied her math background to our bookkeeping, and her sharp tongue to our lazinesses and forgotten promises.  She had the administrative qualities you look for in a good First Sergeant.   In my experience every working organization has one overworked underpaid woman in the middle of things carrying most of the load. None of the rest of us ever cleaned the bathrooms. Lois cleaned the bathrooms.

Annie was at the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco one day talking to Shig the manager about where to look for a distributor. Shig suggested a new long-haired outfit in Berkeley called Book People. Annie went to them and was immediately taken with Don Gerrard and Don Burns.  Pretty soon Book People was our distributor, and that was a big relief.  We made no contracts or vows, but the CA TALOG stayed with Book People as sole distributor until the March 71 Supplement (when the Realist took half the distribution).

In January we had a grand opening party at the store, though we'd been open for a couple weeks ("There's a customer in the storel" we'd whisper in the back room.) Annie and I invited all the newspapers and were surprised and hurt when none of them showed up.  It was a nice party anyway.   The readership was a small sort of cult then, most of whom seemed to know each other, or wanted to.

Also in January we produced our first "Difficult But Possible Supplement to the Whole Earth Catalog".   It was a 32-page newsprint collection of friends' letters, old pamphlets like Abbie Hoffman's "Fuck the System," a solar heater, new CATALOG suggestions.   We made it at the Store.

About this time Tom Duckworth joined the scene.   He lived in a truck with Connie and their kids and soon had a place to park at Ortega.   His dream was to really do a travelling truck store.  In March we gave him a shake-down cruise to New Mexico when the Whole Store caravanned to ALLOY (p. 1111.  If I had to point at one thing that contains what the CATALOG is about, I'd have to say it was ALLOY.   We put it in the March Supplement, along with how much the Supplement cost to make, which Steve Baer had suggested at ALLOY. A good practice.   We've never regretted it.

When we started the CATALOG I imagined that it would be a month of work, then an easy month to travel around and get the news, then a month of work, then. . .but it wasn't working out like that.  None of us knew how to run a store and we were learning the hard way.  We couldn't seem to find a mailing house that would do an even half-decent job of serving the subscribers.   We had to try three places, each at big expense.

Our hassle with the Post Office, which continues to this very day, was in its surreal beginnings.   (We're a periodical, in every spiritual and legal sense.  Periodicals are mailed Second Class, a faster, surer, and cheaper service than Third Class, which is Junk Mail.   The classifications man in San Francisco said,  "It says Catalog right there on the cover.   Catalogs go Third Class." Dick Raymond cleared his throat, "The Rolling Stone," he said, "is not a stone." Through endless appeals the thing has ambled, letters to our
Congressman Pete McCloskey, rulings, and re-rulings, to current result: We have to send this LAST CATALOG to you Third Class. When a mail truck gets stuck in the mud. Third Class is what they
throw under the wheels.)    

About this time Lois and I started living in the store. Joe and Annie and I, with editorial help from Lloyd Kahn, did the Spring 69 CATALOG production amid the busy din of the store, a bad mistake.   The CA TALOG was twice as big and a dollar cheaper. To clear my head after production I hitchhiked to New Mexico for what turned out to be the Great Bus Race (p 245). Joe and Annie also headed for the desert, pending rendezvous in Albuquerque for the July Supplement production.

You should know that all this time Portola Institute was going through continual interesting changes that someone else is going to have to write about.   Dick Raymond did one especially nice thing for us: he protected us from the vicissitudes.

Store and mailorder business was gradually picking up, so we hired Hal Hershey, a friend of the Duckworths who had worked in bookstores.   We also hired Diana Shugart, a close buddy of Lois' and mine. At the store we had a chart on the wall that showed our income and expenses for each month.   The income was gradually catching up.

While we were having a good July production at Steve and Holly Beer's house in Albuquerque, Hal and Diana were starting to face a heavy current in Menio Park ("52 subscriptions today I").  Philip Morrison had written kindly of us in the June 69 Scientific American.   We were being mentioned in a lot of underground papers such as the East Village Other. And then Nicholas von Hoffman wrote a full piece on the CATALOG that got syndicated all over the U.S.   We were caught.   We were famous.

(One interesting note.  Of all the press notices we eventually got, fromTime and Vogue to Hotcha!, in Germany, to the big article in Esquire, nothing had th'e business impact of one tiny mention in "Uncle Ben Sez" in the Detroit Free Press, where some reader asked, "How do we start a farm?" and Uncle Ben printed our address.   We got hundreds and hundreds of subscriptions from that.)

Hal and Diana hired more people.   Deposits at the bank were more frequent: the bank officers got more polite.

In September Joe and I returned to Ortega garage to work on the September Supplement Annie had stayed on at Lama, so we hired a Kelly Girl to do the typing. As I was driving up the hill to work one day it suddenly hit me that I didn't want to.  Instead of golden opportunity the publication was becoming a grim chore.  I considered the alternatives of taking my medicine like a good boy or setting about passing on my job to somebody else.  I'm sure I sighed unhappily. And then this other notion glimmered.  Keep the job, finish the original assignment, and then stop. Stop a success and see what happens.  Experiment going as well as coming. We printed in the September 69 Supplement that we would cease publication with a big CATALOG in Spring 71.

Meanwhile business was still growing.   The morning mail was a daily heavy Santa Claus bag.   We hired Tracy McCallum, Peter Ratner, Mary McCabe (a bit of uptown glamour amid the Hair), and a guy named Fred Richardson who had amazing talent for handling the world's hardware.  Bernie Sproch and Megan Ray mono came in periodically to handle our increasing load of filing and-flyer-mailing and other chores.   We were having group lunch at the store by now, Lois and Diana dishing it up.

I actually thought I could fit LIFERAFT EARTH (p. 35) in between the September Supplement and the fall CATALOG. Setting up the event was even harder than production. Then starving for a week was no way to recuperate.  Dumb.

I went from the LIFERAFT straight into Fall CATALOG production.  We were late, so we had to do it in two weeks.  Fred was going to take over the camera.   We had a hot new typist, Cappy McClure,  We had a big new Stat-King that wasn't worth it.  Joe brought in his brother Jay to double our layout speed.   We worked 80 hours a week.  We got to the printer on time.

Then Christmas was on us like a cat on a mouse.  Everybody was overloaded at the store.   In January we had another burst of hiring, practically whoever came in the door.   Les Rosen the bookkeeping ex-Marine, John Clark, Russell Bass, Jerry Fihn, Alan Burton, Leslie Acoca, the booklover Laura Besserman.  Pam Smith was cooking lunch.  When Tracy left to Canada, Pam's husband JO came in as manager. JD instituted a fine addition to the Storefront-a Free Box ("take or leave").   Everybody should have one; they really get used.

About this time I went over some edge. Minor tasks became insurmountable obstacles.   The thought of another production filled me with hopeless dread.  I couldn't walk right.   It was a nervous breakdown, garden variety.  I'd never had one before so I thought I was dying, which stirred up a snowflurry of phobias that took more than a year to disperse.  I'm not happy to mention this, but it seems an important part of the bookkeeping we're doing here.

In retrospect what I particularly appreciate was Dick Raymond's
help and comfort, which was none at all  He's an unusually mercifUi
soul.  He said out loud to Esquire, "You have to let people have
their own nervous breakdowns." Correct.
I jittered through the January 70 production and then asked Gurney Norman to handle March.   He did, and with bells on.   Guest editorship had come to Whole Earth.  Joe Bonner left on the mystical road, and I was worried, but Hal Hershey more than filled his shoes on layout.

In January Fred built a volleyball court in back of the store.  I was too fucked up to play on it for a while, which grieved me, because volleyball instantly became a valuable part of the store routine.   We played two games after lunch every day.   It improved our health, got us out in the weather, loosened our tensions, and - honest to God - built character.

Since we were playing on paid-for time, we naturally tried to stretch out the two games, so each day the players spontaneously arranged themselves into always different but equal teams.   Lunch and volleyball kept us well acquainted.   That, and the morning mail-opening scene.   We had some newcomers - Mary Jo Morra, Soni Stoye the good cook, Austin Jenkins of good cheer.

On the Spring CA TALOG we went up to 144 pages and lowered the price further to $3.   (Later a friend at Stanford Research Institute said he made the calculations one afternoon and figured out we would make the most money with a $4 price tag.  Or $3.95, as they say.) A new face on Spring production was Steamboat, who seldom spoke but could draw volumes.   (Tuesday's Child on p. 23 is his. So are the dragons.)

In July Lois and I left to see the world and Expo and the Bakers in Japan. My old (and favorite) employer Gordon Ashby took on the July Supplement and totally changed our layout ways.

JD, Nebraska's Marlon Brando, kept a strong crew busy at the Store and started gathering material for the Fall 70 CA TALOG he was going to edit.

In September 70 Gurney came back from a summer in Kentucky with Wendell Berry and put out what came to be known as the Cracker issue of the Supplement.   The BD-4 airplane kit we'd ordered started to arrive, and Fred and later Troll and Doug and Bob sawed and filed and puzzled and riveted at it in the back room.

Don Gerrard had left Book People and among his other projects was trying to find a big distributor for the LAST CATALOG.   We wanted a contract by Christmas.  Nobody in New York seemed very mterested.
There were strong family feelings in the Store by now and a desire to do something else together.  A restiveness.   When the teacher's lab at Ortega finally failed and quit, JD and I pressed to get it as a home for most of the Truck Store staff, a commune.   Idealism filled the air.  It was never a very successful commune; it was a plenty educational one.

As Fall production went on up the hill in the garage there were new laborers in the store.   Herald Hoyt, Dudley DeZonia, Francine Slate, Terry Gunesch, Diane Erickson.  People's children were in the store more often now. Marilyn's kids, Francine's, Diane's, Ram's.  I was buried in the back office starting the long haul toward the LAST CATALOG.

At Christmas there were memorable parties.

In January 71 some of us safaried to a remote unnamed desert hot springs for an adventurous Supplement production.

Don Gerrard had gotten good offers from Dutton and Random House for distribution of the LAST CATALOG.  We decided to go with Random.

I asked Richard Brautigan, Ken Kesey, and Paul Krassner if any of them would like to edit the March Supplement   Brautigan said he was already involved in a quaint project, writing a novel.   Kesey said he would edit if Krassner would, and new levels of offense and tooldom were leveled at our readers.

The LAST CATALOG you know about.

A lot of other stuff happened too, ask anybody who was there. Ask Bernie Sproch to show you his Whole Earth stamp collection.  It's quite a collection.

Fame

l/we've been subject to some, and you're partially responsible, so I thought you ought to know a little about it.   Everything bad you've heard about fame is quite true.   It can throw a personality into positive feedback, where audience demands drive his character past caricature and off the deep end.  Its over-rewards can Jade a palate permanently.  It wakes you up in the middle of the night with phone calls from whining strangers.

Worst of all is the classic bind of the successful do-gooder.  If you do good well, your opportunities to do more increase, as your stamina to do any decreases.   You should relax, yes you should, relax, with guilt yammering In your ear.   FUCK EM ALL! is no answer either.

Some think they're strong, some think they're smart.
Like butterflies they're pulled apart.
America can break your heart.
You don't know all, sir, you don't know all.
W. H. Auden

Krassner is right to note that celebrityhood is mainly a matter of con venience for people.   There's no reason to take it personally.

I will say a couple of good words for fame.   It accelerates access if you want access.   You can hang around with famous people, which is fun sometimes.   Your credit is good with strangers, it's never hard to meet people.  It's usually easy to find work, make some money.   If you've withstood fame there's some things you're strong at that you might not be otherwise.

The main problem with fame, or any kind of success, is the insulation it packs around you.   You don't get all those little course-correcting signals from the universe.  In part they're drowned out by all the people telling you what they think and what you ought to think. Also the signals Just can't prick you; when a red danger light goes on, you can simply bribe the machine until the light goes off, and the clanger grows unheeded.

The voices that you need to hear, whisper, slowly and infrequently. The only way to hear them is listen.   Gaze at something until it's nothing.  And then at nothing until it's something.

There's a difference between intention driving us on, and mystery pulling us on. Mystery will always educate and correct. Intention can go off the end of its own limb.

If it's all right with you, I'm going back to the tree.   We get asked a lot, "What's in the future for you folks,"as if we knew.   Well, let's see.   We'll clean up the garage and sell the production equipment, maybe to Kesey who wants to start a travelling magazine called Spit in the Ocean.   Us out-of-work production people will draw our two weeks severance pay.   We'll keep the Truck Store going in Menlo Park, and maybe try some new things with it in relation to Portola Institute.   We'll have our DEMISE party that Scott Beach has set up at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. We'll do some travelling.   We'll take a ride on Patchen's coda:

Pause.

And begin again.

     --SB
May 31, 1971

About this time Lois and I started living in the store. Joe and Annie and I, with editorial help from Lloyd Kahn, did the Spring 69 CA TA L OG production amid the busy din of the store, a bad mistake.   The CA TALOG was twice as big and a dollar cheaper. To clear my head after production I hitchhiked to New Mexico for what turned out to be the Great Bus Race (p 245). Joe and Annie also headed for the desert, pending rendezvous in Albuquerque for the July Supplement production.
You should know that all this time Portola Institute was going through continual interesting changes that someone else is going to have to write about.   Dick Raymond did one especially nice thing for us: he protected us from the vicissitudes.
Store and mailorder business was gradually picking up, so we hired Hal Hershey, a friend of the Duckworths who had worked in bookstores.   We also hired Diana Shugart, a close buddy of Lois' and mine. At the store we had a chart on the wall that showed our income and expenses for each month.   The income was gradually catching up.
While we were having a good July production at Steve and Holly Beer's house in Albuquerque, Hal and Diana were starting to face a heavy current in Menio Park ("52 subscriptions today I").  Philip Morrison had written kindly of us in the June 69 Scientific American.   We were being mentioned in a lot of underground papers such as the East Village Other. And then Nicholas von Hoffman wrote a full piece on the CATALOG that got syndicated all over the U.S.   We were caught.   We were famous.
{One interesting note.  Of all the press notices we eventually got, fromTime and Vogue to Hotcha!, in Germany, to the big article in Esquire, nothing had th'e business impact of one tiny mention in "Uncle Ben Sez" in the Detroit Free Press, where some reader asked, "How do we start a farm?" and Uncle Ben printed our address.   We got hundreds and hundreds of subscriptions from that.)
Hal and Diana hired more people.   Deposits at the bank were more frequent: the bank officers got more polite.
In September Joe and I returned to Ortega garage to work on the September Supplement Annie had stayed on at Lama, so we hired a Kelly Girl to do the typing. As I was driving up the hill to work one day it suddenly hit me that I didn't want to.  Instead of golden opportunity the publication was becoming a grim chore.  I considered the alternatives of taking my medicine like a good boy or setting about passing on my job to somebody else.  I'm sure I
 
Richard Raymond, President of Portola Institute
 
sighed unhappily. And then this other notion glimmered.  Keep the job, finish the original assignment, and then stop. Stop a success and see what happens.  Experiment going as well as coming. We printed in the September 69 Supplement that we would cease publication with a big CA TALOG in Spring 71.
Meanwhile business was still growing.   The morning mail was a daily heavy Santa Claus bag.   We hired Tracy McCallum, Peter Ratner, Mary McCabe (a bit of uptown glamour amid the Hair), and a guy named Fred Richardson who had amazing talent for handling the world's hardware.  Bernie Sproch and Megan Ray mono came in periodically to handle our increasing load of filing and-flyer-mailing and other chores.   We were having group lunch at the store by now, Lois and Diana dishing it up.
I actually thought I could fit LIFERAFT EARTH (p. 35) in between the September Supplement and the fall CA TALOG. Setting up the event was even harder than production. Then starving for a week was no way to recuperate.  Dumb.
I went from the LIFERAFT straight into Fall CATALOG production.  We were late, so we had to do it in two weeks.  Fred was going to take over the camera.   We had a hot new typist, Cappy McClure,  We had a big new Stat-King that wasn't worth it.  Joe brought in his brother Jay to double our layout speed.   We worked 80 hours a week.  We got to the printer on time.
Then Christmas was on us like a cat on a mouse.  Everybody was overloaded at the store.   In January we had another burst of hiring, practically whoever came in the door.   Les Rosen the bookkeeping ex-Marine, John Clark, Russell Bass, Jerry Fihn, Alan Burton, Leslie Acoca, the booklover Laura Besserman.  Pam Smith was cooking lunch.  When Tracy left to Canada, Pam's husband JO came in as manager. JD instituted a fine addition to the Storefront-a Free Box ("take or leave").   Everybody should have one; they really get used.
About this time I went over some edge. Minor tasks became insurmountable obstacles.   The thought of another production filled me with hopeless dread.  I couldn't walk right.   It was a nervous breakdown, garden variety.  I'd never had one before so I thought I was dying, which stirred up a snowflurry of phobias that took more than a year to disperse.  I'm not happy to mention this, but it seems an important part of the bookkeeping we're doing here.
In retrospect what I particularly appreciate was Dick Raymond's
help and comfort, which was none at all  He's an unusually mercifUi
soul.  He said out loud to Esquire, "You have to let people have
their own nervous breakdowns." Correct.