During the last few years, the Underground press has become big business. Why it's called "Underground," nobody quite knows. After all, you can buy 'em on practically every newsstand, they're hawked on street corners and their editors have become major talk show blabber stars. Now a true underground press is not obtainable on newsstands, nor is it sold on street corners. Classically, it is read by a silent mob which passes each issue from hand to hand until the paper is tattered and worn. A true underground press is never discussed, nor even recognized, by the likes of James Reston or even Hugh Hefner.
Do we have a true underground press? You're damn right we do. Allow me to celebrate one of the great unsung American institutions - as American as Norman Mailer. I am speaking reverently and even passionately of the great institution known generically as The Mail Order Catalog.
Whether or not you know it, the mail order business has boomed fantastically in the last few years, for a number of very good reasons-not the least of which is the general decline and standardization of retail outlets. Take the radio parts business. Not long ago, every major city had great parts houses which carried every damn thing from the most obscure double-tapered attenuator to mighty 10-kilowatt transmitter tubes. Today they have a few sad little "components" sealed in plastic cards hanging on hooks from the wall and, of course, a vast array of "police radios," pocket calculators and shoddy CB walkie-talkies.
By dramatic comparison, the radio parts mail order catalogues are absolute havens of necessary gear, calculated to stimulate even the most jaded electronics nut. Who among you has not felt a thrill of excitement when the new Heath catalog arrives? I particularly like the totally confident and euphemistic
headlines of their captions: "A few nights of exciting work and you can build your own 25-inch VHF/UHF remote control color TV." The blurb is accompanied by a warm, homey illustration showing a blue-haired granny and a 13-year-old apple-cheeked kid happily building a TV set.