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Sgt. Bilko Meets The New Culture

Victor Baranco’s More Houses offered an ideal life in pursuit of pleasure, but were actually a cover for a real estate scam and cult

Phrenological Map, Human Brain, brain, Virtue's Household Physician

A Phrenological Map Of The Human Brain from Virtue's Household Physician, Published in London, UK in 1924.

Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty

Know All Men by These Presents: That we, the undersigned, have this day voluntarily associated ourselves for the purpose of forming a corporation under the laws of the State of California, and we do hereby certify as follows:

FIRST: The name of this corporation is:

INSTITUTE OF HUMAN ABILITIES, INC.

SECOND: The purpose for which this corporation is formed are as follows:

(a) The specific business is the educational and scientific pursuits and development of the human mind as fully and to the same extent as a natural person might do, and the additional objects are as follows:

1. To construct and lease or rent for profit apartments, homes, multiple family dwellings of all types, motels, hotels, and mobile parks, and office buildings.

2. To re-sell at a profit all types of structures and businesses herein-above described.

3. To sell at wholesale or retail goods, wares and merchandise.

4. To distribute merchandise.

5. To do such things in any part of the world.

6. To hold without limit, purchase and convey, exchange, lease, sublease, mortgage or otherwise acquire and dispose of real and personal property, both within and without the said State of California, and in all other states, territories and colonies of the United States, and in all foreign countries and places.

In witness whereof, on the 29th day of December, 1969, we the undersigned as to be the First Directors of said Institute of Human Abilities, Inc., have hereunto set our respective hands.

Wilbert V. Baranco Jr., Robert Kerr, Paul Robbins

Victor Baranco lounged in his shorts shooting poker chips off his backyard fence with his B-B gun. He had been lying there off and on in suburban Lafayette, California, for nine months, ever since he had discovered the answers to the mysteries of the universe: Who am I and why am I here? “Since there are questions,” he had thought, “there must be answers.” And he had found the answers and realized he was perfect. There wasn’t anything else to do but lie down.

“I am 34 years old,” he told the blue-jay who was a frequent visitor to his backyard. “I have done everything there is to do. I have been a maitre d’ in a fine restaurant, and a used car salesman. I have won cruises for being a top refrigerator salesman. I have been a peddler of phony jewelry. I have flown people to Las Vegas to gamble. Some of the great people of the world — Mort Sahl, Francis Faye, Christine Jorgensen — know me by name. I have a wonderful wife, two perfect children and a Thunderbird. I have traveled to Los Angeles, Reno, Hawaii and Mexico. And now I have solved the biggest logic problem of all.”

Two psychiatrists had already told him that it was psychiatrically unsound to teach self-realization to other people. “Since I have discovered that there are no limits on me,” he told the bluejay, “I will not accept that limit. I want others to know what I know. I want to serve the world unselfishly and make a profit.” He lay down his B-B gun. “I will call what I know the More Philosophy,” he declared, and he put on his pants and left his backyard.

It’s More! It’s the great banquet table of life! It’s a corporation! It’s the Institute of Human Abilities. Oh-oh! Sounds like another of those encounter group things. Well, no, not quite. — Aquarius Magazine, Published by the Institute, of Human Abilities

It was three years ago that Victor felled his last backyard poker chip. Now the Institute that Victor founded to teach the More Philosophy has grown to be a chain of communes so efficient and profitable that people in Berkeley refer to Baranco as the Colonel Sanders of the commune scene.

Victor knew that for making money, real estate was the soundest investment. He had bought run-down old houses, lived in them, fixed them up with his own labor, and sold them for a profit. Then he figured out a new plan. He bought a decrepit old Victorian house on a dead-end street in Oakland, and populated it with some hippie fugitives from the dying Haight-Ashbury. He told them they could live in the house if they would repair it. It took the young people more than a year to repair the fine old house, restore it to its original beauty while Victor lived with his wife and children in his comfortable Lafayette home watching the investment appreciate.

Today there are six restored houses on that dead-end street alone, and ten more in Oakland, Lafayette, Berkeley, San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, and Hawaii, with four more in the works, and about 160 people who are full-time residents. A resident pays a $200 a month residence fee which entitles him to room and board, parties, love, affection, and the opportunity to restore dilapidated houses for free. And there are several more people who are members of Victor’s corporation which owns these homes, renovated and paid for by the rent from the many More People.

In addition to the income from the residence fees of 160 people — $384,000 a year — the Institute also collects money from some 70-odd weekly courses at $45 each. On top of this is the equity in the houses restored by More labor, and on top of that there’s a non-profit organization, TOTA, which was recently set up to collect government and foundation funds for housing alcoholics, non-placeable foster children, and parolees.

“We are aware that the vast majority of human beings on this planet are leading lives which they consider far less than perfect. This needn’t be the case. Whoever you are, and whatever you want more of in your life, we can show you how.

“Weekly groups are held in private homes. People come to make new friends and have an interesting evening playing games designed to be fun and at the same time increase awareness of how one is in control of one’s own life. The beginning groups are called ‘Mark’ groups. Yes, that’s right. Like ‘pigeon’ or victim.” —Aquarius Magazine

It was a hot night in Oakland, California. The claustrophobic apartment I had come to was even hotter: the curtainless windows had to be kept shut or no would be heard above the sound of traffic on the street. The one-room dwelling was crowded with “marks” who sat on aluminum and grey plastic chairs, lay on the single-sized water bed, huddled here and there on the floor. In the following scenes, I have changed the names of “Marks” and “evaluates” to protect the innocent.

On any night of the week wherever there are More Houses, groups of people like this one — computer programmers, teachers, students, dental assistants, clerks, pharmacy delivery boys, the pharmacists themselves, jobless longhairs, hippie chicks — pay $2.50 to sit near each other and play structured games directed by a group leader.

Our group leader was Chris, a healthy young woman whose bosoms were falling out of the front of her low-cut satin shirt. “OK, Arnie,” said Chris. “Now I want you to name five things that you want and I’m going to try to see that you get them.”

Arnie, a husky, prematurely balding college kid, sat folded shyly next to the wall on the floor. It was his first Mark group. He squirmed, his eyes looked frightened. “I feel so uptight,” he said. “Paranoid.”

“You’ve never made a mistake in your life,” lisped Bryce earnestly from across the room. He gazed at Arnie intently, like a hypnotist. “You’ve never made a wrong decision in your life.” Instead of being calmed by Bryce’s fervor, Arnie became more confused and upset.

“It’s OK, Arnie,” Chris reassured him. “Just tell us five things that you want. That’s what I’m here for, to see that you have a good time and get what you want.”

Arnie sat pulling at his bottom lip, stretching it inches and letting it snap back into place. He took a deep breath. “My name is Arnie,” he began. “I want to be free, to overcome my inhibitions, to attain my creative potential, to have a beautiful relationship with a woman, and, uh, to really know what I want.”

Chris rolled her eyes, and everyone snickered. “Arnie, how can I get those things for you? Name some material things. Five material things.”

“Oh,” he said, blushing. “Material things.” He started in on his bottom lip again. “I want a stereo, a car, a house by the ocean, some new clothes, and a waterbed maybe.”

“Well,” said Chris, breaking the silence. “It’s still hard to get you what you want. Don’t you see, Arnie, you lose by not wanting things you can get? Robin, you’ve been here before. Why don’t you tell us what you want?”

“I want a leather watchband, some flowers, embroidery thread, and some herbal shampoo,” I said.

“I’ll make you the watchband,” Roger volunteered.

“I’ll get you the embroidery thread,” said Chris. “Come to dinner at the Harper Street More House on Thursday night, and I’ll give it to you then.”

“I’ll get you some flowers,” Frannie offered between giggles, “and give them to you Thursday.”

“OK, Arthur, now you.” Chris and Arthur exchanged warm glances.

Arthur, a veteran of these group meetings, at 40 was older than anyone there, and had an air of knowing what he wanted. He had swaggered in earlier, his green drip dry shirt opened practically to his waist, and hugged and kissed Chris. Then he had sat down at the feet of the girl whose apartment it was, under a Dennis Hopper poster. Sometimes he rested his head in her lap, and stroked her shin with a forefinger.

He straightened up and smiled confidently. “Certainly, Chris. I want a waterbed, a shirt with a More House symbol on it, I want to have a good time and to make out with Chris and Patty here.” He patted her knee.

“Penny,” said the girl reddening.

“Oh. Right, Penny.”

The game continued. Ralph was chosen to sit on the “hot seat” while everyone interrogated him. He revealed that more than anything he wanted to give a certain 36-year-old sociologist her first orgasm.

“Have you taken the Basic Sensuality course?” Bryce wanted to know. Ralph had, and the course veterans agreed he’d have no trouble with his goal.

“And have you been doing your exercises?” Bryce persisted. Ralph blushed and nodded. The veterans laughed.

“What exercises?” I asked.

“Masturbation,” said Bryce.

“A More House is a residence hall; it is a training program in living; and it provides the public with a place to go and find out how to live and love it, to have what you want, to see what enlightened people look like.” — Aquarius Magazine

I arrived at the Harper Street More House on Thursday night for dinner. Chris and the other people I’d met seemed friendly and well-meaning. In my pocketbook I had a bottle of strawberry body lotion for Frannie, the girl who had told me she’d bring me flowers. Her want list had been four strawberry scented products — lotion, vaseline, soap and oil, and some body paint. Sensing that she liked strawberry, I had told the saleslady at the Body Shop to put a double dose of the scent in the lotion.

The house was prematurely dark and the halls were gloomy. In the front hall was a list of house rules that gave the place the feel of a dormitory.

No drugs of any kind

Telephone use by permission only

Public rooms — living room anddining room only

No Overnight Guests

House Closes at 11:00

Frannie appeared. She was all dressed up. Tonight, she explained, was the first night of the Institute’s six week course in Advanced Sensuality. She was very excited about taking it and giggled more than usual. The acid she said she’d dropped for the occasion might have helped, too. She looked like a fading kewpie doll, with brittle bleached hair, over the hill at 18-years. She had two circles of rouge on her cheeks, red lipstick, clownlike in the shapeless print dress she wore. I gave her the lotion and she thanked me, apologizing for having forgotten the flowers she’d promised to get for me.

Frannie led me through the house, through the dining room and behind the kitchen to a back hall where there was a room as small as a closet. It was her bedroom. The one window in the room overlooked a rubbish heap in the backyard. We had to sit down because the slanting ceiling made it impossible to stand comfortably. Plaster had fallen off the wall and there were patches of bare, dirty boards. Frannie’s touches made the place seem homelike; her upright suitcase served as a night table; a cracked mirror was propped up on a board-and-cinder block dressing table. She had hung up a blanket to give her bed privacy.

Frannie was what the Institute calls an “evaluate,” the lowest of the low on the More House corporate ladder. As Ken Brown, the new President of the Institute put it: “When people move in as evaluates we push them, treat them like victims. Say you’re working in the kitchen hard all day, doing your best, and you get to the point where you don’t think you can do any more. That’s when we tell them to drive to San Jose to get us a taco, and to top it off, we don’t give them money for gas. We prove to people that they can do more than they thought they could, so they can feel like heroes.

“As Victor would say, ‘The way to enjoy your life is to do whatever anybody wants you to do, to be a slave. Everyone is afraid that they’re going to get conned or had or cheated, or done in, or they think they’re going to have their souls stolen or something. So they’ll never be slaves. But that is exactly what you want to do. That’s what I mean by unselfishly serving the world.'”

Frannie’s duties had been mostly cleaning and scrubbing. For this the evaluate paid $200 for two weeks. Frannie said that she had borrowed the money. She said she was enjoying herself and was doing everything everyone told her, hoping to live there forever and one day teach courses of her own.

We could hear angry voices coming from the kitchen. It was Shannon, one of the house elite. “It smells in here.”

“Well, people don’t clean like they should, that’s all,” said Bryce, who was the Harper Street Housekeeper.

“Who was supposed to clean the kitchen?”

“Frank.”

“And what about that pile of dust in the front room?” Shannon was getting angry. ‘

“I don’t know,” said Bryce meekly.

“Well, are you going to take care of it or do I have to do it myself?” Shannon was furious. The house elite were supposed to be free of such menial tasks.

Bryce stamped into Frannie’s room and yelled at her. “What’s that pile of dirt doing in the front room?”

“There was no dust pan,” Frannie explained giggling nervously.

“Well, couldn’t you have found anything else.” Bryce was disgusted.

“No.”

“Of course not. All you ever do is giggle,” he said contemptuously. “Well, see that it doesn’t happen again.” And he stomped out. We could hear him in the kitchen bitching at an apologetic Frank, another evaluate.

Soon the close little room began smelling of rotting fruit. It was Frannie applying her strawberry lotion. I wandered out to the kitchen. Frank was sweeping the floor. Even though he appeared worn and upset, he insisted that he was enjoying the evaluate program. Besides cleaning, he worked all day putting a new roof on the More House. There had been a fire the year before and the second and third floors had been gutted, and the roof had disappeared. He suggested I take a look at the rest of the house.

Though the house appeared whole from the outside, just the skeleton of a house remained inside, with blankets hung and old doors propped up between the beds for privacy. From the third floor there was a clear view of the rooms below: they had no ceilings. And it was cold.

The living room was furnished in 1960 Sears-Roebuck, with tacky wall-to-wall carpeting and a television set. On a table lay a copy of Aquarius Magazine. “This magazine is deliberate,” it read. “There are no typographical errors.” There were pictures of More Housers, Institute gossip, and short stories. There was one particularly awful story about some sort of concentration camp. The characters were living in squalor surrounded by barbed wire. There were no toilets so they just squatted in the dirt. Their food was thrown on the ground with their shit. And every day the executioner would come and drag one of them to the execution block and chop off a head in full view of the others. There were lurid descriptions of the murder. At the end of the story it turned out that the characters were chickens. The story had been written by Victor Baranco.

On the wall was an out-of-focus photograph of a fat man dressed in white, one hand raised as if in blessing.

Bryce came in and said it was Victor in the photograph.

“Have you ever met him?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “Not yet. Everyone else here has met him but me, even though I’ve been here for months.”

“Why haven’t you? Don’t you want to?”

“Yes, I do,” he said. “But I’m not ready to see him. He’s too powerful and I just can’t confront him yet.”

“Powerful?”

“Yes. He’s got so much power. He’s responsible for all of us.”

At dinner, the candlelit table was set for 16, but only eight people came. Frank scurried around, putting last – minute touches on setting the table, serving food, fetching koolaid. Hardly a word was spoken. Shannon sat at the head of the table. She seemed glum and depressed. She told me that she had been to a professionals’ meeting, where teachers pay $35 for a few hours with Victor.

“Victor hexed me a lot,” she said.

“He hexed you?”

“Yes. He had a whole bunch of things to say about how this house was doing.”

“Was he mean to you?” I asked her.

“Oh, no! He wasn’t being mean. Just truthful.”

“Do you like him?”

She looked at me for the first time. Her eyes grew wide and glazed over. “Oh, yes! I love him.” She left the table soon after.

I asked Ray, another teacher, what Victor had done to Shannon. What was hexing?

“Life is like an elevator,” Ray philosophized. “It goes up and down. When you hex someone you take them down, and then you can bring them up again if you want to.”

I asked Ray about the Institute courses.

“They’re all great,” he told me. “We guarantee a flash of your own perfection with every weekend course.

“In the world out there,” he continued, “you are taught that everything is wrong. We’re all doomed by ecology and wars and stuff. Well, Victor has taught us that it’s really all right. Out there you don’t feel like you can do what you want. But living here, where everybody thinks the same way as you, that they’re perfect just like they are, it works out. And it does work out. Like Victor has everything he wants — a house, a limousine. And this is the first business that hasn’t fallen through for him.”

I left the house alone. Alan, a young man from the Mark group who had asked me to meet him that night, had not shown up. And I didn’t get the embroidery thread from Chris. She must have forgotten she had invited me to dinner, because she never showed up either.

The official courses and their description from Aquarius Magazine:

The Gospel

Two days are devoted to comparing the More philosophy with THE WORD as written in the Bible. The parallels are startling. This course has been and promises to be one of the most dynamic experiences ever offered. $45.00.

Hexing

Hexing is a conceptual game which every human being is playing every time he opens his mouth; but very few people are aware of the game. This weekend course will provide you with the history, technique, structure and applications of hexing. The extent to which one can control his hexing is the extent to which one controls his universe. $45.00.

Advanced Hexing

This course is both what its name denotes and connotes. Total control of one’s hexes, of all kinds, is total control of one’s universe. It is possible to get all that Advanced Hexing has to offer. $45.00.

Basic Sensuality

Two days which will show you the physical and conceptual techniques to overcome impotency and frigidity, to increase the duration and intensity of orgasm, to train partners and to experience pleasurable childbirth. Also covers completely the concept of responsible hedonism. $45.00.

Basic Communication

A two-day seminar covering the basics of successful communication and the techniques of removing barriers to communication. This course will increase the effectiveness of your communication and teach you how not to be victimized by the poor communications of others. $45.00.

Advanced Communication

An extension of the Basic Communication course, dealing more deeply with non-verbal communication, with winning and losing, and with controlling the universe with words. Also, this course deals with both animate and inanimate objects. An incredible weekend. $45.00.

Jealousy, Money and Possession

A two-day seminar covering topics such as ownership, trust, betrayal, interpersonal relationships, money and jealousy. How to have more and enjoy more of what is already yours. $45.00.

A Weekend with Vic Baranco

A totally unstructured weekend in which the instructor will answer any and all questions asked. The content of this course is totally dependent on the student’s ability to have. [It should be noted that this course is not necessarily taught by Vic himself. But it isn’t. Recently his 10- and 12-year-old children taught this course.]

Man and Woman

This course deals with the roles and the language of the sexes and with the dynamics of the relationships these create. The course teaches how to interpret Manese and Womanese, and how to understand the math of one and two. $45.00

Shazam

The granddaddy of all courses. Seven hours with Victor Baranco. In this course there will be a very limited number of students each time it’s taught. There is no limit to how high this course will go.

How to Go into Business in Your Spare Time with No Capital Investment

This is the course of courses. During the weekend, Vic will answer all your questions on the meaning, structure and teaching technique of any, or any part of, the structured courses. The course is intended primarily as an advanced seminar for teachers and potential teachers but may be attended by anyone seriously interested in how to produce from cause that which they experienced at effect in Institute courses. Participants are expected to attend with specific questions to be answered about courses they have taken and/or taught. Prerequisite: Two structured courses. Price $65.

Professional Meeting with Victor Baranco

Thursdays 2-5 PM, $35.

Linda, a sweet, bland 24-year-old girl, from Oklahoma originally, sat in another tacky More House living-room in Oakland wearing a brave smile. With her hand she gracefully stroked the underside of the shaft, the head, and the white balls of the larger than life erect plaster of paris penis which sat in her lap. Finally she grasped the thing in her fist and moved her hand up and down.

“It’s just really neat, ‘doing’ a man,” she said shrugging. “And I really enjoy it a whole bunch. It’s a really neat way to get close to some people and have a good time.” Wayne, her husband and co-teacher of the course, smiled at her approvingly and caressed a plaster vagina. And Victor Baranco smiled down on the two whom he had married two weeks before, from his ubiquitous photograph on the wall, his hand raised in blessing.

I was taking my first Institute course, Basic Sensuality. “You aren’t going to hear anything that you don’t already know.” Wayne began. “All the stuff that I’m saying will be true. We’ll reteach you how to love another person in logical intellectual steps. Fucking is such a hit or miss proposition.” The Institute recommends mutual masturbation as a “surefire way to a perfect orgasm every time.” They call it “doing” the other person, and told us how to do a perfect “do.”

“According to Masters and Johnson, the average number of contractions per orgasm for women is 6-9, and 8-12 for men. But after a couple years of training we’ve had people here at the Institute have as many as 250 contractions per orgasm!”

“Who does the counting?” I asked.

“Why, the person who is doing the doing,” said Wayne.

Wayne got on the floor with the course assistant to show the class positions to sit in while doing the other person. They taught that it works out best when the “doee” is totally passive, and the doer is active. Mostly the positions to sit in were just common sense. But as Victor would say, if you are bored by his courses, it’s you who is responsible.

For homework, we were given an exercise to do. They told us to go home and take a bath, put on our favorite perfume, light candles, and burn incense, “Then put a ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door, climb into bed and masturbate.”

On both days of the course, Wayne ended the sessions three hours early.

“Forty-five dollars and they don’t even give you lunch,” grumbled Fred as we walked outside during the break. “It took me three days of work to earn the money.”

Michael was a 17-year-old football-playing high school student with braces and skin that pulsated with impending acne. He had revealed in the class that he was a virgin. “But not for long,” he told me now. “I think I’m gonna do it with Betty tonight.”

“Who’s Betty?”

“She was there this morning. The teaching assistant.”

“Wayne’s wife?”

“No.”

“You mean the lady with the grey hair who took our money?”

“Yeah, that’s the one. I was supposed to see her last night, but her son was having his 26th birthday party and she couldn’t see me.”

“How old is she?”

“Forty-eight,” he said. “But I try not to think about it.”

I wanted all things

To seem to make some sense.

So we all could be happy, yes,

Instead of tense

And I made up lies

So that they all fit nice

And I made this sad world

A par-a-dise

— Bokonon’s “Calypsos,” from ‘Cat’s Cradle,’ by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Think now of what this country’s population is made of. 90% are hung up, bound in value judgements, bored, hating, fearing, grieving. They are the living dead. Call these the less people. Grieve for them. They have resisted life. But there is hope for them. There is a complete Human Being under each one of those piles of garbage. — Aquarius Magazine

“You know that the people out there are afraid, right?” Victor told students on a recent weekend in one of his courses. “So what you have to do is give them a power structure to relate to, a chain of command. Then their fear diminishes. It’s totally fictitious, this chain of command, and this top man, too, but it’s easier for people if they know who the boss is.”

“Even without the philosophy,” Victor had said, “the machine still works. What you got is a situation in which you can live in a More House for $200 a month as long as there’s ten or more people there. And you can live better on the $200 than you would with $700 if you didn’t live there. And that’s with maid service and your laundry done, and your food cooked for you.”

Where the $200 a month residence fee comes from is up to the individual. Some people collect unemployment for as long as they can. Some get money from their parents. Some work part time in the outside world. What most people do is teach Victor’s vague courses to the public.

The manager/teachers of the More Houses, “house mothers” as they are called, pay a fee of $2000 for that privilege. They are never the ones who own the property; the landlords are always absent. The $2000 pays for all the courses and the consultation fee on how to run a commune, and gives the manager the right to call the place a More House.

“Everything is handled by the way Victor set it up,” says Ken Brown, one of Baranco’s right hand men, adding that the structure helped them get more out of life. Didn’t that take away their freedom, though?

“Freedom? We call it default to live unstructured, unplanned lives. It’s more fun when there’s a structure. That way we are told how to live and we can tell other people. Victor is like our father. He takes responsibility for everyone here. We always know we’ll get the truth from him.”

Considered apart from its financial involvements, and its Mark sessions and hexing and doing, the Institute has all the benign aspects of a perpetual summer camp for grown-ups. A $200 monthly residence fee buys each camper the chance to live in a family — like the one he left behind — with an authority figure who will tell everyone how to live and get along with each other; gives them chores and duties to fill up their time; and arranges planned activities to participate in.

Those who join are also given a membership badge — a shiny medallion with the More symbol on it, a sort of peace sign with a line through it, to wear around their necks. It is given to each perfect person at a special presentation ceremony, and is supposed to “remind the wearer that he is a winner.”

Planned activities include Mark groups, outings, and parties. The More People party all the time. This year’s Halloween bash at the Institute’s main house on Hamilton Street was crammed with bodies (“wall to wall people,” they call it), packed so tightly that it was practically impossible to get to the bar. The atmosphere was the sort of hilarity of people desperate to have a good time.

Standing to one side of a four-foot-high More symbol made of blinking electric lights stood a bug-eyed young man who didn’t live at the Institute, but said he liked to party with these people. “It’s nice,” he said, “the way they’re always smiling, and I think that living here makes them feel good. Most of them when they come here are really down and out, in the middle of an identity crisis, and the Institute sells them identity. But I can’t stand the way they worship Victor. It’s always ‘Victor says this’ and ‘Victor that.’

“Most of the people find a place for themselves here. They either become hustlers, like Victor, or they stay around and become servants. But I’ve got to hand it to them. They’re up front about the hustle. Like they always tell me when there’s a rich person at a party. They want me to take pictures of that person for the magazine so they’ll be flattered and join the Institute.

“And they really know how to party. If you stick around long enough, there’s always a back room orgy.”

Out on the front porch it was cooler and less crowded. A girl in a belly dancer costume did her version of a belly dance though no one paid her much attention.

Billy sat alone on the railing, watching the party. He was 15 and had been living at the Institute for a year and a half. His father lived there, too, and was the Institute’s live-in lawyer, though, Billy said proudly, his Dad didn’t do much work anymore.

He said that before he moved into the More House he was ready to kill himself. His parents had been in the process of separating because his father wanted to go with Victor, and his mother would have nothing to do with the Institute. “Everybody took sides. My older sister went with Dad and my younger sister staved with Mom. I was supposed to stay with her, too. but I didn’t want to. She hated Victor. She used to say that him and Dad should be strung up by the balls. She told me that she heard that Victor had $80,000 hidden away in a Swiss bank, and that she was sure he was going to run out on the Institute and leave everybody in the lurch. She wanted me to stay away from the Institute and my father. Finally I told her to fuck off, and I moved in here.”

Billy said he was happy at the Institute, and was better off there than at home. He had his own room, stereo and TV set. “Once we had a tour of kids from school come to visit this house. They expected a hippie commune but they were really surprised at how good we live here. We are taught that it’s OK to believe in material things, and we do. We’re good Americans.”

I met Dewey at the More House Halloween party. He was dressed like a playboy but he looked like a penguin. Dewey was the managing editor of Aquarius, which has its office in the basement of 80 Hamilton Street, in a closet. But Dewey wasn’t complaining. He said he ran the magazine smoothly from the closet. The toughest task he had each month was Victor’s column, Head Trip. Each month Victor would send him a tape he had made, which would have to be transcribed and edited.

“They’re so heavy,” he told me. I read one of them. It was about a woman who drove past a hitchhiker every day in her new station wagon and wondered if she should pick him up. Finally she decided not to be afraid of him. If there were anything strange about him, she figured, he wouldn’t be there so regularly all the time. She stopped and picked the hitchhiker up one day, and he killed her.

Dewey had just taken his first course with Victor, a new course Victor had just invented called “How To Go Into Business Without Any Money.”

“It was a special $65 course,” said Dewey. “I learned a whole bunch.”

“Why was it $65 instead of $45?”

“I don’t know, but it was worth it.”

“What did he teach you?” I asked.

“Mostly he just answered the questions that we asked him. He did talk a lot about selling love. He ran it down to us in the analogy of the vacuum cleaner salesman. See, businesses do this thing, he told us, where they advertise a cheap model, the $19.95 machine, to lure people to the store. Well, it’s called a ‘nail-down’ because the salesman is supposed to treat it like it was nailed down to the floor. His boss wants him to sell the customer the $150.00 model. And the boss is right, Victor said. He should get his asking price. He is entitled to his profit.

“Say a customer comes in. The lady needs a vacuum cleaner. And the salesman wants to make a sale. So, Victor said that the salesman should reach into his own pocket and shell out the $150.00 for the vacuum cleaner and give it to the lady. That way everybody wins.”

“But what about the salesman,” I asked. “He’s out $150.00.”