For weeks, I’d been uncertain about whether to raise the price of THE SUN, rummaging through the dirty laundry of my beliefs — the muddy limitations and mismatched fears, mildewed practicality, threadbare faith. Nothing to wear.
The letters from readers in the last issue, urging me to raise the price, were sensible. But I’d been promising not to, having declared that “part of THE SUN’s message is that we can live simply, doing work that is personal and social rather than a job that is neither, and that money will come when we’re doing the right thing. Inflated prices have less to do with mysterious economic forces than with unhappiness at the job and at home, a profound confusion about what money can and can’t buy. I don’t want to add to that confusion by making THE SUN expensive.”
True. But with mounting expenses for printing and postage, the rent always late, no money for salaries, what’s been most confusing is whether the magazine will survive. “Do the best job you can,” Tom Bender urged, “and charge what is necessary to cover it. Then you know if the world really wants what is offered.” Mayrav Pleshe wrote, “You drive me crazy. Put the price up. Three dollars a year won’t drive off current subscribers. That’s the price of one movie.”
True. So many truths, jangling around in my head like loose change — two-bit truths about the economy and the dark rain to fall; tinny truths about the spiritual slot-machine that pays off positive thinkers (“gimme gimme” goes the mantra, crooned to your personal banker in the sky); coined truths about the laws of money, the ledger of the soul, honest business inside and out. As many truths as bills. And no guru or economic advisor to turn to. But the answer came — as usual, when I wasn’t looking; bit me on the ass, as answers do.
August 15. An Evening With Ram Dass. I’m backstage at Memorial Hall, in Chapel Hill, showing Ram Dass where he can relax before his talk. It’s his second benefit for us. (He’s been a subscriber since 1976, an inspiration for me since 1971, when I picked up a copy of Be Here Now in somebody’s bathroom in California; I was hitchhiking through the US. and Canada, visiting communes, and I forget what led me to this out of the way place, down a long, winding road to discover the road Ram Dass had carved out of the rock of self, with drugs strong as dynamite and spiritual pick and shovel; I was moved, not to follow his path but my own.)
We made $5,000 last year. Ram Dass had originally asked for one fourth, to cover expenses, then wrote “my only expenses which have to be deducted are some plane fare and motel (which came to $350). The rest is for THE SUN.”
This year, when I ask him to bail us out again, I offer to pay: “I don’t want you to become THE SUN’s sugar-daddy.” He says he’ll take half, Guess what I expect.
No talk of money when I see him earlier in the day. That night, ticket sales are slow. Only half as many people as last year. If Ram Dass takes half. . . .
Backstage, I turn to go. “Oh Sy . . . ” “Yes?” “Let me have as much in cash tonight as you can. Send the rest later.”
I’m disappointed; then I’m embarrassed that I’m disappointed; then I’m embarrassed that I’m embarrassed. Instead of being thankful, I’ve been greedy — does it matter if I’m greedy for me or for THE SUN? Instead of seeing the gift, I’ve been looking at the price-tag.
Ram Dass, you’ve done it again. A graceful backhand return, and I didn’t even know I’d hit you the ball. You said earlier, “We play the game on many levels.” That’s the truth, and it’s free. Money is light, and it’s worthless paper; generosity is dealt off the top and the bottom of the deck; holy men need to pay their bills, and so do magazine editors.