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In Print: the best book catalog in the world?

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You owe your shirt to creditors, who are closing in. Your avaricious spouse is suing for divorce. The IRS knows you haven't paid taxes for years. And those pesky criminal charges just won't go away, no matter how many borders you cross.

The time has come, it seems, to discard that cumbersome identity you were born with and start anew, unfettered by history, as someone else entirely.

But how?

Loompanics Unlimited has the answer. A "mail-order bookstore" that claims it puts out the "best book catalog in the world," Loompanics lists 33 titles devoted to shedding one's skin. There's Barry Reid's famed The Paper Trip, Vols. 1-2, "the classic and original books on obtaining ID in whatever name you want . . . so foolproof that the Federal Advisory Committee on False Identification spent nearly two years vainly trying to find ways of closing the loopholes." Or Doug Richmond's How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found, which describes "how to plan for a disappearance . . . arrange for new identification . . . even stage a "pseudocide' to make your pursuers think you are dead."

Loompanics Unlimited bills itself as a "seller of unusual books"--which is an understatement, to say the least. In its 254-page catalog, Loompanics sheds light on the murky, often frightening, recesses of the information age, serving as an international conduit for books and videos by, for, and about the disenfranchised, disenchanted, and disturbed substrata of society.

Divided into 32 sections--which range from the alarming "Murder and Torture" to the provocative "Money-Making Opportunities" to the mundane "Self-Publishing"--the catalog lists 750 offbeat, subversive, deranged, or just plain obscure works of both fiction and journalism, 150 of which Loompanics publishes itself, and all of which it keeps in stock to ensure prompt delivery. The catalog is also an "unusual book" itself, full of illustrations and articles on top of its listings, a dense guide through the labyrinth of contemporary utopianism, fear, and rage.

Loompanics was launched in 1975 in Mason, Michigan, "as a back-room hobby with a list of about six books sold mostly to friends," according to editorial director Steve O'Keefe. Founder Michael Hoy moved his business to Port Townsend, Washington, in 1981. Last year Loompanics rang up over $1 million in sales, processing an average of 200 orders a day for such works as Take No Prisoners: Destroying Enemies With Dirty and Malicious Tricks (which describes "techniques . . . designed to harm or maim your target, or frame him for a serious crime . . . cause expensive property damage . . . [or] cost him large amounts of money . . . that won't land you in jail or put you in a difficult situation") and How to Start Your Own Country.

"We print 50,000 catalogs annually," says O'Keefe. "We sell books to the entire world: Iran, Israel, the ex-U.S.S.R. We got an order from Kuwait for How to Kill three days before the invasion. Many governments buy from us. Police departments and intelligence departments. The CIA and the FBI. They just send in their orders like everybody else. Methods of Disguise is very popular with organizations like that."

As for the tastes of the, er, average Loompanics customer? "The Complete Guide to Lock Picking is our best selling title," O'Keefe says. "And clearing-up-your-credit books are extremely popular." The Complete Guide to Lock Picking is authored by "Eddie the Wire," a western Michigan resident who put "over five years of research . . . into its preparation"--hopefully not at your house.

Loompanics may be the only place to find that copy you've searched so doggedly for of Genitology: Reading the Genitals ("palm reading with a twist," says O'Keefe) by Dr. Seymore Klitz and Dr. Ima Peeper of the "School of Genitological Anthropology." And you can finally end that frustrating search for If We Can Keep a Severed Head Alive: Discorporation and U.S. Patent 4,666,425. Loompanics even has a section devoted to works it considers "Heresy/Weird Ideas," an oddly mixed bag of occult texts, Holocaust-myth manifestos, hate-mongering standards (like The Turner Diaries), and The Utne Reader's Field Guide to the Alternative Press.

Last November a Chicago college student was arrested for making and selling fake IDs to underage students. Police found a copy of Counterfeit I.D. Made Easy, carried by Loompanics, during their raid. Because of cases like this, Loompanics is careful to distance itself from the material it sells, opening its catalog with this disclaimer: "Loompanics Unlimited does not advocate the breaking of any law. Our books are sold for informational purposes only. We recommend that you contact your local law enforcement officials before undertaking any project based upon information in this catalog. We are not responsible for, nor do we assume any liability for, damages resulting from the use of information in this catalog."

Not surprisingly, Loompanics sometimes encounters problems distributing its wares. Many Loompanics books are banned from prisons. And the company sometimes has a hard time sending books to Canada, O'Keefe says. "They basically have an ad-hoc customs system--the officials at the border decide what's acceptable on a day-to-day basis." But the U.S. stands by freedom of the press. "We have virtually no problems here," O'Keefe reports.

Hmmm. Maybe you should reconsider ordering Reborn in Canada: Personal Privacy Through a New Identity and stick with Reborn in the U.S.A. instead.

Loompanics' 1992 catalog is $5 postpaid; write Loompanics Unlimited, PO Box 1197, Port Townsend, WA 98368.

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