Part of a 40-week series in which we take a look at a specific year in Chicago history via the pages of the Reader.

By 1977 the Reader was cruising. It was in two sections now, and section two was stuffed with classifieds, so many that in section one, pretty ad heavy itself, the editors could print anything they wanted. What separated the Reader from other free papers driven entirely by ad revenues was what the editors wanted.

On November 18 the Reader published the article that would forever define it. The Essence of Beeing was written by associate editor Mike Lenehan. It began on the cover, continued on page 9, and ran nonstop (aside from ads) through page 38. It was roughly 20,000 words long. That’s long enough to be a book, which in 2007 it became, a handsome edition designed by Bob McCamant, a Reader founder and this paper’s original art director, and published by Sherwin Beach Press. One reviewer called it the perfect gift for a beekeeper.

In years to come, commentators were not sure what to think of this article. Penned by one of the Reader‘s most graceful and meticulous writers, it was unassailable as journalism. But perhaps it was insanely indulgent. Or perhaps never had a barrel of ink been more insouciantly allocated. At any rate, it was very very Readerish. -Michael Miner

November 18, 1977

The Essence of Beeing

You couldn’t ask for a much better day to go up onto Michael Thompson’s roof. It’s only ten o’clock on this August Sunday morning, and already the temperature is 75, maybe 80 degrees. Michael Thompson lives in the Sheffield area of Lincoln Park, on the third floor of a building that houses a furniture store at street level. On his back porch there’s a stepladder leaning against the wall of the house, and above it there’s an opening in the roof through which Thompson can fit himself. Dressed in white coveralls and carrying a simple metal hive tool, a pair of long canvas gloves, a hat with a veil attached to it, and a curious metal can equipped with a spout and bellows, he makes his way slowly up the ladder and through the opening to visit the 120,000 honeybees that live and work above his living room.

To his left as he emerges, at the westernmost edge of the building, is a line of large potted plants. Directly in front of him is a small plastic wading pool, the kind you may have had in your backyard when you were a kid, and in the pool and around it lie several large rocks, which help the bees orient themselves to the proper hive when they return from the field with a load of nectar or pollen. The hives themselves, two of them, would look like nothing more than white wooden boxes were it not for the bees flitting around the small lengthwise slits at their bottoms. On a colder, cloudier, or windier day the bees might all be inside the hives, but today they are working furiously—the blossoms are out, the air is warm, and tomorrow might not be so ideal. The bees make honey while the sun shines.

June 17, 1976

The Begging Business: Fundraising in Chicago

“These disease months are for the media. It gives radio and television and newspapers a chance to do spots for all the diseases without favoring one over the other. That’s very important, because all the diseases want equal time.”

—the Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Abbey Davis, discussing MS Month with David Schonauer, June 17.

July 8, 1976

How to Make Friends on the El

How to Make Friends on the El

“You wouldn’t happen to have a 32-inch shoelace?”

“Pretty bricks.”

“I find the Wall Street Journal to be a very interesting paper—

[no response]

“I read it every day, myself—

[no response]

“The week after I first subscribed sales went up 17 ½ percent.”

[reponse] “What line of business did you say you were in?”

“I’m an oxymoron.”

[response] “Oh, for who?”

“I run my own firm now. That’s the way to do it. Only the boss can wear blue jeans to work.”

[response] “Yeah, I mean yes.”

“We produce dental floss.”

—Douglas Lefton, July 8