Starbucks is taking over the world.
There are more than 1,900 of these Yuppie McDonald's now, and they're spreading like viruses. In the suburbs, Starbucks pops up in nearly every strip mall. In the cities, it takes over corners once occupied by mom-and-pop luncheonettes and Gypsy fortunetellers. This is not good. Starbucks has raised the price of coffee from 50 cents to $3, and raised the pretentiousness level of American life to unprecedented heights, turning the good old USA from a no-nonsense cuppa-joe kind of country into a la-di-da double-decaf-espresso nation.
And now Starbucks has collaborated with Time Warner to create a magazine. It's called Joe, and it's available for $2.95 but only at Starbucks. Believe me, I'd love to denounce it as dreadful drivel, but I can't. In spite of myself, I kind of like it.
Joe is not about coffee, thank God, and it never mentions its corporate sponsor. It also contains no news, no celebrity profiles, no big thoughts, no grinding axes. Joe is designed to be fun. It's a lite version of a literary magazine, composed of beautiful photographs, clever graphics and quick, bite-size essays, poems and stories--all of it packaged inside a thick, lush cover made of paper that feels like a cross between velvet and linoleum.
Joe is a quarterly, and each issue is devoted to a theme. Fortunately, the themes are vague enough and the editors are flexible enough that this doesn't end up as pretentious as it sounds.
In the first issue, which appeared last summer, the theme was "trust" and it was explored in a couple of photo essays and in entertaining articles by Pam Houston, author of "Cowboys Are My Weakness," and Mark Leyner, the humorist who wrote "My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist," among other bizarre books. The Leyner piece was smart and funny and contained the sentence "Soon, though, you'll come to resent having to garrote gerbils in order to advance your career," which actually made sense in context and was worth the price of admission.
The debut issue also contained Joy Williams's very odd meditation on the Unabomber's cabin, with digressions on Thoreau's famous Walden cabin and on the whole cosmic meaning of cabin-ness. It even quoted the cabin itself, which was quite a coup, considering that the cabin had never spoken on the record before. The piece was weird, but somehow it worked--sort of like Joe itself.
The theme of the new issue is "Our Inner Lives," which sounds absolutely awful. Fortunately, the cover shows a near-naked Homer Simpson, so you figure the editors aren't going to get too arty on you. And they don't.
The 15 inner-life essays are short and snappy--only about a page apiece--and most of them are pretty good. Novelist and former fighter pilot James Salter explains what goes through your mind when the plane you're flying starts to fall out of the sky. Poet Jimmy Santiago Baca tells how it feels to get out of prison after years inside. And humorist Cynthia Heimel explores the mind of the new mother: "Everybody else's baby: Boring. Your baby: Every molecule of every toenail is sacred."
There's also a piece on Kansas City jazz and a gallery of photographs of the gloriously goofy dioramas that sculptor Liza Lou creates out of millions of multicolored beads. In the "Joe likes" section, in which writers praise their favorite things, Mark Doty pays tribute to Houston's sly, crafty mockingbirds, which, he says, "imitate car alarms and ringing cell phones."
And in a section called "Decoder," novelist Pagan Kennedy deconstructs various aspects of her favorite sport, aerobics: "Thirst is the new sex. TV ads show athletes arching their backs, mouths open to the sky as liquid pounds against their faces. Billboards tease, 'Are you ready to be quenched?' Thirst has become so kinky that in the feminine parlor of the aerobics studio, it can only be talked about euphemistically. Your instructor admonishes, 'Make sure you're properly hydrated.' "
Obviously, Joe isn't a heavy, meat-and-potatoes magazine. It's more of a dessert mag, an elaborate confection, a sort of literary Sacher torte. As such, it goes well with coffee, which can be obtained at a reasonable price in countless local luncheonettes and doughnut shops.
Shedding Her Inhibitions
Here's a quick pop quiz: When you see a woman get naked in a movie, do you think:
A. "Gee, I'll bet she's going through a lot of mental anguish over the conflict between the demands of her art and her innate shyness and need for privacy," or
B. "Gee, I'd sure like to [become more intimately acquainted with] her."
If you chose A, you are sensitive, caring and artistic. If you chose B, you are male. Either way, you'll enjoy actress Jewel Shepard's laugh-out-loud-funny memoir in the November issue of Premiere.
Shepard appeared, frequently unclad, in some of Hollywood's lesser creations. In "Zapped!," she writes, special-effects experts "arranged to make my shirt fly off when Scott Baio focuses his telekinetic powers on it." In "Christine," the script called for her to fight several armed Ninja assassins, and "the director thought it would help the scene if I was naked." Meanwhile, she was fending off the producer, who tried to convince her that "more of the budget can be put 'on the screen' if the leading lady shares her hotel room with the producer."
Shepard marvels at how the size of the crew expands during nude scenes. "The Pope appears before smaller crowds," she writes. "When the clothed scenes are being shot, you can look out and see the director and a crew of six. Somehow, when the bra comes off, 83 guys, including the caterer and the fellow in charge of transportation insurance, suddenly have a good and valid reason to be there."
Still, she admits that acting in the altogether isn't entirely unpleasant: "When I take off my clothes on camera, I feel a little more beautiful, a little sexier." Her article is so hilarious that it makes you want to read her book, which is entitled "If I'm So Famous, How Come Nobody's Ever Heard of Me?"
Cover Line of the Month
Shape: "Get a Great Butt."
Fitness: "Get a Smaller Butt."