Sunday, October 21st 2007
Michael Gates Gill's book, How Starbucks Saved my Life (Gotham Books, 2007), is an attractive book - before you read it.
The author is a former successful advertising executive who lost his job in his fifties, after the new owner of his firm, the J. Walter Thompson agency in New York, decided to focus on the bottom line and claimed "I like young people around me." He hardly makes a living from consulting during a few years afterwards, has an affair with a young woman who falls pregnant, and spends all the money he had set aside in a divorce and in college tuition for his four kids. He ends up broke, living alone in a small rented apartment, without health insurance and a newly diagnosed brain tumor. He is now 63 years old. Miraculously he is offered a job at a Starbucks café in Manhattan Upper West Side. As part of the job he gets a good health insurance. He finds happiness in his new, simple and straightforward, life. "I am happier than I have ever been", he realizes on a cold December night when he walks out of his store. Does it mean that his 64 previous years have been a waste? "I hated to think that my whole life had been a lie." It looks like a coming-out story.
The book is scattered with reminiscences of his youth, when he was growing in a wealthy family on the Upper East Side, before moving into a mansion in an upscale suburb town, vacationing in the hills of Connecticut and studying at Yale. The portraits of his father, the renowned New Yorker writer Brendan Gill, and his numerous famous literary friends are appealing. His firing at JWT, the quick dissolution of his relationship after the birth of his last son ("She imagined me as a man at the top of America, fulfilled, productive, successful, and happy. She got to know me as I was: an insecure little boy not that good at dealing with reality"), the portrait of the surgeon he sees for his neurinoma, the extraordinary way in which his mother, who 'lived in the full bloom of New England optimistic denial', does not dare telling him that his father has died, are all greatly depicted.
Unfortunately the book is spoiled by the scenes at Starbucks. They read like an upsetting advertising for the company, and display very dull and simplistic lessons. They are simply not credible. The quotes from the Starbucks cups at the head of every chapter are pitiful.
Senator John McCain's campaign for the Republican nomination seemed over. He was trailing in polls, unable to raise enough funds, and had to fire his top aids last July. But now he is back. In polls he is reducing his lag behind Giuliani, the Republican frontrunner, and appears to have a better chance of beating Hillary Clinton in the general election. And the surge in Irak, which he strongly supported, could be delivering results... The fact that he finished last with less that 2% of the votes in a poll at the Christian conservatives summit this week-end in Washington DC makes him sympathetic. To those who question his age (he is 71-year-old), he points to his mother. The Financial Times reports in its week-end edition that 95-year-old Roberta McCain was fined by the Arizona highway police last year for driving at 110 mph. She leaps on and off the campaign bus without assistance. "The Christmas before last", says John McCain, "she went to Paris and they refused to rent her a car because of her age. So she went out and bought one."
For the last week or so, the weather has been unusually warm, with temperatures raising to the high 70s. The fall foliage colors are at their peak in this part of Connecticut. The conditions are perfect for reading outside on a deck, while smoking a cigar, and from time to time admiring the view. David Leavitt's last novel, The Indian Clerk (Bloomsbury, 2007), which I started over the week-end, seems very promising. I will tell you more about it.