The Good Guys
good, 1 a (1): of a favorable character or tendency. A search of the word “good” on Merriam-Webster’s OnLine returns 34 entries and traces its etymological roots as far back as the Middle High German gatern (“to unite”) and Sanskrit gadhya (“what one clings to”).
Last Thursday, those definitions were particularly pertinent as the fresh-faced team at Good magazine gathered 1,500 of their closest friends and newly minted subscribers for the East Coast launch of an L.A.-based magazine that’s found almost as many detractors as supporters since it premiered earlier this month. “Good,” after all, is a difficult thing to pin down, even for Merriam-Webster.
By 9:30 p.m., the line outside Emergency Arts—an eco-friendly building project populated by artists and environmental and humanitarian groups on a block of mini-storage units and art galleries in far west Chelsea—looked almost a hundred deep. Perhaps because the organizers promised (and delivered) six hours of open bar and D.J. Grandmaster Flash to anyone who signed up for a $20 subscription, which the magazine donates to a charity of the reader’s choice. ( 2 a (1): virtuous, right, commendable.) Hulking security guards in black suits and earpieces regulated the crowd—enough scraggly beards, untucked shirts and messenger bags slung across the chest to populate a Williamsburg block. Nearly everyone was really, really ridiculously good-looking. ( 1 a (3): handsome, attractive.)
The New York party was “more formal” than the previous week’s Los Angeles launch, noted Ben Goldhirsh, the magazine’s 26-year-old founder and sugar daddy, who three years ago found himself the inheritor of a fortune—his father Bernie had amassed an estimated $200 million as the founder of Sail and Inc. magazines—and an active conscience. ( 2 b: upper-class.) The result has been Reason Pictures, a film company, and now Good, whose mission statement and first cover both presuppose and implore people to “give a damn.”
Thursday night, the main thing people gave a damn about was partying and hobnobbing. Revelers were packed in, sipping vodka and POM Tea and yelling at each other to be heard over the music and discordant sound of a dog (a resident of the space) barking.
“We’re throwin’ like we’re celebrating the sensibility,” said Mr. Goldhirsh, by all accounts an eminently likable fellow who tends toward an affable scruffiness, rotating his wardrobe between Red Sox T-shirts and white button-downs.
Speaking with the Good guys, one hears a lot of about “sensibility,” “platform” and “brand creation.” It inspired a word-association game of “Good” and “Not Good” with Mr. Goldhirsh. Idealism. “Good.” Activism. “Good.” Protest. “Not applicable.” (Not an option, I reminded him). Consumerism. “Good.” Capitalism. “Good.” Hipster. “Good.” Hippie. “Good.” Bush. Mr. Goldhirsh stalled. Time’s up. Gore. “Good.” (That one was loaded; it’s a convenient truth that Al Gore III is an associate publisher of Good.). Heavy drinking. “Not Good.” “From experience,” Mr. Goldhirsh said. ( 1 c (2): salutary, wholesome.)
The oft-pressed question is: Can an earnest magazine appeal to a generation that’s been baptized in the snark-infested waters of the new media? No one at Good seemed comfortable with the earnest label.
“I take issue with that,” said Zach Frechette, the 24-year-old managing editor who, when he got the call from Mr. Goldhirsh, left his job in advertising and drove to Los Angeles in the Audi his grandmother gave him. Mr. Frechette and Mr. Goldhirsh had been contemporaries, if not yet friends, at Andover and Brown, from which the latter plucked most of the magazine’s staff. ( 2 d (1): loyal.) Mr. Frechette was the school newspaper editor, a foil to Mr. Goldhirsh’s class president.
“We are sincere,” Mr. Frechette continued, looking professorial with tousled hair, horn-rimmed glasses and corduroy blazer. “We want to be right between earnestness and snarkiness,” he added, just as his sister, recently returned from Africa, poked her head around the corner to say hello. She and Mr. Frechette’s mother had been held in line downstairs by security.
They weren’t the only ones. Purportedly out of concern for the art installations (think a waxy-looking sand-castle-like structure and hanging yarn sculptures), crowds of people, including Kevin Jones, director of donor relations for the National AIDS Fund, were being blockaded at the first floor on “security hold.”
Mr. Jones, who hadn’t yet read the magazine, said he’d been “impressed enough by [Mr. Goldhirsh’s] initiative” to come up from Washington, D.C. “I’m thoroughly convinced that people are attracted to businesses that want to make a social impact.”
The question of commercial viability is another one of those buzz-kill questions for the Good guys. Mr. Goldhirsh is entering the publishing fray at a time when magazines are folding faster than last summer’s lawn chairs, and he is doing so on actual paper (EcoLogo-certified and produced with renewable energy, of course).
Mr. Goldhirsh is prepared to put at least $10 million into the magazine, but insists it’s a for-profit venture. ( 1 b (6): profitable, advantageous.)
“We know that it’s a huge long shot,” admitted Good publisher and founding editor Max Schorr, but “what’s so exciting about this party … is, so many people are seeing it in their interest to do good.”
Team Good is admittedly creating and selling a brand. “We’d always been fascinated with, like, how to make ‘good’ cool,” said Mr. Schorr.
“People hear that word and they cringe; they think about, like, hippies, or they think about tree-huggers,” said Mr. Frechette.
But the first challenge of creating a brand is defining it. Some partygoers were a bit confused as to what exactly they were there to celebrate. John Santos, a 33-year-old art director/designer, seemed most concerned with the poor showing at the party of the “real downtown scene.”
Aspiring actor Mick deLint, 24, explained that he came because he “likes to see art and artists … and it’s a good event to celebrate the environment.” Asked if he’d read the magazine, he replied, “Honestly, no. I don’t read many magazines.”
“I wouldn’t change my consumer habits on the basis of anything I read in a magazine like Good,” said a 32-year-old lawyer who requested anonymity. “It’s like the American Express Red Card; it’s fashionable to be idealistic these days.”
Despite the cynics and wiseacres, most of the attendees wanted the Good guys to succeed, if not for the love of all that is good in the world, then for the parties—and because they seem to have the balls to publicly care in a town often corroded by apathy and irony. ( 1e (3): deserving of respect: honorable.)
By 2 a.m., the revelers were already actively recycling: Having run out of cups, bartenders were filling Planet Friendly™ Biota water bottles (made from corn, not oil) with SoCo and Diet Coke. Depending on which circles you run in, the biggest star sighting of the night was Sergey Brin and Larry Page (a.k.a. “the Google guys”), Big Al (a.k.a. “Mr. Vice President”) or Elizabeth Berkley ( Showgirls). ( 1 a (2): BOUNTIFUL, FERTILE.)
Coffee Tea: An Interview
I spoke to beverage experimenter Sandra Blund, in her cramped apartment in Cobble Hill.
SPARROW: I understand you mix coffee and tea.
Ms. Blund: Yes. I violate a taboo of Western society, the same way you can’t be both a Christian and a Muslim.
Sparrow: When did you first combine the two?
Ms. Blund: In a diner in Pittsburgh, with my friend Peter Viese, in 1987. I poured some of his coffee into my tea.
Sparrow: How was it?
Ms. Blund: Terrible. (Later I learned that diner coffee mixed with Tetley tea never succeeds.) The swirling patterns were pleasing, however.
Sparrow: But this experience did not deter you.
Ms. Blund: No. In fact, I grew more bold. My first discovery was that Savarin combined with chamomile tea, in a ratio of 2 to 1, is tasty and soothing. Next I found that equal parts organic Bolivian coffee and White Rose tea create a succulent drink. By then, I was hooked on coffee tea.
Sparrow: I notice you use the phrase “coffee tea.”
Ms. Blund: Yes, though I tried such terms as “cofftea,” “teaffee,” “cofft” and “teaee.” One problem was that no one understood what these words meant.
Sparrow: What about Celestial Seasonings?
Ms. Blund: One must be careful, because they have strong flavors. But a teaspoon of Turkish espresso works perfectly in a cup of Raspberry Zinger.
Sparrow: What are you interested in now?
Ms. Blund: Mint. For some reason, people drink peppermint tea but rarely spearmint. We think of spearmint as chewing gum. Yet one-quarter cup of iced cappuccino mixed with three-quarters cup spearmint tea is dazzling.
Sparrow: Have you ever met any other coffee-tea drinkers?
Ms. Blund: Only one, a Cistercian nun from Tennessee. She first combined the drinks in 1936.
Alyssa Milano stood in the corner of the lobby, burning with conviction. The 33-year-old star of the WB network’s Charmed had just finished listening to a lengthy panel discussion on “Mitigating Religious and Ethnic Conflict,” one of the workshops at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, headquartered last week at the Sheraton Hotel on 53rd Street. The ballroom down the hall was hosting a talk and working group on disease (“I did Global Health yesterday,” she said), while upstairs rooms were buzzing about “Poverty Alleviation” and “Energy and Climate Change.”
The three-day meeting, which combined aggressive fund-raising ($7.3 billion pledged) and innovative policy projects (micro-financing to Indian beggars), aimed to address the developing world’s most intractable problems. In the process, it brought under one roof some of the planet’s most powerful statesmen, philanthropists and activists—but also Barbra Streisand, Daryl Hannah (who brought her own video camera), Don Cheadle (who chatted with Africa expert John Prendergast) and Ms. Milano, who was mostly by herself.
Ms. Milano, who plays a sultry witch on TV, said that her attendance had forced her to contemplate what “the entertainment industry can do to change the path of humanity. My points were, first, to change the daily vernacular of our story: We have a social responsibility to be more constructive.” She was dressed in a gray skirt and striped white blouse, and she fidgeted with a compact embossed with a butterfly in her hands. Against her right high-heeled shoe rested a tote bag full of binders and notes. “Look at George Harrison, the concerts for Bangladesh—the Beatles changed things in a profound way.”
Ms. Milano picked up her tote bag and went to seek out “anybody and everybody who will talk to me.” French actress Juliette Binoche took her place in the lobby. “We had a really good meeting,” the somewhat frazzled Ms. Binoche whispered to an acquaintance. “I’m hoping to meet [British Labor Party politician] Gordon Brown. Very good. Very effective.”
At around noon, other panel discussions were finishing and their participants spilled out into the second floor. Chelsea Clinton and Madeleine Albright seemed to make a point not to address one another. Wesley Clark introduced his wife to a well-known fund-raiser (“I almost injured her last night!” he said, without explanation), accepted a pat on the back from the Reverend Jesse Jackson (“Good to see you, buddy”) and posed for pictures with some Spanish-speaking businessmen.
“Thank you, Mr. Clark,” one Spanish man said.
“Thank you, Juan,” said Mr. Clark.
Suddenly, scores of photographers and television crews scurried past Mr. Clark. Barbra Streisand, who had finished a panel with Warren Buffett, John Glenn and Shimon Peres, had snuck nearly unnoticed into an elevator. She was waiting anxiously for the doors to slide closed when a barrage of camera flashes reflected in her oval sunglasses.
In the commotion, the actress Anne Hathaway ( Brokeback Mountain, The Devil Wears Prada) lost her date.
“Where’d my boyfriend go?” said Ms. Hathaway, referring to Raffaello Follieri, the 28-year-old Italian philanthropist and developer who pledged $1 million to vaccinate 10,000 children in Honduras from hepatitis.
Ms. Hathaway, who wore a simple black dress and wide smile framed in red lipstick, said she was humbled by the chance to contribute to such weighty topics.
“Yesterday I was in ‘Alleviating Global Poverty’; today I was in ‘Villages in Ethnic Conflict.’ It was really wonderful,” she said, adding that she had been particularly moved by the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. “It was something I’ll never forget. I was crying. I get all this credit just for being young—everyone keeps saying, ‘You’re only 23 and you already have an interest in the world.’ I mean, look at Desmond Tutu.”
The photographers, frustrated by Ms. Streisand’s vanishing act, fell upon Ms. Hathaway. She proved a much more amenable subject. They followed her to the threshold of the main ballroom, where Bill Clinton and Al Gore were due to speak. There, the crush of press was repelled by volunteers, all clad in garish-colored neckties. Inside the ballroom, celebrities and statesmen took their places at the round tables for a lunch of “Duck Three Ways” rounded off by “freshly brewed ‘Fair Trade’ Starbucks Coffee.”
Ms. Milano held her binder and conversed a man with a shaved head into a corner. Her own hair was worn up to expose the black Sanskrit tattoo that crept up her nape. A few tables away, Chelsea Clinton icily dismissed all questions (“Oh, I don’t speak to the press at all”), while Colin Powell slowly wound his way around the tables—he was perched on a sort of mechanized scooter, one of his feet encased in a blue cast that jutted out behind him like a rudder.
After parking at his reserved spot in front of the stage, General Powell reminisced with some German businessmen about the great times he’d had in their country as commanding general of the Fifth Corps, when he became “tight, like this,” with former German Foreign Minister Joseph Martin Fischer.
“Back then, Joschka was with the Green Party, beating cops up in the street, and I was supposed to be keeping order,” said General Powell, laughing heartily. “I asked him, ‘Do you still make that German beer with the pop top? Those were great.’”
The lunch program began with a panel discussion on global warming (“The windmill business is a big business”; “The one good thing going for Bangladesh is that there is no electricity in Bangladesh”). Al Gore, dressed in a dark suit and dominatrixy black boots, brought the audience of millionaires and dignitaries to its feet with an impassioned speech. The beaming face captured on the two jumbo screens flanking the stage belonged to Ms. Hathaway.