AS A WRITER, it’s very difficult to reach people because it requires them to read. So, in this splintered world of headline skimmers, I had to change my goals. I no longer dreamed of writing a bestselling literary novel or syndicating my column nationwide. I wanted to be on a Starbucks cup.
Starbucks started printing quotes on its cups three years ago, and every time I got a chai, I seethed with rage -- partly out of jealousy and partly because you have to look as tough as you can when you’re drinking chai.
So I called Seattle headquarters and asked about the process. And by “asked about the process,” I mean I begged them to let me write on a cup.
Thomas Prowell, Starbucks’ senior copywriter, assured me that I was not the first writer pathetic enough to call. Rick Warren, the minister who wrote “A Purpose-Driven Life,” was so angered by paleontologist Louise Leakey’s cup-quote about Darwinism that he wanted to respond -- thus creating the first epistolary feud channeled through baristas.
I sent Prowell 15 ideas, including:
* “If your mom is drunk at 3 a.m., squirting you and your sister with a water pistol, you’re either very rich or very poor.”
* “Treat each breath like it’s a gift. Be the person you always wanted to be, right now. I’m just kidding. I don’t care what the hell you do. I just wanted to be on a cup.”
But the one Starbucks went with was something I had said to my wife, Cassandra, one night, making her laugh before bed. She may have been a little drunk. And trying to get out of sex.
It reads: “Heaven is totally overrated. It seems boring. Clouds, listening to people play the harp. It should be somewhere you can’t wait to go, like a luxury hotel. Maybe blue skies and soft music were enough to keep people in line in the 17th century, but Heaven has to step it up a bit. They’re basically getting by because they only have to be better than Hell.”
I discovered this week that my cup was being used at stores when I started to get e-mails from angry Christians that were angrier than my usual e-mails from angry Christians. Excited, we went to our local Starbucks. When Cassandra asked Coffee Master Rachel Jones if she liked my quote, Jones said that they never read the cups. “We prefer drawing things,” she said, pointing to her doodles, which, in my opinion, were not at all cup-worthy.
When I forced Jones to read it, she said it was in the top half of the cups she had ever read, and much better than Norah Jones’. When I bragged about being on the big cup, she said, “That’s because it’s such a big idea.”
She also said it was more entertaining than my only venti rival, geographer/ethno-botanist Maria Fadiman, whose line -- “After years of unusual work in exotic places, I realize that it is not how far off I go or how deep into the forest I walk that gives my life meaning” -- is the most thinly veiled bragging I’ve ever heard from a geographer/ethno-botanist.
No one at the store seemed as impressed as I had hoped. Jones offered to put one guy’s venti Frappuccino into one of my cups, but he chose the see-through plastic one instead. Undeterred, I started stacking Fadiman’s cups underneath mine and was about to ask if I should autograph some when Jones, damn her, picked up a grande and immediately laughed a laugh that she didn’t laugh when she read mine.
It was by David Shore, creator of the TV show “House.” It read: “People don’t read enough. And what reading we do is cursory, without absorbing the subtleties and nuances that lie deep within -- Wow, you’ve stopped paying attention, haven’t you? People can’t even read a coffee cup without drifting off.”
It was clearly the best thing I’d ever read on a cup, ever. I hated David Shore with every word inside my writerhood.
I called him to vent, and it only got worse. He was surprised that writers could even approach Starbucks, because they contacted him. I hated him more when he said he only had to turn in two quotes. And I hated him when he said that a barista had begged for his autograph. But basically I hated him because he makes a whole lot of money.
Shore tried to make me feel better. “I want to be on the venti,” he said. “That’s the glamour cup. You’re up on the big screen.” We both knew it just meant I was wordy.