Garbage Magazine: A Trash Bash

Posted: August 14, 1989

NEW YORK — The office comics call Patricia Poore's new magazine a lot of things - a down-to-Earth publication filled with filthy language, a trashy read for people feeling down in the dumps and, if they are in a rotten mood, a total solid waste.

She calls it Garbage.

"For about two years, when we called it anything," she says now, "we called it the garbage magazine. Then it dawned on us - that was the right name."

Go ahead and laugh. But so far, 90,000 people have ordered Vol. 1, No. 1, and the presses are now rolling off 124,000 copies. It looks like Poore will come out smelling like a rose again.

It happened before, with the Old-House Journal, which she publishes and edits from offices in a one-time social club ballroom in Brooklyn.

When she went to work for the Old-House Journal as a reporter in 1976, it was a 12-page newsletter. Now, she is owner, publisher and editor of a slick, ad-packed, national bimonthly that sells for $3.95 a pop and has a circulation of 160,000 plus.

(Whatever happens with Garbage, she already has signed up one symbolically significant charter subscriber - her father, a vice president for a New Jersey chemical company.)

Garbage is dear to Poore's heart. Always was.

"No matter where I go," she says, "I always get someone to take me to the local dump." And sometimes, she asks dates to take her to inspect abandoned warehouses on the Brooklyn waterfront, one of her favorite sites.

"I love decay," she says.

Her interest in the environment took root when she was 17 and visiting India. "People there didn't have garbage," she says. "It never occurred to me there were places with no garbage."

She put a lid on ecology until after she graduated with a degree in anthropology from Barnard. In 1979, she scribbled some ideas and put them away.

"A couple of years ago, I found them," she says. "It was like reading some stranger's handwriting. I recognized the ideas, though."

Although there is some preaching, the overall tone is practical and newsy. And sometimes tongue in cheek - there is even a centerfold. "We're using '50s advertisements that promoted the throw-away philosophy that got us into this mess," she says.

Poore, who is 34 and divorced, realized she was onto something after reading an article arguing that it was too late to change American attitudes on recycling.

"I said, 'That's garbage,' " she says. "Americans already have changed attitudes about several things - women and gays, to name two. I'd like to subtly change people's attitudes about garbage."

She calls Garbage a consumer magazine. "It's for people who feel vaguely guilty every time they come home from the grocery store," Poore says, citing studies that show that food packaging accounts for one-half of all the rubbish Americans discard.

Even before publication, there was an important argument to settle. The question was whether to print on recycled paper. The staff wanted recycled paper, on grounds that it was hypocritical for an environmental publication not to use it.

"As the editor, I agreed," says Poore. "As the publisher, I disagreed. The editor finally won." Recycled paper it is, then.

One feature is called "In the Dumpster," which pans products that fail the environmental test (such as microwavable food wrapped in six layers of plastic).

Another is called "Lifting the Lid," a roundup of odds and ends. One oddity is defining "black mayonnaise," a term that divers use for the sludge lining many harbors.

Other people may wake up and smell the coffee, but Poore smells the grounds. "Naturally," she says.

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