Of all of the places to recruit new initiates, you’d think a street corner in downtown Berkeley would be easy. How many starry-eyed cultists, after all, have stood on this very spot asking people to come and live on a bus with them and subsist on a diet of bulgur wheat and LSD? And all we were asking, really, was for people to join us — in other words, to send a passport-size photo to our Leader, a spiky-haired 27-year-old Londoner who accidentally started a cult only because he happened to be very, very bored. But as we stand on the curb trying to lure Friday-afternoon pedestrians with free Tootsie Pops, do they rush to join us? Hardly. Do they look us in the eye? Rarely. Cult indoctrination is much harder than it’s cracked up to be.
A few words of explanation:
In the beginning, there was a bar bet.
A few years ago, after a night of ill-advised tequila shots, Londoner Danny Wallace and his flatmate Dave Gorman had a disagreement as to whether or not there existed 54 other people in the world also named Dave Gorman. Wallace said no. Gorman said yes. This resulted in a rather dogged Gorman dragging a rather petulant Wallace around the globe to meet his namesakes, shake their hands, and take their pictures. Wallace’s girlfriend Hanne dubbed the bet a “stupid boy project,” and it came perilously close to severing their relationship as Wallace frequently ditched her to trot off to romantic locations such as Venice to meet one Dave Gorman or another. The bet’s more grueling moments even tested Gorman and Wallace’s own friendship, but ultimately they found their 54 Daves. They remained the best of friends, and Hanne forgave all.
But it didn’t stop there. Wallace, a journalist and occasional BBC comedy producer, and Gorman, a comedian, parlayed their adventure into a stage show, then a book, both titled Are You Dave Gorman? Their hilarious, rambunctious retelling of the Gorman hunt became a cult hit in the UK, and spawned a manic Gorman-and-Wallace fan base. All very exciting, but none of us would be standing on this street corner had there not been a second act. A New Testament, if you will.
Not long after the Dave Gorman excitement died down, Wallace, now living by himself, was overcome with loneliness and ennui. On a whim, he took out a classified ad asking people to “join” him and send him their passport photos. That was it. “I was just interested to see whether people would,” he later recalled. “And then I forgot about it.”
Much to his delight, someone joined. In fact, a whole posse of someones. Wallace quickly exceeded his goal of one hundred joinees, and set his sights on one thousand. Collecting them became like a fever. Wallace bounced around Europe, appearing on late-night talk shows and in newspapers to spread the gospel of Join Me. He began meeting with his devotees and taking them out for beers. He set up a Web site and even recorded a theme song, all the while trying desperately to keep his burgeoning secret life hidden from Hanne. But then Wallace’s adventure took a new turn: The joinees began demanding to know what, exactly, they had joined.
In fact, they rapidly became irritable with their Leader, who was always mysteriously vague about what it was they were supposed to be doing. They sent plaintive e-mails, and posted theories on the Join Me Web site Wallace had set up, speculating that he was doing some kind of weird statistical research, or perhaps was a “demented megalomaniac” on a “massive ego trip.” One of the more enterprising joinees created his own Web site and agitated the others into pressuring Wallace to reveal what Join Me was all about.
Mutiny was afoot. Wallace knew that if he didn’t come up with a point, his career as Leader was over. “I would be lying to you if I told you there wasn’t a part of me that wanted to use my joinees to spread mischief across the land,” he later wrote. “But alas, it wasn’t to be. Because I, Danny Wallace, was to be in the service of All Things Good.”
So the Leader decreed that the point of Join Me was this: to be nice. His joinees would be foot soldiers in a “Karma Army” whose task would be doing something kind for a stranger every Friday. It would be a conspiracy of kindness.
You might think the urban twenty- and thirtysomethings who had joined Wallace would find this premise hokey. But you’d be wrong. Before long, Wallace’s acolytes were pulling off weekly random acts of kindness — they call them “RAoKs” — on what became known as Good Fridays. The acts have ranged from the serious to the silly; people have done everything from collectively buying a cow in Join Me’s name for an impoverished Indian farmer to chasing strangers down the street to give them presents. Wallace has engineered “Karmageddons,” in which hundreds of joinees do simultaneous good deeds, and members have arranged countless “Join Meets” at their local bars and curry houses. The formula: Have a pint or some curry. Make new friends. And then go do something nice for someone.
At first, to allay the notion he might make his joinees wear orange and play the bongos, Wallace seized upon the slogan “It’s not a cult, it’s a collective.” But with global membership now approaching eight thousand people, some of who display a slavish devotion to the cause, Wallace has stopped quibbling. “It’s a cult,” he concedes. “But as long as it’s a nice happy cult, that’s fair enough. There’s no space travel, and mass suicides are frowned upon.”
Perhaps it was the lack of mass suicides that has made Join Me a stupid boy project of global proportions, with adherents throughout the United Kingdom, Western Europe, and Australia, and outposts in Japan, Indonesia, and the United Arab Emirates. The phenomenon spreads via proselytizing by members, online chat forums and, most significantly, Wallace’s recent book, Join Me, which chronicles the cult’s accidental beginnings. Reading it is like listening to Wallace think aloud. He comes off as the sort of bright, personable, goofy guy with whom you would gladly hang out. Plus, Join Me’s contact info is located conveniently at the end, making the book an ideal recruiting tool wherever people read English. Say, for example, the United States.
And that’s where we come in — with Tootsie Pops.
America is vast and, from Wallace’s perspective, far away, but it has enormous potential for someone in the cult indoctrination business. So this spring, he published an American edition of his book and launched JoinMeUSA.com, officially unleashing the Join Me juggernaut on an unsuspecting United States. Or rather an unsuspecting Bay Area, which along with Wisconsin is the first US bastion of Join Me.
“Bastion” may actually be pushing it since, as far as we can tell, at least on this particular Good Friday, there are just four of us. And that’s why we are standing across from the downtown Berkeley BART station: We are recruiting. In homage to our Leader, we have each adopted the formal title of “Joinee,” and refer to ourselves as such. There is Joinee Kleinman (aka Rens Kleinman), a tall nurse practitioner from Alameda with a long blonde ponytail, accompanied by her three-year-old daughter, Hannah. There is Joinee Moose (aka Donald Backman), a cheerful, peroxided grad student who will be attending UC Berkeley in the fall. There is Joinee Evie (aka Eva Vincent), a college student from Berkeley with a dark bob, who has just returned from hunting down the best fast-food product in Japan — the “Mos Burger,” she’s concluded — and is eager for another “stupid girl project.” Finally, there’s yours truly, who no doubt is freaking out passersby with her constant note-taking.
Although the other three had been aware of each other’s existence via the Web site, they met for the first time today to commit a group RAoK. Already they were getting along smashingly. They’d just decamped from a meeting at Jupiter pub, where they’d been drinking pints and affixing Tootsie Pops to paper tags that read: “You’ve just been RAoK’d. (Don’t worry, it’s a good thing!) For more information, go to www.joinmeusa.com.” Everyone likes lollipops, right? We feel guaranteed to find new recruits, or at least make people happy.
We choose our street corner. Joinee Evie is holding a computer printout of Danny Wallace holding a placard that says “Join Me.” The others have Tootsie Pops at the ready. “I do feel kind of culty doing this,” she admits. “Standing here with a sign that says ‘Join Me,’ smiling at everyone, handing out free stuff with propaganda attached.”
“It does feel kind of weird,” Joinee Kleinman agrees, but her inhibitions evaporate when she’s dared to board an AC Transit bus and try to RAoK the driver. “I failed completely,” she shrugs, emerging from the bus. “What could be so bad about accepting a lollipop and looking at a Web site?”
Just then, Jesse Joseph, a ponytailed guy in hacked-off skater shorts who is visiting from Santa Cruz, does a double take on Joinee Evie’s sign. She explains to him that Join Me is a book written by the guy in the picture. “You guys love it that much?” he says incredulously. He meanders off, then comes back a minute later. “I’m stuck at this stoplight, so can you tell me more about this?” he says. “What does it mean?”
Joinee Evie gives him the thumbnail description.
“It sounds like a chain letter, where all you do is join and get others to join and then you’re all joined. And now what?” Joseph asks, sounding intrigued but skeptical.
“Well, you do good things,” Joinee Evie says. She lays out a few examples of kind deeds, and explains that the lollipops are among them. Joseph accepts a Tootsie Pop and wanders off. “This isn’t weird compared to where I come from,” he says as he walks away. “This is actually delightful.”
Few people are this easy. It’s actually surprisingly hard to distribute free Tootsie Pops. “Nobody wants to take them because they’re all afraid that we’re poisoning them,” Joinee Kleinman supposes after several rejections.
“I got completely ignored by three women in a row, one who almost ran me over in a wheelchair,” Joinee Moose reports, returning from the curb. He tries to give one to a Street Spirit vendor, but the guy says he already has enough candy. Joinee Moose does manage to trade with a man named Bubba who’s standing on our corner hawking his book of poetry. We all become annoyed with a woman who takes a Tootsie Pop only after insisting we listen to her rattle on about her weird friendliness-based organization and check out its Web page. Does she really think we’ll join anything?
Joinee Moose ratchets up the salesmanship. “You stopped long enough to look at it. I know you want one,” he says to a teenage girl.
“Ooooooooookay,” she says dubiously, with the look of someone who expects to be hit up for money.
“There’s no obligation. Today is Good Friday, so enjoy your sucker,” Joinee Moose says.
The girl walks away quickly. But after a half-hour, our candy distribution starts to pick up. The demographic for Tootsie Pop acceptance, it appears, is women under forty. The least likely marks? “Men wearing ties,” says Kleinman, who has been faring the best, although her daughter looks so childishly dismayed by each departing Tootsie Pop that people tend to hand them back.
Joinee Moose heads over to a group of kids waiting at the bus stop, but returns glumly after a brief conference with a ten-year-old. “He said, ‘My mommy told me not to take candy from strangers,'” he reports.
Suddenly we realize how this looks. To us, we are simply Danny Wallace’s faithful joinees, brimming with universal love and the desire to do something kind for our fellow human beings. To the rest of the world, we are strangers with candy.
The cult’s first-ever RAoK didn’t go much more smoothly. Shortly after being seized with the inspiration for Join Me’s mission, and knowing some of his joinees had planned a meeting, Wallace sent them a disposable camera, a cassette player, and a task: Make an old man happy — and document it.
The joinees spotted an elderly man miserably downing a lager in a Hammersmith bar and asked if they could do anything to make him happy. The man, who introduced himself as Raymond Price, explained that his car had broken down and he had no way to get home. They cheerfully ponied up 38 pounds to buy him dinner and a train ticket. Price readily posed for photos with them, and recorded a message to Wallace expressing his thanks. “It was as if somebody had sent these people into my life at this time, just when I needed help,” he enthused. “I am so happy.”
Wallace was overjoyed — the old man’s grateful reaction validated Join Me’s new purpose. As he puts it: “I was as close to giddy as it’s possible to be while still maintaining a fairly masculine air.” The Leader shot off a letter to the address Price had given his followers, describing the organization and asking him to join.
It came back unopened, and a subsequent visit to the address proved that Price didn’t live there. Wallace later stumbled across a newspaper article revealing that the old man was in fact a con artist with a long history of ripping people off using the same story. According to the article, he’d done it at least 175 times. Make that 176.
Wallace was shattered, sick with guilt that he’d inadvertently led to his joinees’ victimization. “How could we have taken inspiration from helping a criminal?” he wrote. “How could I encourage people to go out and make random people happy, when random people would take advantage of their kindness and steal from them?”
He briefly considered disbanding the Karma Army, then settled upon an alternative plan: The Raymond Price Fund for Keeping Raymond Price Out of Trouble. Joinees could make small online donations to a fund, which would max out at 79 pounds a year, Price’s average annual take during his criminal career. At the end of the year, if he remained a law-abiding citizen, he could keep it all.
Wallace’s followers responded by adopting the crook as a mascot, donating to the fund (which Price has never tried to collect), and reporting Raymond Price sightings the way people report seeing the Yeti. The episode has become Join Me’s acknowledgement that the modern world doesn’t always know how to deal with random kindness, and that good intentions may be abused: Joinees realize they may be seen as naive or pushy or dorky. They know that their RAoKs may be met with skepticism, or hostility, or inattention. But “just because we’ve been stung once,” the Leader says, “we shouldn’t stop being nice.”
They certainly haven’t stopped trying. Join Me’s Web forums are humming with joinees sharing their RAoK stories and exchanging encouragement, tips, and requests for help. The more popular acts include giving away candies and snacks, buying a lonely-looking stranger a drink, or sneaking into schools and firehouses to put thank-you notes in employees’ mailboxes. Anonymous gifts are also popular: Some joinees view online wedding gift registries and send presents to newlyweds they’ve never met courtesy of Join Me, or mail treats to the inhabitants of addresses chosen from the phone book.
Some people, though, have pulled off deeds more impressive in scope: One guy managed to covertly wash all of the cars on his street. Another rented a movie theater and invited one hundred residents of a local children’s home to a matinee. A Seattle schoolteacher has students do good deeds on Fridays as part of the lesson plan. And then there’s the original large-scale RAoK, masterminded by Wallace himself, in which his chance encounter with a woman on a train who mentioned that her aging father happened to like peanuts led to Wallace’s joinees mailing the man eighty packets of nuts. “He’s either happy or terrified, but I like to think happy,” the Leader muses.
One thing’s for sure: Approaching random people is never easy. Joinee Kleinman recalls her first RAoK attempt — buying a chocolate-chip cookie to give to a stranger. “I chickened out and I ate it myself,” she admits. “Then I got flowers, figuring you can’t eat those. I was still like, ‘Omigod, how am I going to do this?” She brought along her daughters for moral support, and approached a woman in a colorful jacket. “At first she was like, ‘What? Why are you giving me these flowers?'” she recalls. “I said, ‘Well, I thought they would go well with your jacket,’ and she got this big grin on her face.”
The local joinees are still trying to come up with deeds that are both amusing and actually useful to someone. Joinee Kleinman tried paying the bridge toll for the car behind her (the lucky driver didn’t seem to realize what had happened) and sneaking into her elderly neighbor’s yard to prune her rosebush for her (which she found prankish and fun). Although it’s easiest to simply buy something to give away, they agree they’d rather render a service or cheer someone up with kind words. Joinee Moose has done his share of dispensing treats — giving a candy bar to a dispirited Burger King cashier, or leaving copies of the Join Me book for strangers to find — but his favorite RAoK so far has been buying a soda for an 89-year-old man he spotted at a rock concert, then sitting down with him for a chat. “It was more than buying the soda — it was saying thanks for coming out, that more people 89 years old should be coming to things like this,” he says. “Being a better person is what I’m looking to do rather than spending money every Friday.”
Although many joinees prefer covert, solo RAoKs, part of Join Me’s charm is that it lets you be part of a fun-loving crowd. Trouble is, in the United States that crowd is highly dispersed. Some American joinees would have to cross state lines to find their nearest compadre, and that makes it hard to meet at a pub. Wallace estimates that his American Karma Army (aka AKA) numbers about a thousand joinees, which is great when they can find one another. In part because of this space problem, Join Me USA so far lacks the social cohesion of its European counterparts. Even Wallace initially found the idea of recruiting Americans a bit daunting. “There’s just so many of them, and they’re everywhere,” he sighs. “It’s really hard to make an impact.”
So what is attracting the few, the proud? Probably not the Join Me theme song, which goes, “If you’re a lady, or a manny, or a granny, or a tranny, Join Danny!” And probably not the Web site, which crashed this May, thereby wiping out Wallace’s database of joinees’ e-mail addresses and hometowns and erasing all their postings.
Cybersocializing isn’t the point, anyway. “I never wanted Join Me to be an Internet community,” Wallace says. “We’ve used it as an amazing tool for word-spreading, but I want people to have real meet-ups and hang out and know each other and make friends. That’s where it really takes off, because it’s human contact.”
Contact with Wallace, actually. Join Me is clearly a cult of personality. Although Wallace often describes himself as super-ordinary, nothing more than “a bloke with specs” or a “rubbish cult leader,” his followers adore him. They love reporting their good deeds, hoping for praise and encouragement from their Leader.
The Bay Area joinees are no exception. They admire his dry wit and his creativity — that everything about him feels infectiously fun and fresh and silly. Nor does it hurt that Wallace, with his mussed-up hair and geek glasses, is pretty cute. “He’s not only an unintentional cult leader,” Joinee Moose says. “I think he’s an unintentional sex symbol in some ways.” But they aren’t completely buying his “ordinary guy” shtick. They know Wallace’s BBC career gives him media contacts that must have helped get Join Me off the ground, and they figure he must be wealthy if he can constantly pursue stupid boy projects instead of working a regular job. “Still, he manages to be just a guy,” Joinee Kleinman says. “You want to meet him.”
Recognizing the importance of face time in expanding his cult, Wallace has pledged that every time he gets a joinee in a new country, he’ll travel there. Typically he will appear on local TV and radio shows, promising to meet any new joinees and buy them a pint. Then he stands near landmarks with a poorly translated placard — such as under the Eiffel Tower with a sign reading “Join Moi, the French” — and waits to see who shows up.
A US book tour this spring was meant to help Wallace break the ice stateside, but it was launched before the book had a solid following. Most of the local joinees say they hadn’t even heard of Wallace until it was too late to attend a reading. On his Bay Area swing, he tried to recruit Americans by hanging out around the Golden Gate Bridge, but spotted only tourists. “No Americans to be seen,” he reports. “Just me and about two dozen Japanese people.”
Kathleen Caldwell, who arranged for Wallace’s only East Bay reading at Pleasant Hill Books, describes the crowd as small but fervent — people had driven in from as far away as Reno, Santa Cruz, and Sacramento. But his book didn’t start flying off the shelves until later, she says, when his publishers sent the store a cardboard cutout of Wallace with his arms outstretched pleadingly. “Everybody kept saying, ‘Who’s the cute guy in the window?'” she recalls.
Americans, it appears, can be fooled with cardboard in lieu of the real thing.
So how did the Bay Area crew discover Join Me? Joinee Moose stumbled across an uncorrected proof of the book at a nonprofit San Francisco bookstore. After reading the first twenty pages, he went back and bought the rest of its copies to give his friends. Joinee Evie became a fan of Are You Dave Gorman? while attending school in London last year, and managed to get an early copy of Join Me via Amazon UK. Joinee Kleinman had heard Wallace do a guest spot on a KFOG morning show during his book tour, and his banter with the deejays sold her on it. Wallace swears there are many others, but you know — the database crash.
Since our local crew is planning a follow-up to the lollipop RAoK, it would be nice to have these others along. To round them up, I try the online giants of Bay Area social networking: Friendster and Craigslist. Repeated Craigslist postings result in nothing but curious replies from people wondering what the heck I’m talking about. Friendster, however, yields Joinee Chascona (aka Tammie Presser), a San Francisco online ad rep who sent Wallace her photo nearly a year ago, arguably making her the Leader’s first Bay Area devotee. “There aren’t many books that I read and think, ‘Wow, I want to be a part of this,'” she recalls. “But after reading this it was like, ‘I can’t get enough.'” Joinee Chascona also concedes that she fancies Danny, and sent him a particularly fetching passport photo. “On a selfish level it’s like, ‘Hey, this gets me one step closer to this author,'” she says.
In another stroke of luck, a new local name pops up on JoinMeUSA.com: It’s Joinee Loqi (aka Loqi Tamaroon), a Berkeley construction worker who heard Wallace on the radio months ago, and finally sent in his passport photo. That brings the squad to half a dozen. Convinced there are yet more joinees out there, I run an ad in the Express. “Are you a member of ‘Join Me?'” it asks above a photo of Wallace pointing at a sign that says “Join Me.” The ad explains that I am a reporter looking to follow Join Me members around on their RAoKs.
A) I am the worst ad copywriter in the world.
B) People can’t get a grip on a few simple lines of text.
C) I have started my own cult.
Tons of people respond, but not one has ever heard of Join Me. What they want is to join me. Not Danny Wallace.
Even though I do not have a book, or a Web site, or even a cult for them to join. Even though what I want from them, frankly, sounds sort of creepy.
Sure, a bunch of them somehow think it’s a job offer, although I can’t imagine what kind of job entails being followed by reporters, unless it’s “pope” or “Jennifer Lopez.” And so many are from women, I begin to wonder if they think Danny will be the one following them around.
I alter the ad for clarity, and still the unintended responses pour in. It seems people just want to be a part of something, even though they have no idea what it is. “There was something about a guy pointing at a sign that appealed to me,” one wrote. Others try to sell me on why they’d be ideal candidates to follow around. One guy even offers to follow me around — with a videocamera.
Is it really this easy to start a cult? Should I have demanded that they wear orange robes and play the bongos? I decide to ask the Leader. “Oh yes. It is indeed that easy,” Wallace writes back. “It’s what you do next that’s the problem.”
The Join Me response to “What next?” has generally involved hanging out in a bar, so here we are, drinking pints again at Jupiter, which Joinee Kleinman has designated the official Join Me pub. Joinees Moose and Chascona have sent their regrets, so tonight it’s Loqi, Evie, and Kleinman accompanied by her husband, Rich. This time, we’re woefully underprepared for our RAoK. The original plan had been to buy a lonely soul a pint, but nobody here looks the least bit miserable.
While pondering our next move, debate arises over whether the RAoK should be recruitment-oriented, or if it should even mention Join Me. “I don’t like the idea of advertising, or just pushing things on people,” Joinee Loqi says. “It creates a transaction when you do that. … I don’t want what I do to be corrupted in that way.”
“I think it’s good to maybe put ‘JoinMeUSA. com,’ so they’ll get curious,” Joinee Evie counters. “Then they’ll go there and maybe they’ll want to do something nice for someone else after seeing it. We’re not trying to sell anything.”
She reconsiders. “Well, maybe we’re trying to sell kindness, I guess. But it’s not commercial.”
In fact, Join Me’s approach has always been a soft sell, which probably accounts for its relative success in an age when, according to Wallace, very few people join anything. “Club membership of almost any kind is down — church membership, political parties — and yet people are joining this,” he says. “I think that’s because I’m not forcing any beliefs on you that you don’t really have, or saying anything you do is wrong or right.”
The local joinees don’t consider themselves the joining type, although they all like the idea being part of unconventional social phenomena. Joinee Evie, for example, is fascinated with cult fandom and has joined many fan clubs only to forget she’s in them and get booted for not renewing her dues. “I don’t join official stuff,” she says. “I join stupid things that don’t really matter.”
Joinee Loqi is more politically active, although he prefers unscripted grassroots efforts such as the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle to joining traditional activist groups. “I really rebel against being part of some group,” he says. “But this is something different. I like the aspect of overcoming the anonymity that is part of our culture, just breaking that wall: Here is something nice that I am doing for you with no expectation of anything in return or even to see you again.”
Plus, this cult makes very few demands on its adherents. “I think what really appealed to me about Join Me, ironically, is that it asked me to do absolutely nothing, which of course I immediately ignored,” is how Joinee Moose puts it.
But while Join Me doesn’t offer much in the way of direction or philosophy, it’s not exactly value-neutral: Wallace admits that the accretion of all those good deeds must carry a certain moral force. And the group has spawned plenty of religious comparisons. “The Jewish paper here said it was like their beliefs because of Fridays, various vicars have put it in their sermons, the Masons said it’s like them helping the community anonymously; even Buddhists are saying it’s like their stuff,” Wallace says. “The essence of most religions is that you reap what you sow and that it’s nice to be nice. I guess Join Me is similar to all those things, but it’s mainly beer- and curry-based after that.”
But so far tonight’s good deed is decidedly lacking in beer. The plan to buy a pint for a stranger has crumbled, and Joinee Loqi needs to leave to perform a solo RAoK he’d planned in advance — it’s the sold-out opening night for Fahrenheit 9/11 and he scored an extra pair of tickets, which he plans to give away to someone who’s lost hope of getting in. The other joinees coagulate on the sidewalk, figuring there must be someone in downtown Berkeley who needs their help. As though on cue, a spare-changer outside Jupiter hits them up for some cash. He is tall and gaunt, with a thick gravelly voice. “Are you hungry?” Kleinman asks, then offers to buy him dinner.
The man’s eyes light up. Yes, he’s hungry, but he is reluctant to give up his prime panhandling spot. It’s agreed that he’ll come along for a few minutes and get a burrito to go at a nearby taqueria.
Waiting for the burrito, the joinees ask the man about his hometown, where he sleeps, and how he ended up on the street. He tells them about his past as a businessman, and the medical troubles that spiked his career. It’s a relaxed conversation, easy and warm. Once the burrito appears, the joinees walk the man back to his spot, and handshakes are exchanged. Nobody has mentioned Join Me. Nobody has explained why they wanted to buy a stranger dinner, and he hasn’t asked. As they make their way back to their cars, none of the joinees congratulate themselves or give any indication that something out of the ordinary has happened. It all seems to go without saying.
Anyone who has become a global cult leader at 27 might be expected to rest on his laurels. Wallace, however, is up to new stupid boy projects, most recently a documentary about his attempt to pen England’s entry for the Eurovision Song Contest — Europe’s pop-music Olympics. Britain declined to embrace Danny’s tune, which was titled “Stop the Mugging, Start the Hugging,” and finished in twentieth place.
But Wallace’s creative efforts seem to still be largely funneled into Join Me, which continues to grow. There’s a movie in the works, in which he hopes he’ll be played by Gary Coleman. (When informed that this very paper had run his putative leading man for California governor, Wallace responded with stunned silence.) There’s also a campaign afoot to get “joinee” listed in the Oxford English Dictionary. At least two people have gotten “Join Me” tattoos. One of its UK members had his name legally changed to “Joinee Frost.” The first Join Me baby is due next year, the product of a romance that began at a Join Meet. Wallace is trying to convince the couple to name their infant “Joinee.” The future looks bright indeed.
The local crew, meanwhile, is looking forward to future Good Fridays. Moved by the grateful reaction to his 9/11 movie-ticket RAoK, Joinee Loqi observed a recent Friday by handing a twenty to a passing cyclist. “I imagine he thought I was a wealthy eccentric, or was celebrating some moment of personal good fortune,” he says. “Even so, I like to think I did far more than twenty dollars’ worth of change in his outlook on the world and its possibilities.”
Nevertheless, the local joinees agree they’d like to make their future RAoKs more service-oriented or, as Joinee Loqi puts it, “less money-y.” They also want to help bolster the group’s local ranks, but for now they’re content to be Wallace’s flagship on the Pacific Coast. The cult has been around in Europe much longer, Joinee Kleinman notes, so it will take time before it gains UK-like prominence here. Even as she says this, she is eyeing the Jupiter crowd, so happy and friendly, so ripe for indoctrination. “Two years from now,” she predicts, “This place will be packed with joinees.”
Then she slips a photo of Danny Wallace holding a “Join Me” sign into the drinks menu, and gets up to leave.