Friday, December 31, 2010

Our Readers Want to Know

As we move into the new year it seems like a good time to answer some of the imaginary queries in the Van Winkle Project's invisible mail bag.

To make the process as personal as possible, Van Winkle sat down and responded to each question which was presented to him by a Friendly Interlocutor (FI).

FI: Well, it's nice to finally meet you in person, but we have to say that we're a bit disappointed. You seem to prefer to remain anonymous as possible.

Oh, the bag? You want to know about the bag?
VW: Excuse me. Was there a question in there?

FI: We don't want to be rude or anything, but we can't help noticing you're wearing a paper bag over your head. We assume there's a reason you're obscuring your identity?

VW: It's a visual representation of the fact that the Van Winkle Project is about testing a concept. It's not about focusing on the quirks and the minutiae of a particular person.

FI: How so?

VW: To be Van Winkled, as we've been defining it at this blog, means to cut back on opportunities we're offered for taking in information about the world beyond our own immediate personal sphere. The goal is to  see if there are losses and if there are also gains. My point is: Any person could do this.

FI: All right, but how's it working out for you in particular?

I almost decided to stop this entire thing...
VW: A few days ago I almost decided to stop this entire thing.

FI: Really? Why?

VW:  Frankly, it sometimes feels like I'm not doing anything except inconveniencing my family. Several times a week I have to warn them not to talk about certain topics. Over the holidays I was at my father's house and, like a lot of older folks, he had the TV on much of the time. I found myself hanging back from him in case I might overhear something that constituted "news" on the TV. I should have been spending time with him.

FI: Are there other problems?

VW: Yes. I've invoked all these extreme precautions, but  I have a sense that so far I've only avoided news that was not of earth shaking or historical importance. It could be that I'm going to all this trouble and all that's happened since I went to "sleep" is that the other Bush daughter (what's her name?) has gotten engaged and the Obama girls and their mom harvested pumpkins from the White House organic garden.

FI: What makes you think that nothing "earth shattering" or "historical" has happened since you began this project on Sept. 11, 2010?

I don't see aliens in our midst.
VW: Well, we're all still here. I don't see aliens in our midst. The sky is very much in place rather than falling on us. Cars are going down the roads and obediently stopping at the red lights. The main thing is that Wal-mart has way more people in its parking lot than you'd ever suspect for a place with such an ill chosen name and Denny's is open 24/7 every day of the year. That's how I tell if America is breathing normally. I drive past Wal-mart and Denny's.

FI: So you'll continue the project? Why?

VW: I keep thinking that if I can make it until my cut-off date of Sept. 11, 2011, I'll be able to learn all kinds of cool stuff all at once. For starters I have a stack of newspapers and magazines that are growing out in the garage. Thinking of that sustains me like a person on a diet lives for the promise that when the diet finally ends he can celebrate by pigging out for a few days on mountains of food.

FI: A lot of the people we're pretending write to the VWP want to ask you this: Of all the varieties of news, weather, entertainment, and cultural events you've given up, what do you miss most?

VW: I miss my Sunday newspapers. I used to really look forward to paging through them. They're so thick and I loved looking at the ads that swell them up. I could curl up in a chair and spend a lot of time swimming in text and images.

FI: What do you miss second most?

I do miss the NFL games...
VW:  The NFL season. I'm not a huge sports fan, but I've discovered that there's something about seeing a green field with stripes on it and big men colliding with one another that defines part of the year for me. Take it away and the world seems a bit too quiet and empty. I miss the quarterback going back to throw the long bomb and the ball coming down toward the receiver's outstretched fingers. Such an unusual moment of grace in the midst of brutal violence! To not get to see that is like being told you can't go to museums and look at the Rembrandts and Vermeers.

FI: Hmm. We doubt the NFL Marketing Department has ever thought of it that way. Let's move on to a question near the top of the invisible mail bag: What's the biggest surprise of the project?

VW: That people I'm around hardly ever have to be warned not to say something that will prove to be a "spoiler." It's not just out of consideration for me and what I'm doing. It seems that people simply aren't discussing the news as much as I expected. Of course, this is one of the pieces of evidence that has led me to suspect that not much has happened since I went to "sleep." Of course, I could be wrong. Am I wrong?

FI: We won't answer that, but it does occur to us to bring up the subject of temptation.

VW: Do you want to know if I try to get little hints about the news from people?

FI: More. One reader is asking that if it's possible that when no one is looking you go out to the garage and read your saved newspapers or if you listen to news radio when you're alone in your car. Therefore you actually might be faking your newsless state to draw attention to yourself?

VW: Of course I could be doing that. Scripting my own reality show. But I'm not. That would require a whole layer of unnecessary of complication and I don't like complicating tasks more than necessary. It would also be perverse. I'm not a perverse person. In fact, I used to have a T-shirt that said that: I'M NOT PERVERSE.

FI: You did?

I know this is going to sound very egocentric...
VW: No. But it would make a wonderful T-shirt. Only problem is I consider T-shirts, to be a rather perverse way of communicating with society at large.

FI: You could wear the T-shirt and it could be ironic?

VW: Hey, you're right! Are people still doing irony?

FI: Sorry. We can't reveal that. Besides, I think we're getting off-topic. Let's return to the invisible mail bag. One reader is wondering if you could guess what is the most important thing happening in the world as we straddle the line between 2010 and 2011?

VW: Right now?

FI: This very moment.

VW: I know this is going to sound very egocentric, but I'm getting concerned about how hot it's become beneath this paper bag.

FI: Oh, the issue of global warming?

VW: No, the issue of Van Winkle warming.

FI: If you don't mind we have one Barbara Walters' style question we'd like to end with.

VW:  Is Barbara still alive and well?

FI: We're not at liberty to divulge that either.

VW: Shucks.

FI: So, if Barbara Walters were here, she might want to know: Supposing Van Winkle were a potato chip, what kind would he be? Sour cream, barbecued, ridged, or plain?

VW: Tell Barbara that Van Winkle is the potato chip that fell on the floor. It doesn't matter what kind of chip he is, only that he's still around after the party is over. Happy New Year. See you in 2011!

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