Posts Tagged ‘cabriolet’

Hoisted By My Own Petard

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

INDIVIDUAL: agent Peter Miles Bergman 
NATURE OF GROUP: Owners of Volkswagen white Cabriolet convertibles in the greater San Diego metropolitan area contacted, via form letter, by Peter Miles Bergman over the course of one year
INCIDENCE: Hoisted By My Own Petard 


This is one of the oldest Incidence Reports on record at the Institute of Sociometry. A preliminary version of this report was published on Netscape 1.0 in Spring of 1995 and was featured in The Net magazine as the “weird website of the month”, was  shown as a tri-fold display at Sociometry Fair ‘96 in San Diego, California, and published as a handmade book in an edition of 25 in 1999. This is also the lead-off report in is EMANCIPATION, a handmade book in an edition of 200, and the official anthology of is at 21.

Only habit made me interrupt my errand. I had long since abandoned the practice of carrying my Polaroid and typed form-letter invitation to lunch. After placing the letter under the wipers of dozens of white VW Cabriolets around San Diego without any serious inquiries about the free lunch (the hidden “price” for which was the condition that my lunch companion pick me up in his or her stylish Cabriolet), I had given up. But when I spotted white Cabriolet lMPS478 at the rear of the Thriftee’s parking lot, I turned heel to fetch my camera and a copy of the letter from my apartment.


A Holstein cow print interior, revealed by a receded top, materialized like a phantom on the developing Polaroid. “Cabriolet” literally translates to “convertible;” yet lMPS478 marked my  first encounter with fully realized potential. Its picture took the final space on my bulletin board. 28 white Cabriolets, tops up tight. One down. A distracting telephone call prevented me from drawing conclusions.

Over the phone, Waegner told me he’d been drinking coffee at Dave’s Place. A purple building swathed in rainbow flags, Dave’s Place sits across 5th Avenue from Thriftee’s. It is a nonprofit coffee house that donates all proceeds to AIDS related causes. I had only been in Dave’s Place once despite its obvious popularity and close proximity to my apartment.

Waegner initially thought the letter nestled under his wiper blade was a ticket. His friend read it aloud and exclaimed, “Oh! He’s been watching you!” We talked half the time about me and half the time about lMPS478. Waegner seemed unassuming and open minded. He asked if I would like to go dancing instead of out to lunch.

Waegner asked me to physically describe myself as I had done earlier in the year on the phone with Patrick, the owner of 3BDS7l5.


Waegner worked as a freelance artist and loved to draw. He was working on a design to have airbrushed on the hood of his white Cabriolet. He wouldn’t tell me what it was, teasing that it would have to be a surprise. An example he gave of a potentially “cool” design was, “Luke Skywalker fighting Darth Vader with light sabers.” Now that, on a white Cabriolet, strikes me as the essence of style. It was not, however, the design for lMPS478. We set a date for the following Friday. Waegner was going out of town and didn’t want to have me in the car until it was detail cleaned. I was anxious. Friday seemed a long way off.

Most, possibly all, of the people contacting me regarding the form letter had misinterpreted it as a romantic advance. Many recipients seemed to think that I already knew who they were, at least by sight. Not one, prior to Waegner, mentioned their white Cabriolet. The owner of TS LIL l first received a form letter while parked on 4th Avenue and Washington Street, a block north of my apartment. Over two months later, driving in a secluded area approximately fifteen miles away from my neighborhood, I happened upon TS LIL l parked on a shady side street. The bustling urban area enveloping the point of initial contact most likely provided work parking for TS. This new encounter undoubtedly hit closer to home. The sheer circumstance that enabled me to leave form letters on TS LIL l at two distant points of the city lent me a misguided sense of camaraderie with the elusive owner.  I should have known that my zest for white Cabriolets would seem frightening when confronted in two distinct geographical contexts. My answering machine recorded the following message, “Listen dick-and-head! Quit leaving notes on my girlfriend’s car… Asshole!” The caller did not sound threatening. His voice quavered a bit like someone driven to violent temperament by unusual circumstances. I felt terrible. Stalking was far from my intentions. Needless to say, TS, along with the others, never considered a lunch date. Waegner, quite to the contrary, seemed compelled to go out specifically because he took the form letter as romantic.


I don’t remember who broke the date. Our next one was broken and the one after. It seemed I would never feel the wind in my hair.

One night returning home, I saw a white Cabriolet parked on the east side of my block. lMPS478 complete with a brand new airbrush design: “The Xavier Institute For Higher Learning Mutatis Mutandis.” I was interested in the meaning of it all and it renewed my desire to reschedule our indefinitely postponed lunch. I hurried up to my apartment for another form letter. Waegner called the next night and caught me a little drunk. We set a date for Wednesday.


Waegner’s custom airbrush design! 


The form letter – with a personal note… (click to enlarge)

Wednesday came sooner than expected. It was a busy day but I forced myself not to cancel. He told me to wait in front of my apartment. There was no place to pull over anywhere on that side of the street. lMPS478 came rolling up with the top down. A tall man who worked out regularly, Waegner barely fit in his car. The changing traffic signal prevented any formal introduction. I had to jump in quickly. Dance music was loud in the car. It made talking difficult. Since Waegner made a point of exercising, I assumed that he had healthy eating habits. I suggested we get some sushi. He told me, over chicken teriyaki, that he’d only eaten sushi twice. On a normal day he would eat tacos from Jack In The Box. Conversation turned toward our respective eccentricities. Waegner explained that he had always been an avid comic book collector. Getting the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning logo airbrushed on his Cabriolet was his declaration of his desire to live by the teachings of Xavier as detailed in X-Men comic books. He was curious as to why I was leaving form letters on white Cabriolets. Short of a concrete answer, I demurred. Things wound down. I was running late so Waegner offered to give me a ride twenty miles up the coast to La Jolla. It was a kind offer and allowed for more time in lMPS478.


Hillcrest, the neighborhood I lived in is the gay district of San Diego. My apartment window, above Jimmy Wong’s Golden Dragon, aired an extended parade of broad-shouldered Bette Midlers, Dolly Partons, and countless other divas who wandered into The Escape, a bar across the street. I could hear the Elton John impersonator in the bathroom at the back of the apartment while I showered. The show went on. I frequented bars but never went in The Escape. Photos of my block, especially the landmark pink neon Hillcrest sign, would, in a year’s time, be splashed across the face of America’s printed media. Andrew Cunanan the “Gay Serial Killer,” prior to gunning down Gianni Versace in front of his Miami mansion, had enjoyed eating at California Cuisine on l0th and University Avenue and dancing at Rich’s, “the largest gay male dance club in North America.”

I am straight bordering on redneck. My upbringing was rooted in liberal social and political ideals but was extremely sheltered. “Fag” and “get a haircut” were clever insults all too familiar to myself and several of my “counterculture” friends in pre-MTV Laramie, Wyoming. We regarded large pickup trucks and muscle cars with trepidation. Laramie became the unwilling focus of national scrutiny after the l998 beating death of an openly gay university student, Matthew Shepard. Despite living in Hillcrest, long removed from the windswept plains, I shied away from the gay men I was surrounded by and was now faced with a new and surprisingly uncomfortable situation. Guilt crept in. Perhaps I should have made my orientation clear to Waegner. Leading him on would be in poor taste. Conversely, I had been trying to get a lunch date with a white Cabriolet owner for over a year. The last thing I wanted to do was discourage him.

I took pictures throughout my encounter with Waegner. He told me he didn’t really like photographs. It was a hint I rudely ignored and continued snapping away. If it had been a romantic date it wouldn’t have been considered a good one. We were cordial to each other, even friendly. In separate circumstances, we may have become friends. Unfortunately, separate circumstances would have never materialized. He seemed at ease despite the way we met and my relentless documentation. I was a wreck. I never even developed the presence of mind to ask what kind of mileage he got in the Cabriolet.


I was defining Waegner by his sexual orientation. I know enough to understand I was being homophobic. It was a term I had never used to describe myself. Unfortunately, it fit. Maybe it was a date for Waegner. Probably, he just knew that he was a stylish man with a stylish white Cabriolet and was enjoying the perks.

Waegner and I never saw each other again and I never saw lMPS478 out on the streets after our lunch date. I quit looking for it, and for other Cabriolets. When I started leaving the form letter on Cabriolets I figured I’d be taking dozens of people out to lunch. Who doesn’t like a free lunch? What I had not anticipated was how transgressive the invitations were. Though Cabriolet owners undoubtedly had a sense of style that motivated their vehicle preferences, receiving that observational compliment in a form letter under their windshield wiper must have felt intrusive and a little creepy. During the year I spent leaving letters, the Cabriolet owners did not produce a significant sampling of lunch dates to draw any conclusions from. The project seemed to be more about the effort and the process. It also seemed to reveal how much effort and repetition could go into a two-hour face-to-face encounter with what turned out to be an audience of one.


This report was most recently published in is EMANCIPATION a 130 page book with 2-color letterpress covers printed and hand-bound with a Japanese stitch in an edition of 200. is EMANCIPATION is a 21 year anthology of art intervention and prank collective The Institute of Sociometry edited, designed, and partly authored by Peter Miles Bergman and edited by MCA Denver Curatorial Associate Zoe Larkins.