Posts Tagged ‘prank’

An Address

Sunday, September 10th, 2017

INDIVIDUAL: Peter Miles Bergman 
NATURE OF GROUP: Residents of 10 addresses in Freemont, Nebraska and 10 addresses in Newport, Rhode Island, selected at random from a collection of phone books on microfiche, who happened to be home when we showed up at their door

An Address from Institute of Sociometry 

Though this is one of IS’s oldest reports, it has, until now, only existed in the form of this 36-minute VHS documentary, produced by Peter Miles Bergman and directed by Siri Noel Wilson in 1995.

In 1993 the Geisel Library at the University of California San Diego, named after Dr. Seuss and famous for its cameo as the spaceship in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, had one of every city and town’s phone books in the US on microfiche. Reaching blindly into the library catalog drawer of phone book microfiche films, name out of a hat style, I plucked a microfiche for Freemont, Nebraska and one for Newport, Rhode Island, both towns that appeared to be in the 20,000-30,000 population range, and wrote down the first 10 names and addresses in each that caught my eye.


DUPLICATE – Two years of postcards, letters and Christmas cards

On a subsequent trip to Europe to visit agent 002 Siri Noel Wilson, I wrote postcards to the residents at each of these 20 addresses – from Bologna, Italy; Paris, France; Amsterdam, The Netherlands; and, when I returned to the US, from San Diego, California. I signed each card with my name and mentioned that I lived in San Diego, but I did not provide a return address. Each time I wrote the cards, I did so in one sitting and in the order of the addresses on my list. By the fifth postcard, I’d usually lost sight of the actual human on the receiving end and was essentially writing to the faceless and hypothetical audience I’d assumed would be enthralled by my puerile art prank. Each batch of cards followed the same arc. The first few were awkward but sincere, the next few were fluid and confident, halfway through they became a little sarcastic, toward the end the tone was wholly flippant or abstract, and I closed out the 20 with a few that were poignant and contemplative. Here’s an excerpt: “Hi Wayne! Hi Vicky, I have returned from my travels. That’s a little bit of Euro snobbery I picked up. Really though, I’m going back. It all went by way too fast. In fact, there are whole blocks of time I don’t remember a thing…”

Over the next two years I followed up with homemade Christmas cards and long-form handwritten letters (click to enlarge):


Excerpt: “Hello Mr. John Brooks. This is Peter M. Bergman. I am attempting to take our friendship to the next level by writing you this letter… Some days I want everything to make sense on earth. I want all my activities to mean something. Days like today I realize how dumb that is. So if this doesn’t make sense then it must not be dumb. Does that make sense? … Do you know what entropy is? Entropy is the measure of disorder in a closed system. Entropy always increases and available energy always decreases in a closed system – such as our universe. Isn’t that neat? … I think you getting these letters from me is a sort of disorder in your life. But it’s good because now we are friends! To get your name and address I just picked a phone book from the library and viola! … I think I’m going to have ‘Evidence of Entropy’ on my tombstone. It’s good to think of these things now you know. You never can tell when that sneaky ol’ entropy is going to mess with you!”

In the spring of 1994 all of the addressees on my list received a postcard written in Sharpie with some form of, “Good news! Siri and I are coming out to visit you this summer!”


This “Ariel view of Mission Bay with Sea World” postcard (and 19 other in this tranche) notified Thelma and all the other recipients in Freemont, NE and Newport RI on our impending  visit.

Freemont, Nebraska highlights:

Siri and I had no idea what we had gotten into as our Greyhound bus pulled into Freemont, but we were thoroughly prepared to document it with a micro-cassette recorder, 110 film camera, and Siri’s two super-8 movie cameras – one with sound! After we got situated at the Ranch Motel, a motor lodge across the highway from the bus station, we found a phone book with a town history. Named after General John C. Frémont, “The Pathfinder,” Freemont was a Mormon Trail stop, then a Telegraph town, then a railroad town, a highway town, and ultimately a bedroom community for people working 35 miles away in Omaha. The phone book also had a map, which we used to begin charting out our visits.


Our “Weekly Rental” – The Ranch Motel in Freemont

Our first visit was to Thelma Surface. Thelma lived in Nye Square, a retirement community with the slogan, “Be In Charge of your Life.” This was the first of many unexpected hurdles in our quest for immediate and authentic face-to-face encounters. The receptionist seemed to be on the lookout for us, explaining her trepidation about our visit since Thelma was living in a place where she was protected from “people on the outside.” After asking us a long series of suspicious questions, she buzzed Thelma’s room. Thelma hesitantly came out to greet us, right around the time the Freemont police showed up. We all had a pleasant conversation in the lobby area of the retirement community about Freemont and the social norms and customs that Siri and I didn’t quite seem to understand. The police, after ascertaining that we were no more harmful than the typical idiotic twenty-something Californians, offered us a ride back to our hotel – which we declined.

The next day we asked directions from, and subsequently made friends with Brent Harnish, a home-for-summer long-haired college kid close to our age who was happy to drive us around during the rest of our stay, hang out with us, and generally praise us as the only cool thing to happen all summer.


The home of Wayne E. and Vicky Sund in Freemont

Wayne E. Sund, who lived on the edge of town in a subdivision, was in front of his house washing his car and his boat. When we walked up the drive and introduced ourselves he chuckled with a subtle no-no-no head motion, strode forward and shook our hands. When we asked him about his reaction to the cards and letters he said, “After a while I thought, well you know… If I KNEW when he was coming I’d have my 12-guage at the back door. But apparently he’s harmless. I don’t know, I don’t KNOW! It was like, who the HELL is this?” Wayne was a funny guy who appreciated the random nature of our encounter. He had his young kids come out to meet us in a “you’ll want to remember this day so I can tell you this story over-and-over as you age” kind of way.


Wayne Sund – in retrospect our visit to Wayne was a highlight of the early 90’s for IS. In many ways it has never quite worked out as intended in such spectacular fashion since. 

The young woman who answered Kathy Sherman’s door told us that Kathy was home, unhesitatingly invited us in, and announced in a super excited loud voice that Kathy had visitors. We guessed that our greeter had Down syndrome. Another roommate, also with Down syndrome, came out of the back room. We figured out quickly that it was a group home. We put away our camera. When Kathy came down the stairs her roommates clapped and cheered. She was beaming. Though we were naïve and inexperienced as documentarians, we did understand that this situation had transcended the authenticity we were seeking and had the potential to go straight to exploitation. Though Kathy was very excited to have us visit, she had zero recollection of ever having received any mail from us. I’m sure the cards and letters did make it to her, but on the afternoon we visited, she wasn’t able to connect me to the cards, which I had sent several months to a couple of years prior to our visit. It didn’t matter. We had a great time visiting and talking about life in the group home, about Freemont, who we were, and where we were from. There was never a question about why we came to visit. Reflecting on the experience outside, I had the first inkling of my own boundaries when working with real live people as an art medium. Siri and I could have easily filmed our entire visit to the group home, and even received verbal consent on camera, but that consent could not have been anything more than a technical acquiescence to be filmed. Aware that the group home residents did not understand that our project was a prank and that their names and images could be used for decades to make people laugh and scratch their heads, we determined that there was no ethical way to use any footage. More importantly, the moment was so genuinely human that worrying about capturing it would have simply distracted us from living it.

George O. Suydan wasn’t home. When we explained to the bewildered woman who answered the door that we were Pete and Siri and had been sending mail to George she lit up and exclaimed, “Oh Bergman! Yea! I’m his daughter in law. Nice to meet you after all this time. I’ve seen you in the pictures. Dad goes ‘WHO IS THIS’ and I said, ‘I don’t know, somebody friendly!’ He really appreciated and got a kick out of all the cards you sent!” Over lemonade on the porch, she told us George unfortunately had been relocated into an assisted living facility in Omaha. When we offered to start writing to him at his new address she replied, sadly, “He’s not all himself.”

Felix Unger’s son answered the door and went to get him.
“Hi! I’m Pete and this is Siri.”
“Oh yeah?”
“We’re the one’s who’ve been sending you postcards.”
“You the one sending postcards? Oh yeah? What are you guys doing here?”
“We’re just breezing through town and thought we’d visit and say hi.”
“Oh yeah?” (chuckles) “Well that’s weird ‘cause I was wondering where they were coming from. You know I get these in the mail and you don’t know what’s going on so basically I file 13 most of ‘em”

I’d given each recipient the name of someone else in their town I was writing to. I’d given Felix John Vecerra’s name – as it turns out someone he saw every day at work. “I talked to John Vecerra yesterday at work, or on Friday. When you said on the last one about your vacation to talk to John Vecerra. So I went and asked him. He said ‘I don’t know the guy either!”


The only piece of correspondence with a drawing – sent to John Vecerra of Freemont.

We caught up with John when he was on the way out of his apartment. When we introduced ourselves as Pete and Siri, the people who’d been writing him postcards, he seemed apprehensive. “Oh yeah? That was you? How did you pick me?”

“Out of the phone book. We picked ten people out of the Freemont phone book.”
“Oh yeah? What was the reason for that?”
“Just, I don’t know… To meet some different people…”

He invited us to breakfast the next morning at McDonald’s out on the highway. Over Egg McMuffins that John described as “not too exciting, but a way to start the day,” he told us about some area history and labor politics at the Hormel Factory where he worked with Felix Unger and was high up in the union.


John Vecerra outside of his address.

Scott Strouf’s house was about a mile out of town, but he wasn’t home. Riding back in the bed of a farm truck we’d hitched a ride from, Siri and I reflected on our visits. A few of them hadn’t panned out. People were no longer living at the addresses on my list or no one answered. The phone book on microfiche I’d grabbed may have been outdated. The addresses that were good, however, were really REALLY good. The people of Freemont had been openminded and either glad to meet us or very good at masking their anxiety.


Freemont Nebraska – Summer Crazy Days!

Newport, Rhode Island lowlights:

We did have one highlight in Newport. One of our first encounters was with a young couple, David and his girlfriend “Sweets,” who lived in an apartment building previously occupied by David Del Nero, who we had been writing to. After some confusion about having the same first name as our addressee, they became intrigued by our explanation of why we were lugging film cameras around Newport knocking on strangers’ doors and invited us back for dinner. Later that night in their apartment, David predicted we wouldn’t have as much luck in Newport as we reported having in Freemont. David described Newport as “pretty, but kind of a blue velvet pretty.” It is a town inhabited by a transient population of second home owning vacationers, Navy sailors and rotating faculty at the Naval War College, tribal New England fisherman, and the mega rich.


A case of mistaken identity! Dave and Sweets of Newport.

Newport was home to the monumental summer mansions of the Vanderbilts and other agriculture, railroad, and banking barons of the 19th century. Though life in the mid-1990s was considerably less opulent, many of Newport’s residents were still quite well-off, biding their time between Newport, New York or Boston apartments, and their boats. They were still heavily vested, philosophically if not outright financially, in a patrician East Coast class system.

Most of the addresses in Newport that were on our list were no longer inhabited by any occupants I’d written to. After a couple of days knocking on the doors of current inhabitants, ignorant of, or having purchased the home from, our addressees, we clued in that the Geisel Library’s phone books on microfiche were over a year out of date. We knocked on Ruth Erickson’s door, but it appeared to be an uninhabited house. Disappointed but resigned, we moved on.

Later that afternoon we caught up with Wilfred J. Buckley Jr., a fifty-something man who was out painting his porch. Wilfred had received some of the most sincere letters. Here’s an excerpt, “Wilfred, I want to share something with you. I want you to get a glimpse of what I’m like and have it make you happy. I want you to smile when you get a letter from me. That’s all I want. Sometimes, however I think people are just afraid of things like letters from strangers. I guess that’s just how it is…”


Wilfred Buckley Jr. of Freemont – a circa 1995 video still of a 110 photo reshot on a copy stand and then photographed while playing on a television of someone who never wanted their picture taken in the first place!

“Are you Wilfred?”
“Hi, I’m Pete and this is Siri. We’re the people who’ve been writing you those you postcards.”
“What was that all about?”
“Just for fun, kinda’.”
“You know you scared the hell out of a little old lady! Ruth Erickson? She’s about 85 years old and she got so damn scared with the cards that she moved out of her house and moved in with her daughter.”
“Really? Oh NO!?”
“Yes! And the daughter has gone to the police about it.”
“Well that’s certainly not what we intended.”
“Well I don’t know what you intended but it was strange and that’s what happened.”
“Did they upset you?”
“Uh, I really didn’t know what the hell they were doing and they upset me because up until August 1st I was on the road. My job put me on the road quite a bit and I would leave my wife here. She didn’t know what the hell to make of it.”
“Well we didn’t know…”
“Well… That’s… Doing it to a 20-year-old couple is different than doing it to an 80-year-old lady.”
“We had no idea, that’s why.”
“I didn’t particularly care for them to be very truthful.”
“We didn’t say anything threatening, or anything”
“No, they really weren’t that friendly either. They were kind of strange cards. In fact we still have the cards and letters in the house. That Christmas card you sent was kind of weird.”
“That’s too bad it was taken the wrong way but…”
“Well, I’m serious you had that woman really, really upset.”

Though Wilfred was hostile, he was measured. He didn’t threaten us, he scolded us – and rightly so. We packed up the next day and silently boarded the Greyhound out of town.


The East Coast in a nutshell. 

There is a time in the life of every antisocial, sarcastic, and angry young art punk when they reach this fork in the road. If they’re sober enough to make an informed decision, they can choose the right path by reflecting on the actual humans their shenanigans have targeted and avoid the path of nihilism and a life-long war on the happiness of everyone around them, and lastly but most importantly, themselves.

Though late 20th-century American ‘society’ deserved a good deconstructing, the unsuspecting individual civilians who comprised it did not deserve to have their lives upended for simply being listed in the phone book. Learning about Ruth Erikson’s reaction to my cards and letters caused me to realize, albeit a bit too late, that the unwritten rules of the art/life symbiosis dictate that it’s not appropriate to antagonize someone for artistic value if they themselves have not thrown some chips into the game… After the visit, I never sent another card or letter to anyone from Freemont or Newport.


A version of An Address premiered at Sociometry Fair ‘96. The final edit, a 36-minute VHS documentary, produced by Peter Miles Bergman and directed by Siri Noel Wilson in 1996 (available at the top of this report) won Best Documentary at the Denver Underground Film Festival in 1997. 

This report was written by agent Peter Miles Bergman and appeared for the first time 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 (use the code ISAGENT for 11% off). 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. 


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.