To the best friend of the top gas station attendent in Taos, New Mexico.

I’ve decided on the way to determine whether I’ve made it. Rather than using a sliding scale for accomplishments, to which I can apply scientific calculations of my sense of well-being, the success of completed works, the prosperity of love, etc., I’ve now decided that I can easily determine whether I’ve made it, or whether I haven’t, by looking at the mail.

If someone can send me a letter without a proper address, and if the postal carriers are still able to deliver it, then I’m in. It’s that simple. In the last day I’ve read two instances of this happening. The first was from humor-essayist Bill Bryson, who wrote in his collection, I’m a Stranger Here Myself, that he successfully received a letter addressed to “Mr. Bill Bryson, Author of ‘A Walk in the Woods’, Lives Somewhere in New Hampshire, America.” The letter only took five days to get to him. The second instance was in the latest issue of The New Yorker (I’ll try not to mention this magazine in every post). In the “Life and Letters” article on author Philip Pullman, the piece ends with him receiving a letter addressed to “Philip Pullman, The Storyteller, Oxford.” In both instances the writers are happy to see these letters end up in their mailboxes. On that note:

I wonder how many vaguely addressed letters to not-famous people will actually make it to someone (anyone)? I have half a desire to start sending letters to completely unknown people, just based on made-up vague descriptions. I’m guessing ten percent of the letters would find a home. And 50 percent of those would find replies.

3 thoughts on “To the best friend of the top gas station attendent in Taos, New Mexico.

  1. try sending one to “that guy kevin that’s a hypochondriac* in san francisco” and i’ll let you know if it finds me.

    * I had to look up this word on dictionary.com*** to see if was it was hypo- or hyper- **

    ** My instincts about the spelling were correct

    *** It sucks that dictionary.com doesn’t link to other words. For example, when I found “hypochondriac,” the definition referred to “hypochondria,” but didn’t provide a link to that word. Seems obvious it should do that.

  2. I think this is a great idea. But how would you be able to track the letters? Even if you asked people to send you something to indicate that they’d received the letter, most of them probably wouldn’t because they’re lazy or they just wouldn’t understand why you sent them a letter in the first place. You’d have to offer them an incentive. Something like “drop this pre-paid, pre-addressed postcard in a mailbox and your name will be published as a part of this project, which will be appearing in Cabinet Magazine in April. Or you could make up some story about a painful and fatal illness, the cure for which you are in the process of developing and also happens (for some reason) to be contingent on the amount of mail you are able to generate from strangers. Maybe?

  3. Hmm, I don’t know if deception is the best way to go about it.

    I’m working on details and rules and such (in my head). So far I have: Losses are unavoidable – many letters will be sent back (and then will have to be edited/rewritten and then sent anew), and many of the ones that actually make it to someone will just get tossed or forgotten or ignored. Your first idea is more along the lines of what I was thinking for increasing incentive to return the letters. First, there’d have to be a good explanation (and one that’s fairly consistent from letter to letter) about the purpose and goals and everything. And then, yes, pre-addressed material should be included.

    There’s this guy in, um, Portland or Seattle, who goes to every author reading he can and always takes a photo of the author. He then makes some nice 8×10s and sends them to the authors – one photo he gives to them, and the other he asks that they autograph and return. And he provides all the materials necessary to make their work as easy as possible. He’s had something like 300 successful returns, and only one that was never answered. He’s just a regular guy with a hobby.

    So flattering them, having it be as personalized as possible (even though the prospective recipient is basically completely unknown), and keeping it pretty simple – that’s the best route. Of course, the responses are important, and some questionaire, or specific goals, will have to be made so that there’s some actual substance to it all.
    Also, I was thinking it would be a good idea to ask for a photo.
    It would probably be a pretty longterm project.

    Glad you like the idea!

    And I’m guessing you just threw up Cabinet as an example, but it’s a damn good example. If anyone, they’d be interested.

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