Rip Van Winkle Reimagined
(with apologies to Washington Irving)
Rip Van Winkle dozed off outside of Mom&Pops Coffeehaus in 1988. When he awoke twenty years later, he found himself severely disoriented. What used to be Mom & Pops was now called Starstrucks. He glanced across the street and noticed another Starstrucks. After rubbing his eyes, he looked again – yep still Starstrucks. He looked down at his shirt, it was a Hall and Oates 1988 tour t-shirt. Well the smell of coffee was invigorating, especially for someone who had been asleep for twenty years.
“Coffee is coffee,” Rip said to himself as he walked inside. But immediately he noticed a certain blandness and indifference that was never on exhibit at Mom&Pops. Mom&Pops had atmosphere. It had creaky wooden floors, it had loud conversations, it had stains on the carpet, it had sassy waitresses, it was a community. It had pizzazz. As he strained to read the menu with all of its exotic caffeine concoctions, a young lady asked him what he wanted to order.
“I just want a cup of pure unadulterated black joe,” Rip blurted out.
“Sure, will that be a tall, grande, or vente? Do you need room for cream? Do you have a Starstrucks supersaver card? Would you like to donate to our families uprooted by coffee plantations fund? Do you want the house blend or a Guatemalan blend? Do you…”
“ENOUGH,” screamed Rip. Please give me a cup of coffee, black, any size you want to give me”.
“Just calm down sir” she replied. “That will be six dollars please or four euros.
Rip couldn’t believe his ears. “Six dollars, six fuckin’ dollars!? And what the hell are euros?” Rip asked disbelievingly. “Yes sir, six dollars, it’s not 1988 you know.” Rip dumped out all the money he had in his pocket. “Take it all, just take it all,” he said as he left the building. Outside a man was giving his bulldog a shot of espresso. At another table was a student who had fallen asleep with his head rested on his book listening to music from a very small electronic devise. “At least those walkmans got smaller,” thought Rip. Two ladies nearby chatted about their hair and tan lines. Another man was ranting and raving over the phone (they got smaller too, Rip noticed) about sales commissions. Rip was not impressed with what this café society had to offer.
Rip wandered down the street sipping his six dollar coffee. “I’ve had old truck stop coffee that tasted better than this shit,” Rip muttered. As he walked onward for a couple of blocks, he noticed yet another Starstrucks. He thought to himself, “Do these guys own the world or what?” Rip continued to walk for a couple of miles and marveled at the number of fast food chains, super duper markets, and the endless number of convenience stores he encountered all seemingly owned by the same corporation. Rip remembered the time when there was such a thing as farmers markets where the freshest of the fresh was sold. “Nostalgia,” he whispered, “nostalgia, it’s a long gone train.”
Rip grew tired and found a bench to sit on. “Been asleep twenty years, better not overdo it,” he thought. As he sat down he noticed a sign beside the bench which read, THIS BENCH SPONSORED BY BIG PHARMA. ASK YOUR DOCTOR ABOUT SNOOZESTA. The bus stopped and several people got out. At least he thought it was a bus. Either that or it was a travelling billboard. Rip looked out in the distance and couldn’t believe the size and scope of what he was looking at – was it a city within a city? An airport maybe? Nope. It was none of those things. What Rip was looking at was called The Super Gargantuan Mart. It was the biggest, most impressive, and most expensive retail establishment ever built. Its owners who resided in a small Arkansas hamlet bragged that this building would stand forever as a symbol of mankind’s progress. The building had golden arches and was so big it could be seen in satellite photos. But what really stood out were the huge smiley face flags encircling the vast property.
After taking a brief rest, Rip ventured out to The Super Gargantuan Mart to see for himself what the entire hubbub was about. Luckily a tram came along and transported Rip to the front entrance. When he entered he was promptly greeted by an octogenarian offering him a map of the place. It was just that big. “There is everything under the sun here,” he thought. Plumbing, hardware, paint, jewelry, automotive, pharmacy, groceries, clothes, shoes, electronics, eyewear, toys, plants, home furnishings, and so much more!
Rip made his way to the electronics department and was blown away by all the new televisions, cameras, and assorted gadgets. He even found those new walkmans there. As he stood in front of a wall full of high-definition flat screen television sets, a store associate rushed up to him. “Hey did anybody ever tell you that you look like that character actor Rip Torn.”
“Well my name is Rip, but no, no one ever made that comparison and I’m not Rip Torn.” From looking up at the television screens Rip could see that the Cowboys and Broncos were playing a football game. “Mile High Stadium, at least some things don’t change”, he sighed.
“What are you talking about buddy?” asked the sales associate. “Mile High Stadium is gone. It got replaced by INVESCO Field.”
“It’s named Monster Cable Park or some such nonsense,” replied the sales associate.
“Well what about Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia (looking at nametag) Tom?”
“Gone my friend.”
“Replaced by Minute Maid Park. Where have you been?” asked Tom.
“I’ve been asleep for twenty years”, said Rip.
“I think that’s called a coma isn’t it? I’ve heard of people like you. They have these traumatic head injuries and years later they wake up speaking Chinese. Did you just up and walk out of the hospital? Nice shirt by the way.”
“No Tom I didn’t just walk out of a hospital. I remember falling asleep outside Mom&Pops…”
“Gone”, said Tom.
“Yeah, tell me about it. It’s Starstrucks. I know,” remarked Rip. “I know.”
Tom began changing the channels in rapid succession. Commercials, wrestling, infomercials, more wrestling, networks comprised entirely of old TV shows, Spanish language soap operas, and reality shows not based on reality. “It’s a shame”, said Tom. Five hundred channels and nothing on.” Tom finally stopped it on a stock car race.
Rip looked with amusement. He could see the blur of hundreds of corporate logos making their way around the track. “Ingenious…one long commercial disguised as a race. I guess it doesn’t really matter who wins does it?” asked Rip.
“The corporation is always the winner, even when they lose,” remarked Tom.
“Hey I gotta go” “said Rip. “You seem like a smart guy. How did you wind up here?”
“I was a legal consultant for The Super Gargantuan Mart until my position was outsourced to India. A guy named Ravi with a blue tooth and a computer screen can do my job a lot cheaper,” answered Tom. “But the kind bastards that they are, offered me this job. Hey it does have good dental.”
“A blue what?” asked Rip. “Oh never mind, I probably wouldn’t understand anyway. Take care Tom.”
“Just remember Mr. Torn, here at The Super Gargantuan Mart the red carpet is always rolled out for you.”
“If I see Mr. Torn, I’ll tell him that. Bye Tom.”
It was getting late now as Rip made his way back into the city. All this talk about Rip Torn jogged Van Winkle’s memory. He remembered in another life that he was the local theatre director. “What became of the theatre,” he wondered aloud. He remembered it being right in the heart of the city. He was getting close. One more block and wow…it had been completely renovated. It wasn’t an eyesore anymore. It looked like well…a theatre. But the marquee troubled him. Instead of The Community Theatre, it was now called The Global Real Estate Theatre. Coming out of the theatre, was a face recognizable to Rip. “Carl, is that you?”
“Rip? I can’t believe my eyes. How the hell are ya?” asked Carl.
“Well it seems I’ve been asleep for twenty years,” replied Rip.
“We all wondered what happened to you. There were rumors of a head injury…”
“What’s with all this head injury business? I’m fine,” said Rip. “Hey Carl, what’s with the sign?”
“What do you mean?”
“The Global Real Estate Theatre?” asked Rip incredulously.
“It has to do with naming rights Rip.”
“Naming what?” asked Rip
“Naming rights. You see for a couple of million dollars a year, we sell the right to name the theatre. They get free advertising and we get an operating budget. It’s not like the old days Rip when we struggled every single day just to keep the lights on. No more bake sales, car washes, and endless pledge drives. No more spending most of our days on the phone begging for money. This solves all our problems plus a theatre the community can be proud of,” said a beaming Carl.
“But doesn’t a name on a building at least imply ownership? Community is missing from this theatre Carl. That’s the problem.”
“I guess you have been asleep twenty years Rip. You see Rip, it’s not a civic auditorium anymore, not a public arena anymore, not a Memorial park anymore, not an exhibition center anymore and you’re right…it’s not a community theatre anymore. That’s the way it is Rip. Everything has a corporate name affixed to it.”
Rip looked back to the marquis – now playing was a production of Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross. But underneath that, was the word cancelled. “What happened with Glengarry Glen Ross Carl”? inquired Rip. “Well a PR guy from Global dropped in a couple of days before our run and kinda let it be known that they thought the play would be bad for business. You know it is a little harsh on the real estate business,” said Carl.
“What do you know a conflict of interest? A PR guy from a real estate firm based a world away can tell you what you can and cannot stage. You don’t see anything wrong with that Carl?” asked Rip. “Hey it’s not like that, the guy just voiced his concerns – that’s all.”
“I bet he did. And I bet he wrote you another check too. Congratulations Carl, gotta run.”
“You’ll see things my way someday Rip. You’ll see it’s the only way.”
With that said, Rip just shook his head. And he kept shaking his head as he walked across America. He walked past billboard after billboard, he walked past everyday folk who had corporate logos emblazoned across their shirts, he walked past prisons run by corporations (business is good he thought), he walked through the heart of Indian country where huge casinos dotted the landscape, and national parks plundered and pillaged by a consortium of business interests. It seems America was for sale to the highest bidder. A song came to his mind while witnessing this tragedy, a song he sang long ago in elementary school – This Land Is Your Land (This Land Is My Land). Not anymore he thought, not anymore. Another song came to mind as well – Little Boxes by Malvina Reynolds: All the people in the houses all went to the university. Where they were put in boxes and they came out all the same. And there’s doctors and there’s lawyers, and business executives. And they’re all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same. And then as he entered the City of Angels he couldn’t help but sing the Phil Ochs tune The World Began in Eden and Ended in Los Angeles. He also hummed the song Maneater. What did that have to do with anything? Nothing, but it was Hall & Oates. And what became of Hall & Oates and Rip Torn he wondered? For all he knew they were pouring drinks on the deck of a Carnival cruise ship bound for hell.
Not long after he entered Los Angeles a reporter from some big TV network chased him down. “Mr. Van Winkle, we’ve heard about you waking up after twenty years. Hello, can you hear me?” asked the reporter. At first Rip just ignored her, but she persisted. “Can you just answer one question please?”
“Shoot”, said Rip.
“Now that you’re back among the living, what do you believe is the most profound change in America during the last twenty years?”
“Naming rights”, answered Rip.
The reporter stood dumfounded. “What about the advent of the internet? What about all the advances in science and medicine? What about…”
Rip interrupted her. “Naming rights, pure and simple. Naming rights,” he repeated. Rip walked a few more blocks and found his way to one of those nice Snoozesta benches. His walk across America was over. He would sleep and sleep and sleep…..