So, one day Linda and I had a picnic lunch on the grass by the school of the Art Institute of Chicago.
This isn’t the same Linda I wrote about in Victoria’s Secret. But I did know this Linda at the same time as that Linda. I don’t know what it means, but the names “Linda” and “Joanne” play through my life, attached to different women, like melodic themes emerging and re-emerging in some complicated orchestral work.
Anyway, back at the lunch, Linda brought two chicken salad sandwiches she’d made that morning and wrapped in wax paper. I brought two bottles of ice tea that I’d picked up on the way to work.
It was a warm, sunny day. I don’t remember what we talked about. Probably, back then, I’d have talked about my theory that many of Vermeer’s mature paintings shouldn’t be viewed as stand-alone images, but rather as excerpts from a larger, now lost cycle of images that can best be interpreted as alchemical allegories.
What I do remember is that when lunch was over Linda wrapped her wax paper around her empty tea bottle. I crumpled up my wax paper and stuck it inside my empty tea bottle. Then I stood up and reached down to take Linda’s hand and help her up. As Linda stood up, I looked down at her other hand and my whole vision zoomed like a bizarre special effect in a music video.
Holding Linda’s hand, suddenly all I saw was her other hand with the wax paper wrapped around the empty tea bottle. My vision jerked over to my other hand with the wax paper crumpled inside the empty tea bottle.
“Wow!” I said. “Did you see what just happened?”
Linda let go of my hand and brushed off some grass from her skirt. “Yeah,” she said. “We stood up. Why, were we sitting in ants? Do I have bugs on me?”
“No, no, no,” I said. I pointed at her other hand. “Look,” I said. I held up my other hand. “And look at this.”
Linda took a breath. Her eyes narrowed. She knew me pretty well, and I could tell that she was bracing herself for a roller coaster ride. “Yeah,” she said, hesitantly. “It’s our garbage.”
“No,” I said, again. “Look at it.”
Smiling, Linda looked from her hand to my hand. “Yeah, so?”
“Look what we did” I said. “You wrapped your wax paper around your empty bottle. I crumpled up my wax paper and stuck it into my empty bottle.”
Linda’s lips were compressed into a tight smile. She knew I was going to say something and I knew she was going to think it was crazy, but it was one of those moments like a roller coaster just cresting the top of the first hill . . .
“You wrapped your wax paper around your empty bottle,” I said again. “I stuck my wax paper inside my empty bottle.” I struggled to think of acceptable words and phrases for what I was thinking. I failed, but since Linda was still smiling, I continued. “Look, pardon my French here, but think about it. Women have vaginas. Vaginas wrap around penises. Men have penises. Penises insert into vaginas. You—a woman—wrapped your wax paper around your bottle, I—a man—stuck my wax paper into my bottle. See?”
“Yeah,” Linda said, laughing, “I see you’ve completely lost your mind.”
“No, no, no,” I said. “Think about it. We’re sitting here—a man and a woman—having lunch. Neither one of us is talking about sex. Presumably neither one of us is even thinking about sex. Yet we both experience these . . . these micro Freudian imperatives in our minds that manifest themselves in macro behavior in the physical world. You wrap your wax paper around your empty bottle. I stick my wax paper into my empty bottle. See? Isn’t that weird?”
Linda struggled to get out words with her laughter. “Yeah, you know what’s weird? What’s weird is that I spend time with you without insisting you wear one of those white leather jackets that ties your arms behind your back!”
“Oh, Linda,” I said, “I didn’t make up this stuff! It’s emergent behavior. I just observed it.”
Linda took my hand again. “Yeah, and I observe that lunch is over. Come on.” She tugged me toward the sidewalk. “Lunch is over. Time to get back to the real world . . .”