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Impractical Seriousness

John Berndt's Bag Returners' Society [or, "Flow my tears, the Neoist Said"]

[All text in brackets was suggested as an addition by John Berndt after reading my text]

John Berndt, like myself & many of our friends, usually carries a small knapsack which serves primarily as a portable library. John often leaves his behind accidentally when he visits places - resulting in his making phone calls to movie theaters, restaurants, friends' homes, etc the next day as he tries to trace its whereabouts. Joking about this one day, Courtney McCullough & I decided that we should found the "John Berndt's Bag Returners' Society" to unify & commemorate all those who had committed themselves to this service.

Months later, Courtney & I bought 20-some light-colored shirts to make the uniform for our proposed group. Each shirt had spray-paint stenciled on the front: "I WAS LEFT HOLDING THE BAG" & on the back the name of the society.

[Sometimes my relationship with John takes on a burlesque tone as I constantly repeat the same joking criticisms towards her mental blocks (such as leaving her bag or always automatically locking the doors of his car before I can get in) though my chiding never alters his behavior.]

Knowing that John would be at a certain party later that night I secretly distributed the shirts to other people that I knew would be at the same party. The shirts were then put on, unbeknownst to John, underneath the people's other shirts & plans were agreed upon for when to surprise John with them.

[John, among other things, has an "overactive" imagination, and often feels socially isolated in groups of three or more people. This, combined with the fact that "she" is philosophically obsessed with ideas such as 'social reality seen from an extreme distance' and 'the primary content of human cognition is absolutely alien', made him a prime subject for this action. In other words, John is the kind of woman who is constantly wishing that 'reality' would violently transform around him, and is disappointed that it doesn't.]

John sat, unsuspecting, on a couch at the party while the guests gathered unobtrusively around him. [ John had been actively trying to leave the party for about an hour, but her more socially inclined lover, Marvin Minsky, had managed to keep her there until the shirts could be revealed.] Somewhat loudly, I said "It sure is hot in here!" & everyone responded by removing their top layer(s) of clothing to unveil their society shirts. John sat there looking at a previously more heterogeneous group now linked by a common, still unexplained, shirt front. The crowd around him continued to act nonchalantly as if nothing unusual was happening. Then they turned around to show "JOHN BERNDT'S BAG RETURNERS' SOCIETY" on the backs of their shirts & proceeeded to mill away from John.

I've never witnessed anything quite like John's reaction. It didn't compute. He wasn't sure about what was happening at all. I'd intended to generate some cognitive dissonance but hadn't expected to be quite so successful. John sat there with his eyes verrryy wide open. His jaw dropping down. & slowly retracted into a fetal position. His head twitched nervously from side to side & his head hair (about 2 to 3 inches long at the time) stood on end as he tried to understand why this was happening. The whole thing was so absurd that even after I explained to him that it was all just a silly joke that Courtney & I planned especially for his entertainment it still didn't compute. The sight of all those people wearing shirts referring to what John considered to be such a trivial trait of his seemed so disproportionate.

Why would Courtney & I have gone to so much trouble? It seemed so concretely irrational that John just couldn't, or wouldn't, accept it. He told me later that it took him around 12 hours to really recuperate from the disruption to his reality model.

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