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Not Really There 

(1860's Hard Shell Café & Bar, Soulard)

She asked me to imagine, say, spending an hour talking to her and then afterward, after she'd gone, having someone come up to me -- the bartender, for example -- and explain that she didn't exist. That there was nobody there to whom I'd been speaking and there never had been.

Then not knowing if the bartender was even real. But that was my thought; I was taking her idea a step further.

She had worked with schizophrenics, she said, and I believed her.

I admit I've played with the idea before -- that none of this is real, that I'm making it all up in my head. It's a natural for anybody who spends too much time alone. Like my friend Ray says, "It could well be that this whole thing we're going through is an illusion. That's what the Buddhists say."

I don't know if the Buddhists really say that. Ray does, though.

But this woman, I never got her name. She asked me to imagine not being able to focus on one source of noise -- not being able to mentally cut out the din around me. If I got the idea right, she meant hearing everything going on -- some of it there, some of it not really there -- all at the same time. As I sat listening to her, I wondered if she was real. And I wasn't doing it to make fun of her. I was just amazed at the presumptions I make all the time.

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