Geoffrey and Diana Eckert checked into a Holiday Inn near the Orlando airport one Friday afternoon. They were in town to choose a site for a Florida branch of Biomodels, Inc., the agribusiness research firm they founded in 1974. Beginning Saturday morning, and for the next several days, they traversed Orange and Lake counties in a rented BMW, meeting realtors and inspecting possible locations.
It was Tuesday evening, after returning dog-tired to their hotel room, while watching the six o'clock news, that they received a call from the front desk.
"Mr. Eckert?" came a sharp voice.
"I'm … uh … sorry, but our records show you checked out this morning."
"Checked out? I didn't check out"
"Well, I guess there's been some mistake. Next time you come downstairs, would you please sign in again?"
"All right, sure." Geoff hung up and turned to Diana.
"That's weird," he snorted. "The records say we checked out and sheguesses it's a mistake. I have to check in again. Makes me feel like I don't exist."
"Maybe you don't," said Diana playfully, looking up from the TV with a mysterious grin.
"Ha!" Geoff's face lit up with a grin. "Remember that? In the student lounge after dinner?"
Geoff and Diana had attended the University of Chicago together, he majoring in biology, she in English. There had been a period during their junior year when they had developed, along with some mutual friends, a half-serious we-don't-really-exist doctrine after dinner at the student cafeteria. Geoff would hold up one end of the conversation by describing people as short-lived biological machines, and Diana would contribute a mixture of theories from one of her philosophy courses.
"Remember?" said Geoff.
"We'd try to look at everyone as biological automata. Spooky."
"Fun game for a while." said Diana, "but it didn't last long. Too bleak."
They stopped talking to watch a news clip on Japan's rice farmers. When the clip was over, Diana switched off the set.
"Let's go to dinner," she announced in a loud voice and with a wave of her arm.
"Good idea," said Geoff, reaching for his jacket "You know. I'm not sure we think so differently now," "About what?" "About being biological automata."
"We don't think much now, period," said Diana flippantly, adjusting an earring. "No time."
"Tch, tch," Geoff scolded, shaking a finger. "We're getting old and stodgy."
Looking in the mirror, Diana decided she needed lipstick, so Geoff sat down on the edge of the bed to wait.
"Remember that girl we met in the LA-airport on our way to Hawaii that one year?" he said.
"You mean the one with the red and white shawl, selling books?" "Yeah, the Hare Krsna."
"What about her?"
Geoff's voice grew more thoughtful. "Well. she was trying to sell us aBhagavad-gita, and she kept saying the Gita teaches that we're not our bodies."
"Yeah, I remember," said Diana. "'We are not our bodies. We're the eternal soul inside, like a driver in a car.'"
"Right. And when she heard I was a biochemist, she made a big point of how the chemicals and blood and guts are just the bodily vehicle. She said, 'Everyone normally says "my body," not "I body." So that indicates that the body is the self's possession, not the self proper.' "
"So what do you think?" said Diana, making another mysterious face.
"About 'I body' / 'my body' and biological automata."
Geoff gave a long shrug. "Golly, I don't know."
"We must be having an identity crisis," said Diana.
"Right! How awful," said Geoff, slapping his forehead melodramatically. "Twenty years out of school, and we still don't know who we are."
The phone rang. This time Diana answered.
"Hello? Yes? Oh . . .Well, thank you … Quite all right. Oh. don't worry, no problem . . . You're very kind. Thank you so much. B'bye."
"Who was that?"
"Lady at the front desk. Apologizing for the mistake. Very sweet. You don't have to sign in again."
"Great! I feel like I exist again . . . Whoever I am."
"Well, I don't know about you," said Diana, "but I'm hungry. On to dinner!"