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"I'm sure that photo was a collaboration," he says. "I didn't pose like that unless asked. I think I was imitating a face I'd seen in war movies, which I loved watching at the time."
Wood says he was a hyperactive child, and there's a slightly manic pace to his speech today. He talks fast, rarely pausing. He first learned of his notoriety, he explains, when he was 14, after his stepsister spotted the image in a book. His first thought was something close to "Big deal." Then a classmate at his Rhode Island prep school found a copy and, as a practical joke, posted Xeroxes of the picture all over campus. Wood was mortified.
"He hated it, hated the whole thing," recalls Tim Ghriskey, who knew Wood in his prep school days. "We were all teenagers and none of us wanted notoriety, none of us wanted to stick out."
Wood's own feelings about the photo have evolved. He remembers feeling angry at Arbus for "making fun of a skinny kid with a sailor suit." But today he thinks of the image as one of the great conversation pieces of all time. And Arbus clearly fascinates him. He riffs about her for a good 15 minutes.
"She catches me in a moment of exasperation. It's true, I was exasperated. My parents had divorced and there was a general feeling of loneliness, a sense of being abandoned. I was just exploding. She saw that and it's like . . . commiseration. She captured the loneliness of everyone. It's all people who want to connect but don't know how to connect. And I think that's how she felt about herself. She felt damaged and she hoped that by wallowing in that feeling, through photography, she could transcend herself."
Wood remembers that his interest in guns and grenades prompted teachers at his Catholic grade school to suggest he see a shrink. ("They thought I was deranged" is how he puts it.) His father dismissed the idea. Wood ended up working for years with his father, a former professional tennis player who invented, and for a long time installed, a new kind of court surface. Wood tried a few different careers after that and eventually moved to Los Angeles to try his hand at acting. He found the auditioning process humiliating and he quit. Now he sells insurance.
He doesn't talk often about his cameo with Diane Arbus but it's been a long time since he was embarrassed about it. Once he wanted to break into theater, and when he started his own production company he knew what to call it: Grenade Boy Productions.
Hey, That's Them!
There's a gift shop near the Arbus show at the Met, and by the time the Wade sisters get there on Saturday afternoon, people have figured out who they are. Maybe it's their eyes, which are still a startling bright blue and appear in the photograph to be glowing. Or maybe it's their lime-green jackets and black slacks, nearly matching outfits that shout their twinness. A cashier notices them first, then others ask them to sign their posters. The most forward want them to pose for a picture.
"No flash photos in here, please," says a Met guard, breaking up the crowd.
You can understand the hubbub. Arbus's subjects seem to exist in another dimension, in some unreachable place where they are stranded and will never be seen again. She gave these two an otherworldly aura, as if they'd just stepped out of a fairy tale and are about to start fires with their minds. The director Stanley Kubrick paid homage to this mix of innocence and menace in "The Shining." Twin girls, side by side and in matching dresses, turn up as ghosts in the film, harbingers of a gory finale. It's utterly terrifying.
"I've never seen that movie," says Cathleen. "I've heard it was scary and I don't like scary movies."
The mystery of "Identical twins, Roselle, N.J. 1967" only deepens when you meet the Wade sisters, who are the least creepy people you'll ever know. By their own accounts, they have lived rather conventional lives and today they are both married, both working mothers, still very close and still a little shy. They're amused by this photo, maybe a little proud of it, too. But they have never reflected on it much and, pressed with questions like "Does this capture something about you?" or "Can you remember being this little girl?" they just shrug.
"It reminds me of my daughter," says Cathleen.
What Arbus has given us with this photo is ultimately a Sphinx without a riddle. Or maybe there's a riddle here, but it belongs to Arbus. And she isn't telling.
"Somebody called me and told me the twins were on the cover of the Village Voice," their dad says, shaking his head as the troupe heads for the exits. Bob Wade is describing the day he learned about "Identical twins." This was in 1972, to the best of his recollection, as the Museum of Modern Art put together an Arbus exhibit. "I told my wife, 'I didn't sign anything.' She said, 'Uh, I did.' "
Which is a good thing. A copy of "Identical twins" sold last year for nearly $500,000 and when Diane Arbus mailed the Wades that release form, she sent along something else: an original print of the photo.
"I've stashed that one away," Wade says, grinning. Then he nods toward his daughters. "That's their 401(k)."