I bought the t shirt in the mid-1990s at a street market in Observatory, the hippie-infested suburb of Cape Town. In 2002 I still had it somewhere, a bit faded, not as black as it used to be, but still wearable. Across the front, in a calm white Roman typeface, the words I seem to be a verb. I got other cool shirts that day, including one that reads Only users lose drugs.
I seem to be a verb is a good test of people. There are two categories: those who puzzle over it, and those who "get it" quickly and laugh, by realising that it sounds cool and means nothing. If pressed as to which verb I seem to be, I would usually answer to be. Roughly speaking, it separates those who demand coherence and linear meaning from those who like to play with words and concepts and don't care if it doesn't quite add up.
I was jolted yesterday by this passage in Robert Anton Wilson's The eye in the pyramid. At the top of page 236 it reads
Meanwhile, never whistle while you're pissing. Add you might repeat to yourself, when you get disoriented, Fuller's sentence "I seem to be a verb".
Now my interest was raised. This curious phrase seemed to have a history and context. A web search revealed the origin of the phrase. It is indeed from Buckminster Fuller
And people often used to ask Buckminster Fuller just what exactly he was and did. Sometimes he would respond to the first part of the question with the now oft-quoted statement:
"I live on Earth at present, and I don't know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing - a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process - an integral function of the universe.