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The many selves of Wendover Jones


The all wear masks but their masks are their true faces.
- William "Bull" Morris.

I first met Wendover Jones quite by chance. I was in the Castile, an ethnic coffee house run by Ramon, reading a book of poetry. Actually, it wasn't a book of poetry; it was a spy thriller. I loathe poetry. However I like to be seen by strangers as a man who reads poetry. It was my practice to leave open a book of poetry on the table and to slip a dust jacket from a book of poems onto whatever book I was actually reading. Mind you, I never attempt to fool my friends; they know me. With strangers, however, it is all right.

I had been reading for a while, rapt in the story, when the chap at the table next to me spoke up. "Excuse me," he said, "do you play chess by any chance?"

I was a bit taken aback but allowed that, yes, I did play chess. He went on to explain that he usually played chess once a week in the Castile with a friend. His friend was ill and he was at a loss for this was his night to play chess.

I was intrigued by this and agreed to play a game with him. I called for the chess set. The Castile, you understand, catered to the intellectual hanger on crowd. It looked shabby and run down, not tacky but old. Ramon, who ran the place, once told me that they went to considerable effort to maintain the appearance of intellectual shabbiness. The chess set (there was only one) was kept for the convenience of the patrons who might want to play chess. As Ramon explained to me, it added to the atmosphere to have a chess game going on. Only one though, he said: chess players are unprofitable.

The chess set was a Castile special. The pieces were an amalgam from different sets; there was no white queen but there were two black queens, one with a ribbon tied around it to indicate that it was white.

We played. He knew the game but was not first rate. I held back a bit. I don't care for the game now but I had oncebeen a tournament player. It was only later that I learned that he had been holding back too.

As we played we chatted and became acquaintances. I drifted into his circle of friends and he into mine. It was only after I had known him for some years that he confessed that the weekly chess game had been a deception; there was no friend with whom he played chess weekly. He had simply marked me as somebody who might be interesting to know. In turn he had been deceived, being quite taken in by my poetry ploy.

Sometimes Ramon would join us as we sat talking. One evening Wendover Jones explained his theory of self and why he went to such efforts to widen his circle of acquaintances. A man's self, he said, was not simply confined to his body, it was spread among all the people he knew. It was composed of all the images and conceptions that other people had of him. A man literally does not know what to think, he said, until he knows what people think he thinks. I held out, of course, that it was no such thing; our selves are distinct from what other people think of us. Ramon had the last word, however. He contended that we have no self as such; what we call our self is composed of all our images and conceptions of other people.

One evening at the Castile I realized that I hadn't seen Wendover Jones for quite some time. I asked Ramon if he knew where he was. Ramon replied that he had moved to Arkansas and was operating a piggery. We marveled at this and I thought to myself, "I wonder if he is spreading his self among the pigs."


This page was last updated September 20, 1998.
Copyright © 1998 by Richard Harter

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