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Continued from Part 2: Larry's Fire

Notes from initial meeting with patient James S.

James presents as a slight, agitated, intellectually brilliant 8 year old with classic nascent schitzotypal personality disorder coupled with some paranoia and megalomania/insecurity. Stanford-Binet: ceiling, 164. Referred to me by his father, a neurologist at Northwestern, who worries about his social and educational development. His fifth grade teacher reported that James daydreams, completes homework sloppily if at all, and talks to himself and writes in his notebook instead of playing with other children. His father confirmed, saying that James has only a few acquaintances, all of whom are adults: the local librarian in Evanston, a private violin teacher, and a Japanese colleague who is teaching James Japanese, James exhibits little subjective distress about his paucity of social interaction, stating that kids are boring and cruel. When I inquired further about the nature of the cruelty, James demurred, stating gnomically that “Power wins out.” His reticence extended to the subject matter in his notebooks, of which he stated he had 43 completed and he was looking forward to filling the 44th.

“Jim! Move, man. D’hells matter with you?”

“Fine fine sorry I know,” Jim said, shooting his hand out and retreating his bishop to a4 and slapping the analog clock in one fluid motion. Willie, an Asian grad student in physiology, returned to the board with a quizzical expression on his face. “Eenteresting,” Vladmir kibitzed, “is very strong move, is Philosopher-style move, to retreat and attack at same time.”

A small crowd watched Willie and The Philosopher play. It was a nightly ritual in the summer, and they made a striking pair. Willie: short and boyishly roundfaced, looking more 16 than his actual 26. And Jim, or “The Philosopher” as they called him, thin white hair, mussed, combat jacket and plaid shirt, face stretched over his sharp features, deeply tanned a sort of unwholesome yellow. He looked closer to 70 than his actual 49, and was sort of a volatile figure around the pavillion. As the days wore on, and he got more drunk, he would inevitably burst into choleric rage over a bet, a touched piece (“We play touch move here, mister.”), or some other minor infraction. By 5 p.m., roughly when the nightly Willie-Philosopher matches were fought, he was usually docile with inebriation, fagged and tagged from sun and smoke and drink and a day of exertion. Not infrequently, Willie or an onlooker had to rouse Jim from his stupor so he could make his move. Odds on the matches were 4 to 1 against Willie, a fairly strong local master in his own right, subject to slight fluctuation due to the crowd's estimation of Jim’s precise level of awareness.

On the most general level, he said that his notebooks contained the blueprints for a new society, which he claimed is an amalgam of the shogunate kingdoms of medieval Japan and the philosopher-kingdom described in Plato’s Republic. Also contained therein were sketches of the characters populating his kingdom, sketches and maps of its physical aspects and short depictions of events which might transpire during daily life. He described the totality consisting of “tableaux” which, in aggregate, function as a sort of multidimensional film – spanning the visual, social, economic and metaphysical – which arise from the individual parts in a gestalt manner. This last feature, as James described it, seemed to provoke in the patient a high degree of agitation bordering on mania. When I inquired as to the cause of his affective shift, the patient said that when he talks of such matters, even to his father or to his other acquaintances, they never fully understand him, sometimes telling him to calm down. Indeed, throughout our discussion, when the levels of abstraction would increase James seemed to grow more manic and flustered in direct proportion.

Standing there, the light ebbing and cool settling in, there was a sense of conviviality amongst the crowd – assorted students and joggers and players and bums – which was rarely seen amongst such diverse groups. Sometimes the chess columnist from the Sun Times would come down to watch the games, and there were frequently photographers, snapping up this last vestige of the urban commons which long ago faded into myth. Now and again Jim would drop his head back and whirl it around slowly, taking in the dizzy panorama of the Lake Michigan shoreline, south to the ferris wheel at Navy Pier and north a bit to the bland, squat North Street beach house, the hotels and posh apartments of the Gold Coast along Lake Shore Drive receding into shadow, and the sundry crowd, most of whom regarded him as a colorful character, some as acquaintance, and a few as friend. To James, this was the best present approximation of home, the place he’d been meticulously plotting out for himself since he was old enough to pick up a pen, then a chess piece, then a bottle.

Part 4: Todd's Opening Everything

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