On the way between the Memorial Student Union where “And Now for Something Completely Different” and wherever it was Freshman year at DePauw that I read “Mother Courage,” I encountered Reducio A. Absurdum. Maybe the setting was a kegger, a social function at DePauw in the 1970’s at which students practiced a Darwinian approach to intellectual improvement through consumption of large quantities of alcohol to kill brain cells that deserved to die, leaving, as survivors, the cells hardy and more functional.
Reducio—or “Dukie,” as we came to call him—was a difficult person to read. Sometimes what he said sounded silly, but then later, in large part, came true. As an example: in 1976, a lot of us made derogatory comments about Ronald Reagan and Reagan’s (lack of) intellect. Dukie would smirk and say, “Put him in the Oval Office, let him drop tax rates on the very rich, and see how our economy improves.” The first two clauses of that statement came true, the last did not.
At first blush, in those heady times for people on the far left—we were certain marijuana would be legal any day, equal rights for all seemed a certainty, and the Cubs soon would win the World Series®—Dukie was an enigmatic figure. He wore the preppie garments—L.L. Bean® top siders, Brooks Brothers® “casual wear,” etc.—of a kid raised in Lake Forest and educated at country day schools and The Red Lantern. He also was a complete smart-ass, but uttered aphorisms with a straight face and timing of which Jack Benny would have been envious. The social circles in which he traveled overlapped mine. I ran into him at a mixer at Deke, at about 7 a.m. during Winter Term on more than one occasion, and at The Old Topper Tavern and several more. He was an occasional member of the Thursday Night Supper Club, a loosely-knit club, without officers, who met weekly to engorge the cash register of one or another local public establishment. He had acquired the nickname “Jose” one year after he flunked Spanish–twice.
I had lost track of Dukie over the years. There were rumors he had become a mercenary. I thought I saw him in the lobby of the Board of Trade in Chicago in 1982 when my wife was a runner at CBOE. In the midst of the Congressional investigation of Irangate, I was certain Dukie, a bit fatter but clad in a seersucker jacket and khakis—a sartorial combination only he could manage in public—sat in the front row behind Colonel Oliver North, a place from which Dukie occasionally passed notes to the uniform-clad former Marine.
Thus, it came as a modest surprise when I turned to my left in a local public establishment in Broad Ripple to see, there in the flesh, an older Dukie himself.
“Single malt,” Dukie said to the bartender, who hesitated. “The stuff in the bottle right there, with all the consonants in the name.” Yes, Dukie still was a condescending ass.
I asked, “Dukie?”
He took his drink and moved around me, to take seat on the empty stool. “I always sit to someone’s right. You should remember that,” he said and sipped his drink.
We caught up on old times. He confirmed some of the rumors.
“Yeah, I took one of the seats my old man owned on the Midwest, back in 1982,” he said, downed his drink, and signaled for another. “I knew a woman over at CBOE who came up with software and calculated when the Crash would occur in October, 1987—to the day.”
“You sold short?” I asked. That’s kind of like what Dan Ackroyd and Eddie Murphy’s characters do at the end of “Trading Places.” Dukie had bet the market would crash.
“I borrowed against a bunch of stuff and made a bundle. Put a lot of traders into bankruptcy.” To the bartender he said, “Will you pour the next one in a decent-sized glass? This one only holds a couple of drops.”
“Why are you here in Indianapolis?” I could not help but ask.
“This is the new frontier for investments and opportunities. This governor you have is quite a fellow. He sees into the future then acts as if he is in the past. And the people who manage finances for the City finally hit on the concept of TIFs. I haven’t seen this much opportunity since Eric Clapton made smack popular back in the day.”
I said TIFs were not the same as heroin. Dukie laughed so hard, I thought 17-year-old single malt would blow out his nose. “So you’re here for TIFs?” I asked after he recovered.
“Only in part,” he said. “The investment group I represent has purchased an old factory. We are going to manufacture fence for the border between the United States and Mexico.” I told him I found the concept of the fence disgusting. He knocked down half of the single malt in the much larger 32-ounce glass in which he had been served his next round. “How so?” Dukie could seem dim, at times, so I slowed down to say the wall represented racism and fear of others.
He waved a hand and laughed. “You don’t understand, do you? The fence is being built to keep people ‘in,’ not to keep people out. Hell, the people who survive walks across deserts and past roving patrols perform excellently once they are here. The only ‘threat’ they pose is to some of our corporate partners who under-perform. And there are fewer of those immigrants. The net flow of immigrants is from the United States TO Mexico. Trump wants to build that wall to keep American people IN.” He signaled for another drink. Damn but the man could drink.
“Sir,” the bartender advised. “Those ‘shots’ cost about a hundred bucks each. And there is the question of whether you have to drive.”
Dukie pointed to the towne car with the chauffeur outside. “And I can afford the drink.” He turned to me. “And the reason we have to build that wall is to keep labor costs down. If too many Americans go to Mexico, we won’t have menials here. We need them to get Trump into the Oval Office.”
“He’s ‘your’ guy?”
“Hell no,” Dukie replied. “He’s crazy as that guy in the dorms our Freshman year. The one who had two names that were interchangeable as first and last.” I nodded. Only if you were there at the time could you understand. “By the way, that same guy runs the operation down in Mexico. He was really important in development of our drug cartels.”
“Your drug cartels?”
Dukie looked at his watch. “I have to get out of here. Have to meet with some religious group. One of my not-for-profits is making a killing on this voucher thing.”
“How in the hell do you make a profit from a not-for-profit corporation?”
Dukie almost fell down laughing this time. “You always were a hoot. I remember when you got the equal time on TV to call for the legalization of all drugs. We play a tape of that at our board meetings once in a while, to point out ‘the enemy.’ Hell, if this country legalized drugs, I’d be wiped out. We’ll keep in touch.” He handed me a business card.
As he walked out of the place, I noticed three people, two males and one female, move away from places in the bar. One preceded Dukie out the side door. The other two covered Dukie’s rear. The chauffeur opened the door. The three bodyguards jumped into a Chevy Tahoe. Both vehicles pulled away.
I looked at the business card. “Have puns/Will migrate/Lake Forest” the card read, with “Reducio Ad Absurdum, Esq.” and a ten-digit telephone number. The card stock was cream-colored and of excellent quality.
I was certain this would not be the last time I would see Dukie.