Theodore Dukes

I only heard the name once, but I’ll never forget it. He was in a wheelchair, a professor of prosthetics engineering at Princeton, and I’d been studying prosthetics engineering on my own for years, because a friend of mine needed it. My friend, Bobby Hutton, committed suicide, but I didn’t lose interest in the subject.

In the hallway of the engineering library, I told Dr. Dukes about some of my ideas, and he was very impressed. He tried hard to persuade me to join his seminars and go for at least a master’s, but I came up with a slew of objections, all of which he brushed aside: I was broke; I wouldn’t need a penny. I never graduated; no problem. I was a lousy student; so was he. I couldn’t get into a crummy college; you’re in Princeton now, just come over to my house for dinner tonight!

I panicked. I got in my car, left Princeton forever (after over a decade there), abandoning everything I owned, and drove far, far away.

Now I can’t find any evidence he ever existed, nor Jim Harrje, my neighbor for a month or so while I housesat for a couple Chinese professors who were off in China. In casual conversation, Jim, a highly regarded professor of turbine engineering, taught me a lot about it, and so did a colonel in the USMC who was my mother’s boyfriend for awhile. The colonel won a very prestigious award, as evidenced by the turbine fan on the tie chain he always wore, but I forgot his name.

It’s all very poignant, if only to me.

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