by Bud Simons
Mr. Dutton, thanks very much for agreeing to this interview for our podcast “The Nine Percent,” which as I’m sure you know is the percentage of people infected by the Wild Card who become jokers.
DUTTON: You’re quite welcome. I don’t usually grant interviews, but your request was hard to resist.
9%: Why is that, if you don’t mind my asking?
DUTTON: Well, to be honest, most of my friends and acquaintances, even the youngest of them, are fairly long in the tooth. I don’t remember the last time I spoke with someone as youthful as yourself. So I thought I might learn something through the course of our conversation.
9%: I hope that’s the case. Just fyi, everyone who works on the podcast is a joker, so it’s not necessary for you to wear a mask.
DUTTON: I’m wearing the mask for your benefit, not mine. Trust me.
9%: Okay, whatever works for you, Mr. Dutton. I know you can only spare a little time, so why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?
DUTTON: Well, I was born into the good life. My family was well-to-do. I went to private schools and was working in what is now called the financial services industry when my card turned. My family was horrified, but initially very supportive. We went to several renowned plastic surgeons who said my case was hopeless. Eventually, the family cut ties with me, or I with them, and I moved to Jokertown. That was back in the 1950s.
9%: Is that when you began your philanthropic work?
DUTTON: I wish I could say that was the case, but no. Initially, my only purpose was to make money for myself. I was bitter and angry and unconcerned with others. You see, I’d had my entire life planned out, down to what street I would live on and how many children I’d father. With that dream gone I focused on the one thing I could still do, enrich myself. There’s nothing remotely admirable about my early years in Jokertown.
9%: So what happened that changed your attitude?
DUTTON: It wasn’t a solitary event or revelation on my part. The longer you’re part of a community, even if you resent being there, the more you become a part of it. And it becomes a part of you. I started a project or two to benefit my fellow jokers as a tax write-off and I realized it was the most satisfying thing I’d done in years. That was the beginning. Since then, much of my investing has been in this community, our community. In addition to real estate, I take great pride in helping to create an independent financial institution here, as well as supporting local businesses, and the Dime Museum has always been a labor of love. I’ve been fortunate to have friends and others who, like me, want to grow this little part of New York City into something better.
9%: You’ve been called by some the Godfather of Jokertown. What do you think of that unofficial title?
DUTTON: I don’t like it or live up to it. Godfather suggests I’m far more sinister and ruthless than is the case. If someone wanted to call me the great-grandfather of Jokertown, that might be closer to the truth. I’m certainly old enough.
9%: Because of your amazing longevity, you’ve had to say goodbye to many of those friends down through the years. Is it difficult that so few of those people remain now?
DUTTON: Some of them I never stop missing. I still expect to see Father Squid tending to the faithful, in spite of his having been gone several years. Xavier Desmond was a person I greatly admired. We had similar circumstances, but he was far and away the better man. There’s a reason we called him The Mayor. Just an irreplaceable presence. And I still miss Chrysalis, who was such a unique personality. If I start thinking about all the empty chairs from the past, I might not make it through the interview.
9%: Tell us a little about your relationship with Chrysalis, who you were business partners with.
DUTTON: She was originally from Oklahoma, but you probably know that, and was more accepting of what the virus had done to her than someone like me. The Crystal Palace was a reflection of her vision and sensibilities — elegant, refined, but not stuffy and very much alive. All-in-all an easy person to be a silent partner with.
9%: It’s said that she trafficked in information. Were you also her partner in that?
9%: Yes and no. I’m very much a gossip and also like to know what’s going on in every aspect of Jokertown. She shared that sort of information with me, but the more valuable tidbits she didn’t usually let me know about. Just as well. I’m something of a risk averse person in most ways.
9%: Her killing . . .
DUTTON: Murder, she was murdered, and her killer was found guilty.
9%: Yes. There’s always been a tension between us jokers and aces. That must have soured relations dramatically.
DUTTON: Absolutely. It was a low point. Much of the time there has been a certain, respect isn’t the right word, acceptance between us and aces. The government and the nat community in general have always been suspicious, even antagonistic towards those touched by the virus, and it made us occasional allies. What happened to Chrysalis frayed those bonds, particularly here in New York.
9%: I don’t want to dwell on events that are too morbid or painful, so I’ll move on. On a lighter note, is it true that you kept a framed copy of Munch’s “The Scream” over your bathroom sink instead of a mirror.
DUTTON: (laughs) Yes, I had the Munch in the bathroom for decades, but I took it down awhile back. I had it replaced with a mural featuring many of my joker friends and acquaintances. Not as much of a conversation piece, but much more satisfying to look at first thing in the morning.
9%: Your philanthropic activities are well documented, but what do you do with your leisure time?
DUTTON: I feel I’m close to the end of my life. Of course, I’ve felt that way for some time, but it does create added pressure to accomplish as much as possible before I die. It’s the vanity of “legacy,” I suppose. Still, I enjoy a good poker game and make a point of hosting one on a regular basis. Much as I enjoy winning, the real pleasure is in visiting with old friends. A full liquor cabinet doesn’t hurt, either. I also love riding around Jokertown — walking is too taxing — watching old businesses thrive and new ones spring up.
9%: You actually went to a poker game in Chicago not that long ago. It must have been quite a game to tempt you out of town. I understand you travel very little.
DUTTON: Indeed, travel is very demanding for me, even though I make it as comfortable as possible. The game itself was quite interesting. I don’t think I’ve even taken part in one quite like it. As it was a private game, I’m curious as to how you caught wind of it.
9%: Message boards. You’d be surprised the kind of rumors that turn up on there. Do you think the trip to Chicago might be your last excursion?
DUTTON: No. My hope is that I have one last adventure in me, if I can manage to live to see it. With luck, it will be something wonderful.
9%: We’ll leave it on that hopeful note. Thanks for sitting down with us Mr. Dutton.
DUTTON: My pleasure.