I LOST PERSONAL TRACK of Elmer after high school, 20 years ago. That was all right with me, because I thought he was pretty much of a jerk; and that is why I am calling him "Elmer," not his real name.

The trouble was that Elmer's mother did not lose track of my mother. So, from time to time, I received second-hand information about Elmer's latest foray into what was certain to be a field that would lead him breathless into the upper reaches of the world of high finance. Each of them seemed to require Elmer's mother dip into her savings again; Elmer, of course, needed money to make money. Elmer's mother was the sort of woman who would hit the same pothole everyday, rattling her teeth and shaking her wattles, until at last she had to have $245 worth of front-end work done on the car. Then, the next day, she would hit the pothole again. I began to understand how Elmer had acquired his talent as a jerk.

Unbeknownst to me (or I would have obtained a gag order), my mother, in all innocence, had evidently confided to Elmer's mother that I had been openly and notoriously engaged in the practice of law. So, when Elmer got involved in something that seemed to his mother to be inordinately expensive, even by Elmer's standards, and very shady indeed, she placed a direct call to someone who ought to know about things that cost a lot of money, and look shady.That was the first I ever heard of Glenn W. Turner, Koscot, and Dare To Be Great.

If God had meant us to wander around in a fog, without any information, he would not have given us the telephone. He might have displayed a little more judgement in His choice of folks to run the company, but He can settle that matter with the Pope. By using the telephone, I was able, in half a day or so, to find out quite a bit about Glenn W. Turner and his various enterprises.

For those who neither used the telephone, nor shoveled cashiers' checks for $5000 to buy the right to sell the right to sell mink-oil cosmetics, door-to-door (no, I am not making this up), and for those, such as I, who never sent away for a carton of White Cloverine Brand Salve (to be sold door-to-door for the prize of a Daisy Red Ryder carbine), Koscot and Dare To Be Great contravened the basic principles of adult existence: There is no such thing as a free lunch; Keep your left hand high; Don't eat yellow snow.

What Rudy Maxa has done, in his quzzical book, is to prove that there exist in this Republic a great many Elmers, most of them with the IQs of houseplants, some of them just a hair smarter, the Gantrys of the phylum. Into that latter classification, Maxa with considerable justice places Glenn W. Turner, whose pyrotechnical antics so bifuddled his auditors that, when he was through, somewhere in the neighborhood of $44 million had gone right down the trap. And much of it was borrowed.

The weak, in other words, dress up in flashy suits, lease Cadillacs and Lear Jets, prate insufferably of the power of positive idiocy, and are thus enabled to prey upon the weaker still. Were is not so, we would not have loansharks, pushers, pimps and freak show managers.

We paternalistic idealists perforce resent such realities. We think three ought to be a law against such predatory activity. And so, for about ten years, did the various governments, local, state and federal, which viewed with disgust, if not with alarm, the furious peregrinations of people - the Reverend Moon comes readily to mind - quite willing to render themselves ridiculous in order to establish themselves as messianic to people even more confused than they. And thus to part the audience from its money, if not from its confusion.

Therefore the SEC, the FTC, attorneys general in numbers sufficient to rival those of the Fred Waring and the Pennyslvanians, scrambled, squabbled and duffed around for several years, until at last postal inspectors made a cast against Turner in Florida. And, for good measure, pitched in my friend, F. Lee Bailey, as a co-defendant, for having afforded Mr. Turner legal representation. A real scut case, in other words, which Turner, for all intents and purposes, beat. (Bailey's charges were dismissed).

Rudy Maxa, being in full possession of his faculties, casts a cool - but not cold - eye at Turner's carryings-on, and out of it develops a nonjudgmental book which delivers the central truth of every con-man's personality:he believes it, all that stuff, himself. Did he not believe it, he could not peddle it so successfully. He would either break out laughing, or bite clean through his lower lip. There is no such thing as a gaffer with a sense of humor, at least not until he's caught.

Elmer's mother had none either. How do you tell the mother of jerk, that she's the mother of jerk? Well, I did it. She thanked me. And she loaned him $4000, which he lost.