I just got a TV after almost three years without one. Besides indulging in every sports program possible, I’ve tuned in almost daily to my other dirty pleasure, business news.
Strange that the last thing I watched on my own TV was Rod Blagojevich being driven away in a police car in 2009. This week I caught up on the same pendulum with CNBC’s in-depth coverage of Rajat Gupta, a former Goldman Sachs director, being arrested on insider trading charges.
I'm never surprised by American leaders cutting ethical corners. But I am always surprised that such men don’t prevent themselves from going over the line, and doing things that put themselves in legal jeopardy.
CYA or “cover your ass” is one of my favorite acronyms. CYA means taking steps to prevent yourself from getting in trouble or doing things that come back to haunt you. No matter who you are, you should learn at an early age how to CYA adequately.
But maybe I’m fortunate, thanks to a little school yard game we used to play. This treacherous daily game we played was known as Assball, and I credit the game with helping me learn to CYA both figuratively and literally by age 10.
In A-Ball the upperclassmen of the school (we 4th and 5th graders) got claim of the big outside wall facing the blacktop. Previously, kids might kick a rubber kickball off the wall without much of a competitive game in mind.
Sometimes I wore two pairs of underwear to prepare.
What started out as a simple activity of several boys throwing a ball to win the next catch transformed itself into a more cutthroat meta-sport that consumed the later years of my childhood.
The rules of A-ball were as such:
1) Whoever has the ball (usually a tennis ball) throws it against the wall.
2) Anyone one can attempt to catch it on the rebound.
a. If you catch the ball or gather it off the ground, you get the next throw.
b. If you touch the ball but fail to catch it, you must run to the wall and touch the wall before another player can gather the ball, throw it, and hit you.
3) If you get hit with the ball before touching the wall, that’s one strike
4) If you get three strikes, here’s what happens:
a. You must go to the wall.
b. Crouch down, head touching the wall, with your rear facing the area of play.
c. Every other player lines up, and, one at a time, gets a turn to beam you in the ass with the ball.
d. Sit tight. There are about 20 to 25 other boys playing this game.
A-ball must have blossomed from suburban boredom and our adolescent oneupsmanship on the way to middle school. I’m sure some sociologist might say the game had its own Darwinian significance.
As a kid I was both a risk taker and a poor athlete. I spent more time crouched at the wall with three strikes than any other boy on the playground. Sometimes I wore two pairs of underwear to prepare for this. A few times I took it in the face thanks to guys gifted with baseball skills. These kids could lob it accurately between my feet, under my torso and into my hidden face.
Nonetheless, I had fun playing despite the pains and embarrassment. Could be this game represented the thrill and danger in the lives of sheltered and protected youths like us. Maybe I enjoyed the rare escape from the wall.
What I learned was the ability to adapt to any situation, even adverse ones, like getting pelted 25 times in the rear with a tennis ball. More than anything, I learned fundamental value of covering your neck in everything you do, for fear of unsavory consequences.
I also learned about the consequences of taking risks. All in all, it was good training for the greater problems of adult life.
I like to think that our game of A-Ball was unique. But I’m certain kids elsewhere with a wall and a tennis ball might have played a similar game, learning similar lessons. Hopefully along the way our experiences bless us with humor and humility, but some important things to take away for another day.
Seeing another high profile C-Level exec carted away in handcuffs this week rehashed some thoughts. While today’s news of financial misdoings involve illicit trading for profit, it was only three years ago that CEOs of financial giants like AIG and Lehman Brothers threw their hands up and walked away from failing companies, pocketing personal fortunes. Back then it was just incompetence at work.
In retrospect maybe we could have invited more kids to play with us. Just think…we could have helped our business leaders of today become more just and able. We could have built better character. All with the help of a little playground fun of getting pelted in the rear.