It was tough being a kid. I was taught a whole litany of golden rules such as: don’t lie, cheat or steal. Along with that came a caveat: â€œsticks and stones may break my bones but names will never harm meâ€. This was told to impress on me to be a good person but if provoked to avoid fisticuffs and just go about calling each other names. I guess this way you could go home to fight another day.
Of course, being a kid, I hardly paid attention. I considered it a challenge to figure out a way to cheat in playing a board game and not get caught. After all, the purpose was to win, right? And I was going up quite often against a couple of siblings- fair game- who should be held nameless when it came time to playing Monopoly, Sorry and all the other ruthless challenges involving the roll of the dice.
However, I got my comeuppance when I invited my best buddy Perry’s older brother Gary over to the house to play a game of Monopoly. We sat on the high rise in the dining room that doubled as my bed at night. At one point well into the game Gary announced that he had to go to the bathroom. He said that he expected that I not do nor touch anything until he returned.
Well, it was my house and my rules. After all, I was the banker. When Gary returned it didn’t take him long to figure out that somehow I had a few more shekels than I should have. At that point, after he called me a few choice names, he proceeded to beat the dickens out of me. In my own house! Whatever happened to “sticks and stones”? I cried and threw him out which didn’t take much as he was planning to make a quick exit regardless. I also told him that we were through as friends. It caused much consternation because now I could not go to call on Perry to play. If I was to go over to his house, there would be Gary lurking. And if he kicked the you know what out of me in my house, imagine what he would have done in his.
As it happened, I caught Perry outside in the alley a few days later and he said that things had cooled down and that there was no reason we couldn’t hang out together. And, of course, Gary and I made up. Gary had sort of a soldier of fortune in him. Years later he moved to Alaska to do accounting work as he heard that the state had an excess of oil revenue and would give out bonuses to each resident at the end of the year like a corporation did. After a while, he got tired of getting nose bleeds living way up north and settled down south in San Diego. I even once took a two hour drive down the freeway while visiting in Los Angeles to go see Gary for about an hour and then turned around and did the two hour ride back.
I didn’t learn my lesson about not paying by the rules, though. In high school I was again tempted to play unfairly. In our junior year, in World History class I sat in the front row next to a fellow with whom I rarely talked until then. Our common bond was that we were Chicago Cub fans, I guess. Somehow we used to get the same grades on tests by giving the same correct answers. (Like there could be more than one correct answer to when was the War of 1812?) Our teacher was convinced that we were participating in tests as a cooperative effort. If we were, it was news to me. But he said he had his eye on us. (Which one? I mean, which eye?) It then dawned on me that since I knew I wasn’t cheating that maybe my all-of-a-sudden good buddy was looking at my desk while he was thinking of answers.
I was patriotic or whatever you called it when you didn’t want to get a classmate in trouble, especially one who was on the school basketball team and a pretty good athlete. So, I decided to facilitate him. However, there did come a time when I needed to look the other way- that is, at his paper to, er, um, compare answers. Ironically, we both got lousy grades on that test. So, it put an end to the buddy system. And if the IRS is reading this, I don’t cheat anymore.