I was fortunate enough to be having a drink the other night at a certain well known bar in Manhattan that features politically-correct lawn jockeys outside.
At first I thought my eyes were deceiving me, but no, there at the bar, nursing a tumbler of brown liquor, was a certain investment banking CEO not unknown to those who read the crime blotter.
The stool next to him was open, so I sat down and said, "I'll have what he's having." He gave me a wry look, although I believe what he was drinking was scotch, and we struck up a conversation. I believe I remember most of it.
Bing: Good evening, sir. It's nice to see you looking so healthy. When did you get out?
Felonious CEO: Out?
Bing: Of, you know, jail. Prison. Wherever they sent you.
CEO: Oh, I didn't go to prison. That would have been counterproductive. I went to rehab.
CEO: Well, actually, I went to prehab first. I should have been in prehab a long time ago. Prehab prepares you for rehab.
Bing: Well, that makes sense.
CEO: Then I went to rehab.
Bing: But didn't you commit a crime for which you were incarcerated? I remember the perp walk very well.
CEO: Yes, well, then I ratted on my colleagues, so the perp walk was the only actual criminal punishment that I had to endure. It was terrible.
Bing: Yes, I felt very sorry for you. Of course, I felt almost as sorry for all the people you screwed out of their investments and the workers who lost their jobs when your firm imploded.
CEO: Sure. Everybody feels that way. That's why I had to go to rehab. You can't restore your reputation anymore unless you do. Prison isn't enough. Philanthropy, either. You have to make a public apology, prove that you're nice to animals, and then have a representative announce that you're receiving treatment for something unspecified. That guy who's married to Sandra Bullock for the moment is in the middle of it right now. So is Tiger Woods. And of course Michael Douglas sort of invented the whole sex addiction thing that really worked for him. I'm not sure if Eliot Spitzer has gone down the road. He seems to be pursuing another route.
Bing: What's that?
CEO: He's continuing to dress like he's still governor and having lunch at Michael's Restaurant in New York City every couple of days. Always gets the primo table, too. A lot of us are watching to see if his strategy pays off. It's certainly less expensive than rehab.
Bing: Not by much.
CEO: There are good things about rehab, though. I learned a lot about myself that will help me to be a better person. That's what it's all about, you know.
Bing: What did you learn?
CEO: Well, I was as much an addict as anybody else. I learned about my obsessive, addictive behavior and how to control it with certain cognitive psych exercises, deep breathing, meditation, 12- step group stuff, crap like that.
Bing: I don't really get it. You were an addict? I thought you were just a brutal, narcissistic bully with a very insecure grasp on the concept that other people have an existence independent of your own.
CEO: No. I'm actually a very nice person who was addicted to some very bad things. Take money, for instance.
CEO: Sure. Totally addicted to it. The more I made, the more I wanted. You start small, with pennies and nickels when you're a kid. By the time you get the habit for real, you're up to dollars... then thousands of them. By the time I was forced to quit, I had a $10,000 a day habit, and that didn't even count the perks I was allowed to expense.
CEO: Yes, and my addiction hurt other people as much as it hurt me. The addict doesn't like to enjoy his addiction alone, so I got my wife into it pretty deep, and my kids, too.
CEO: I know. My core addiction produced a bunch of others, of course. Deals, for instance. I developed a total physical dependence on them. Little ones at first, then I moved on to idiotic mergers and acquisitions that didn't make sense to anybody, and still I kept at it. I'm not totally to blame. I had a lot of enablers in the press and the financial community. But I'm not pointing any fingers. I'm to blame.
Bing: Well, you seem to have grown a lot.
CEO: I have. I'm clean now. I never carry any money. And I'm totally committed to internal growth that stems from operations that are integral to the core business.
Bing: That's kind of hard to keep up, though, isn't it?
CEO: Yeah, the Street doesn't like to hear about that kind of thing. They're always hanging around the corners near my office, offering me free pops of whatever they're selling. But so far, so good.
We went on a bit more after that, but that was the nut of it. I got out a few minutes later, after picking up the check. I'll be honest with you. The guy is admirable, to be sure. But I guess I found him a lot more interesting before he got clean.