If you need to learn bad business basics, I’m your man

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It’s so nice to be wanted.

I recently received a letter, an honest-to-goodness snail mail letter no less, letting me know how much I was missed, what a profound impact I once had, and that my return would be a highly anticipated event.

“We need you!” the writer implored.

I felt like Sally Field receiving her Oscar award back in 1985 when she tearfully gushed to the audience, “You like me! You really like me!”

The letter was from my local Junior Achievement office. If you’re not familiar with JA, it’s a program that recruits volunteers from various vocations to teach students about the basic principles of free enterprise and share their real-life experiences in the work force.

While it was mighty kind of the folks at JA to expend the cost of a postage stamp to let me know how much they really care and what a tremendous impact I’ve made, I have no immediate plans to return to the classroom.

And, believe me, my absence will be doing Junior Achievement a huge favor.

Let me just emphasize that the fact I prefer not to accept JA’s invitation has nothing to do with the quality of the program. JA has a successful track record of teaching students a thing or two about business. It’s a pretty good model when implemented as designed.

I served in the classrooms of two different teachers who I knew as former high school classmates. Things went pretty well until they decided to evoke free enterprise Principle No. 1 – Make as Much Money as You Can – and left teaching to go make some real dough in the oil and gas business. They loved teaching, but they also loved to eat.

That’s when, apparently, I lost my JA mojo.

I got assigned to work with an unfamiliar teacher at a private school and things descended into Lord of the Flies-style dysfunction pretty rapidly. Actually, the exact moment that triggered the descent came when the teacher decided that the JA song-and-dance man’s visit to the classroom would be the perfect time to take an extended break. So off to the teacher’s lounge he went.

Once the teens realized their teacher was nursing that 7-Up and wasn’t coming back anytime soon, they smelled blood in the water and seized upon their prey. I made a couple of unsuccessful attempts to restore order in the asylum, but my efforts were met with more intensified misbehavior that made Animal House seem like monastery.

What happened next…well, let’s just say it wasn’t my finest hour. To protect the innocent I’ll leave it at that, although I will note it was kind of comical to see Larry the Lounge Lizard come sprinting out to the parking lot as I was unlocking my car to leave.

Undoubtedly, whoever wrote that letter assuring me that my previous involvement in JA “helped make a positive impact in the classroom,” must have either been afflicted with CRS (Can’t Remember Stuff) Disease or very desperate to wrangle in a stray.

I believe in volunteering, but not past the point of diminishing returns. I mean, what kind of economics lesson does it convey to keep pouring your scarce resources into an asset that’s declining faster than a share in the ACME Buggy-Whip Manufacturing Corp.?

While I readily admit my traditional classroom skills are deficient, I’m really, really good at edifying my 13-year-old and my 10-year-old on any topic that needs to be addressed.

Just ask them.

They can’t wait to hear that familiar announcement that could begin resonating throughout the house at any time of day or night, “Okay, it’s time for a team meeting! Put your devices down. Everybody into the living room, let’s go!”

Those may seem to be grunts and moans gurgling out of their throats when I round up the troops to deliver another highly insightful hour-long – if they’re lucky – harangue on drugs, or quality decision-making, or self-respect, or sportsmanship, or responsibility, or academics, or impulse control, or work ethic, or cultivating relationships, or even managing money.

But I think those sounds are really just muffled expressions of joy and excited anticipation meant to conceal their enthusiasm.

I’m like the professor in Dead Poets Society, riffing and rolling and improvising with tightly drawn analogies and clever metaphors. They’re hanging on every word, soaking up every syllable like life-size sponges. That is, when they’re not actually dozing off or raising their hands and asking to go to the bathroom…again. I just figure they must have small bladders.

Money management lectures in the home are always interesting – at least to me – because my kids are polar opposites when it comes to spending habits. Money burns a hole through my boy’s pants pockets, while my teen-age girl is tighter than a violin string. She won’t spend a dollar on anything. Says she’s saving for college. Imagine that.

On second thought, maybe they’d be better off if I kept my thoughts on sound financial strategies to myself.

After all, I’m the one who invested in Apple back when it had a point-zero-to-the-negative-100th-power share of the computer market and then sold it nanoseconds before the iPhone debuted.

I’m the one who invested in Disney and then sold it right after they launched Euro-Disney, which almost caused the company to implode at the time.

Back in the summer of 2005, I sold a house in the Baton Rouge area. Three months later Hurricane Katrina hit and the value of that home automatically increased over 50 percent.

Whatever the opposite of the Midas Touch is, that’s what I’ve got.

So, to my old friends at JA, thank you for your kind offer, but no thanks. Now, if you ever need someone to teach a lesson for lotto winners who discover their good fortune has turned out to be a curse and they’d rather go back to being broke, I’m your guy. Sign me up.

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