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Trust: Once It’s Gone, You Can’t Get It Back

While I was in the Navy, our ship had pulled into a port and I had duty along with a quarter of the rest of the crew. We couldn’t “hit the beach” (and more importantly, the bars). We couldn’t leave, but didn’t have anything to do, so we passed the time playing cards. There were few card games that we didn’t play at one time or another, but this night we had a five guy penny ante poker game going. It truly was “penny ante” with a max bet of a nickel. The game certainly wasn’t for getting rich – it was just to stave off boredom. We took a short break while one of the guys went to the hangar deck for a round of Cokes. While he was gone, my friend sitting directly across from me showed us a card trick he’d picked up from a previous ship – and I screwed up royally.

When he finished, I told him, “I’ve got a trick I can show you, but I need to hit the head (nautical speak for the restroom) first, but while I’m gone, I want you to shuffle the cards exactly seven time – not six – not eight – but exactly seven. The rest of you guys watch and count to make sure there are exactly seven shuffles. Unless it’s exactly seven, the trick won’t work.”

I returned and asked, “Did you shuffle the cards exactly seven times?”  Everyone agreed there had been seven. I reached across and pulled the cards toward me, cut them, then pushed them back. “OK, now deal out a round of five card draw – all cards face down – and nobody look at your cards until I tell you.”

When the cards were all dealt, I flipped mine over – four deuces and a joker and told the rest to turn theirs over.  Each of them had in order, ace down to ten, a royal flush.

To say the least, it created quite a sensation – Navy language back then was pretty rough, so I’ll skip the dialog – but I’ll just say they were impressed. I’d pulled off my little trick, I’d upstaged my friend’s trick, but in trying to show off, I’d done something that came back to haunt me.

I eventually showed them exactly how I’d done it. (So much for the “magician’s oath.”)  The nonsense about exactly seven shuffles was just part of the set up – to focus attention on the wrong thing. On the way to the head, I’d scooped up a deck of cards from another table, arranged them out of sight, and then while “cutting the cards” I’d swapped the shuffled deck for the cold one hidden in my hand. I even showed them how to do the deck swap sleight.

I was about even in the game – might have been up a dime – I certainly wasn’t a big winner – nor was there a big loser. No one thought I’d been cheating during the game – but they couldn’t be sure – and they couldn’t be sure in any future games that I wasn’t cheating – because I’d demonstrated how I could cheat. I hadn’t lost any money, but I’d lost their trust – and I’d never get it back. The poker game happened almost half a century ago – and I haven’t played poker since. I lost their trust – and I lost some innocence.

Trust – once it’s gone, there is no way it ever comes back.

As I write this, the 1919 World Series has been over for 101 years, but the Chicago “Black” Sox and Shoeless Joe Jackson are still well known to every baseball fan. The Houston Astros, whose transgressions were minor in comparison, will probably be reviled just as long. Pete Rose, despite some accomplishments that may never be broken, still isn’t in the Hall of Fame and probably never will be. Charlie Hustle broke many records but he also broke our trust in him. Once trust is gone, it’s gone. Sorry, Charlie.

My brother was nine years older, so as a kid I got the second hand experience of his friends high school transgressions. At that early age, I learned that even the mild teenage infidelities of high school led to nothing but trouble and broken trust that followed people forever. After all these years, I still remember who was running around on who. The ’50s and ’60s radio was full of cheated love to emphasize the point. It was a lesson I took to heart. In twelve years of marriage, followed by other long term relationships, I’ve maintained serial monogamy.  All the “I’m sorry’s and it’ll never happen again’s” can never replace the lost trust.

When I owned a construction company one of my subcontracting companies that I’d used for a few years was owned by two brothers. Then it all hit the fan when they both started running around. The result – six (yeah SIX) very messy and ugly divorces that scandalized our small town. Later they came to me asking why I’d stopped calling them for bids.

“Guys – we’ve been friends since you moved here in junior high school – but if your wives, your multiple girlfriends, your families, your kids, can’t trust you – how the Hell am I supposed to?”

In the corporate days, I always kept my eyes open on the golf course.  Seeing someone kick their ball out of the rough was all it took for me to assess their character – and for me to find some way to distance myself, and the company, from them. Probably they’d never screw me around in a business deal, but I couldn’t be sure. My trust in them was gone.

At a big construction company, we had a major bid due on a Friday. As we were getting the flood of last minute number changes called in from subs and suppliers, I caught a whiff of “something going on.” I resigned on Monday and moved on.

There are whole industries, whole states, and whole countries I’ve learned to stay the hell away from – too many people with their hands out. How are you supposed to trust someone that is selling their trust to the highest bidder? Their loyalty only runs as long as the latest bribe holds out. Trying to do business under those conditions is a freeway to Hell.

In seventy years I’ve accumulated many more tales of damaged trust, but you get the idea. Guard your reputation – guard it in personal relationships, business relationships, in all relationships. Trust is more precious that gold or diamonds and, as I learned, it can disappear in a heartbeat from even an innocent transgression.

PS – Just in case anyone is curious for strictly academic reasons – NO! I won’t teach you how to cut in a cold deck!

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Reeves Motal
Reeves Motal
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