If you've got a house, you may complain every once in a while about the constant upkeep. It seems like as soon as you get one thing cared for, something else needs attention, the windows, the roof, the yard, the plumbing, the paint. Well, be glad you're not in charge of the maintenance of the Golden Gate Bridge. Not long ago I was standing by San Francisco Bay, admiring the impressive beauty of that great bridge, when someone told me what it takes to keep it impressive. Like 35 painters! Every day! That's all they do! The trucks roll out early every morning with another load of that distinctive orange paint and for eight hours a day those 35 painters are somewhere on that bridge, keeping it in good shape. Things deteriorate so fast, it takes constant effort to maintain the beauty.
I'm a tornado and hurricane kind of guy. I mean I don't like them but, I've lived where you learn about those things. I'm not an earthquake kind of guy, I've never lived where those mattered much. But when I was in San Francisco recently, I was where earthquakes are a big deal! Most people there still have dramatic stories to tell about what happened during that big quake in 1989, the one that interrupted the third game of the World Series. Some of the heaviest damage and injury was in the Marina District of San Francisco. We went there to tape part of a radio program, in fact, we were right on the corner of Beach Street and Divisadero where several buildings collapsed or burned, including one that had been totally consumed by fire. One of the neighbors described the scene for us, one very different from this quiet neighborhood with beautiful rebuilt homes. The night of the quake it was total chaos. This neighbor described that awful fire with the unbearable heat that had destroyed the building on the other corner. He said, "The fire started out with a gas leak - it was very small. If I could have gotten over there, I literally could have put it out with a bucket of water. But then it started to spread and pretty soon there was no way to stop it."
Spring is nice - it means flowers! Spring is not nice - it also can mean floods! One North Dakota town saw it coming - the floods, not the flowers. And they decided they weren't just going to sit there an float away. Because of a winter that had produced mountains of snow, they knew where that snow would go when it melted - right into their homes and businesses. So, while the snow was still deep, they started to make an island out of their town. Everyone pitched in to literally build an earthen dike around the town. Yes, they would be an island - yes, they would be surrounded by a flood - but they made a wall so they would be safe in the middle of it!
One of the more lovable men on TV these days is a weatherman named Al Roker. You may have seen him on the "Today" show in the morning or hosting coverage of some special events or even on his own show. A recent article in Parade Magazine that quotes Al as saying that he weighed in at over 300 pounds - at only 5'8". Notice I said weighed in - that was past tense. After carrying around all those pounds for a while, he suddenly went out to a gym one day and asked them to put him on a diet and exercise program that would radically reduce his size. As of the writing of this article, he had lost 55 pounds! And what was it that suddenly got him wanting to do something about weight he had carried around for a long time? His young daughter came up to him one day when he had his shirt off and made a blunt, off-the-cuff observation about how he looked - the kind only a child can make in all innocence and get away with. That was it. Hello, gymnasium - goodbye, fat.
When I check my suitcase at the airport - and then I see it disappear as the conveyor belt carries it beyond the curtain into the black hole called - the luggage-zone. I sometimes wonder how my bag is going to be handled. I don't know exactly what baggage handlers do, but I do know that Bertha - I've named my bag since we spend so much time together - she may get tossed, buried, squished. That's why I ask for a special sticker when I'm checking a bag that has something breakable in it - like my last trip, for example. There were a lot of plastic items in my bag that could have been shattered if the handlers got rowdy. So I simply asked for the protection of that bright red sticker with the picture of a fine drinking glass on it - the symbol of breakable. And I hope that somewhere in the luggage-zone that one seven-letter word will make a difference in how my things are handled - the word - fragile.
My friend Billy knew where his parents hid the Christmas gifts. Well, he's an adult now but he still remembers the year he that he acted on knowing where the gifts were. His parents were gone and he sneaked downstairs. He went into the closet and nothing was wrapped yet, opened up the shopping bags and there they were. He folded up the bag and went back upstairs. His parents never knew. Now it was Christmas morning and you have to know that Billy had the reputation for being Mr. Christmas in his family. He never needed an alarm clock on Christmas morning. His parents told me all you have to do is have him get you up about 5 a.m. He's set to go off on Christmas morning. But this particular Christmas everybody was downstairs. They were beginning to open their presents and they suddenly realized, "Whoa, Whoa Billy is not here." Well Dad went and got him and he said, "It's Christmas son. Are you coming?" "Yeah," and he came shuffling downstairs, opened his presents, expressed his appreciation but somehow he was just not into it like everybody else was. His dad called him aside and he said, "Hey, Billy are you sick or something? You're like Mr. Christmas here." Billy said, "Dad, I really blew it." He said, "I opened my gift early and I ruined Christmas." A lot of people have ruined what could have been an unforgettable celebration.
My friend, Jack, has a short list of people he totally respects. He told me that recently, and then he told me who is at the top of that list. His Dad. He said, "Don't think that meant I always did what he said when I was a kid, in fact, the usual script went something like this: Dad told me to do something or not to do something and because I'm stubborn I'd go ahead and do what I wanted! After which my Dad would spank me, after which I would do it Dad's way." And then Jack smiles and he said, "Now let me show you the kind of rocket scientist I am." I began to think, "You know Jack the story always ends the same way, you end up doing what your father says. Either you do it when he says it or you do it after you get spanked. But either way you do it." Now, he said, "Here's where my scientific mind kicked in. Why not eliminate those middle steps where you get spanked and just do what he says." Hey! Do I have brilliant friends, or what?
I'll tell you what kind of airplane passenger makes an interesting neighbor - someone who has never flown before! Flight attendants sometimes refer to them as white knuckle flyers from the way they hang on. My friend, John, was on his way to speak somewhere and since it was just a one day meeting he was dressed in the suit that he had with him. And that day John had the joy of sitting next to a lady who was on her rookie flight. She was as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs! Whenever there was a noise, like the landing gear retracting, she would say, "What was that?" And John would patiently explain. After they had been airborne a few minutes, Mrs. Rookie suddenly muttered, "I feel sick." Well, my friend hurriedly found that little discomfort bag in the pouch in front of her, the one they give you when your stomach doesn't want to keep what it has. Wouldn't you know it, a few moments later, John's neighbor turned to him and unloaded her lunch all over his only suit. And what was her only comment after redecorating him? "I feel so much better now." Yeah - well, how do you think he feels now?
We've had a lot of fun in our family with some of the tapes I made when the kids were little. I can hear what they sounded like before they had much of a vocabulary - before their voices changed. It's special memories. So is the tape of our wedding over 30 years ago, it's always a pretty tender time when my wife and I sit and listen to the day we made our lifetime vows to each other. Happy tapes - and then, there was President Richard Nixon - not happy tapes.
The Watergate accusations flew back and forth without making any fatal damage until an aid testified that the President had tapes of his oval office conversations. There was a big legal battle over releasing those tapes, but, eventually the world heard the not very pretty things that were said behind closed doors. I wonder if President Nixon just forgot sometimes that the recorder was running, or if he thought none would ever hear what he was saying. Well, he was wrong.
I really enjoy picking out gifts for the people I love, I enjoy giving the gift, I don't enjoy wrapping the gift. In fact, it's tempting just to hand them the present, but it just isn't so special to get a gift in a K-Mart bag. It's nicer to have it wrapped in wrapping paper and bows. But there's something about my motor coordination I guess, the lines must be down between my brain and my hands. My wrapping looks alot like a five-year-old's, so I usually prevail upon my wife, or if it's for her, my sister-in-law. You see, wrapping is extra trouble but a nice gift should come in a nice package.