Sometimes The Best Thing To Do Is To Do Nothing


I once bought a house that laughed at fools.

Early in 1964, personnel called me and alerted me for overseas shipment to a prime duty station, Kadena Air Base on Okinawa. Naturally, I went home with a smile on my face to tell my family about it, but the smile lasted only one day.

The next day, when I went to personnel to get things rolling, I learned that I couldn't take my family with me, at least not right away. Base housing was in short supply, and I would have to find off-base housing before I could bring them over.

The smile was soon back, however, because I asked around and found out that it would only take a week or so to find a house over there and to apply to bring Lolly and the kids over. So, saddened to leave my family, even for a little while, I kissed them goodbye, drove to California, and flew overseas to Okinawa.

Imagine my shock when I found that the base was under an intense buildup for Vietnam and that finding off-base housing was now next to impossible.

I looked of course. I looked everywhere, but all I got for day after day spent tracking down leads was one disappointment after another. Wherever I went someone had been there before me. Houses were booked eight or 10 months in advance.

Six long months dragged by. I kept at it, but I don't think I would ever have found a place if I hadn't happened to do a favor for an NCO who'd had his tour of duty unfairly extended. I wrote a letter for him that got it cut back again and he returned the favor by putting me in touch with the Okinawan who owned the house he was renting. Since no one had expected that particular house to become available, no one had been there before me.

Hopes up, I met with the owner, only to find it was not for rent anymore. If I wanted it, he told me, I would have to buy it.

I cringed. I was still a four-striper then, and money was extra tight because it is far from cheap to maintain a split family. I didn't think I could even come up with a down payment.

But then he told me the price.

Can you believe that I bought a two bedroom house with a large living room, a tiled kitchen, laundry room, full bath, and fenced yard, located on the shoreward crest of a low hill with an absolutely breathtaking view of the Pacific for $1,500?

And what a house!

One reason I had almost despaired of ever finding off-base housing were the regulations regarding how housing for military people had to be constructed.

The construction regulations were so strict they put approved houses in extremely short supply, even though they made sense because Okinawa lies in Typhoon Alley.

The Okinawans lived in anything they wanted. Most of them lived in little wooden shacks that would have blown away if a Jeep backfired. But not us.

We had to be housed, on base or off, in something that would withstand the worst a typhoon could deliver.

And so my little $1,500 house was built of cement blocks tied together with rebar and filled with cement to create what were essentially solid cement walls.

And on top of those concrete walls sat a six-inch-thick slanting concrete roof. The roof had a slight curve to it to encourage water to run off in one place. It made it look like the house was smiling -- as I was when I saw it.

But that was not where the regulations quit. They required heavy wooden windows protected by inch-thick sliding shutters that ran in solid wooden rails and were nailed shut each time a typhoon blew up. And outside doors that opened outward instead of inward so heavy winds would press them against a concrete door frame.

I tell you I felt like we were living in a fortress when we shut ourselves up in our little house and nailed the shutters closed before a storm.

Good thing, too. We had 18 typhoons while we were there.

It wasn't as bad as it sounds, though.

One drawback of having concrete walls, by the way, is that the pipes run through solid concrete. If one happens to leak, you have yourself a repair job and a half.

When we first moved into our little above-ground cyclone cellar I noticed a slight rust stain on a wall that had pipes running through it. But it appeared that the stain had occurred when the place was being built, and I didn't see any other signs of a leak, so I didn't worry about it.

Eighteen months later, when I moved on base, I offered the place to an NCO in my outfit. He also noticed the rust stain.

"Probably some sort of leak that happened when the house was being built," I told him. "Nothing to worry about."

But worry he did. you should have seen that guy hemming and hawing about a rust stain which hadn't changed in the year and a half I had lived in the house, and probably never would.

"How about you paying to have the pipes jackhammered out and replaced?" he asked me.

"How about I sell the house to someone who doesn't worry about something that's never going to be a problem?"

Well, he bought it but unfortunately he was in my outfit and every time he saw me he had something different to say about that rust stain. Not that it ever leaked. It didn't, and he became such a pain in the neck that I regretted selling him the house.

Then one day I drove out to the old neighborhood to visit a friend of mine.

There was the old worry wart supervising a crew of Okinawans knocking his beautiful solid concrete wall apart.

"The pipes broke?" I asked him, feeling a little guilty and already thinking of sharing the expense of the repair.

"Uh-uh. I just didn't want them to start leaking."

I couldn't believe it. What a bonehead!

What was the worst thing that could have happened?

The pipes might have started leaking. In which case he would have had to break the wall down in order to repair them.

So what did he do to avoid the worst possible thing that could happen?

He made it happen!

I swear, when I saw the house that day it looked like the curve in the roof was greater than it had been when I lived there.

Even the house was laughing at him.

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