At Least We Can Be Polite

Lip’s Last Drama

Lip was elected student body president of our high school the spring semester of our senior year. It was 1962, and school enrollment at Long Beach Millikan High School must have been close to three thousand. (Today’s enrollment is 4062).

Lip was dedicated to achieving this, and won by going out and personally meeting every person in the school. It was retail politics at its best.

As the semester wore on, Lip became the most well known person on campus. He had a great sense of humor, and a pleasant look to him. He smiled easily and was not an imposing physical figure, which made him all the more popular.

The two of us had grown up together. We knew each other from elementary school on. We were in cub scouts together, and for the life of me, I can’t remember how it was that we became such close friends throughout high school.

Anyway, as our senior year was coming to a close, we agreed that when we went out on weekends with our friends, and drank, one of us would be the designated sober driver. So, one night it was my turn to drive. We went to a party down at the beach. A lot of drinking took place, and at about 11p.m., we left.

I then drove them to a local diner to drink coffee and eat some food before I took them home. Lip and I were sitting at the counter, and Lip ordered a hamburger. When it arrived, Lip looked at it, and shouted to the waitress, “The hamburger has onions on it.” He then opened the hamburger and threw the two sides of it onto the counter. It splattered all over the counter, and the poor waitress dutifully started cleaning it up, while apologizing, promising to get the next order correct.

Lip, at his worst, had an unpredictable temper. It was on full display at this moment.

Just as Lip did this, a couple of girls from our high school had just gotten up to pay their bill. They witnessed what Lip had done, and one of the girls asked Lip, “Aren’t you the student body president?”

Forever the quick thinker, Lip replied he had been partying a little too hard, “I can’t be held accountable for my behavior.” The girls didn’t seem convinced and continued walking on. Lip turned to me and said defensively:

Lip: “The waitress made a mistake. She needed to learn a lesson.”

Me: “That’s stupid.”

Lip: “Roger, she made a mistake! Can’t you understand that?”

Me: “So what if she made a mistake. You’re getting a big head. Apologize to her.”

Lip: “Whatever! You apologize to her.”

Fast forward

It is now 1990. At this time I was a management consultant with clients nationwide. Additionally, I had been on the radio, broadcasting commentaries, for seven years.

During this time, my plane travel had become very heavy. Parking my car at Los Angeles International Airport, I found a place called The Car Barn, that would store my car while I was gone. It was like an inside garage. The service was excellent. They would wash and detail the car while I was traveling, and on my return, they would bring the car to me while I sat in a clean, well decorated waiting room.

One Friday evening I flew into LAX, and proceeded to The Car Barn, and waited for my car to be delivered. When it came, it wasn’t my car. A young Hispanic man had mixed up the keys, and had brought me the wrong car.

I flew off the handle, and said in a loud voice, “It’s the wrong car. Don’t you know what you’re doing?”

Within sixty seconds the problem had been rectified, but I refused to give the young guy a tip.

Anyway, I got into my car, and quickly drove up to the window to pay. My ticket had my name on it. The person at the window, having heard me chew out the attendant, looked at the ticket and said, “Dr. Roger Hendrix, are you the Dr. Hendrix on the radio?”

“Yes I am,” I said.

As I responded, a disappointed look came over his face. It was an embarrassing moment for me. Actually, I didn’t know what to say. His look said it all. What can you say at moments like this, when you’ve been caught acting in a way that is contrary to your public image?

Maybe like Lip, I had started to take myself too seriously, and thought that I could take liberties that really weren’t mine to take.

One more fast forward

A week or so ago, my wife and I were on a conference call with another couple with whom we have been traveling for years.

We were discussing an upcoming trip, and my wife had been studying French in preparation for it. She shared a couple of phrases in French, and was complimented for her effort.

“More than anything,” she said, “I just want to be polite.”

We all agreed to the importance of what she said.

Indeed, the least we can do in this life is be polite with those with whom we interact on a daily basis. This applies even when we think the other person has made a mistake. Most importantly, we can be polite even when we think we can get away with being impolite. Anything less than this, suggests a presumption of self importance on our part.

I’m sure that with the seasoning Lip and I have gone through these many years, we would wholeheartedly agree with this. Again: the least we can be is polite, even when we think we don’t have to be, or shouldn’t be.