I knew there was a problem when the toilet began making odd sounds. I lifted the tank lid, and sure enough, the water drained out, but wasn't replaced. I understood then that what I had feared had come to pass: the landlord still hadn't paid the water bill, and now the city had shut off the supply. We had been leading up to this for some time. Some months before, the pipes had burst, flooding the place. Now, the bill was enormous, and the landlord had been mulish about it. He had some reason, I admit; I had come home to the flood, and could not figure out how to shut the main valve off. As a result, much more water was lost than might otherwise have. Still, when I got the notice from the city that the water was to be turned off if the bill wasn't paid, I notified him of it expecting that he would deal with it. He clearly hadn't, and now I had no water.
Calling him didn't do any good; I just got his poorly functioning answering machine. Steps would have to be taken in the long term, but in the meantime, what was I to do? Having had some inkling of possible trouble , I had taken the basic step of filling all the two-liter bottles I had on hand with water, so I could at least refill the tank. I had set aside eight. It took five bottles.
It is at times like these that one must journey deep down into ones soul, and try to find some strength. For a while, I couldn't, and abandoned myself to useless recriminations and inner whining. After a time though, I recovered somewhat, and began considering possible stopgaps. I rejected the notion of sneaking over to neighbors houses in the middle of the night and refilling bottles off their outdoor taps, that would be theft. I was too humiliated to approach any openly and beg or borrow some. It seemed that I was well and truly caught in an impossible circumstance.
Slowly though, I became aware of a faint, far-off chorus of voices saying something to me. Eventually I heeded, and what I heard was the accumulated wisdom of the countless billions of humans who have trod this planet before the advent of city water departments, government billing agencies, and hot-and-cold-running-water-taps. These innumerable ghosts (and how many people HAVE wandered over this world before now? Ten billion, One hundred billion? Interesting question...) were all saying to me: "Go to the well, you ninny."
"But there is no village well any longer" I replied. "I live in a city, and we do things differently. Only in backward foreign countries does one see men and women (usually women) gathering at a local central wellhead with urns and jugs."
"The more fool you, then," my phantom chorus responded. "But surely your city cannot be entirely without public water?"
"Where?" cried I. "Shall I go into the lavatory of a restaurant? Would a gas station have an open tap?" Shall I look for such a thing in a public park... park... Hmm... Parks sometimes have pump wells, don't they...
Thought turns to action. I gather my empty bottles, and head for a park, more-or-less at random. At the first one I see, I drive over to the entrance, and cruise slowly down the drive, examining picnic spots and baseball diamonds with a new appreciation for hitherto unnoticed details. No old-fashioned pump handles do I spot. I am just on the verge of looking for a pond or stream somewhere, when I spot it. An ordinary drinking fountain. With a spigot off one side.
Later that evening, as I enjoy a meal cooked with free water I found by myself, I reflect. I suppose only a hunter can feel the same sense of warm, sweet "Gotcha" as I had. But not the well-fed and technologically sophisticated gentleman hunter-hobbyist of today. No, only a real hunter, whose success at finding what he was looking for or face a day without some basic necessity could understand the brief but pungent exaltation of "I win." Tomorrow would be another day, and would bring its own concerns and challenges (like talking to something other than an answering machine), but for this evening I could afford relax in a sense of having accomplished something real.
And why am I telling you, O Reader, this story? What lesson would I have you learn? Perhaps you think that I shall now urge you to carefully consider where alternate sources of basic necessities may be found. What if you were suddenly bereft of a convenient supply of water? No, I will not. If such an eventuality seems unlikely to you, I surely cannot convince you to consider such a thing. And if knowing where wellheads or other such things is an important issue to you, chances are you have already researched the problem.
No, what I would like to leave you with is this thought: What do you hunt for? In whatever form your life takes, what is significant enough for you to hop in the car and drive an indeterminate distance on a hunch that your desiderata may be found in such-and-such a place? And when you search, and when you find, and when you obtain (Gotcha...), do you allow yourself at least a brief exaltation of inner joy, at having won something important? And do you permit yourself to remember it, later? I hope so, for in recognizing and rejoicing in our achievements; and in remembering those victories later, we make use of our special human potential more fully than at most other times.
May 14, 1997
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