Once a month the maintenance crew for our apartment building turns off our water to perform a mysterious ritual on the building’s water supply. Though I have never been witness to this secret ceremony, I like to imagine many men dressed in greasy hooded work clothes moving in a slow circle around the water system somewhere in the bowels of our building quietly reciting soft incantations and waving great metal tools of salvation while the anointed High Priest of the maintenance crew performs the sacred ritual of purifying the waters.
Though I am sure all the tenants of the apartment building are grateful for these efforts, when the maintenance crew brings the water supply back to life and re-pressurize the pipes so that the sanctified waters will flow once again reinvigorated on their long journey to our seventh floor apartment, when we turn on our faucets we are greeted with a very loud billowing gush of pressurized air.
It scares the living shit out of me every time.
I try to remind myself that this will happen so I wont be startled, and if I’m lucky I might remember when I go to use the kitchen sink or even the toilet that afternoon. But by the end of the day, the odds are very good that I will have forgotten about the day’s water purifying ritual, and when I draw a bath to help quiet the basket of thoughts that have become stuck in my head and are talking all at once, a loud boom of angry air will come shouting into the tub announcing the arrival of the newly sanctified hot water and produce the exact opposite of the calming affect I was seeking.
The last time this happened, I noticed that I curse a certain way depending on what has given me cause to be frightened. For example, if my partner suddenly appears from around the corner of our small apartment while I am day dreaming, I find that my usual response is…
(that is all one word, with strong emphasis on the JE!-Sus)
…however, when I am REALLY startled, like when the bath tub faucet screams at me, I seem to default to…
JE-Sus…Mary…and mother fuckin’ Joseph
…using a slowly retarding rhythm and a descending inflection in one long drawn out sentence of exasperation while clutching my heart with a free hand and my eyes closed.
Being on the 7th floor of our building means we have to waste many gallons of water waiting for the hot water to slowly make its way up to our apartment. California has been several years in a drought, and as good citizens of the state, we have learned how precious water is and what we can do to preserve it: we turn off the water when brushing our teeth, we capture buckets of water while waiting for the hot water to arrive for our shower and dish washing, and we use these buckets the next day to water our thirsty plants.
Dish washing in our apartment complex comes with its own unwritten time table. It seems that when most folks in the apartments below us are home from their day jobs and begin washing their dinner dishes after 7:00pm, we can successfully coax the hot water to continue its climb to our apartment. However, trying to convince the hot water to make a solitary trip to the 7th floor at 2:00pm or 11:00pm is pointless even while we patiently capture buckets of water during the wait. After filling two 3-gallon buckets with cold water, I find that, in exasperation, I give up on the task and swear with a mild cursing of “Son-of-a…” that trails off in a sentence that is not meant to finish.
This might not seem like a big deal, but if I get too comfortable on the couch after dinner and forget about the allotted time window for doing dinner dishes with hot water, the next thing I know, our nightly movie watching is over, it’s 11:00pm, there’s a sink full of dinner dishes and cocktail glasses, and no hot water. This ends my day with what could be described as an ‘OCD Trigger’; knowing that I am destined to start tomorrow by making coffee in a kitchen full of dirty dishes. As much as this thought causes me grief, I have noticed that, irked with no hot water to finish the last chore of the day, all I can usually muster for a good curse is “Ah-god-damn-it….” as I give up and shuffle off to bed.
One day I was awakened from my afternoon nap by what sounded like marbles rolling around inside the pipes of the bedroom toilet. Even though my mind was still returning from a dream state, I knew exactly what had happened (comfortable with the bold theory that no one had actually put marbles in the toilet pipes); the maintenance crew had convened an emergency session of The Sacred Waters Kabal and turned off the water while I slept, and were now re-pressurizing the water pipes at the completion of their ceremony. Sure enough, when I turned on the shower, the pipes screamed in agony with a gush of new air and then produced cold water containing samples of dirt and bits of metal flake that had escaped capture by the maintenance crew (imagining the water quality of our showers prior to the cleansing ritual does not produce curses, only squinty-eyed crinkled nose winces of disgust). Since I had mentally prepared myself for the possibility of shouting water pipes, I offered no curse when turning on the shower, only a boastful sneer and a nod of pride knowing that this time I had not been fooled.
Our role as tenants in The Cleansing of The Waters ritual comes with only two tasks of responsibility: 1) try to remember about screaming pipes when you turn the water back on, and 2) let the water run for a few minutes after you summon it to the 7th floor. A lapse in either of these duties could summon either a chill of disgust or a spectacular curse even Je-Suschrist would appreciate.
Ken Owen Van Niddy Press