I’m in the backyard seething, avoiding X, who is inside, because we have just argued over water usage. More precisely, we have fought viciously, for probably the last time, about his long-ass, longer-than-Niagara-Falls showers.
X’s showers are like weather systems—they are days long, months long. Showers only a man could take. They change climates. Drain rivers. Drown infants. They make moss grow on the tiles. Little yellow mushrooms sprout from the crevices around the toilet. You can hear the WPA water towers on the hill above our house gasp every morning as 110 million gallons rush out. You can sense the atmospheric drop in pressure. The cat takes up residence in the bathroom and licks beads of warm water from the walls. She becomes slothful. Dewey. Mold spores blossom in her fur. Jungle noises erupt. I’m in bed waiting for the bathroom, but the shower drones on and on, a hypnotic waterfall, the spray hitting rocks and more water, and I drift back to sleep, re-enter dreams of tropical bird sounds, howler monkeys, a remote, isolated existence where I measure time with water, write with water, speak with water. Even in dreaming I attempt to interrupt the shower, will it to stop, but both the consciousness and the sub are hypnotized by fluidity, and I am lulled deeper into a complicit slumber. When I do wake up, I wake up very mad.
I am the resident eco-police. The relentless domestic cop. In my district, no man may enjoy the modern, wasteful comforts of the American household without consequence, or at least guilt. Every unconscious act is a punishable crime, and by my standards, almost every act in the modern home is an unconscious one. Because I represent 1 billion people on Earth who do not have access to clean water, I can never rest. I am, in other words, a total and utter drag of a live-in girlfriend.
My mood of righteous indignation is fortified, today, by our Russian neighbors, who are preparing their pool for the season. It is an above-ground, predictably blue and small and plastic. It is not built for real swimming, but is rather a container in which to loll and languish, slough off layers of dead skin, swell up, carry out the passive crime of waste. All summer the filter will hum from the eastern corner of our property. You could run an entire household for three months on the energy a pool filter sucks in one summer. For the cost of chlorine, you could feed 70 families in Mumbai for a month. For the gas wasted on trips to Target for cheap plastic swimming accouterments that will wind up in landfills next year and break down slowly, seeping carcinogens into the ground water . . . Well, you get the picture.
I cannot see them over the high fence. One is nasal, whiney, high-pitched. He’s the Joe Pesci brother. The other is a baritone, his words resonate deep in a large chest that absorbs most of the hard edges on the consonants. He’s the brother from Everybody Loves Raymond.
Mostly they talk over one another:
Shupa. Shup guy-ya, says the Everybody Loves Raymond brother.
Oh vot a yow, says Pesci, who seems to possess the authority in the relationship, probably because he’s crazy like Pesci’s character in Goodfellas, and even though he’s smaller—or because he’s smaller—he’d shoot you in the face if he were so moved.
Grano grya eslaya no asatlay . . .
Ak muta—Bah! Bompa bay-ah, ah, ahah . . .
A tearing of plastic.
I should have recognized months ago that the whole shower thing was a deal breaker. But you know how it is in the beginning of relationships; you’re never thinking clearly. By the time he finally shuts down the tropical storm of his morning, I am deeply irritated. Daily. Angry even. Outraged certainly. My objections are humanitarian, economic, societal, environmental, philosophical, spiritual, and completely ineffectual.
When initial attempts to alter this behavior fail, I try to lay off, to live and let live, let be be. Try to see him as the modern day Sebastian Kneipp, monk of the Water Cure, the ritual, the rigorous wake-up session, the crucial centering. He shall be made pure. Daily. He shall inhale negative ions. He shall be energized, invigorated. He shall partake in the purification with devotion, and the ablutions shall last precisely as long as they must. Hours. Days. Whatever it takes.
But I get pissed. Deeply, deeply pissed.
Conveniently, there happens to be an NPR segment this morning on the water crisis in California. I turned up the volume. Way up.
You’re going to have to lay off my showers, he yells, and snaps the radio off.
The next wars will be fought over water, not oil, I say.
Lay. Off. My. Showers.
Wars, I say. Water wars. Same global distribution as oil. Tell me that’s not a humanitarian concern. You don’t dump gallons of oil down the drain every day, do you? To put no limits on your water usage is an act of racism, classism. You use it like a birthright; you’re the oppressor.
I guess that was a little thick. Which isn’t the same as inaccurate.
Pesci: Ka-an. Ahvavlaka la dista ya bap-padya lapur. Ah-ya; ah-ya; ah-ya . . . besante mesmul yavatna.
Everybody Loves Raymond brother: Ah! Awlphoya—screwdriver? What kind of screwdriver?
It occurs to me that maybe the Russian brothers could be Greek.
. . . ladamul ay-you.
. . . lavs sayava. Bumpa na you.
Take the cover off and I’ll see it.
Now the pool filter starts up with a sputter, shuts off. Bird noises everywhere. Sudden, loud, insistent bird noises. I try to follow the thread of each bird: chickadees, cardinals, mourning doves, finches, nuthatches, woodpeckers. I can only keep five sounds distinguished at any one moment. But there are at least nine bird sounds. Eleven. More. And there are motors, many and varied, revving and spinning and growling and choking from other yards. It is the glorious spring, the earth coming back to life, and we respond with weed-whackers and lawnmowers and chainsaws. In the distance, something very high-pitched, maybe a circular saw.
The larger, more baritone brother begins to whistle.
Pesci: Just move . . . la cma de de . . . just move
All the machines stop at once. The Russians flick a switch and the pool filter gurgles and sputters and once again is snapped off.
You gotta try that now.
The filter starts up again, sputters again, backfires, snaps off.
A cardinal has appeared on the fence between my backyard and the Russians. He has the biggest crest I’ve ever seen, which makes him seem manly, sexy, if a bird can be sexy—large and deep red and perfectly groomed. Dapper even. He’s the Cary Grant of Cardinals. He begins hopping along the fence, squawking at the Russians. Then he starts swooping.
Pesci: Whatsa nebakva . . .
Everybody Loves Raymond brother: Whoo-a. Chock-aka mala aka mala.
Other side! Other side! Grabba hose! See what happen? Data . . . data . . . 100 percent!
Everybody Loves Raymond brother laughs: heh-heh-heh-heh, glass of water, never nehlo. Heh.
The brothers (although I don’t really know their relation) are fussing with what sounds like a very large ring of keys. They are laughing the way you laugh when you’re colluding on some prank. Then I hear the whoosh of water pouring and I remember that they have a habit of dumping last summer’s pool water into my next-door neighbor’s backyard. I imagine the water is thick with black, slimy leaves, swampy, fetid.
The downhill neighbors happen to be real estate lawyers, really uptight, but there’s something about the Russians that precludes a conversation about the annual un-neighborly dumping of the pool water. It’s not just a language barrier, it’s something else. The Russians laugh again. Maybe they’re aware of their Cold War power, the residual fear of confrontation, the advantage of a stand-off, and they find their transgression deeply, satisfyingly amusing. Unless maybe they’re Greek. It could be some delight in demonstrating a reliable truth: filthy water, like shit, always runs downhill.
“Now it’s gonna work, now it gonna,” says Joe Pesci. Then, “Shuditoff! Is too low! Shuditoff! Ah, two eenchs, two eenchs!”
Raymond brother mumbles: Blablblmmlkfjlalkvakalamumbvada.
Yah, vivashay yaka muho la.
Filter gurgles, shuts off, gurgles, clicks off. The metal clank of tools.
The Everybody Loves Raymond brother sounds genuinely angry now: Nyej, nyej—no! Zepa woods to loca zepana I pro enaya oo as namatyah!
Zeblocanabaualat houish tabe—shoblash ton ayah—
Mumbling again: Blablblmmlkfjlalkvakalamumbvadablm.
Seven kinds of bird sounds. Nine. Three motors. Three or seven different motors. A man whistling like the bird. A cardinal sounding its alarm. The men laughing (dump stupidva!), the sound of more water rushing into the lawyers’ yard. The Cary Grant cardinal with the crest chirping insanely. Dive bombing. Three motors start up at once. Seven. Nine. Nine birds. One hot, crazed cardinal. A bee.
But there is a smaller sound. A small, high-pitched scream, so miniscule it could be an alarm on a wristwatch. Three naked fetuses, each no bigger than a large olive, roll from under the fence down the slope of my yard. Seven motors rev up and stop simultaneously. All the birds go silent. The filter hums. The pool fills. One gallon. Thirty gallons. Five-thousand gallons. The water towers choke. One billion thirsty people hold their breath at once. Two Russians. One X. The cardinal swoops, noiselessly now. The slamming of drawers inside the house. X packing his bags. The pool fills. All the vessels of unconsciousness filling across the wide states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nebraska. All the happy people and their water.
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