DOWN THE DRAIN
The most mentally disturbed thing I’ve ever done is probably when, in the weeks after 9/11, I went water-crazy.
The news was filled in those days with stories about how we were going to be attacked next — crop dusters, dirty bombs, shoulder-fired missiles, stealth strikes on power plants, nukes smuggled on cargo ships. It would’ve seemed like the typical attention-getting fear tactics of the news media if not for the fact that we’d all just seen two commercial airliners bring down the motherfucking World Trade Center. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, that shit was terrifying.
I didn’t work on the docks or own a crop duster, so mostly, like all of us, I felt powerless. Then I heard how vulnerable our water supply was. The way I understood it, just a thimble full of botulism could contaminate the entire LA reservoir, and 20 million people in Southern California would just shrivel right up and die. In a way, it was the best news I’d ever heard. This, you see, was a problem I could do something about.
I wasn’t going to let myself become one of those shriveling losers. I was going to make sure that, in case anything happened to the water, I had plenty of it ready to go. I started stocking up. Big time. Whenever I went to the store, I’d buy another couple of gallons of bottled water. I kept picturing the shelves, which were now full of the stuff — my God, it’s even on sale! — one day depleted and empty. People would fight over the store’s last bottle, which cost nine thousand dollars, clawing and kicking at each other, reduced to feral savages willing to kill for their basic human needs, even though one gallon was only enough to sustain one person for one more day. And I’d just push my cart right past them, spend my money on microwave popcorn and ice cream and go home to bathe in gallons and gallons of crystal-clear Arrowhead spring water.
At some point, I realized I was slowly going insane. I was turning into one of the same people I made fun of in the Y2K hysteria, those paranoid goons who holed their family up in wooden shacks in Montana with ten years worth of canned soup and a thousand rounds of ammo. That’s it. No more water, Jerry. You’re not going to be Crazy Water Guy.
… but what about my friends? If the water attack came, I had plenty of water to last until the shipments began to arrive from Colorado or Oregon or wherever water comes from. But only for myself. I knew my friends weren’t as forward-thinking as I was. They weren’t stockpiling water, the fools. What if Janice came knocking? Or Julie? Or Frank? Sure, I hardly ever hear from Frank, and I’d know he was only contacting me because he heard I had water. Oh, hi, Frank. What brings you by? You need water? Why, I never would’ve guessed! That Frank, he’s a pure-water friend. But I wouldn’t want Frank to shrivel up and die, would I? No, I’d share my water, of course — even with Frank — and that meant I needed more of it, pronto.
I bought so much water that I began to worry that the people at the supermarket might notice me. They probably had a nickname for me, and I was as memorable as the old guy who came in just for free samples at the deli counter or the thirteen-year-old girl who knocked over the tampon display because she was too embarrassed to ask for help reaching the ones on top. They were talking about me in the break room, I knew it. “Did you see Crazy Water Guy today? He bought five more bottles!” “I hear he uses it to drown his rape victims!”
Besides, if you buy enough of anything, it makes a dent in your budget. I had to stop buying water. But that didn’t mean I had to stop stockpiling it. Figuring that in the water crisis nobody would be picky about what they were drinking, I started filling old Coke bottles with tap water. This didn’t cost me anything at all, so I’d be crazy not to make sure I had as much water on hand as possible. And in case of emergency, I’d give the Coke bottles to Frank. Drink up, Frank. Does it have a slight caramel color and taste vaguely of corn syrup? So sorry. Hands off the Arrowhead. That’s mine, bitch.
Gradually, as my anxiety ebbed, I returned to my normal relationship with water. And I put the stockpile, like the fear, out of my mind. Then, last night, while bringing over the last few things from my old apartment, I came across my water stash. I had stopped adding to it two years ago, but it remained in my pantry (with the overflow located in the hall closet when the pantry filled up), ready to quench me should I ever need quenching. It was easy to keep it there and ignore it. I wasn’t Crazy Water Guy anymore, but if, you know, we ever did get attacked, well, there it was. Oh, no, I don’t really think I’ll ever need all this water. I’m just too lazy to throw it out, that’s all. Well, last night, I had a choice. Move it or lose it.
So down the drain went the Coke bottles, every single one of them. It was a big victory for me. Jerry, 1. Crazy Water Guy, 0. I proved I could take water for granted again. I could waste it. I was no longer paranoid that a drop I dumped in my sink today could’ve saved my life tomorrow.
Of course, I kept the bottled water. There are always earthquakes to worry about, and who knows what else might happen? I still believe it’s good to be prepared, just not crazily prepared.
And obviously, if anything happens, Frank’s on his own.