One of the truly un-expected advantages of moving your family from Sunny Southern California to the middle of the Hudson Valley is that you get to learn that everything you knew about water is wrong.
Southern Californians would tell you that water is the salty blue liquid you see to your left as you drive home to Malibu.
The key assumption that’s so wrong-headed is that water is a liquid.
Here in Upstate New York, I now know that although water can be a liquid, it’s an unstable condition – like when there’s a pen next to the phone.
This sounds like a minor point, but the subtleties can be important. For instance, whereas in Southern California water is the substance that is the very stuff of life, in New York, water is the substance that’s trying to kill you.
I didn’t have the slightest idea about water when the Good Doctor first greeted me at his farm. This was back when Susan and I were first considering buying it from him. It was springtime, and the water was behaving in a perfectly innocent and liquid manner.
It’s possible I was distracted by the acres and acres of green lawn. In Southern California, people with big beautiful lawns are regarded by environmentally enlightened people as swine.
This is because everyone knows that all water is so valuable that it’s probably being controlled by conspirators – so anyone who wastes water on plants they can’t eat is thereby financing the activities of the conspirators.
That’s why I was amazed that the Good Doctor showed no hint of shame – even when he tried to convince me that the grass was alive although there wasn’t any kind of sprinkler system! It looked for all the world exactly like a Beverly Hills lawn does for the 30 minutes after it’s been watered. That’s the maximum time it takes before the grass falls on its side and begs to die.
I asked him why people weren’t leafleting the house and protesting on the road outside. He said it was because nobody cared that he had a big green lawn. He claimed that the lawn was watered by rain from clouds overhead. It sounded like malarkey to me.
I now know that the Good Doctor had to have a pretty clear idea that the water would be trying to murder me soon (the neighbors say that he spent a lot of the previous decade recovering from severe injuries it inflicted on him).
My first inkling that water should not be trusted in the East came when it tried to spear me like a bug.
I had been out making myself useful behind the barn, taping up some of the hoses I’d ruined by driving over them with the Big Tractor, when I decided to go fetch the toolbox from the machine shed. The weather had turned sharply colder just two days after an underhanded rainstorm had caused me to slip on the driveway.
But I was naďve enough to think that since the sky was clear, the water couldn’t get me anymore.
It turned out that the water at the edge of the roof had cunningly fashioned itself into the shape and hardness of an 18” ice pick and attached itself to the overhang above the door. As soon as I came in range, it let go, hurling itself down in a forehead-grazing plunge before smashing apart on the ground, erasing the evidence.
It took a moment for the shock to fade, whereupon I looked up to find dozens of ice-picks up there, poised for duty, lined up like kamikaze pilots on a carrier deck.
The neighbors here call these kamikaze water squads ‘icicles’, undoubtedly a wry play on words combining the mob word ‘ice’ (murder), with the child’s word for a getaway vehicle (‘tricycle’).
At any rate, almost every day throughout that first winter I witnessed any number of schemes water devises to try to murder the people who live here. There’s “snow”, for instance, which is one word for about 500 different disguises water slips into when it’s getting ready to trick you.
In fact, it is only now that I finally understand the true meaning of those first words from the Good Doctor. He was in the swimming pool (undoubtedly due to its medicinal properties) when he called out: “Come in -- the water’s fine!”
What he must have meant was that it was going to be fine – even granular – although that didn’t happen until November.
But by December it had turned positively homicidal.
©2003 Mike Alkus. All rights reserved.