Barry Smith: Irrelativity
June 13, 2011
Even though it was almost 40 years ago I can still remember that moment so vividly. I see some wires poking out of a little gray box on the side of the neighbor’s house, and I open it up to find a veritable candy store of colored wires, all intertwined and vibrant and beckoning. What happens, I wonder, if I pull this one out and stick it over here? What if I swap these two? What if I take this one and this one and twist it around? What if … oh, look … a frog on the ground! Better chase it.
I’m a 6-year-old kid in the Deep South and it’s summer vacation. Life is as carefree as it gets. My wire tampering was just a blip in my day, a curious entry into a jam-packed week of doing stuff. Even though I somehow knew that these wires controlled my neighbor’s telephone my actions weren’t malicious. If anything, I remember thinking that I was kinda improving on the system. Like, if I put this wire here, maybe it will be better. Free long distance, maybe? For all I knew, I was inventing call waiting 20 years ahead of its time.
But the next morning, when I saw the neighbor squatting in front of that little wire box, digging around inside of it with a puzzled look on his face, I felt that heart-skipping sensation of being busted.
Just be cool, just be cool. This is hard to do when you’re at an age where wetting your pants is still a very real possibility. I was pretty sure that nobody had seen my sabotage, but surely I was on the suspect list. And if confronted directly I knew my pants would not fare well.
When you’re a kid you think that grownups know how to do everything, so I knew my neighbor would know how to fix his phone wiring. And he must have, because I never did get asked about it. Those were some terror-filled days, though. Weeks later I remember walking past that phone box and seeing a lock on it. Like I’d ever put myself through that again.
Now, flash forward, it’s 40 years later, I’m an adult who very recently moved into my own house. Two little kids have just appeared at my door.
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The younger sister speaks: “You know that white thing that’s on your fence?”
“Yeah, that white round thing that’s all the way down the fence.”
Ah, she means the 70-plus feet of PVC irrigation pipe that’s attached to the wooden fence.
“Ah, you mean the 70-plus feet of PVC irrigation pipe that’s attached to the wooden fence,” I say. I’m good at communicating with kids. They like it when you don’t talk down to them. “Yeah, interesting story about that. Obviously it would make more sense to have an underground system, but I’m drawing directly from that ditch, and because of an easement on this property I have to …”
“There’s a lot of water coming out of it,” she says. “We just wanted to let you know.”
And they headed back down the driveway.
I look out to the end of the fence and sure enough – a geyser. I shut off the main sprinkler pump and head out there. There’s a big hole in the pipe, pretty clear that it’s been hit by something. And there are those kids again, right across the road, in their front yard. A front yard that’s suspiciously adjacent to the broken section of pipe.
It’s now obvious to me what’s happened. These kids, God bless ’em, were thoughtful enough to tell me that my irrigation pipe was leaking – leaving out the “because we hit it really hard with sticks” part. ‘Lil politicians in the making.
So, as I squat down to examine the broken pipe, I thought about that guy, the phone neighbor, for the first time in 40 years. Now I was in his role – the competent grown-up skillfully repairing the damage of kids. The kids were in my role – semi-accidentally causing damage and hoping to not get in trouble for it.
Time lurches forward, the eternal cycle continues, and we all get our turn at different roles. With only one difference …
… how the hell do you fix a broken pipe?
(Next time: In true homesteader tradition, Barry Googles “How the hell do you fix a broken pipe?”)
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