#176: Drink of Water

June 12th, 2013

A fire hydrant shakes when you crank it open. It shakes and shivers and sometimes blasts the cap off into the street.

You need a crank first, something only the fire department can provide. It’s a two-handled metal whanger with a pentagonal keyhole in the middle for the big bolt on top of the hydrant. It’s an old, ugly cudgel, a weapon in life-sized urban Clue.

“It was the Hipster… with the Fire Hydrant Crank… in the Community Garden.”

I do have access to a fire hydrant key and no you can’t borrow it. But one morning a week, I head to an empty lot in Logan Square, haul a ratty hose across a street, screw it into a hydrant, crank shake and shiver the plug on top open and watch as the holes in the ratty hose become micro-sprinklers and a rocket stream of water shoots from the other side to let off enough pressure that the cap doesn’t blast off into the street.

Then I take that ratty, sputtering hose and water the heck out of vegetables for low-income children.

I go early to the community garden to try to give myself enough time to:

1. Water the Logan Square garden in scrub clothes (stained jeans and Superman shirt #1),

2. Shower and change into shirt and tie in Noble Square,

3. Arrive fresh as the morning dawn in my Loop office by 8:30 a.m.

I always fail.

As I watered, the light widened over Logan Square and the passersby went from joggers and dog walkers to suit-and-tie commuters. It’s a daily occurrence in the early morning, it’s own little cycle as the comparatively slower little seedlings start to grow and unfold leaves and tendrils. A blur of daily color against a slow, summer-long spreading green.

One of the blurs stopped to call to me. He was a middle-aged man on a white bicycle. A massive mustache under a Cubs cap, he called to me in a rapid-fire Spanish.

“I don’t speak Spanish,” I called back, taking the hose off the nasturtiums and putting it in the rain barrel.

“Do you have 50 cents for a pop?” he called to me as I walked up.

I did the pocket dance, I’m not ashamed to say. That’s the urban Macarena where you slap your hands precisely to the pockets where you know you aren’t carrying any money.

“Sorry,” I said, coming up empty.


“Sorry,” I said.

I had about $40 on me, including several singles.

He smiled and went a friendly off. I retrieved the hose from the rain barrel and continued watering.

The man walked his bike across the street to the hydrant, the shivering, shaking hydrant with the rocket stream of water shooting out to let off enough pressure that the cap doesn’t blast off.

He propped up his bike on the kickstand and squatted by the rocket stream.

Then he tried to drink from it.

He crouched over this jet and stuck his lips into a razor rip of pressurized water. He tried to drink from it because I lied about not having enough money for a pop. He had actually been thirsty and I didn’t think until he was too far away to offer him a drink from the hose.

Under a widening sun in Logan Square, I played a micron of a part in growing vegetables for low-income children. The man washed his hands in the jet stream and tried to crack a joke with a passing suit-and-tie commuter.

The commuter didn’t smile. The world moved on.

Comment on this story

Superman shirt #1? How many Superman shirts does this guy own?

What's this?

You are currently reading #176: Drink of Water by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

  • -30-