The Retorts column by Jim Tortolano is taking a week off. This is a classic “Retorts.”
Pat Ryan, in his sci-fi novel “Alas Babylon,” wrote that “civilization is like snow in the desert.” Thin and fragile and subject to vanishing under a bit of heat.
Last Thursday evening the hot water ceased to flow in our lovely home in Garden Grove. That may not seem like much of a crisis to you, but we take more showers and baths than Shamu’s family, especially during the summer.
It being late in the evening, we despaired of getting a plumber out in a timely fashion, so we resigned ourselves to a cold shower the next day and for who knows how much longer than that. We have twin tankless water heaters, which employ a technology that resembles (to me, anyway) more Hogwart’s than Home Depot.
Left with no acceptable alternative, we proceeded to improvise. You fill up a big beaker with water, nuke it in the microwave, and take it (along with a smaller pouring cup) into the shower. You steel yourself to the bite of the cold water, and rinse off with dips from the pre-heated aqua, and the end result is tolerable, if not exactly enjoyable.
Luckily, in July, even unheated water is not exactly frigid, and like getting into a swimming pool, you get used to it after a bit. No frostbite cases were reported.
We summoned a local plumber, Jacot Plumbing, who arrived quickly the same day and restored the flow of warm H20.
The “crisis” was over, but it put in our minds how much we take for granted the comforts of our high-tech, cushy existence. We flip a switch and expect electricity. We turn a knob and expect clean cold (or heated) water. We punch a button and natural gas flows for a stove or barbecue or fireplace.
It’s a cliché, but a true one: you never appreciate something until it is gone. A lot is made (rightfully) of the sacrifices that our servicemen and servicewomen do in fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, but even those who never make it into combat give up a lot.
They sacrifice their time, their close connection to friends and family and the customs and comforts of their society, even if they never get closer to the front lines than Fort Ord.
You seldom get to bathe or eat or drink in the way with which you have become accustomed. You lose privacy and gain homesickness. The very people and things, which used to bore you now become precious.
For those of us here at home, we have become so inured to any kind of minor inconvenience that we hold a lodge of sorrow about not being able to hop in the hot tub. If the power is out for 30 minutes we gripe about being disconnected from Facebook or our favorite TV show.
Even when we think we are roughing it, we’re really not. I’ve seen campers and recreational vehicles the size of a Navy minesweeper, stuffed no doubt with refrigerators, stoves, comfy beds, TVs, etc. They might get parked next to a redwood tree, but it seems unlikely the occupants are any closer to nature than I am when I walk the pooch at the Village Green Park.
Many moons ago, as a Boy Scout, I rather enjoyed the experience of learning to pitch a tent (location is everything!), start a fire, cook a meal without a stove, and snooze in a sleeping bag instead of a plush bed.
I’m not saying that I yearn to go back to the days of Troop 90, but there is a certain pleasure in being able to cope with the challenges of everyday living without falling into a panic or starving in the rain.
It got me thinking that maybe I should start taking seriously the necessity of “being prepared.” More propane for the BBQ in case we needed to cook outside for a while. More bottled water in case that was scarce. A pile of batteries and battery-operated radios and flashlights. Shoes for hiking. Extra linens, food and medical supplies.
I made this list in my head while I had a 45-minute hot water shower this morning. The transition from “spoiled” to “ready” can’t be done too abruptly, you know ….