Some California water districts have resorted to deploying “water cops” to nab flagrant offenders of new water rationing restrictions, which effectively starve lawns of water.
The Wall Street Journal
I was sitting in an unmarked car with my partner Kirk O’Keefe, the newest member of the San Dorito Water District Police. We were on a stakeout, sipping from styrofoam cups of coffee and eating donuts to sustain ourselves through an all-night sprinkler stakeout.
“Do you think we’ll nab a ‘perp’ in flagrante delicto?” O’Keefe asked with barely-suppressed excitement. That’s how you spot a rookie water cop; they still use the jailhouse lawyer Latin they learned at Water Cop Academy, and they’re so green they view the job of as exciting, a profession that offers the opportunity for exploit rather than drudgery, to invoke a useful distinction first drawn by Thorstein Veblen, my favorite philandering social philosopher–and try to say that five times fast.
“You been watching too many TV water cop shows,” I replied drily, not curbing my world-weary cynicism one iota.
“Whadda ya mean?”
“Most of the time we just go up to the front door, ring the bell–and run away.”
“Of course not, you doofus, that’s for twelve-year-olds. When the resident comes to the door, we hand him a citation, read him his Miranda rights, and tell him if he don’t show up at his court date at the Water Disputes Tribunal Board we can repossess his sprinkler system.”
“Gosh, that doesn’t sound very dramatic.”
“That’s because it ain’t on TV, nimrod. Now pipe down, I need to be able to hear if a sprinkler system starts up in the dead of night.”
It was late–ten o’clock by my glow-in-the-dark watch–but that comes with the territory as a water cop. For some reason the sun sets later during the summer, year after year, which is the season when people want to surreptitiously water their lawns in violation of San Dorito Municipal Code section 5.03(ii)(B)(3). It makes for a criminal’s paradise; an open-air marketplace of scofflaws trying to squeeze a few drops more than they’re legally entitled to under current watering limits out of their green rubber hoses.
O’Keefe was young, but that don’t mean nothin’. These kids with their “apple earbuds” have the hearing of an eighty-year-old turning up “Wheel of Fortune” to airport runway volume levels. Crafty veterans like myself, on the other hand, have kept our ears in shape over a forty-two year, six month, two week and three-day career–not like I’m counting or anything. I listen to Marcel Marceau albums, don’t go to “Surround Sound” movies and shush people in libraries using both Library of Congress and Dewey Decimal cataloging systems.
In the relative silence of the San Dorito night the only sound a normal person would hear was the whir of air conditioners, working hard to keep people cool inside while contributing their daily heat outside to the cause of global warming. Funny how that works; the hotter it gets, the cooler people wanna be–which only makes it that much hotter. “It reminds me of my sixth grade nun, Sister Carmelo Anthony,” I said out loud, more to myself than to O’Keefe.
“Back in the day, there was no air-conditioning in elementary schools, so when it got hot, kids would start to fan themselves using copies of My Little Messenger.”
“What’s the matter with that?”
“Sister Carmelo would say ‘You think you’re making yourself cooler, but you’re working so hard you’re actually getting hotter.’”
“And was she right about that?”
I gave him a sidewise glance. “I used to check out Candace Spretzel, who had a tremendous crush on me, and who was one of the most avid fanners. The harder she fanned, the more little globes of perspiration would form on her upper lip and forehead. A young boy could imagine other parts of her body that were similarly be-dewed.”
I let that sink in for a moment. O’Keefe probably thought of me as an old fart with no romance in his past. Little did he know that I was once crowned Polka King of my class at Our Lady of Perpetual Punishment Middle School.
O’Keefe let out a low whistle, but I shushed him because I thought I heard the first few spritzes of an automated sprinkler system kicking on.
“Listen,” I said.
“Somebody’s watering . . . let’s roll.”
I turned the ignition in my silent-as-death electric vehicle, and we began a stealthy cruise through the streets of San Dorito, where life is cheap but water’s expensive.
“I think it’s that one over there,” I said, pointing to a faux-adobe split level.
“How can you tell?” O’Keefe asked.
“Let’s just say I got a hunch.” We pulled into the driveway, which was free from the garish plastic toys you find out front of a married couple’s house. My guess was a gay divorcee who got the place when her husband dumped her for a cocktail waitress with fake boobs but otherwise original factory body parts, if you know what I mean. “Cover me–I’m goin’ in.”
I walked up to the door and rang the doorbell with a restrained authority–just a single ding-dong. You don’t want to exacerbate a potentially tense situation into a stand-off and cause an altercation that puts you in jail for the rest of your life due to nosy people taking video of you on their phones when you use excessive force to stop a sprinkler from depleting the reserves of the San Dorito Water District.
I waited a moment, gave the bell one last push, then started to write out a citation to stick on the door–when it opened, revealing a brunette with no love lost in her eyes for rigid enforcement of what she viewed as hidebound water scarcity rules that stood in the way of the kind of lush green lawn she’d grown up on.
“May I help you?” she purred with all the warmth of a leopard about to dine on something from a rung below it on the food chain.
“I believe your sprinkler is on,” I said. She could say yes or she could say no, but she couldn’t contradict the testimony of my senses.
“Is there . . . a law against that?”
“Your street address is an even number. You’re only supposed to water on even-numbered days.”
“There are only three even-numbered days in a week–2, 4 and 6, but four odd-numbered ones. Why do the people on the other side of the street get an extra day?”
“I don’t make the rules, lady, I just enforce them.”
“Perhaps if I showed you all of the energy-and-water-saving appliances in my home, you’d reconsider.”
“I’m not interested in your low-flow toilet, if that’s what you’re suggesting.”
“How about my Energy Star Certified washer-dryer combo?”
I turned to O’Keefe, who was looking up at us from the curb. “Why don’t you take a spin around the block,” I called out to him. “I’m going to review the lady’s, uh, exculpatory evidence.”
O’Keefe bounded out of the car and around to the driver’s side before you could say “State Water Resources Control Board.” I knew where he was going–the 7-11 on State Highway 109 for a giant cherry Slush Puppy to cool off in the desert heat. I’d have plenty of time to get the “fringe benefit” that water cops are entitled to as a little lagniappe to make up for the lousy pay and benefits we get while putting our lives on the line every night.
“It’s in here, off the kitchen,” the woman said as she led me through the dinette. I had to admit it was a beauty.
“It’s good that you have a front-loader,” I said as I gave it the once over. “They use less water than top loaders.”
“I know,” she purred.
“And do you use a small quantity of high-efficiency detergent?”
“My momma didn’t raise no wasteful daughters!” she said as she raised an eyebrow suggestively. “Would you like to take off those sweaty water cop clothes and . . . run a load to see how well it works?”
I saw her raised eyebrow, and I raised her two . . . when she pulled off her Lycra tank top and revealed the two mounds of mammary gland that lay beneath it. I was just about to go in for some exploratory spelunking between them when I heard a voice over my shoulder say “Hold it right there.”
I was expecting an ex-husband or a boyfriend bringing her a bucket of water to tide her over until her next month’s ration arrived, but it was . . . O’Keefe.
“You’re not really going to stop me from testing the water efficiency of a major white-goods appliance are you?” I asked, incredulous.
“Are you pulling rank on me?”
“I’m just saying, in the immortal words of Oliver Wendell Holmes . . .”
“Junior or Senior?”
“Junior. That the life of the law has not been logic, but experience.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” the brunette asked.
“It means that we shouldn’t let a dry, arid regulation stand in the way of an innocent exchange of bodily fluids between us,” I said, grasping her firmly around her wasp waist. I knew O’Keefe wasn’t armed–he’d barely gotten the training wheels off his motorcycle.
“I can’t let you do this,” he said as I nuzzled into her neck.
“Because you’re only a month away from a gold-plated California public sector employee pension that will guarantee you $25,000 a month for the rest of your life. If you can only get your brain to out-think your penis.”
Those words hit me like a bucket of cold water, the kind that fills swimming pools across our desert county only to be rendered undrinkable by chlorine, then drained at the end of the summer and flushed back into the ocean.
I stood bolt upright, and the little guy between my legs found himself suddenly slouching. “Sorry babe,” I said as I backed off.
“You’re going to pass up these?” she said, squeezing her boobs together like a couple of honeydew melons, “for some pie-in-the-sky promise that could be voided to pay for silly stuff like fire and police protection and K-12 education?”
“It’s not an easy choice.”
“You could be hit by a beer truck . . .”
“‘Lite’ or regular?”
“It could be filled with IPA for all I know–but you could die tomorrow without ever having experienced the beauty, the mystery of my body.”
I found myself caught between the Scylla of my self-interest and the Charybdis of my animal instincts. She was beautiful, but I had to think of my retirement.
“Can I take a rain-check?” I asked, so sheepishly you could have knitted a department store full of sweaters from my chagrin.
“You’re a water cop. If there’s anybody in San Dorito who can’t use rain as an excuse–it’s you.”