Dunga Brook Diary: Water Water Everywhere

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July 1, 2018 · Posted in Commentary 

 

Vicki Whicker

My new neighbor, Jim, seems to be a polarizing figure.

His house doesn’t have water because my house doesn’t have water, because the farmer who owns all the land surrounding our houses cut off my water…because he doesn’t like Jim.

No water.

There once was water…from a sweet, cold spring.

It flowed through a series of pipes across a field (now owned by Jim-hating farmer), across Dunga Brook (bubbling water), and into a holding tank in the basement of my (new, old) house. From there, it was piped through a few acres and into Jim’s house and the barn.

It is a mighty spring, with enough volume to quench the thirst of what was a 1,200-acre dairy farm. The water was shared like this because both of our houses used to be the homesteads of that dairy farm.

Water.

Being from LA, water is luxury. Better than botox.

May 2011, Daniel’s office, Cooperstown, NY

Papers cover his desk. The floor is stacked with manilla folders. Cardboard files, stuffed with documents, are everywhere. Red leather tomes line the bookshelves. A shaft of light from a window illuminates a bottle of whiskey. And, an old-world, stale-cigarette smell permeates the place.

Daniel needs a shave. His thick, auburn hair is doing what it wants to do. His khakis and blue button-down are both tastefully wrinkled. He wears loafers sans socks.

“Can I fight it? Aren’t my water rights grandfathered in?” I ask. “My house has been fed the same spring water since the 1800s, how much more ‘grandfathered’ can I get?”

Daniel’s eyes are that cool light blue color…I detect a twinkle.

I wear LA-tight jeans tucked into dusty cowboy boots and my last clean Fred Segal t-shirt (which might be a tad tight for upstate). My blonde hair is in a ponytail, and I’m in serious need of a bath (after 3 days at Jim’s with no electricity and no running water).

“You could fight it…and you might even win,” he says with a chuckle, as if city folk like me are cute but exhausting, “but it would be cheaper to dig your own well.”

I am a stranger in a strange land. I wait a few beats, wrestling with the big time.

Digging a well sounds just as fun as fighting a farmer. I’ve never dug a well before. I’ve never owned a house. I’ve never moved 4,000 miles for no good reason. I’ve never quit my job with nothing on the horizon…

Besides, I need to pick my fights carefully here. And, I need Daniel in my corner.

“I’ll dig a well. Do you know anyone?”

I discover that Daniel, as the go-to lawyer in this one-horse town, knows lots of someones.

“Dinner, tonight?” I ask. Or blurt. It just comes out.

“Oh!” He blurts back. “I’d love to! But…I have my twins. It’s my night. I’ll be in an apron fixing them dinner. Raincheck?”

“Of course!”

He’s got “mid-life crisis” radiating from his trembling fingers, and he’s playing hard to get. I like that.

The BNB is owned by his client, it’s an old victorian mansion, clean and cute—if a bit stuffed with doilies and dolls. During dinner, in a brocade and chandelier festooned room, the proprietor is non-stop info about everything, from fixing up old houses, to the attributes of the area, to his former life as the chef of a fairly famous Wall-Street eatery.

After a delicious dinner, I lock my doily of a room and set off for Jim’s barn. I have my last upstate and un-showered adventure ahead…bottle feeding baby Ichabod.

I drive into a swoon-y sunset—the pinks, reds, oranges, and violets are well done, like an expensive watercolor.

I call my son, Clay.

“Yo…” He says.

“Yo…” I answer.

“Wassup?”

“On my way to feed the baby.”

“Cool. You like it there?”

“I love it. It’s gorgeous. I can’t wait for you to see it.”

“Yeah. I like your photos on Instagram.”

“Thanks! How’s school?”

“Great. I can’t wait to graduate and get it over with, tho.”

My boy, Clay. I almost lost him, a few years back. He was into drugs, drinking, graffiti, and he was failing 9th grade, every class but one…Literature.

I began seeing his ”tag” everywhere in the Palisades.

“LAMP”

So did the cops.

My beautiful baby was gone and in his place was…? A well-read gang banger.

On Myspace, I’d figured out how to track his conversations—drugs, booze, tagging. He was messing with South Central OGs. One was threatening to come to the Palisades to kill him for stealing his “tag”…“LAMP.”

The hairs stood up on my neck.

Clay’s response to the homie? F.U.

Before he could be annihilated by the real “LAMP,” he was charged with felony tagging. He’d carved “LAMP” into the window of an LA City bus…a window that cost over $3,000 to replace.

And so, there I was, the Pacific Palisades mom in a South Central juvie court. His dad, my ex, was too busy of an exec to be there. Like I wasn’t. I’d come straight from work, dressed to impress the other fashionistas in Manhattan Beach. But here? Woefully out of place.

While Clay and I waited to be called to the judge’s chambers, we sat in a room full of wailing babies, kids playing tag, sullen dads, pissed-off moms, dozing grandmas and grandpas, and the tween-aged felons that brought us all together. I tried to disappear while a gangster methodically kicked a coke machine.

Clay exploded, shouting, “Shut the fuck up!”

All eyes on us.

I hated him then.

When we got out of court, his future still in limbo, I screamed at him all the way home. My throat was sore for days.

He was ordered restitution and community service.

His dad bought him a trip to the mountains of Utah. To a camp for troubled teens. On a BBC expose they called it “Brat Camp”.

But that was then, and this is now.

“I’m excited for you, Mom. Good thing you bought a truck.”

My truck. My Dodge Ram 1500, 4×4, hemi.

Really? In LA? Who does that? I have a 15-minute commute into Bel Air, up Sunset. No large animals or boats to haul. Not even a chicken. And, at the time of purchase, no hope of a house in the country.

For months, Clay insisted, “You need a truck.” He’d print photos of trucks and tape them to my computer screen with notes, “This one!”

I’d roll my eyes and throw them out, and in no time, there’d be a new one, “You need this!”

In December 2010, we went to the valley for Mexican food. He drove his Dodge truck. It was a piece of crap that I bought for $1500. It was a deal, if you ignored the door that wouldn’t shut, the air-conditioning that didn’t work, and a window that wouldn’t roll up.

His dad wanted to him to drive a leased BMW. Clay said, “No way.”

That old truck was everything to him. It represented off-the-grid, out-of-the-city freedom…a different sort of life.

Connor’s truck

As we drove down Ventura Boulevard that day, we sang country music as loud as we could. After lunch, we found ourselves in a Dodge dealership. Just indulging my boy a bit..Right? Well, somehow, a few hours later, I drove off in a fancy new truck…despite the fact that I didn’t have a credit card (or a check) on me.

Vicki’s truck

“How did you know I was going to buy a house in the country and need a truck?” I ask.

“I just did,” he says.

Our call drops as I turn down the road that leads to my new life.

Jim’s barn. The doors are open wide. It’s dark as hell inside.

Oh, right, no electricity.

I keep the car’s lights on, I’ll need the brights to find baby Ichabod.

What could go wrong?

(To be continued…)

 

The barn

 

Vicki Whicker is an iphoneographer living near Cooperstown, New York. In 2011, after 25 years in LA, she quit her fashion job and decamped for the wilds of central New York. Without a job, not much forethought, and a vague plan to remodel an 1820’s farmhouse, she had no idea what was ahead. https://www.instagram. com/vicki_whicker/

 

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