"A Little Water Problem"
Monday, April 14, 1986
On the phone he says he won't be home but I can come by anytime because the problem is outside. "A little water problem," he calls it. So I visit a handsomely designed house of redwood and glass in Portola Valley where an underground leak has dug a gully under a concrete patio, sending a gush of water cascading down an embankment and into the street. Right now it's dry.
A neighbor wanders over and says he told the homeowners about the problem a couple of months ago. The owners' response was to shut off the main valve to the house. In the morning the neighbor would see one of the owners walking out to the street in a bathrobe carrying a big wrench, kneeling in the dirt to turn the valve so they could take a shower. Then a half hour later, dressed to the nines, they'd turn it off and drive away. They've been living mostly without water for the last two months.
“When did they call you?” the neighbor asked.
“Amazing,” the neighbor says.
“People procrastinate,” I say.
The neighbor shakes his head. “Either they’re cheap or they’re idiots.”
Together the neighbor and I study the house. It's probably worth several million. The husband is a surgeon, the wife an attorney.
“Don’t underestimate inertia,” I say.
“Or tightwads,” the neighbor says, and he wanders off.
. . . In retrospect, I see that I used this job as an incident in Clear Heart almost exactly as it happened. Sometimes, you can't improve on real life.
In the novel, Wally (the contractor) accepts the job. In real life, I turn it down. That lifeless gully of rock and bare dirt emerging from under cold concrete is scary somehow, a desolate distant planet. If somebody waits two months to call you while living in a million dollar house without water, he might wait another two months to pay you. As a contractor, you have to develop a sixth sense about weird situations. There are too many Mr. Lunders in the world.
Better to lose a few jobs than get sucked into a bad one. And the wife is an attorney. This job gives me shivers. No thanks.