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Pipe Dreams

by Stephen Lautens


July 14, 2000

I'm not one to gawk at things at the side of the road. It doesn't matter if it's a fender bender or someone who has partied a little too hearty and has had to make an unscheduled pit stop - there's little that happens in the ditch that makes me look twice.

Until last weekend, that is.

On the road to the cottage, miles from anywhere, there's one spot where there are always a dozen cars parked on the shoulder. It's not for a chip truck or sale of cowboy windmills whose legs spin around in the breeze.

It's for a pipe that sticks out of the ground.

People come from all over to line up in front of this rusty old pipe and fill up their water jugs. As far as I can tell, the hill where the pipe sticks out at the side of the road doesn't belong to anyone. There are no houses or developments nearby. How the pipe got there is a bit of a mystery, but every time I drive by there's a crowd of people patiently waiting to take home as much of the miraculous fluid as they can carry.

These are probably the same people who go home and use that new liquid soap for washing your vegetables.

When we were kids, you were lucky if an apple got rubbed on your shirt before you ate it. My mother defended not washing produce on the grounds that any left over insecticide would do us good by killing any internal pests.

If you found a bug in your salad, mom would invariably say one of two things - either: "Well, you got the prize", or "just a little extra protein". With this bug-eating background I suppose I could be a finalist on Survivor.

I don't want you to get the impression that the Children's Aid should have been involved in our upbringing. It's just that we were never taught that everything you touched had to be sterilized first.

Today we go overboard with cleaners and disinfectants, and the advertisers play on these fears. Germs on your countertop. Germs in your mouth. There's even a medical school of thought that the increased incidence of childhood asthma may be caused by keeping things too clean and not building up any resistance to ordinary dirt.

My grandfather had his own secret water spring when I visited him during the summer. It too was an old hunk of pipe that stuck out of a hillside. He'd take us as children to the overgrown ditch and fill as many plastic milk jugs as we could carry. But first he'd slurp back a few handfuls and declare it to be so much better than that fancy bottled water from France - not to mention free.

Many years later we read in the local paper that the local authorities had to remove a pipe from a certain hillside because the locals were using it for drinking water, when in fact it was just runoff from a farmer's field.

But who am I to argue? My grandfather is 85 and has all his hair.

So last weekend I drove by again, but this time someone had posted a hand-lettered sign that announced: "This water has not been tested". Do you think the lineup was any shorter? Of course not. If anything it looked longer.

Except now they'll probably take it home to give their vegetables a good scrubbing.


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