I was walking to the free pool at Sunset Park when I noticed a large stream of water pouring down the street. I got to an open fire hydrant shooting out full force, with a white/Latina woman and her two small children playing in it with a bucket. It was directly in front of the Maimonides emergency station and human services.
This freaked me out. I’m a compulsive, neurotic saver of water, saving all of my gray water from dishes, showers, etc. To see this kind of jet stream pouring down the street for hours made my skin crawl.
I asked the male workers waiting around the ambulance station if they knew anything about the hydrant. “It’s always on, people always playing in it, they opened it. I would call the school. It’s not us,” they said. “Who should I call?” I asked. “311, they said.” I called, got through to someone, but they said the street wasn’t showing up on their map. I went back and asked the men what street it was. 311 said they’d respond in up to 24 hours. TWENTY FOUR HOURS of this jet stream of water, full force, pouring down the street. How could the city let that happen? How could no one else call about this?
I asked the woman if she’d opened it, not sure if she spoke English. “My boyfriend opened it.” “Please don’t do that,” I said. “It’s wasting SO MUCH water. So much water for the city. It’s so sad and upsetting.” I looked around for the cap, which was missing. “Can you call your boyfriend?” “I don’t have a phone.” “Can you use mine?” “I don’t have his number.”
I left. Thought more. I wanted to offer a positive alternate solution. I went back to talk to her. “There’s a free pool about 5 minutes away, in Sunset Park,” I said. Another woman was there, and she was angry, saying, “don’t answer…” the woman said, “we are HERE. I have little kids. We are HERE.” This is so interesting. What does that mean? The free public pool is not HERE, not in her neighborhood, and a 5 minute walk is out of the question. So we open a hydrant HERE for our kids.
Her boyfriend came, putting the cap back on with a wrench. Why are the caps so easy to take off? He was friendly, saying, “we got permission. We rented it. We don’t do this all the time.” I said, “PLEASE don’t do it again. It’s wasting so much water.”
A Jewish man with a yarmulke walked by, and said to me, “don’t try to save the environment. Many people are doing much worse things. You will have to drive all over Brooklyn.” I said, “yes we DO have to deal with this, and the worse things, too.” He walked away. I walked away.
I wanted to say to him so much, “You think it says that in the Torah? Don’t try to save the environment? Don’t care about your children’s’ future?” I wanted to say, let’s go find a rabbi and discuss this. But I was wearing a bathing suit with shorts, and I didn’t feel like I could argue about religion with him or a rabbi. This is how religion and rules oppress women; this is clearly why the rules were made. You don’t speak up because you are already censoring yourself, feeling you’re doing something wrong, not perfect.
I also wish I had spoken differently to the women at the hydrant. I had wanted to say, do you realize how much of the world is dying for lack of clean water? I am glad I mentioned the pool; even if she had to fight me because her life is so hard and I represent everything that’s oppressing her, maybe she will think about it and go another time.
And it’s true that many people are doing worse things: like the city, which doesn’t monitor its fire hydrants, which makes 311 impossible to get through to, which waits 24 hours before dealing with emergencies. If this woman hadn’t wasted thousands of gallons of water, would that clean water have gone to someone in another part of the world whose babies were dying from unclean water? Probably not. How can we create a system with a more equitable distribution of clean water? We do have to say something every time, no matter what we are wearing.