A Short Story from The Eight Fingered Criminal's Son
“The Worst Waterman in the World (1986)"
by W.Z Snyder
© 2006 William Snyder
I may have been the worst waterman ever to wear the Sparklettes uniform. Two and a half years out of college, I had experienced short careers as a bad insurance claims adjuster, a fairly satisfied landscaper’s assistant, a stand up comedian, a cable television host, and a waiter. I also had forked over three hundred bucks in order to earn a certificate from the American School of Bartending. Believing I was headed nowhere; I decided it was time to take on a real job. A friend had a Sparkletts Water route and was pulling a good income. He put a word in for me and I was quickly hired. My official starting position was that of a relief waterman, meaning I took other water guys’ routes when they called in sick or on vacation. Sometimes the directions were good and sometimes they were not. As I mentioned, I was a terrible relief waterman, constantly getting lost and often coming in from my routes long after the sun went down. While I absolutely hated the job, I did undergo some memorable experiences. Delivering water allowed me to see how a true cross section of Los Angelinos lived. I entered thousands of homes over my six months with Sparkletts, delivering water to the wealthiest neighborhoods and the poorest neighborhoods, as well as some of the toughest parts of town.
The scariest place I delivered water was called The Jungle. It was a giant cul-de-sac, probably a half-mile long, located in South Los Angeles. The regular water guy was a former NBA basketball player named Randy Smith. I was assigned to take his route the week he vacationed in Spain. It’s strange for me to imagine a guy delivering water in The Jungle one week and sipping sangria on a Spanish beach the next. Hell, it’s strange to imagine a guy plummeting from professional athlete to waterman. But I guess life is like that. You might think delivering water would be an enormous financial step down for a former professional athlete, but some water guys were pulling in six figures. And this was the mid eighties. Randy had played into the late seventies when NBA salaries were nowhere near the infinitesimal amounts that have become commonplace today. Randy gave me perfect instructions for the route. He had been robbed at gunpoint while working his route more than once. The man talked about being robbed matter of factly. I didn't get the idea he felt anger or fear over the situation. To Randy, the experience of staring down the barrel of a loaded gun and the probability that it would happen again were just part of the territory. It was one of the most lucrative routes in LA and he was willing to take a little yin with his yang. Or is it yang with his yin?
“Bill, you got to be part of the streets. Blend in. Don’t ask no questions. And you don’t want nobody thinking you scared. They’ll eat you up if they do, Bill. An’ keep a twenty with you all the time, cause if somebody wanna rob you, you better have somethin’ for ‘em.”
The Bloods street gang controlled this neighborhood. There were a couple of big ferocious dudes in red sitting on the hoods of cars on either side of the street at the entrance to the Jungle. The same two guys were there each day. I never looked at them, just drove right by, giving it my best to blend in with the scenery. I followed Randy’s advice to the letter; keeping that crisp twenty-dollar bill in my pocket, ready to give it up at any time. When the gang-bangers approached I was fully prepared reach into my pocket and pull out that twenty. I kept waiting for someone to stick a gun in my face but it never happened. The boys in red never said boo to me. With Randy’s precise directions, there were no surprises. My week in the Jungle ran snag free. As a matter of fact, it was the only route I finished on time every day.
I delivered a lot of water to poor Mexican illegal immigrants. Being from Mexico, they didn’t trust the same LA tap water I drank every day of my life. At what point did we as Americans become convinced we need to pay ridiculous prices for the same H2O that comes cheap out of the faucet? I suppose I should climb down off of the fence and state that I believe this whole bottled water business is an Emperor’s New Clothes kind of story. The day is going to come when someone sells people special purified air for ten bucks a bottle. Most of the homes were neat and clean inside. Dinnertime deliveries were especially tough because the food smelled so damned good. I can still savor the mouthwatering aroma of frijoles and tamales being prepared in those tiny kitchens. I’m telling you it was murder. I was usually far behind schedule and wouldn’t be eating until much later. Another thing worth mentioning is that these poor Mexicans who worked for less than minimum wage always paid their bills on time. More than once, I came upon vacant apartments with little white envelopes addressed aguacero (water man). The people had gone back to Mexico but made it a point to pay what they owed. I guess to them, it was about honor.
You can read this story in it's entirety in DART SAFETY AND THE PURPLE BIKINI AND OTHER ADVENTURES OF THE EIGHT FINGERED CRIMINAL'S SON. See current postings for information on how to purchace the book.