ABOVE IS THE FINAL LINE from Chinatown, one of the all-time great films. It’s spoken right after J.J. “Jake” Gittes – played by Jack Nicholson – bears witness to an unfathomable injustice but is powerless to stop it.
Chinatown was directed by superstar pedophile Roman Polanski during his heyday in the mid 70s, with a brilliant screenplay by Robert Towne. So brilliant, in fact, it’s rare to find any book on screenwriting – or its major components: story structure, dialogue, characterization – that doesn’t at least mention it in passing. I bought it based on these recommendations and watched it recently. Like Andrew W.K., it’s everything I’d been led to believe, and more.
The film is set in Los Angeles, 1937. Its central plot focuses on a water shortage in the city of Los Angeles, based on true events from the early 20th century.
Los Angeles, 2010, is again facing a water shortage.
Without cable TV, newspapers, and given the way I use the internet – sports, music, porn – it’s a wonder I know about it at all, but even Modern Rock Radio airs frequent PSAs about conserving water. I catch between two and four of them on my way to and from work. By now, we’re all well aware there’s a problem – as there should be in a major city built in a desert – and we know we can help by “just being sensible” with our water use.
Anyway, yesterday, my shower broke. Not in any obvious way, none that I could find; I simply tried to turn it off and it wouldn’t. I could turn it down some, but the water still flowed even in the “off” position. I’m not talking about the drip-drip-drip of a leaky faucet, I’m talking about when you’re washing dishes, get interrupted but leave the sink running steadily, and return ten minutes later kicking yourself for forgetting about it. As the ladies say, “a heavy flow.”
After fiddling with it a while, I called over the building manager.
He took a look and asked to borrow my hammer. He banged and moved things around, in ways that would prove unhelpful.
“I think these parts will need to be replaced.” Was this before or after you hit the with a hammer?
Some progress had been made, though. Before the building manager showed up, the shower had been broken but it didn’t look like anything was wrong with it. Now it looked like there were things wrong with it.
“I can call a plumber, maybe get him here tonight. Probably tomorrow.”
“That sounds great.” With that, I was off to work. On the way, I heard a cheeky PSA with an irresponsible dad getting lectured by his kid on water etiquette: “The water basin that feeds LA is at 50% capacity. You need to sweep the driveway clean instead of spraying it with a hose.” “But, Son…” “No ‘buts,’ Dad. I mean it, Mister!”
Got to work. It was a pretty good day. Drove home late, around 8:00. On the way back, Modern Rock Radio said, “Water, giver of life. Our most precious natural resource…”
I returned to my apartment and everything was the same, except moister. I called the building manager.
“Yeah, we couldn’t get a guy out today. He’ll be here tomorrow, around 10:00.”
“Okay,” I said. “It might be tough to sleep when I’m hearing water running all night, but I can close the bathroom door, put on some music, and turn on a fan to make extra noise and leave it pointed at my face while I lie in bed.”
“Alright,” he said, and hung up.
I went into the bathroom and noticed the walls were sweating. Also, since the water seemed to flow slightly less when it was set to “hot” rather than “cold,” I left it that way and it had become a sauna. I thought about inviting some overweight older men with grey chest hair to sit in my bathroom, and use a ladle to pour the extra water over a pit of smoldering coals, but decided against it.
I did what I told my building manager I’d do, and went to sleep.
I got up the next morning – today – and worked out, came back sweaty, then realized my shower was still broken. These aren’t things you think about going through your morning routine, especially with the fans and music going to block out noise. Now I was stuck. As a result of the building manager’s (stop!) hammer time, the piece that changes settings from bath to shower had broken off. It was stuck on “bath.”
I stubbornly refused the bath for some time, making myself breakfast and surfing the internet – sports, music, porn – waiting for something to save me. Just then, a knock at the door. The plumber! Early! I let him in and he took a look at the broken shower. “Oh, this is broken!”
“I’m going to need to get some parts.” He looked at me with sad eyes. “I have to get permission from the landlord. Might take another day or so.” Were you not aware that you might need parts to fix something? Why were you told to show up initially without tools or spare parts? Had you believed you could fix most things with nothing but your bare hands and your bushy mustache?
I didn’t say those things. These were not questions spoken aloud. Sometimes, you just have to shrug your shoulders and say, “That sounds great.”
The plumber left. I locked eyes with the tub. There was no way out.
Bathtubs may have come before showers on the timeline of the world’s inventions (unless you count waterfalls), but they are most definitely the showers’ bastard children. They don’t get you clean, and it takes an eternity to take one properly. You need to wait for the water to fill up the tub, light candles, slip in, let the bubbles caress you, crack open a Danielle Steele novel, read a chapter, start getting distracted, flip to the cover photo of a hunky guy, massage yourself to climax…
It’s a colossal waste of time, especially in a hurry.
I also imagine most people use a tub larger than mine; mine was made for someone the length of my legs. Good luck reaching climax! I had to push off the wall with my arms to get my knees bent far enough to get my head under.
I could only take so much. My bath lasted shorter than a shower. It was some kind of record.
Later, on the way to work, I flipped on the Radio: “Please think about others, and the future of Los Angeles. Conserve water.”
I started getting angry.
Make no mistake, I’m not an environmentalist – I’ve even done things with the express reason that I “hate the Earth” – but this was too much. I wanted to go back and yell at the landlord, the building manager, and the plumber, “How can you do this? During a water shortage no less!”
Then, a thought popped into my head: “Forget it, Mike. It’s Chinatown.”
Moments later, I got a call from the building manager: “The plumber will be back tomorrow. With parts.”
“That sounds great,” I said.