Shadow of a drought

A Penny for Your Bullshit

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After five days without showering, my body has become the site of strange physical phenomena. What used to be hair on my head has congealed into a single oily heap of black stuff that refuses to budge in the wind.

The stickiness in my armpits has reached a point beyond touch or smell, blending seamlessly into the audible realm — you can actually hear me lift my arms.

The layer of gooey sebum and grease slowly enveloping the rest of my body leaves the impression that I’ve been marinating in old milk that some baby spat up.

I wake up every morning stinkier, angrier and a little more confused. I am a walking Shangri-La for bacteria — a colossal Eden for the microbial world. Sometimes I picture the germs becoming sentient and building an edifice to worship me and make sacrifices to my cheesy godhood.

That’s around the time when I remember I should probably go outside and interact with people.

Thankfully, my friends have been understanding, and no one makes mention of my crumbling hygiene (at least, not in my presence).

I wish I could tell them that the reason for me not regularly showering has to do with the drought and my sense of social responsibility.

But the truth of the matter has more to do with the management of my apartment complex retrofitting the bathrooms to be ADA accessible.

So really, the fact that I use less water nowadays — during the drought — is sheer coincidence. Still, it’s forced me to consider how much water I consume on a daily basis versus how much water I actually need or think I need.

What I’ve learned throughout this adjustment is that I don’t require very much water to survive, aside from what I drink every day. Most folks either don’t notice or don’t care to mention that I look and smell like I haven’t showered. Nobody flees when I come around, children don’t cry when I pass them (at least, no more than usual), and some people still want to sleep with me (hopefully this continues).

And really, all that’s been reduced is my water usage for showering and using the toilet. My sink’s still in order, so I can brush my teeth and wash my face regularly. And though I do pee in jars more frequently than I used to, and anything beyond urination requires careful planning, life really isn’t so bad.

But that might be, in part, because I know that there’s an expiration date on this spartan living. Once the construction folks finish doing their jobs, I can say with near certainty that my taps will flow again with life-giving H2O.

Having an abundance of water is such a crucially important element of our daily experiences that we’ve created the illusion of its ubiquity. Just like Abraham Maslow suggested, we couldn’t begin to go about our routinized lives if we didn’t fully buy into the notion that our basic needs will be met by a seemingly endless supply of water.

Of course there will be water when I expect it to be there, right?

Because having all the water you want is like having all the air you need to breathe. And if we believe we have a right to life, and water — like air — is life, then people have a right to water. The reason we don’t have to think about water is that we believe we shouldn’t have to.

It’s a common perception that people take life for granted, so is it any surprise that we do the same with water?

Some claim we have lost our connection to food, but we have also lost our connection to our water.

So why isn’t anyone talking about a water movement? The food movement has infiltrated media, our language (“slow food,” “foodie,” “organic,” “GMO,” etc.) and even the way we go about daily activities.

In regard to water, most people and the news media seem to focus only on the drought. How bad it is, how bad it will get — it’s all pretty well (pun intended) covered.

What about the story of water?

Books, movies and lengthy articles have been produced solely about the Golden State’s long, complicated and sometimes sordid relationship with water — it’s a story worth learning.

Still, how our state manages water is probably one of the greatest feats of engineering and infrastructure planning that most people know almost nothing about.

What do Banks Pumping Plant, Central Valley Project, State Water Project, Kern County or Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta mean to the average Californian?

Where does your water originate? How much water has your county been allocated?

A miracle of modernity can be found in how we have managed to seamlessly conceal the unfathomable complexity of California’s water-management system within the mundane tasks of life, such as taking a shit or washing your hair.

This means that for the average Californian, the drought is just a word with no resonance — unlike in East Porterville, where people are experiencing the full effects of water scarcity.

“As long as water turns up in your tap, there isn’t much concern,” says my friend Sofi.

Until our water in Berkeley starts tasting funky, like it did in spring, people don’t seem to care. We don’t have a language for water. We don’t have a relationship with it.

Maybe we can start one.

And the first place to begin is here: Where does your water come from?

Zion Barrios writes the Monday column on social topics that rarely enter open conversation. You can contact him at [email protected].

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