The storms in Texas reminded me of Mr. Rogers’ lesson to “look for the helpers.” Then I realized I had no idea where to look.
This week, amidst the Texas freeze, I found myself crouched in front of my house in the snow with my brother-in-law, Aaron, absolutely vexed by my water meter cover. It’s a circle of metal, about the size of a personal pan pizza, and can be removed with an aptly named “water meter box key” which I do not own. Aaron, unsurprisingly, does own one of these. This is because he can make/fix/build/do anything and already has all the tools to do it with.
We ended up out in the cold yard that day because of Pete Delkus, the local weatherman who my Uncle Jerry says “stands too close to the TV camera which makes his head look enormous.” I’ve never met Pete Delkus in real life, but I’m sure he has an average size head and that’s just an optical illusion.
Pete fancies himself as THE weatherman of DFW. He tweets “I told you so” when his predictions come true, like some vindictive meteorological Nostradamus. Weary of disregarding his advice and finding myself on the business end of one of his tweets, I panicked, and for good reason. Pete called the upcoming winter storm “PIPE BUSTINGLY COLD.” That’s pretty specific.
Once I heard that, I realized if I did have a pipe bust, I would not know how to turn off the main water supply to my house. I imagined water flowing from my walls like blood from the elevators in “The Shining.”
So I FaceTimed Aaron earlier in the day, scheming in the living room, as my boyfriend, Paris, worked, unaware, on the other side of the house. I asked Aaron how to open the box. He told me I needed a key. Having no such key, I checked online at Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Ace Hardware for any available. The nearest one was at a store in East Texas, over 50 miles away.
I’m an excessive prepper, but not drive-50-miles-for-a-tool excessive. More like a buy-a-weather-radio-for-COVID-quarantine excessive. To quell my fears, Aaron offered to drive over and use his key to open the lid. Once he got here, we ran into one tiny problem: his key didn’t fit. Well, it fit, it just wouldn’t turn.
“You should ask your neighbors for help,” he said, as if this were some easy task.
I surveyed the surrounding houses, looking for candidates I could approach.
“Well that one called the cops on Paris because they thought he was stealing a package from our porch,” I said pointing to one house. “Those people got mad because Buffy ate their kid’s football when it flew into our back yard,” I continued, pointing to another. “Found out online that guy is a registered sex offender for trading in child pornography, but we’ve never spoken. The woman in that house over there sits on her porch when the weather is nice and screams at her bird.”
“Damn, well, ok,” he said. Then we spotted him. Down the street, a neighbor who I have waved at on prior occasions, was de-icing his car.
“How about him?” Aaron asked. I had no clue of his name, but at least I had not overtly offended him (that I know of). We walked down and asked, but the man said sorry, he had no key.
“You really need to make friends with your neighbors,” Aaron said.
This is true. I moved into the house in December 2018 when I was working full time at a big law firm, performing comedy multiple times a week, and doing the podcast. I was barely ever home, much less free to mix and mingle with the people who live around me.
Then the pandemic started and, though I am now home all the time, I have no clue who anyone is. It’s not like I “just moved in,” so I no longer have any excuse to introduce myself. Now any effort to make connections makes me look like I am hunting for a handout.
With no help from my residential proximity associates (“neighbor” just seems too familiar at this point), Aaron tried determining how the locking mechanism functioned. I, on the other hand, kept jamming things down into the key hole. I tried his key, a piece of rebar, pliers, a wrench, fingers, kitchen spoon, old bowling trophies, etc. Nothing worked. The metal personal pan pizza just spun, stubborn in its place.
Suddenly, a man appeared on the street before us, crunching in the snow as he dragged his young son on a makeshift sled down the street.
“How’s it going?” Aaron said easily. The man smiled and waved. Aaron went for it.
“You ever opened one of these?” he asked.
The man walked over to take a look, hands on his hips, in a familiar “figuring it out” stance.
“Oh sure,” he said. “But you need a key.” We showed him what we had, and he tried it himself, to no avail. “The edge here is too big,” he said. “I’ve got one at home, though, let me grab it. One sec.”
He walked off, dragging his son behind him. The boy let out a “weee” as they got smaller in the distance.
Holy shit. Neighbors are bad ass.
The man returned key-in-hand and, with one strong twist, removed the meter cover. I thanked him and introduced myself.
“When did you move in here?” he asked. I told him 2018. “Whoa,” he said. “It’s been that long?” He told me his name was Brian, and I vowed to remember it.
“I live in the red house down the road,” he said. “Feel free to knock any time.”
“Thank you, ….?” I said, pausing for his name.
“Brian,” he repeated. Brian Brian Brian Brian Brian, I thought. I made a mental note: Send Brian a gift card. Bake Brian some cookies. At the very least, REMEMBER BRIAN’S NAME.
Getting the cover off was only half the problem. After that was accomplished, we (Aaron) had to dig out about six inches of dirt and locate the shut off valve. Once we did that, covered in mud, Aaron left to make it home before the melted snow refroze and turned to ice.
When we get a little chilly weather down here, we always hear things from smug folks who live in areas with a more consistent winter climate, like “LOL A LITTLE BIT OF SNOW? YOU IDIOTS!” It never fails.
If someone in a cold climate got 100 straight days of over 100-degree heat, I wouldn’t laugh at them for not having central air conditioning. Maybe they only have a window unit, not because they’re idiots, but because it makes sense for their climate. Similarly, here, we have nothing to prepare us for this kind of snowy madness because it rarely-to-never happens.
The storms this week were bad. People, including young children, lost their lives. It has been called “Katrina-like” in its devastation.
In the wake of this destruction, my biggest take away has been the helpers. There’s that Mr. Rogers quote about seeing scary things on the news. His mother told him, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Texans are helpers. Cars stuck in ditches were yanked out by strangers in trucks with tow ropes. Local Jeep club members mobilized to give rides to stranded first responders and healthcare workers. Folks with no power or water were taken in gladly by those who had warm, lit homes and flushing toilets. Texans have mobilized to provide mutual aid and resources to one another via crowd-sourced lists.
We lent a hand when we saw where one was needed, and we accepted help when we couldn’t tough it out on our own.
Seeing all these helpers makes me grateful. Grateful for friends, grateful for family, and especially grateful for neighbors. We can’t control when disasters like this happen, but we can control how we act in their wake. We could all do to be a little more kind like my neighbor, Brad.
Wait, no, it’s not Brad.
Brett? Bartholomew? Barnacle?
Shit, what was his name?
Kidding — it was Brian. Thanks again, buddy!
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