I met my neighbors for the first time last night about eleven o’clock. Actually, they are renters in the unit next to mine—I have no idea who the homeowners are. But Libby and Don, who are from Canada or Wisconsin or someplace cold and white, knocked on my door just as I was about to retire for the night. They introduced themselves while standing four or five feet away from my door, the way people do when they want to make sure you understand they’re not home invaders, and asked if I might know how to light the pilot light on their hot water heater; or even if I might know where the hot water heater was.
I grabbed a flashlight and went out into the hallway and showed them a little stucco-covered hut, about the size of a large dog house, with a couple of small-volume water heaters in it. The one on the left was hot and the pilot light was throwing off a pleasant glow. That was mine. The one on the right was as cold and inert as a homeless man sleeping in a doorway. That was the renters’.
Don politely offered to hold the flashlight while I scrambled down on my hands and knees to take a look at the thing. Libby, meanwhile, stood back a few yards as if the rusty little cylinder might be an IED that I was foolishly trying to dismantle.
“I’d take a look at it myself,” said Don, “but I wouldn’t know the first thing about water heaters.”
This assumed, of course, that I did.
“We’re on vacation,” added Libby. “We just got in a few hours ago and, can you imagine, there was no hot water!”
Don added that they’d called the front gate before knocking on my door. “They said it wasn’t their problem. They said I’d have to call the property manager but he doesn’t seem to be answering his phone.”
“It is rather late,” I mentioned as I groped for the turn-off valve and pulled it up. “I think someone turned off the gas. Maybe because no one has been in the unit for awhile.”
“Well everything was supposed to be ready to go,” Libby said. “That’s what they told us. That’s what we assumed. You pay a lot of money for a place like this and it’s your vacation and you just expect everything to be in good working order, know what I mean?”
Don went back inside and got some matches and a tapered candle and then stood several yards back from the water heater, his arm protectively around Libby to protect her from the explosion they obviously felt was imminent, while I tried to light the pilot light. But nothing was happening. I had a feeling the valve was broken and there was nothing to be done about it until tomorrow.
“I’m sorry,” I said, standing up and brushing the dirt off my pants and shirt, “I think you’ll need to get a plumber.”
“Crap,” said Libby. “After ten hours on planes and in airports, I need a shower.”
“Well, you’re welcome to come over and use my guest bathroom,” I said, knowing full well they wouldn’t.
“I was in the Navy,” Don said. “A cold shower won’t kill me.”
“And, really,” I said, trying to commiserate, “the water isn’t very cold to begin in.”
With that we shook hands and said good-night to each other and I was turning off the living room lights in my condo when there was another knock on the door. And there was Libby. In a white robe and slippers. “I brought my own towel,” she said, holding it out to show me. “But you don’t have any shampoo I could use, do you? I just assumed there’d be some toiletries in the condo but about the only thing they left us was a jar of chili sauce in the fridge. Imagine.”
Libby took a nice long shower and then shouted through the bathroom door asking if I had a hair-dryer and I told her to look under the sink and then listened to her blow-dry her hair for 15 or 20 minutes while I pretended to wash some dishes in the sink that I’d washed a few hours earlier, wondering how it was possible to work that long on hair that failed to reach beyond her ears. In any case, when she came out of the bathroom, shortly before midnight, she looked pink and cheerful and quite refreshed.
“I’m getting a massage in Bucerias tomorrow morning at eight,” she told me as she shuffled towards the door in her fluffy white slippers, “so if it’s not a problem with you, I may be back early to use your shower again. I hate getting a massage without showering first, know what I mean?”
“If you want to leave your door open, I’ll try and sneak in quietly and not wake you.”
I told her not to worry about it. And then I closed the door behind her and double-locked the door.