Pipeline

I call Fitzroy the Gandhi of the neighborhood. The problem was a large pool of water that had collected on part of our acre whenever the heavy rains came and stayed for three or four days. A little east of the pool, the water drained off in a kind of ersatz canal running by a goat house, then down a long drainage ditch, where it ran smack into a narrow pipe that was supposed to carry it under a gravel road.

It didn't. Water gathered there, spread out, and became a miniflood, sort of like waiting for bathwater to drain out of a tub through a straw. The few cars that used the road could barely pass. Tempers flared over just exactly to whom should be allocated responsibility for fixing the mess.

Neighbor A blamed neighbor B, who shouted at neighbor C. Everybody claimed everybody else was in real hot water. The county said, ``Sorry. It's not a county-maintained road.'' We needed a breakthrough in leadership.

I forget who called the meeting, but interested parties gathered one cloudy Saturday morning by the pipe to discuss a solution. Within 15 minutes A, B, and C were shouting at one another. Fitzroy, the oldest neighbor, joked and chided his fellow country neighbors to focus on the solution and not the illusive blame. ``He's right,'' said neighbor B, angrily glaring at neighbor C. Neighbor A sulked. Neighbor D (me) sided with Fitzroy.

Fitzroy, his plaid jacket flecked with tiny drops of almost rain, suggested a careful three-point program requiring equal amounts of work from all neighbors. His bony hands shaped a future none of us could see.

``Like, say, we could gather here some Saturday morning,'' he said, painting a scene of irrepressible harmony and solution. His voice was quiet, non-threatening, and like a balm to flared tempers. ``Bring some shovels. I'll donate a big old pipe and we'll make that water flow through a wider ditch and down the old, new pipe like a bowling ball down a chimney. Whad'ya say?''

A, B, and C grumbled, shifted their weight, grumbled some more, and predicted disaster or at least nothing but trouble for years to come no matter what we did. Fitzroy grinned and whipped out his pocket calendar.

``How's about Saturday the 15th?'' he said, circling it with a red pencil from Lundberg's Bakery. A couldn't. B couldn't. C could. D said, ``Sure, I'll be there.'' A reconsidered. B said no, ``I'm going to a big wedding in Cloverdale.''

``Well,'' said Fitzroy, rubbing his hands together, ``I'm already married, and I'll be here on the 15th around 10 a.m. Remember your shovels.''

Well, unfortunately I forgot to circle the 15th on my calendar. The 15th came on a bright Saturday. If I hadn't stopped at the sink by the kitchen window to wash out a glass, I wouldn't have looked up and seen Fitzroy digging all by himself at the pipe under the road about 150 yards away.

I got my shovel and raced to join him in his digging. I apologized. ``Just forgot in the swirl of undone things,'' I said, digging. He waved me off and said with mock seriousness, ``I am Gandhi and my protest is against neighbors shouting at neighbors. You know what I mean?''

You guessed it. A little later A came around with his shovel. B came bouncing on a small tractor that lifted out the old pipe like a pencil and put the new one down like a tunnel to freedom. C never came, but the unspoken consensus was that a wedding in Cloverdale is more important than a drainage ditch in transition.

We finished in a quick two hours. Not much was spoken but we got the job done.

Then Gandhi, in a dark blue sweat shirt with the sleeves rolled up, stood sweating and leaning against his shovel, new pipe in place, and said, ``OK, let the Ganges flow.''

Neighbors A, B, and D partially on behalf of C, murmured in agreement.

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