The following is a non-fictional account of a conscious stream that took place during my exploration of a water treatment plant.
I was at the office, looking at the wall-sized whiteboard. Around 200 buildings stared back at me, numbered and color-coded. I've been to pretty much all of them, but one unfamiliar number stuck out to me. #41. What a boring number. MUD Platte West, that's a Metropolitain Utilities District. I look up the address and drive. Just to go see it. And by the way, this isn't even a slow day for me, this is mostly what I do.
I drive West for 35 minutes, which is forever in Omaha time. One road, Q St, hills, meadows, an elementary school, more hills. 41 is easy to spot, it's a huge concrete thing in the middle of nowhere. I take the access road to the guard shack, he smiles, lifts the arm and I'm in. the tile is obnoxiously clean. My shoes squeak. Squeaky shoes and high, echo-y ceilings make for loud walks.
Angela- the day maid- turns the corner. She's wearing a company shirt and a frown. When I show up and I don't have any supplies, that means I'm about to tell you that people have caught you napping and it's just a tad irksome, or you're due for an assessment, something like that. I tell her in my Omaha Public School Spanish that I'm just here to see the building because I've never been past the janitor's closet. I asked her if she could show me around. Angela flashes a bright, hospitable smile and says in her best Community College English, "Ok! Follow me, we do much walking."
She takes me down the only hall and opens the only door and we're in a tall ceilinged, concrete room with a glass walled security/control center in the middle of the space. Very "secret base" looking. There are two doors on the outer walls, Angela's leadng me towards one.
I asked her how long she has worked the building, are we bringing her enough supplies, etc. I ask her if, being from Mexico, she's ever had Pulke- this hallucinogenic brew drink they make in certain villages down there according to an old college History Prof. I've asked this question to every Hispanic/Latino person I've met and no one seems to know what the hell I'm talking about. So either A: I know some very sheltered Hispanics or B: My asshole History teacher is playing a lifelong joke on me that I'll never get. Pulke is probably Spanish for herpes or something.
Angela also has no idea what I'm talking about. I asked her what herpes is in Spanish and it's not Pulke. Glimmer of hope.
Through the door, we're walking on a metal grate supported by god-knows-what over sectioned tanks of churning liquids. It's a huge, loud room, smelling of hospitals and chlorine. I stop saying stupid things for a spell and finally look at Angela's ass.
I imagine her washing dishes in a sunlit mess of a kitchen, while three boys haze each other at the table, all eating store brand pop tarts. A loose lock of hair hangs over Angela's face and she smiles at something mean one of her sons says to another. I imagine myself as one of the boys at the table and ask my mom why she never gets chocolate milk. I realize that what was supposed to be a brief domestic breed sex fantasy had taken a disturbing twist and decide to just appreciate Angela's ass for what it is.
Another realization occurred to me in this room; the building has gotten increasingly darker as I've journeyed within.
We made our way across the grate to a metal door, which Angela pushed open. A tangle of tanks, rotors, pistons, pipes, and gages boasted a steampunk theme and reminded me of a gothic Wonka's Chocolate Factory- well more gothic I guess. A spiral staircase takes us up a floor and we take a dark hallway. We stop at an open door. A suspended walkway leads away from the door and into the silo-esque room and ends at a podium in the center. Dark water bubbles and swirls beneath us. It was like a wetter version of Cerebro in X-Men or more vaguely, like that huge, scary monster tank in Toys.
Angela tells me to go ahead, just for fun, so I walk out to the center and stare down at the water. Yeah, it was exactly like the monster tank from Toys. I get a little frustrated at my mind for making these familiarity connections instead of just looking at the unfamiliar as something unique in itself. "That's an effective way to slowly assassinate your imagination," I tell it.
So just as an exorcise, I imagine a swordfish with a stubby, round, little nose. He gets made fun of all the time. He decides to order himself a prosthetic, but due to a snafu in delivery, he receives a unicycle instead. He gets really good at it, but needs lungs to practice on land. Then he would truly shine! He orders some lungs, but due to yet another snafu, he gets a prosthetic swordnose instead. He never rides the unicycle again.
That got pretty sad for a mere exorcise in imagination, but I guess results are results. We keep walking. We round the corner to a room with metal tables, more pipes, chains and hooks hanging from the ceiling. I say, "Sheezus, do they torture the water before they purify it?" It was a stupid thing to say, even as I was saying it, I knew this, but that's just what I do.
"Yeah," Angela says, "Like the Spanish Inquisition." Angela knocks it out of the park.
Another giant metal door is in our way. The handle turns, but it's a little sticky so Angela tells me to give it a kick. I do. The door flings open. We're blasted with blinding sunlight and a 73 degree floral breeze. I felt like I'd just escaped from a weapons manufacturing slave camp or from a bad dream. My pupils contract and I see we're on the crest of a hill, overlooking the sky. I don't remember ever seeing the sky so big and so unencumbered by that noisy horizon. This is a very cliché city kid thing to say, but it's true. Clouds matched the concrete's gray hues and density. They ripple and billow. There's something vaguely apocalyptical about the whole scene, the isolation, overwhelming sky. I wanted to look for zombies and play Hide and Seek.
Angela leads me around the building and points to another similar building nearby. The whole district looked like a giant dead robot from this view, all sprawled out, parts scattered.
We talk about our kids and spouses. She kicks a rock I kicked and talks about grilling. We reach the building, open the door and I find myself standing in the room we started in with the glass walled control center. We'd just come through the second door. I wondered if we were to exit through this door and do the whole tour again backwards, if it would have even happened at all- though I wouldn't dare attempt.
I hold up my hand for a high five.
Let me address that. I just felt like we'd been through an ordeal, like we'd just caught glimpses of 100 other little universes. I was excited, but to hug Angela would've been a bit creeptastic. A handshake is too insincere and cheesy. A high-five is still cheesy, but I needed to express my joy appropriately somehow. When she made contact, Angela held my hand for literally one second. I saw mushroom clouds in her eyes- but in a happy, knowing sort of way.
When the stars start falling from the sky, I know exactly where I'm going. Building #41. 210th and Q.