“They’re an odd couple,” I thought as I passed them on the street one day, a duo I would never have put together.
Yet, there they stood, two disparate and -- for all intents and purposes -- permanent objects placed next to one another, quietly coexisting amid passing traffic, children riding their bikes, dog walkers and the occasional lawnmower passing through to clean up the small piece of real estate they’ve occupied for I have no idea how long.
A rock and a fire hydrant, standing guard on the corner. Like two kids waiting for the school bus, one short and quiet (always quiet), the other tall and athletic, prone to outbursts but only when provoked.
Waiting together yet alone.
What made this scene interesting to me was this: at some point in time, someone (likely the owner of the home on whose property our “story” takes place) had consciously placed the rock next to the fire hydrant.
“Why?” was the first question that came into my mind. Was this someone’s idea of landscaping? Maybe it was meant to be a work of art. Was it covering up a hole in ground? Or marking the spot of buried treasure?
There had to be a reason.
It’s not as though the rock had broken free from its formation one day and rolled down the hill, coming to rest next to the hydrant. (Maybe that’s common in some places, but in the middle-class suburban neighborhood in question, rolling rocks of any size are a rarity.)
Several days in a row, I passed this couple, and each time, it made think about how the rock might have arrived and this site next to the fire hydrant, and why. And every time, just like above, I’ve thought about possibilities, never satisfied with my conclusions.
One day, my mind shifted gears, and I stopped thinking about why these two had been paired. Instead, I started thinking about stories. First, I thought this could be a good subject for a children’s book, “Johnny and Rocky,” about two “kids” with very different upbringings who are thrown together as neighbors and expected to get along. (I named the fire hydrant “Johnny” because in New York City, hydrants are also called “johnny pumps.”)
Or, maybe the story is about a little girl who Rocky invites to sit on while Johnny talks about his goal to one day be a hero. That could strike up a friendship where the little girl, inspired by Rocky’s kindness and Johnny’s ambition, goes on to do amazing things with her life.
Another day, I thought of something more sophisticated, like a fable: “The Stone and the Scarlet Hydrant.” It could tell the story of two friends who never speak because they have nothing in common, and yet, have a mutual respect for one another. The moral of the story could be that no matter where you find yourself, you should accept and respect others who are different.
NOTE: The above synopsis represents possibly the worst idea for a fable since Aesop’s little-known “The Corn Cob and the Pocket Watch.” Never heard of it? Of course not. I made it up.)
I even did a Google search: “Why is the rock next to the fire hydrant?” looking for symbolism or some age-old tradition or custom that had eluded me all these years. The first result showed a 1-minute, 15-second video titled, “Rocking Out Next To A Fire Hydrant,” and it featured a guy named Herbert Midgely (self-proclaimed “Internet Legend”) playing something akin to Johnny B. Goode on an electric guitar while standing on a busy street corner next to – you guessed it – a fire hydrant. Midgely wore a blue suit with a red power tie and looked like a combination of Jeff Daniels and Roger Ebert. After watching the video, I’ll admit he was indeed rocking out, but I question the moniker “Internet Legend.”
Other results mostly showed photos of firehoses threaded through the windows of cars that had been illegally parked in front of hydrants. (I have to believe that, while it’s horrible that anyone would block a fire hydrant with their car, firefighters get some strange satisfaction every time they get to unceremoniously knock the windows out of one of those vehicles so they can get their hose from hydrant to the site of the fire. I know I would.)
Yesterday, the day I took the photo that accompanies this essay and possibly the first time in recorded history anyone has ever intentionally snapped a photo of a fire hydrant and a rock together, I had another thought: “Maybe the homeowner placed the rock next to the hydrant for no reason other than to get a ‘rise’ out of passers-by confused by their very presence in that location.”
To date, that reason seems to be the most plausible (with “work of art” and “marking buried treasure” coming in a distant second and third). I truly think the homeowner wanted to give people something to talk about; something to rattle around in their minds for no reason at all.
I have to admit, this simple yet odd pairing of two common, everyday items has me flummoxed, and I like it. I like to wonder and speculate why they’re together, and who put them there. Of course, I could simply talk to the homeowners next time I see them outside, but that might ruin the fun (and, it could come across as somewhat creepy).
For now, I think I’ll just continue to wonder because there’s rarely any harm in wondering, is there? Unless it’s wondering what’s making all that racket in the attic. (“Sounds like paws or claws, or maybe talons. Ah, it’s probably nothing.”)
By the way, I might just take a crack at that children’s story, but I think I’ll leave any fable writing to the experts.
© 2020 David R. Haznaw