There is a water tower near where I work. It has a big, gray metal cylinder placed atop a base that looks a little like a castle keep. The resemblance is more of an aesthetic nod than an attempt to look like the real thing. Nobody’s going to believe there’s any medieval architecture in California anyway. We don’t even have White Castle out here.
I’m guessing the water tower is no longer in use. I don’t see how it could be in a modern city like San Jose. To be honest, I’m such an urbanite, I don’t think too much about my source of water as anything other than a faucet. Yeah, I know there’s a reservoir somewhere and it doesn’t hold a limitless supply, but I’ve never seen it. It’s hard for me to think of a water tower as anything other than an artifact of simpler times, now relegated to being a thing on which locals paint the name of the town so passing motorists know what to call this thriving little hub of pickup trucks and exploited farm labor.
It should therefore come as no surprise that I treated this agricultural anachronism poking up out of Silicon Valley as a simple landmark and nothing more. It was close to two years before I went for a closer look. It might have been a lot longer if health concerns about my sedentary lifestyle had not inspired me to get out of my cubicle and walk around once in a while.
The options of where to walk are fairly limited. It isn’t like when I worked in SF and could disappear into Chinatown during my lunch hour then head back to work with the blank stare and addled grin of sensory overload. I won’t tell you where I work now. Suffice it to say it’s an established tech company with a sprawling campus of buildings that all look pretty much alike. Doing lunch excursions on foot doesn’t work because all the places to eat other than company cafeterias are over a mile away. There’s a creek nearby with a trail running alongside it, but that gets old after a while.
Eventually sheer boredom sent me in the direction of the water tower. It was maybe five minutes away from my building and I wasn’t expecting much when I got to see it up close. And do you know what? I was right. There was nothing all that exciting about it.
What was interesting were the other buildings around it in the same fenced-off area. They looked like they had been abandoned for years. Most of them were adobe with Spanish-tile roofs, walls yellowed and windows tinted with grime. The bushes surrounding them were overgrown and weeds sprung up through the cracks in the adjacent sidewalk. There were no people around, just feral cats who idly groomed themselves and occasionally glanced half-interestedly at each other.
What was this place and why is there nobody around anymore? It looks like it might have been a school or some other government facility. Walking back to my building, I saw a sign in front of one structure that said “Commissary Shipping & Receiving.” Maybe it was military installation that had been closed during the Clinton years.
I later did a bunch of Google searches and couldn’t find anything. Then I realized I didn’t want to. I liked having this big question mark a stone’s throw from where I work. With no logical explanation to spoil the fun, I could just make stuff up. Bio-warfare research, alien autopsies, corpse reanimated, all of the above. Nothing was off the table. This closed military base or whatever was going to be my personal horror show. There were no people on the premises who could prove me wrong. There were only cats and they weren’t saying dick.
I decided not to rush my imagination lest I come up with something lame. Plausibility was never my goal, but I wanted what I conjured up to make its own kind of sense. Maybe a really good horror could come out of it. I’ve always wanted to write one of those. That failing, I would at least have a lovely little morbid playground for my brain.
I have since walked back that way many times, all but ignoring the water tower but taking in everything else. I still had no narrative to go with the location, but I was confident that would someday change.
Two days ago, it did. I was looking through the chain-link fence with a sign in front with the number 51 on it with some indecipherable writing underneath. “Area 51” popped into my head, but I dismissed the idea because it was too obvious, too lazy. It was at that moment a rent-a-cop drove by the building. The name of the company on the side of his vehicle was “A-1 Security” or something equally boring. He was no doubt hired to keep winos and teenagers away. The mystery of the place evaporated and even though he was just there doing his job, I hated him a little for that.