There was an article in Consumer Reports a few months back about the dangers of drinking from the common garden hose...or, what we used to fondly call the "water hose." When I was growing up in south Georgia, a few miles from the Florida line, we just called it the "hose." The garden is the thing in the back yard where you grow tomatoes and peppers. And since a hose can be in the front, back, or side yard, the term garden hose is really inadequate, linguistically.

Anyway, as I sat here in my Seoul, Korea office thinking about late summers past in south Georgia, I was inspired to write the following action alert, with your best interest at heart, of course.

I was talking with Mr. Gilbert, a British colleague here, about the fact that when I was comin' up in rural Georgia, I typically ran around barefoot all summer, fixed everything with masking tape, (including cracked window glass), and drank my fill from the cut-off end of the cheapest water hose available at Woolworth's or sometimes Rose's discount store (we'd go to Rose's if grape jelly and Raid bugspray were on sale). I'll get back to why the end of the hose was cut off...

We were discussing the theoretical underpinnings of modern masking tape, as well as its historical origins as a fix-all adhesive. Mr. Gilbert seemed amazed by my explanation of the myriad of uses of masking tape--including fixin' the leaks around spickets and all the leaks in my family’s cheap water hoses.

Before I knew it, I was off on a tangent about the euphoric joy I had the first time we got a real spray nozzle that screwed onto the end of a not-yet-cut-off hose. It must have been the summer of '76 or '77, if memory serves. I'd begun to spend long days outside with the dogs, and that's when we discovered I was terribly allergic to wasp stings.

A trip to the ER for a shot of Benadryl was such a bother, so a water nozzle was sure to provide a better defense against my tormentors. With decent water pressure and this amazing new tool, I could "safely" target a softball-sized wasp nest under the eve of the roof and have a good chance of knocking it down with a precise hit; wasps won't return to a downed nest. They just get madder and savvier and build newer, bigger nests.

Well, never mind that our shiny new nozzle was the 99-cent aluminum alloy kind that you could bend like a fork if you wanted or scrape the silver paint from with a fingernail. Within a few weeks, it would become just another addition to the not-to-ever-be-thrown-out, useless, rusty, random items that don't work, but which you might wanna fiddle with again someday pile.

Long before back-to-school circulars would begin to litter "Rural Route 6, Box 403," the washers in both the spray nozzle and the cheap hose would dry out and disappear into the universe that was our yard on Cassidy Road. From that point, water would spew everywhere, and no amount of masking tape could fix either connection well enough to knock over a bucket. The solution was simple: lose the nozzle, cut off the end of the hose and stay away from the wasps. After all, late fall would take care of them.

So naturally, the wasps endured, but target practice with the short-lived water nozzle was fun and certainly more environmentally friendly than the previous anti-wasp technique used by my brother, Joey. He was master of the over-the-head gasoline toss-and-run like the dickens technique. It had proven ineffective many times, not to mention deadly to the grass.

Amused, perhaps confused by the anecdote, my English colleague continued to indulge me, eyebrows lifting, as I recounted a favorite summer-time activity with that water nozzle. In our special times together, just the dogs and me, I would play "rocket launch," barefoot near the spicket jutting up from the ground at the edge of my father's shop. This involved spewing the water point-blank, directly at the ground at maximum water pressure while making blast-off sounds. Eventually, the explosion of mud from the blast site would reach crater-like proportions, but I'd always lift off and zoom around the yard as far as I could get, tethered to 25 feet of cheap green fun.

Pound dog of the year or whichever pair or trio of canines we had laying around (incessantly snapping at flies and panting in the shade) were always nearby, watching with spectacular disregard for such activities. Unless the hose was being used to clean or fill a bone-dry water bowl or make the water gravy, man's best friends could not be bothered to play with me. (Recipe for water gravy: scoop up enough dry, discount dog food for one good dog, add water, let sit for 5 minutes, stir and serve up to all three dogs in one bowl, usually the water bowl, but stand clear. They don't like petting while lapping up water gravy).

But I digress. The gist of the Consumer Reports article was that these cheap hoses are lined with lead. If you drink from them like normal folk sometimes do after yard work (when you're too dirty or thirsty to track inside), they can be toxic to you, your barefoot kids, cousins, grandkids, and miscellaneous other little people who come up in your yard during the hottest weeks of summer.

The more expensive kind of hose, the ones that curl up on stainless steal racks behind Tuxedo Drive homes like cool, flat water moccasins are lead-free. But you can pay $10 bucks (or more) extra for those. Maybe that's why my older brothers still have hair and I don't; I drank gallons of water from our skinny, lead-lined, taped-up cheap hoses.

Here's my advice: If you can't roll that thing up again as easily as it sprang loose from the plastic wrap, you probably got a cheap one. Or, if a two-foot segment of the one you got from a bin next to the check-out counter pokes out like a broom handle, you really got a cheap one. It should droop over like a dead rat snake--the ones you hoe to death before leaving them out as dog toys.

Finally, if the hose comes totally unraveled again after you spend 10 minutes wrestling it back into a spiral the width of a hoola-hoop because you were told that left un-spiraled, it looked like a snake laying in the grass and that snakes were sinful, then I'm afraid you got a cheap one too.

I concur with Consumer Reports on this one. Upgrade your water hose today with haste! Spend a little, save a lot, don't drink lead, reduce your risk for cancer and eliminate the elbow cramps associated with man-handling the cheap, skinny, pathetic, plastic kind. If you're truly ready to invest in a good hose, why not go ahead and get a good stainless steel spray nozzle too? Avoid thumb rot and the finger cramps you get after washing your car with the same cheap cut-off hose you drink from and play mud games with! Your fingertips and your local hardware dealer will thank you.

Brett Reichert is an English Instructor in Seoul, Korea with the Samsung Globalization Management Institute.

©Copyright 2003 David Ray Skinner/SouthernReader. All rights reserved.