This morning I realized that what had seemed last night to be weak flushing of my toilet really an absence of water. Anywhere in the house. So I went down to city hall and asked them why they'd shut off my water. "We didn't shut off your water!" said the perfectly pleasant guy at the computer. So even though I'd heard no rushing water, there must be broken pipes beneath my house, eh? I went home and looked under my crawl space. Hard to tell with a barely-working flashlight, but there were no sounds of water and I couldn't see any flooding.
Maybe they did turn it off! I took off the cap that said "water meter" over the hole between my sidewalk and the street, but couldn't see much because of the aforesaid feeble flashlight. So off to Pleasant's Hardware for a flashlight (and more to the point, batteries). And a water key. (Or shut-off key, which is what the faintly disapproving Pleasant's Hardware guy called it when he sold me one -- a 3- or 4-foot metal T with a little U on the end, for turning your water off. Or in my case, on. Which is probably what the Pleasant's guy was disapproving of.)
Back to my crawl space, which the spiffy new flashlight with spiffy new batteries revealed to be dry as a bone. The water-meter hole was more confusing, but I did see a pipe with a metal thingy on top, about the size of the U on the shutoff key, and positioned at right angles to the pipe as if to block the flow of water. I used the shutoff key to turn it parallel to the pipe, assuming that would let the water flow -- as indeed it did, with great force, right out of the pipe into the hole, which quickly started to fill up. I managed to turn the damn thing off, and eventually thought to look in my neighbor's water-meter hole for comparison.
Apparently things work much better when there is a water meter in the water-meter hole, connecting the pipe from the main to the pipe going to one's house. So tomorrow it's back to city hall again: "No, really, why did you shut off my water? And may I have my water meter back please?"
I suppose it was going to take something drastic to get me to pay attention to much outside my own misery; but really They have an atrocious sense of humor.