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Monday, July 30, 2012

WUMF: July 2012 Edition

Summer just be flying by.  I didn't realize it was time for another WUMF.

Olympics 2012
I’ve been waiting to watch the Olympics for awhile now, but since the games are not being shown on Qubo or Nick Jr. the odds of me actually watching much of them are slim to none. I did manage to get my kid interested in the diving and gymnastics events only because they were flashy. Once they went back to showing just the races, she tuned out and asked for her show. I sort of almost decided against the entire thing after catching a few minutes of the God awful opening ceremonies. That trip through history to return an iPhone was pretty awful.

Other than that, the Internet is doing a great job of covering the games. All of the results are coming in WAAAAY before NBC gets off their asses and airs the actual event. Waiting for NBC to show you the swimming competition is like working in IT and waiting to see Dark Knight Rises after the crowds die down a bit. You’re expecting your geek coworkers to not spoil it for you the minute after it comes out.

Does NBC understand that with Twitter and Facebook and oh, I don’t know Google and every other news site, that the results will be announced as they happen at the games and not during prime time when you choose to air the events? Maybe this is just proof at how vapid of a culture we’ve become, expecting the rest of the world to wait for us to show up… much like Michael Phelps at the pool. All that Subway made him slow.

Actually, I’ve got this vibe of treating this like it’s a reality show house competition. It seems very unpatriotic… or maybe uber-patriotic… like the bad kind of patriotism.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Beetles!
When we moved into our house in 2004, we were told by the exterminator who was doing work for the previous owners as part of the contract that we have a lot of bugs. Not in the house, but on the property. With two big oaks, two big maples, and a shit load of pines, there are plenty of reasons why there are lots of spiders, ants, and termites. Now, we’ve got beetles.

I had just cut the grass and we were relaxing in our patio chairs. I could distinctly smell the all too familiar scent of cat shit from our neighbor strays and it was pissing me off as usual. As my daughter wandered around playing and looking at bugs, she told me to come check out these strange, HUGE bugs. Sure enough, there was these gigantic beetles crawling in and around a pile of cat shit. Three to five of them were just frantically crawling out from under a pile of dirt and grass and poop. I walked throughout the yard and noticed another set of beetles doing the same thing. Apparently, I was lucky enough to not have stepped in either pile during my cutting of the grass.

We checked the Internet to try and find out what kind of beetles these were but no such luck. They are either dung beetles or hister beetles from what we could narrow down.

I went back out after dark with the camera but could find no trace of them.  I even looked again this evening and no trace of them. 

Squirrel Hill Tunnel Traffic
They have been working on the Squirrel Hill Tunnels for what seems like years.  This past weekend they closed down from Friday through to Monday at 5:00AM to do more work.  Traffic was still backed up at 6:30AM this morning as we were backing up to the Churchill exit.  I thought they had gone late or there was an accident.  No such thing.

Do you know what was backing traffic up so badly, this morning?  Hundreds of commuters didn't expect to see half of the roof missing on the inside of the tunnel and had to slow down to inspect it REEEALLLL close. 

Now, you may think I'm exaggerating, but for the 600 yards the roof had been ripped up above us, traffic slowed to a crawl.  However, when we reached the end of where the work had been done, everybody took off like a shot.  Literally no traffic exiting the tunnel.  It's like, "Is it going to fall on me? What the hell is that curved thing up there?"

I was inspired to parody a meme that has been done to death, but it's been selling pretty good in my online stores.

I even got a shout out on Twitter from PittGirl

I love this town and the people in it.  Just... not... the ones staring up at the roof of the tunnels instead of actually driving.

Drive on, Pittsburgh

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Convenience Store Hotdog Healthcare Part Two

In my last post, I set up the scenario wherein my wife was complaining of a bladder infection, accompanied by a fever, chills, and rigors. We went to MedExpress and they all but scared her into going to the ER to be treated with IV antibiotics. However, she took a shot in the ass and a script for Cipro and went on her, only to end up in the ER the next night, no better.

The doctor took a look at her and ordered a chest x-ray after setting her up with an IV drip and I had gone home to fetch our daughter and waited for the phone to ring. So, do you know what the prognosis was?

Well, my one and only commenter guessed right. She had pneumonia.

We never would have guessed for two reasons. The first one, I gave. MedExpress listened to her chest and found no reason to think pneumonia. The second reason, which I forgot to add, was that she had just come off a round of Zithromax the day before she started noticing symptoms of the infection. So, there was little reason to think she would have developed pneumonia after being treated for bronchitis. Still, I was glad it was nothing truly serious and she called me close to 11pm saying she was discharged.

I gathered up our kid and went to pick her up, knowing that she would be sleeping in her own bed, not hooked up to tubes and wires. In the end, she was treated for both the pneumonia and bladder infection and has been much better.

So, to my original point, when you’re sure you know what’s wrong with you and you just need to get a script or confirmation, MedExpress or urgent care is perfectly fine. Your co-pay is more to get in there but you can use your local pharmacy instead of paying their higher prices for drugs. If you have the time and patience, your PCP is great. But if you’re going all out and need to get that excellent hot dog healthcare which is sure to harden your arteries and leave a smile on your face, go to the ER.

The great thing about getting that gigantic chili dog with cheese fries early in the season is that once you’ve met your deductible, you can the high class brand of healthcare for the cost of your co-pay… extra cheese fries at no additional charge. I managed to max out my deductible in the first week of the year with a blood test and other routine exams.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Convenience Store Hotdog Healthcare Part One

Food. Food is good. I like food. If you look at me, you can probably tell that right away.

I also like being in pretty decent health. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, as one might think. I’ll admit, I have a vice and there are detriments to my health from enjoying that vice. However, my health is usually pretty good to the point that I am seeing a doctor maybe once a year.

Now, when I do need to see the doctor, I have my choice. I can either see my PCP or go to an urgent care facility. People will swear up one side and down the other that urgent care is like going to Dr. Nick in Springfield. I am here to tell you that it’s not a given that places like MedExpress will be a bad option when it comes to care. It’s simply an option. In terms of the quality of care, I will use food as an analogy. Politicians may want to call it broccoli, for whatever reason, but my analogy is more aligned with where you get the food.

Let’s say you want to get a hotdog. Hotdogs are good, but it’s best that you don’t know what’s exactly in them from an ingredients standpoint. Relating that to a medical situation, the hotdog is an illness or ailment where you don’t exactly know what’s wrong with you. It’s not like a cold where you know what’s wrong with you.  You need some diagnosis beyond what you can see or feel.

Just like getting a hotdog, you have a few options. You can go to a ball park and pay a lot for an authentic hotdog. We’ll call that a hospital hotdog. You can go to the grocery store and buy a pack of hotdogs for much cheaper and somewhat relative quality to the ballpark. We’ll call that a family doctor dog. Or, you can go down to the local convenience store / gas station and get a dog from the counter which is on those heat rollers. We’ll call that the urgent care dog. Price may vary.

You can go to a ballpark to get a hotdog, which is awesome, but you’ll spend a lot of money to get that kind of quality. You’ll also be there for awhile. There are a lot of other people that you have to sort of "queue up" with to get that hotdog. The game could go into extra innings or overtime, keeping you there longer but that hotdog is pretty darn good.

You can go to the grocery store and get a pack of hotdogs. You know the quality is probably pretty decent but the ambiance is lessened. You take the hotdogs home and finish them but they’re pretty much cooked already. You still want to follow the directions on the packaging. You may have to fight through the crowds on a Sunday during football season or right around a summer holiday, but you can expect to pay a small amount and go home with a pretty good dog.

Now, the convenience store dog has been in that hot box on a roller for who knows how long. It’s probably not exactly the best quality of hotdog and when you add cheese or chili you’ve probably brought the quality down considerably. That hotdog is unknown territory and you could find yourself worse off after you’ve eaten it. The price is based on convenience. The same amount for a pack of dogs at the grocery store gets you two, cooked dogs, at the convenience store but do you really trust them in messing around in your digestive system?

Now, if I was going to the convenience store to get a bottle of Coke out of the case or a bag of Doritos, no problem. As long as the dates are good, should be OK. Candy Bar? Sure. I’m pretty secure in the fact that the food I will consume will be OK. Yeah, I’m going to pay a bit more than at a grocery store, but I got right in, got my snack, and am on my way.

The same goes for what my wife experienced over the last week.

She noticed that she felt like she had a bladder infection. Normal symptoms were all there. Figured she could hold off to see her doctor after the weekend. By Sunday, she was in pretty bad shape. I came inside to find her sitting on the couch, wrapped in blankets and a hoodie, shivering. This was beyond just a simple infection.

I took her to MedExpress, which I trusted, and they confirmed she had an infection, but the fever, chills, and rigors were speaking more towards a blood infection. One of her friends went through this and ended up in the hospital in a coma with a brain infection that made her act belligerent and out of character. It all started with a kidney infection. So, they did a urine test and even listened to her lungs. They came back and said she needed to go to the ER, right away and get IV antibiotics. That’s a 2-3 day treatment and with a five year old involved, it messes up our scheduling. I have to take off from work, she has to take off from work, we need to figure out what to do with the kid who goes to Kindercare two days during the week. Pretty messed up situation.

So, she opted to go against medical advice, they gave her an antibiotic shot in the ass and a script for Cipro and we were on our way. Monday evening, she wasn’t any better. Still had a fever, chills, and rigors. We took my kid to my Father-in-law’s and went to the ER at Westmoreland Hospital.

Now, first off, the parking at their ER is ridiculous. It’s an Emergency Room and all of the parking spaces are either, 15 minute parking, handicapped parking, or Ambulance parking. You sit for 20 minutes alone, waiting for them to even get to you. So, I parked across the street after dropping her off at the door. Luckily, she was able to do fine on her own from there. They got her registered and triaged her. By 9:15PM, they had an IV run with another antibiotic, blood draws, and a sample of urine.

By 10PM we made a decision that if they planned to keep her all night, I would work from home on Tuesday, then take the kid to my parents for the night, after being at Kindercare. I would go to work on Wed and then pick up her up and do the same for Thursday and Friday. If they planned to release her, I would simply take the kid and go pick up my wife.

The doctor came in and examined my wife. Did all the same steps MedExpress did but after examining her, sent her for a chest X-Ray. This was something MedExpress didn’t do. I went and picked up the kiddo from her Pappy’s, and we kind of had a stay up and play session while we waited for the news.

So, what do you think the prognosis was? I’ll give you a hint. The X-Ray is the key.

Stay Tuned.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Gaming from Point A to Point B

I’ve said before how much I am a gamer with no time to game. Back when the world was simpler and I was not obligated to have a job or do a lot of chores I could partake in long-ass sessions of point and click, hack and slash, get lamp, and pew pew. Ah, 1987. How I miss you. But in today’s harsh reality, I have a five year old, a job, chores, and no time to game.

Those days of cruising around Daventry and evil scientist’s mansions looking for damsels in distress are gone, replaced with rescuing my daughter from the clutches of the evil monsters under her bed. The Saturday afternoons of swinging through the jungles looking for money bags and diamond rings are over as I am more inclined to look through the couches for the TV remote in order to put on something I will watch in the few minutes I get the television to myself. The nights of building cities from small towns have vanished as I put out the garbage and try to keep the roof over my head from buckling.

But, as a father who has no desire to grow up, I still find whatever time I can get to do a little button mashing. When my daughter was just about to turn one, I bought "Grand Theft Auto IV". Now, I am a huge fan of the series. I actually made the decision to buy a PS2 just so I could play "GTA III" back in 2002. So, nothing infuriated me more as when I had just got my daughter down for a nap and was all prepared to launch into "GTA IV" and that stupid glitch thing happened. Flash forward three years later, and I haven’t finished the game. Now, she’s old enough to understand what’s happening on screen, so she can’t even be in the same room if I were to play it. Pretty much my life has been relegated to watching Qubo or Nick Jr. If I do manage to steal some time to play my PS3, she comes bounding down into the man cave and I am forced to quit because she wants to watch.

But, it’s not all bad. She likes watching me play games and she really wants to participate. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have the coordination to handle a sixaxis very well. However, I plan to raise her as a gamer, but in doing so, she needs proper training. She has a Fisher Price iXL, so she has the stylus thing down. Now, we need to work on her ability to handle a controller. We can’t move too fast though, she needs to learn the basics. So, we’ll start with Atari 2600 games. One button, one stick. After all, learning to play video games without first playing on an Atari 2600 is like being taught how to win an All Valley Karate tournament with a stupid, blockable move like the Crane Kick but never being taught to paint a fence first. After that, we’ll move onto NES games and then Playstation and PC games. I would like her to appreciate the evolution of gaming and how even the simplest of games like Tetris can be entertaining and addictive.

In truth, I will look forward to her becoming a gamer as she grows older. She already has an interest in watching me play "Minecraft" and at the right age, when she can master keyboard and mouse, I plan to set up a server on a desktop and the two of us will build worlds together, just like we build skyscrapers and dinosaur compounds with her foam blocks. I’m laying the foundation, as it were.

Look at the landscape of games, per my analogy, Atari’s "Adventure" would be analogous to something like say "Skyrim"… maybe. I know that’s a stretch but I was thinking about the whole “Arrow to the knee” in that the sword in "Adventure" is basically and arrow like on a keyboard. Actually, you could probably draw a line from "Adventure" through "Zelda" to "Skyrim". Just like you could draw a line from "Pong" to "Wii Table Tennis". "Dodge ‘Em" to "Need for Speed"? I give up.

In any case, I’m bringing her up right. Then maybe I’ll bring her up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, Start.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Hey, Mayor, Leave Those Cokes Alone

Have we gone off the rails as a society?   Probably.  Do we really need THAT much government watching out for us at all times?  Probably not.  Should the Mayor of New York City be allowed to ban the sale of sweetened drinks in theaters, street carts, and fast food chains?  HELL NO!

Now, ask me how I feel about sin tax on cigarettes?  Don’t really care.  Why?  It’s stupid.  Smoking is stupid, drinking that much soda is stupid, taxing more on things that are a detriment to our health is stupid.   But, guess what?  It’s our right to be stupid.  You  don’t see them taxing more on fracking, do ya?  Industry polluting the air?  Noooo.

OK, soap box away.  Here’s why I think Bloomberg is a little off base with this soda thing.    One, he wants to ban Super Sizing Sweetened teas.  OK. Go ahead.  You know what’s free to us as consumers?  Sweetener.  Yeah, go into a fast food place or a movie theater and they have sugar in little packets.   We could fry our pancreas all we want with complimentary packs of sugar.

Two, as far as say a fast food restaurant is concerned, have you noticed the trend on free refills for fountain sodas?   Well, in the great state of PA, or more to the point, SWPA,  most fast food places have the soda fountain located where the napkins and ketchup are.   So… buy a small Moutain Dew and refill it 20 times.  SHOW THE MAN WHO HE’S MESSING WITH, NOW!

And for those stores that do now have the fountain on the customer side of the business, Wendy’s and Long John Silver’s mostly allow free refills if you are dining inside and bring your cup back.

Actually, the plan would be to limit sugary drinks to a 16 oz cup that could be refilled at will. It still does not solve the problem.

What’s next, limits on how many cases you can buy in the grocery store?  Easily beaten, though a pain in the ass.

So… what exactly is Bloomberg doing?  Wasting tax payer money on something that is easily subverted.

What should he be doing?  What does it matter?  With cigarettes and other vices, you will never be able to stop things from happening.   The industries are way too big and as a society, we are just way too hooked.   Denis Leary said it best.  (Very NSFW)

Listen, we know we do bad things.  We know that cigarettes, sugar, HFCS, drugs, and other shit are bad for us.  We just don’t care!   Remember Prohibition?  How well did that go for you?  Well, 13 years was a long time, but I don’t think the whole nation was dry and sober all 13 years.  Banning legal things only makes them illegal.  You can still get them if you want.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Butt Wait, There's More

Kids are funny. It was always the case with us, growing up. Our parents would spend obscene amounts of money on Christmas presents for us and we’d be more enthralled with the packaging. My kid is just as nutty when it comes to getting a present or basically whatever she sees advertised on television.

"they 're cuddle cuddleuppets cuddle cuddleuppets blankets that are puppets..."
HER: “Can I have that?”
ME: “We’ll see.”

"Dreamlite sleep tight …"
HER: “Can I have that?”
ME: “We’ll see.”

"You pop ‘em. You dip ‘em. Decorate ‘em and devour ‘em. They’re Bake Pops!"
HER: “Can I have that?”
ME: “We’ll see…”

"What’s shaky, chilly, and makes you silly? SLUSHY MAGIC!"
HER: “Can I have that?”
Me: “We’ll… wait a minute? Kiddo, these aren’t toys.”
HER: But we can freeze the magic cubes, pop em in the Slushy Shaker and add our favorite cool drink to make a Slushy cold drink!”
ME: “…We’ll see.”

So, for her birthday, she got a Slushy Magic. She begged me to get it out and make her a Slushy Bunny Milk (NesQuik chocolate milk). So, I checked out the directions and popped the “magic” cubes in the freezer. She expected it to be ready to make out of the box. I said, “No, honey. First we have to freeze these things and then put them in the drink. It could take a few hours.”

HER: “Oh, so when they’re done, we can put them in the Slushy Shaker and add our favorite cold drink?”
ME: “Yeah.”
HER: “Oh, OK.”
A minute later…
HER: “I hope they don’t cause butt cancer.”
ME: “We’ll see”

Footnote: it appears that the “magic cubes” are simply bags of saline. So, in essence, I am adding breast implants to our favorite cold drink. And… they don’t work. 

Just glad she never saw this on TV

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Pete's Possible Pencil Lead Explosives

Ah, the Fourth of July. A holiday marked with the cooking of flesh, both animal and man; the animals’ on the grill, and man’s from poorly supervised firework launching. Yes, nothing is as patriotic as celebrating the invention of America with an invention from China. All the while, displaying flags made in Taiwan.

I remember when the Fourth meant something. I remember a time in my youth where we travelled long hours to distant lands like West Virginia and Ohio to buy fireworks. This was a time after the guy at the little convenience store in Dunbar Twp. stopped selling “The Good Stuff”. You remember the place? It was right across the street from the Willow Inn. You used to walk in and see the smoke bombs and snaps and sparklers and a few tanks and boats. If you were lucky, they might even have Jumping Jacks. On a good day you would say, “Hey, Fred. Got any of the good stuff?” Fred would smile and disappear behind a curtain and you were walking home with illegal fireworks. That was when the Fourth meant something, when you could get bootleg fireworks from a guy in a gas station off of the main road.

I remember another guy, named Pete. He was a friend of a friend. He was the one guy who was 18 years old and just starting his senior year, again. He was the one who could “get stuff”. He had a tape to tape VCR set up and could get you porn, alcohol, and illegal fireworks; fireworks better than Fred could get.

I met Pete through a friend, as I said. It was right around the time we stopped being able to get the “good stuff” from Fred. This was also right around the time they took the video poker machines out of Fred’s. Which is also right around the time when Fred “went away” for awhile.

With Fred gone, we had mentioned the lack of quality fireworks being made available and my one friend said, “Hey, I know a guy. For $20 he can get you a quarter stick.” I was intrigued. I was also 15 and didn’t know any better. Still, this Pete was an unknown person. He’s probably shady. I was probably dealing with an element of organized crime and didn’t know it. This could be exciting. A man that could get me fireworks. He probably knows a lot of guys with nicknames like “Fingers” and “Boom Boom” He could be a cousin of Al Capone, thrice removed on his mother’s side.

We went to Pete’s house in his Custom Cruiser Deluxe station wagon, $20 in hand.  This car was hardly a ghetto hoop dee.  We called it the White Beast For Leprosy as it was losing paint everywhere.  I didn't care though, I was going to a deal. I felt like I had to hide the twenty somewhere in case we ran into the law. There was probably an undercover vice squad member watching Pete’s house from across the suburban street of the South Side of Connellsville. That was a shady area. It was home to the famous hacker, Billy Driscoll. He took down the Pentagon with a dial up modem and a Commodore 64. At least, that’s what we were all told as kids. He was like Matthew Broderick.

Pete’s house was typical. I think it used to be a dentist’s office when I was really young. It looked familiar but I couldn’t quite place it. He gave me quarter stick and it looked awesome. It was about the length of a toilet paper tube but made with a thicker cardboard, like a form. Both ends were sealed with paraffin and a huge wick stuck out of one. It’s bright red colored indicated doom as great plans were made. My friend Jim and I were going to have to plan the ultimate launch party. This was serious stuff. I wondered if black helicopters would descend upon us when the mushroom cloud dissipated.

We totally missed the Fourth of July that summer due to some unforeseen circumstances involving us taking our other friend’s VW Beetle nearly into the Loyalhanna River. This was the third incident that nearly killed the bug. The other being the great Summer/Winter Olympic run and the Lockout in East Pittsburgh. We made plans to reschedule the launch for another time. During those months we learned more about this guy Pete.

First off, he wasn’t that shady. I mean, to us out in the suprural area of Dunbar Township he was probably pretty nefarious; a world class gangster among us rubes. But, when you put him in a room with real hoods he looks like a pathetic dolt. One of the guys, who was five foot nothing and a hundred and nothing, was able to disarm and decimate another guy, twice his size, who came at him with a crow bar. Another made it an art to wear baggy clothes into a National Record Mart, in July, and get the five finger discount on Ice-T’s “Body Count” album. These were bad dudes.

The evidence mounted. We went out to a club in Latrobe with them and Pete, dressed in late 70s loud pinstriped pants and huge collar shirt, looked like he was Alexander Cabot III from the Josie and the Pussycats cartoon. Seeing how he interacted with others kind of put him in his place as the not-so-important, lesser, wannabe hood among the real hoods of South Greensburg. A few of them, “went away” or “went camping in Colorado” as they called it.

I soon began to wonder if my $20 quarter stick was really going to work. This guy wasn’t the notorious character he first appeared to be. He was actually kind of a dork. I mean I was a nerd but by the time I hit high school I kind of straddled that line between the nerds and the other kids. I could live in both worlds and adapt as needed. This guy was way out of his element among the others. So, it begged the question, “Did he sell me a fake?” Was this like that another hilarious fake deal I witnessed where one of the kids in my class sold an upperclassman a bag of grass clippings and claimed it was “good shit”?

Another year passed and we still had not carried out “Operation: Blow Shit Up”. The timing was never right. We didn’t want to end up in the ER with missing fingers but wanted to have the perfect location with the right environment. We could set it off at the beach but there was a possibility of too many witnesses, police presence, and lack of escape routes. We could set it off at the old ash dumps near my house, but it didn’t have a great location with maximum destructive properties. The only thing that would get destroyed was the ash and cinders. Who cares about that? It’s like a pyromaniac setting a waste basket on fire. Oooh, some paper got burned. No, the pyromaniac sets a fireworks factory on fire. That’s what it wants to see go up.

Eventually, I graduated high school and lived in a dorm on the Pitt campus. I didn’t dare bring the quarter stick to school. So, it sat in a box at the back of my bedroom closet. After college, I got my own place and was tasked with cleaning out my old bedroom. I thought about that closet, “I wonder if that old quarter stick is still in there?” I looked and looked and never found it. I even asked my mom if she ever saw it in there and threw it away. She said she didn’t. Then again, my mom probably wouldn’t know what a quarter stick looked like or what it could do. If she had, she would have thrown it out years ago. This is reminiscent of The Ballad of the Bud Under the Bed.

22 years have passed since I bought that $20 quarter stick that may or may not have possibly exploded when lit. To this day, as I set off crappy fireworks that are either PA legal or simply fountains from a road side stand on 158 in North Carolina I think about what that explosion would have been like.  I’d like to think it would have looked like that scene in Bridge on the River Kwai or Force 10 From Navarone.  I’d like to think that there would have been a hole in the world after that puppy blew up. Someday. Someday I may find that quarter stick and see the magic of a $20 piece of cardboard with a wick, paraffin enclosed ends and shaved pencil lead inside.

For more hilarious Fourth of July fun, check out Pittsburgh Dad. Those of us born in the 70s and in Southwestern PA will appreciate this.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Dagobah Spa

Growing up, the one thing I always wanted to have was a pool. For the first ten years of my life, I lived in a house without air conditioning. We didn’t even have a window unit; just box fans to make the sticky July nights somewhat more bearable. Because I had become accustomed to that constant hum from the fans in the window, I sometimes would have to have them going in December just to sleep at night; white noise at it were. But something that would have made the summers even more enjoyable would have been a pool.

When my parents built a new house in 1984, AC included, I thought that perhaps we would finally get a pool. The backyard was flat and open. It was the perfect location for a pool. Now, at our old house, the back yard sloped right to left with a drop off onto the grass driveway before going further down as it neared our neighbors’ house. There was no conceivable way to put a pool there, other than the baby pool I had as a kid. This new yard was so much better. Two acres with plenty of space. Never got that pool, though.

Now, my wife, on the other hand, had a pool during her childhood. However, when she got older, her father did not want to keep taking care of it, so they took it down. So, here we were, two different pool backgrounds; one that always wanted one and never got it and another who always had it but chose to get rid of it. I never could understand how someone could NOT want to have a pool. Now, I do.

When my brother built his own house twenty years after my parents built theirs, he got a pool. Of course, when you build a house, it’s hard to justify such a luxury. That’s what my parents had to do. They prioritized. But in the days of everything is possible, they came out with pools that were simply a liner, held together by piping. That INTEX pool may not have been the prettiest looking thing but it did the trick. So, when my wife finally wore me down into getting one for her and my daughter I thought it was a justifiable $400.

Of course, being the cheap bastard I am, I didn’t really want to pay that much. I was happy to pay $10 for a Saturday at the local public pool. Sure, you had to deal with the crowds, the chance of urinated water, and wet pool bathroom smells but it was still a pool and someone else’s problem. I mean, we did it growing up. We belonged to the Bullskin pool near our house. It was somewhat of a relief to go out there and swim. Still, my wife gave me that look and I cracked. Fortunately, my brother stepped in and helped out.

They had recently got a NEW pool. They got a bigger pool; a better pool. So, in pure family fashion, I got the old pool. Whether it was clothes or a car, being the youngest child meant hand me downs. This one, I could truly appreciate. I save $400 and made my wife happy.

I was never happy again.

Like my first house, growing up, my current house resides in a hilly area. My yard is about as level as Mordor. But, we managed to clear out a space that could be level enough for a 16 foot round pool that runs on paper cartridges and enough HP to power a car driven by a hamster for ten minutes. Constant trips to WalMart to buy more cartridges and chemicals proved to be futile as I could never get the right size filter. The trees in my yard, two oak and two maple, kept providing my wife with hours of enjoyment as she spent the better part of an hour skimming them out of the pool. Her first order of business was always to “MAKE A WHIRLPOOL!” I thought we got a pool to relax, not run around in circles tripping on the ladder every ten seconds.

At the end of the summer, she hated letting go of the pool and tried to keep it open until the last possible moment in September. Then she’d go off and work every weekend at the farmer’s market, leaving me with a toddler to close the pool by myself. In the Spring, after the cover blew off, the water had froze, and one out of every four leaves on my four trees ended up at the bottom of the exposed pool, I had to turn the green and brown cesspool into a clean and sparkly magical oasis of fun. Repeat the cycle.

The outcome was always the same. Try as we might to clear the pool with chemicals, the only option was to drain it, scrub it, and fill it. My water company just loved that. Because of our efforts to get it clean through chemistry, we always ended wasting most of June before coming to the conclusion that we just needed to drain it. Then, in the fall, I attempted to close it by myself and tore the cover and said, “EFF IT!” June came around, I drained it and restarted. However, this was a new year.

We could see the paper filter bit was not going well. In fact, because I could not find the exact filter model I needed, I had to use a table saw to just slice off the bottom off of the (A or C) filter model because it was big enough to just cause the cover of the filter to not close right.

Over Memorial Day, an old friend and teach of mine sold me a Haywayd DE filter and pump. That’s like sticking a HEMI engine on a moped. My father-in-law and I spent the better part of a week making various connective pieces out of what we were given and what I had, coming up with a strange hybrid of hoses for the intake and output. By the end of June, we had a working pool and I decided to be smart and buy a new cover. I was convinced that I was not going to drain the pool next Spring.  Come December, the pool cover was snug and secure in its box in my garage. The leaves were snug and secure in their watery grave at the bottom of my pool.

I did manage to dismantle the filter and pump and stored them underneath our porch which is out of the elements but still cold enough to weaken the top of the filter basin which cracked when I put it on this past May. Green water gushed out of the top and I was forced to consider the possibility that I would have to spend a good $200 to fix my $200 filter on my free pool which cost me $200 in a water bill last August.

Luckily, another friend had a filter and pump he looked to get rid of in June. And, by mid month, I had a working pool. A working pool that looked like the swamp on Dagobah that Luke crashed into in Empire Strikes Back. “DAMNIT! I AM NOT DRAINING THIS BASTARD! TO THE POOL STORE!” I took a gallon jug of my water to see what I needed to do to clear up the pool. I knew I still had leaves on the bottom, but I couldn’t see them. I needed to be able to see what was in there in order to clear it out. The pool store looked at my jug like I had just brought over a sample from Karen Silkwood’s bathtub.

I told them that I was all prepared to just drain the pool and start over, but if I could save the water, I’d prefer it. Well, of course they don’t want me to drain it. No. Because I would lose whatever chemical base was already built up. They did their little tests and came back with a regiment for how to treat the pool.

Now, when I looked at the chemical makeup of this water that would make Swamp Thing go, “DAFUQ?” I was a bit skeptical. Chemical makeup? The chlorine level was less than my tap water. In fact all of the levels were a third or fifth of what they should be. Yet, I spent $200 on chemicals and a new skimmer (The old one broke) in order to save my precious chemical base.

I followed their directions and by step three, when it says, “Your pool water should now be clear.”, I said, “EFF IT!” I bled that bastard faster than a Nigerian banker bleeds a na├»ve grandmother. When I walked out Sunday morning and saw what was left in my pool, I thought a new life form was going to crawl out of the ooze with plans to take over the top spot on the food chain. I half expected to find a dead cat carcass in there, amongst the leaves and inch of green algae. Although, I don’t know how that would compare to a “live cat carcass.” Would that have been Church from Pet Sematary?

Anyway, I now have a crystal clear pool ready to swim in and it’s only the second of July. Plenty of time until I have to scramble and get the cover on in October. Of course, the $200 I spent in chemicals will be nothing compared to the $450 I will have to spend in August. I left the hose on overnight, with the assurance from my wife that the pool would not overflow. I had a river in my backyard this morning.

The point is, if you are a lazy bastard like I am who keeps forgetting to close his pool properly at the end of the summer then you will have to spend the money to fix it in the Spring. The question is, do you spend $200 on chemicals to make your algae soup highly chlorinated, or do you just drain it and start over. Most pool store employees will tell you to use chemicals. I mean, why not? You spend the money on them and if it doesn’t work, you spend more money because now you have all that chemical base built up. Win-win.

But, if you have a 5000 gallon pool, like I do, you are better off draining it. Yeah, it costs a lot of money but now I’m $500 in the hole because of the chemicals I did buy and the fact that I drained my pool. Rest assured, I will be PROPERLY closing my pool and keeping the chemicals I didn’t use for reopening the pool next year. I will also put my pump and filter in my garage which is more climate controlled than the room under my porch.

It’s your own judgment, I guess. If you have anything bigger than a 16 x 48 pool, you might want to consider keeping the water and fixing it through chemicals. At that point, I would go to sever pool stores with a sample before making that decision. A lot of them will test the water for free if you buy something. If you have a pool, you’ll need chemicals anyway, so buy a bag of shock or tub of chlorine tabs at each place.

Now, I know why my father is one of the smartest men I know. Yes, we never had the pool, but he never had the headache.

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