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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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