Did you ever want to build your own swimming pool when you were a kid? I bet you did because every kid I ever knew who didn’t have a pool not only wanted to make their own, they had the plans for it in their heads. Some even tried.
Like me. Now, I’m not much of an engineer but more of a dreamer and way too optimistic with a pinch of idealism. We didn’t have a shovel, but I had a ton of patience. I’d sneak a cereal spoon from the kitchen and go dig my pool in the crawl space under the house. Oh yeah, see, my pool was going to have shade all day long and no one was going to stop me from building that thing or tell me I’d fail because no one was going to find it.
To hell with naysayers.
Except for my dog, she could come with me. I worked on it all summer and by the time fall came around I had what looked like a shallow grave. My dog loved it. Lots of times when we couldn’t find her anywhere, I’d go look in that spot and there she was curled up in that hole. One day I went out there and found her with a litter of puppies! I loved being the first to know about that and was happy to give up my swimming pool dream so she could nurse her pups in peace.
Blane’s pool plans were way more elaborate. He had a shovel, he had 2×4’s to frame it, and he had Visqueen to line it. Maybe he was a little older, I don’t know. But he got his homemade pool to work.
The house we had before this one, we built it on a pool-sized lot and planned to put one in once the kids were old enough not to fall in and drown. Years passed and more kids were born. We never got to the level of comfort to have a pool until our youngest was twelve. By that time we decided to just move to another place and build a pool there.
I watched every step of the pool construction with the wonder and amazement of that seven year-old dreamer still in me. They dug the hole with a backhoe, reinforced it with rebar, and the next day they blew in the cement/pebble mixture with this gigantic hose. There were about five men in rubber boots smoothing it all down with trowels. Quickly, because it dries almost instantly. Big strong ox-looking men. This is hard work that takes muscle and craftsmanship. By the end of the day, they began filling it with water.
That is Spanky reading her book in the pool on that day.
It’s been almost five years and although we don’t use it every day during the summer or even every other day or have big pool parties, it does help me keep my sanity. I grew up by the water and being so far from the coast, well, I get lonesome for it.
For the first time, part of the pool has been freezing over during the night. A few mornings ago Blane had to go out there and break up the ice, it was blocking the intake vents and causing the pump to whine. He was afraid the pump would burn out with no water in the system. He was complaining about how cold it was and I was thinking to myself how terrible it sounded, cold like it is complaining about his pool when some people are homeless. (I really should quit thinking that way and cut the dude some slack)
Around midnight last night, the pool froze over completely for the first time. I heard the pump whining and, damn, no Blane. He’s out of town on a business trip.
Begin Arctic Adventure
You know how sometimes nothing seems to work and everything you touch breaks? It was a night like that. No moonlight, and the patio lights are just shamelessly dim. I can’t see shit. I see the pool is frozen and hear the pump screaming. I put my earphones on and turned it up so I wouldn’t have to hear the pump. Put on U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name.”
Grabbed a PIPE and thrashed away into the ice. I felt like a juvie breaking all the school windows.
Screw you winter.
Shut up whiney pump.
Screw you water bill.
Leaves. Fuck off.
Then I realized I could actually fall in and no one would find my frozen corpse until morning. The kids were sleeping, they couldn’t spot me. Everyone is sleeping, of course, it’s midnight.
So I called Blane to stay on the phone with me while I scooped the broken ice out of the pool, just in case. That I must admit was fun, the sound of broken ice hitting the cement.
I almost didn’t want it to end, but I had to check the pump which is on the side of the house. In a very dark spot. Near where my dogs use the bathroom. But hey, frozen turds don’t stick to your shoes.
We have a light switch back there with a tiny swing door coverlet. I lift the hinge, put my finger in there but it felt strange. Like a magnetic field. Flipped the switch. No light. Got a new bulb, put my finger back into the magnetic field and still, no light. Something is very wrong with this fixture, it might electrocute me.
Tore the house apart looking for a flashlight. None. Blane says things into the phone such as “No flashlight? We have a million of them.” Note, he is always talking me out of buying more flashlights, so I totally hold him responsible for this.
He also says, “It can’t be that cold.”
Of course it can’t be that cold, it’s 65 degrees where he is. How can it be 27 degrees in Texas, that same Texas he left just hours earlier when it was 30? How, when it is 65 degrees in California, how?
So I got a light from the toolbox, one of those orange cage things people use to look under a car hood. Plug it in an electrical outlet by the pump. Light, beautiful light. I can see! Being curious, I first had to check what was up with that magnetic light switch. Lift the cover and scream, there’s a wad of spider nest and I had been poking it with my finger in the dark. Even though I know spiders can’t survive such harsh temps, I am convinced spider babies are crawling all over me. And my sleeves and feet are wet from messing with all the ice in the pool. But I have to bleed the air from the pump. My fingers are so numb I can’t feel shit anymore. Or turn tiny cold metal valves.
Back to the toolbox. Come back with a pair of pliers, and this is the fun part, the pump sprays me down with ice cold water.
I could never have imagined this as a seven-year old pool architect. Never. And I’m so glad I’m not homeless ’cause I really needed that hot bath.