By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Video porn constituted a genre all its own. Right off, Barbara worried about housewives in Palos Verdes that John might see sunbathing. They went back and forth awhile before he told her, “Get over that, and look at who I am.”
Lately, she‘d been focusing her energies on upgrading his act with professional touches. She recommended coupon books for monthly billing, polo shirts with logos, and magnetic signs for the doors of the truck. To John these were great ideas, but almost heat-stroke tiring to think about after a long day, as one summer followed another.
What he liked best about having a pool route was that he was outdoors, and that there were repair problems just tricky enough to challenge him but not defeat him. What I liked best about riding with John was seeing summer arrive one day at a time and watching him listen to the customers talk about their lives -- like Highway to Heaven, a show I’d never actually seen. Plus it reminded me of the consolation I used to feel working in restaurants on New Year‘s Eve, to be one of the servers instead of the lonelies at the banquet, with all their good-life expectations.
The loneliest of John’s lonely customers was an old woman named Mrs. Wadsworth, whom even John had begun to avoid. She had a two-story lanai house with mint-green siding, and in her driveway sat an oxidized Ford Tempo with one flat tire. We waited there a few minutes watching a van drive slowly up the street twirling newspapers out of both side windows.
“She‘s always got a question about her bill,” John whispered. “And she’s having health problems. You can tell she might have been really pretty once. But she‘s one of these people who takes a breath in the middle of a sentence, so you can’t get a word in to help.” Recently she was given to suspicions that someone -- maybe a gardener, maybe John? -- had stolen her pole skimmer.
On the floor of the pool moved a vacuum pump in the shape of a giant breathing flower. John started trailing his net along the surface, capturing a lot of wet leaves. In a couple of minutes the pool looked happily used, as if it had been swum in. With a net stuffed with chemical test kits and chlorine tabs, John started back toward the gate, but he would not get there. Mrs. Wadsworth had opened the sliding glass door and stood gathering herself to speak with her head lowered as if she were trying first to swallow.
“I don‘t know who took my net,” she said at last. “Who would do something like that, John?”
There was no way to answer. In any event, John had brought along a replacement, spending all of 10 dollars. “I’m only charging you a thousand,” he said, winking. After an apparently conflicted pause, he asked her how she felt today.
She said, “I feel awful. My house is no longer my own, John, and when you‘ve lived as long as I have -- never did I have a dirty house, and I raised three children here, and they all learned to swim, at McGaugh Elementary.”
“What year was the pool built?” I asked.
February 1969, she said, which meant that Mrs. Wadsworth had been young with the Beatles.
Afterward I asked John if he felt any desire to stop humoring this woman -- to break through to her, take a risk for love and concern -- and he seemed to actually brighten up thinking about it. “You might be right. What would I have to lose? I’d almost gain if I lost her as a customer.”
We were getting to very few homes. A wicked Santa Ana over the weekend had turned the pools into twiggy marshes. (“For seven years, I hated wind,” a former pool man told me, closing that chapter of his life.) The benefit of this was that the day broke amazingly clear, an expectant, fragrant-desert morning. In the older neighborhoods, the blue-trimmed Craftsman houses looked like sailor shirts, and you could hear the chink of a tetherball chain from a nearby schoolyard. But along the route, residents stood outside as if there‘d been an accident. “Nothing’s working,” said a woman in her back yard beside an overwhelmed filter pump.
The other reason John was behind was that he‘d spent Monday attending a memorial service -- and it was a brutal one, for the week-old baby of a certain young couple. The mother, maybe not surprisingly, was having nobody’s formulaic compassion; in fact, her eulogy accused the gatherers of taking life for granted -- of not deserving life, of being deader than her baby. “We are the dead ones!” she yelled. Then, at a critical moment, she opened the casket in order to pray -- i.e., why pray for a resurrection if you didn‘t have faith enough to look? -- which gesture had been too much for some people to bear. The baby did not resurrect, but everyone left knowing what a memorial was supposed to be about.
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