By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
We weren’t long done with this discussion when we visited Mrs. Stewart, a 40-ish woman with a cigarette in a filter holder who announced that her husband‘s lung cancer had returned.
John stood with his head tortoised forward and his hands on his hips. “Oh, my word. I am sorry to hear that.”
She took an impatient drag on the cigarette, half-turning toward the house; she was not going to go too deeply into this.
“This is a writer,” John announced, sensing some confusion. “He’s actually writing about me. The Life of a Pool Man.”
“You know, when I saw him with you, I thought: Don‘t you leave me now, John. I thought you were giving your route to someone!” She looked at me. “John’s the best there is. I‘d give up Poopsie before I gave up John.”
The late afternoon was starting to turn cold, which on top of a sunburn felt like missing the last bus of the day. At Bixby Hill in Long Beach, nicknamed “Pill Hill” because a lot of doctors live there, a former actor named Mr. Baggett tried to explain the solar panels up on the roof. Wind was murking up the water, and you could hear neighbors making their dinner and John’s knuckles banging around to get the truck properly loaded.
“Have a good evening,” John said, waving once.
“Well,” Mr. Baggett said, turning the word toward a Ronald Reagan moment, “having a chat with you fellows is part of having a good evening. I thank you for coming!” Then he was hustling indoors too, as if he realized all at once that this was only March, false summer having made fools of everyone.
An aerial view of California today would show more than a million pools in the ground, as many pools as there are residents of Nevada -- evidence of an overpowering instinct to either lay down our burdens by water, or never leave the suburbs, or be gorgeously dead for a summer, like Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate -- the grandest postwar version of that daydream having been that of the Anthony Brothers, whose business began when they dug their own pool by hand out in Hawthorne, and the neighbor over the backyard fence asked for one of the same. Nowadays, Anthony & Sylvan, which earned 38 percent less in 2001 than in 2000, has diversified into ski equipment and fishing supplies, and you get the impression that the business has had to do some growing up. At the service level, fees are pinched to the point of near humiliation. You can make $40,000 or $50,000 a year if you never stop for air, just for a customer to decide he wants you summers only, when your chemical costs quadruple. John complains too about pool-supply stores that offer cleaning service directly to the public, often underbidding him. At night, pool men grouse about such subjects over the Internet.
They also talk shop about everything from parts per million of dissolved solids to solutions for cracked, winter hands (vitamin E lotion, not oil, under disposable latex gloves). And they network for things like sick route coverage and liability insurance: Gone are the metal ring-toss games of my childhood. In the swimming-pool business, fantasies of paradise are often giving way to the realities of accident and aging. Robert Altman‘s Short Cuts famously depicted a pool man’s disillusion at the end of a workday: a two-income apartment, and a wife who sells phone sex.
What doughnut shops are to police, Ecco‘s Pizza parlors are to the pool cleaners, several of whose associations convene there one night a month. (“Wayne’s going to explain the new life-insurance card,” announced a United Pool Association secretary, upon which Wayne stood up and said, “Real quick, I don‘t know if everybody knows this, but you receive 100 percent coverage for the following: loss of both hands or both feet, loss of entire sight of both eyes, loss of one hand and one foot, loss of one hand and entire sight in one eye, loss of one foot and the entire sight of one eye, loss of speech and hearing in both ears. A hundred percent.”) There, I picked up a few tales about dog bites and pratfalls and novice pool men who flooded a home by running a drainage line from a pool to a toilet, or who overchlorinated the hair off a rich man’s shins. John said that he himself once fell into a pool -- in winter, off an unhinged diving board that he‘d bellied onto to fix a light beneath. There’d been a group of kids watching, and according to Barbara, John went home shook up, and a little upset at himself.
In most pool-man stories, actually, the subtext is status, with a note of social commentary: the pool man in the role of itinerant conscience, the vicar at the fringe of a hedonist wedding. Delivered by life to two very divergent realities are, say, Keith Moon -- who got drunk and drove a luxury gas guzzler into the pool of a Holiday Inn on his 21st birthday -- and the guy who greeted him afterward. “I figured they‘d be so grateful I was alive, they’d overlook the Lincoln Continental. But no,” Moon told Rolling Stone. “There‘s only one person standing there, and ’e‘s the pool cleaner. And ’e‘s furious.” æ