By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
You could learn John’s routine in a jiffy. Enter a neighborhood, often past a checkpoint or a sign (WINDWARD POINTE, EST. 2000). Dash surfactant from a squeeze bottle across the water, brush tiles like they‘re oversize molars. Sometimes break down a filter system composed of diatomaceous earth (pool water is purified, all too poetically, by microscopic sea fossils). Mix and shake chemicals in their plastic jiggers to the right pH, a sunrise pink.
Almost all of John’s pools were white, with a very occasional clove-gum gray, for the illusion of a shady lagoon. In one back yard, a hand-painted sign with a singing lovebird read: Come into my garden and dream your cares away.
Mrs. Wadsworth had a few cares still to dream away. This week she spent four or five minutes explaining that she would be sending in her February check ahead of John‘s bill because she wanted the amount on her March statement, did he understand? Also she spoke about the missing pole skimmer, which John on a lucky hunch bent over and found behind a heater shed.
She didn’t seem that excited. Anyway, the net had been torn through. “The gardeners must have stuck it back there,” John said.
“My husband built that shed,” Mrs. Wadsworth remarked as a point of pride. “All nuts and bolts. He didn‘t use a single nail.”
We asked how she was doing.
“Ha!” Mrs. Wadsworth blurted, almost rejuvenated by her vehemence. “I think I should just roll over. Do you know why, John? I want to do all the things I’m no longer able to do.”
John said, “You should come out maybe, and enjoy the day.”
Mrs. Wadsworth just lowered her head, until it was touching the inside of the screen door.
In the presence of a matriarch (in the presence of lots of customers, actually, but especially older women), John comes across as half minister, half inadequate son, solicitous to a level that a more ambitious pool man -- a pool man with a magnetic car sign! -- might not be. The thought of disrespecting a customer seemed to offend his sense of chivalry more than servitude could. Once, to fix a leak for a housewife in Lakewood, John phoned up a certain legendary repair artist -- a frogman, someone the United Pool Association members stood in stark awe of -- a man who, as it turned out, lost patience with the customer‘s ignorant hovering. “Would you explain the problem once more to my husband?” she said, handing the frogman a phone. And he replied, “I don’t have time to talk to your husband.” Then he passed the phone to John (who ultimately took the fall, getting fired for the whole fiasco) and walked off the job in his wet suit.
That made John indignant. Not the loss of the $50 a month, but the principle. And he should never have recommended a contractor he didn‘t know anything about. Feeling guilty, he spoke out at the next UPA meeting, letting everyone know how the frogman behaved. “Could you imagine doing that to a client?” he raved. “It would be like disrespecting Mrs. Wadsworth.”
One thing John respected about his own parents was that he always knew where they stood. His father liked arguing so much he kept an abacus behind his wet bar to keep track of trivial bets. John himself often didn’t realize that an argument had gone past casual until it was too late.
The upside to strong opinions was that he wasn‘t afraid to sound presumptuous, if he just happened to be standing outside someone’s sliding glass door with an answer to their problem. One time, to help resolve a customer‘s family squabble (two brothers-in-law at war over some work done to the house), John said he barely hesitated before introducing a game of Conflict Resolution, which resembled hopscotch. (We got out of the truck and stepped over to the sidewalk; it was demonstration time.) First, you stand dead center and state your ISSUE. Then hop to three lateral declarations, ends first:
I FEEL___ I WANT___ I THINK___
ending with two mighty hops forward:
I’M COMMITTED TO___.
Landing with both feet to demonstrate, John was still plainly moved by the power of this final sacrificial step. He didn‘t tell me specifically how the parties came to terms -- only that they did, and the family thanked him.
A couple of times I thought: I’ve got the wrong guy. I‘m on the wrong pool route. When I started out riding with John I was looking for things like 1) the way summer used to look, 2) a cush job, 3) an alternate reality, the kind in which my mom and her friends used to work and play in the sun, seemingly free from cares and cancers, 4) I wanted my mom back (who died in winter 1996), plus my dad (winter 1991) and my oldest sister (winter 1999), 5) not to die the way my mom did, too ashamed to let herself be seen in a bathing suit, and obsessed with gadgets breaking down in the house.
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