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
For the record, I know a few things about fathers and lost chances, my own dad having swum in our new Anthony pool less than a handful of times before he divorced from my mom in 1961 -- the ground no sooner dug than a disappointment. Except there was this one afternoon, when I climbed up his knee, stomach, chest, to be tossed in the shallow end -- over and over, as often as I asked, filling a need the size of a pool.
Contrast John, neither the escapist pool man nor the ambitious pool man so much as the pool man in the battle of life, going from one strange setting to the next, offering his vagabond take on whatever was put before him. One day we got news of an actual death. Having lost her husband, Pete, two years ago -- pneumonia had set in after a dental infection -- Evelyn Katzaroff, a 62-year-old schoolteacher, had now lost her husband’s brother, Al.
In portraits around the house, Pete Katzaroff smiled a big Ed McMahon smile, sometimes over the neck of a guitar. He‘d designed their pool, too, which included a fountain from the mouth of a lion. A son -- onetime Florida Marlin Robbie Katzaroff, whose photos have a room of their own -- still holds the UCLA record for career triples.
Mrs. Katzaroff said she figured she’d retire now.
“That might be a good decision,” John said. Suddenly his eyes warmed and he nodded relief, as if he were seeing a good end to what started off bad. “Maybe, you know, you‘ve been using work in a way just to cope. Now your grandkids will get you.”
She agreed with that. “I just always felt that Pete was going to make it.”
John said, “That dentist should have given antibiotics.”
“He’s with Al now. I wanted to tell you,” Mrs. Katzaroff said. “Al sat up from his hospital bed, with his family around him, and he told his wife, ‘I want to go to Pete’s mansion. And I want the living waters.‘”
The worst section of John’s route in Long Beach resembled the Deep South. There were power-line towers, dead lawns, a cracked plastic Aquaslide stamped BROWNVILLE, TX. At a public-housing pool, John‘s net scooped up AA batteries, a Brass Eagle air-gun cartridge, a rock, a coat hanger, a Reebok, a Kit Kat wrapper, several cigarette butts and numerous plastic train tracks.
The wealthiest section, which was practically next door, had plantation-style balconies, gabled fences, pine trees, London lampposts, a languid beach towel, a bottle of serious suntan lotion: the land of SPF-4. In his garage, a customer in pleated shorts and spotless tennis shoes with clean stretch socks waved, chomping an invisible cigar. He was stacking some things, and he had a rich man’s way of getting it done, as if three or four unmarked boxes on the clean garage floor had drawn him into a challenging but not unpleasant game of “work.”
It was in this neighborhood that we ran into a Nigerian prince. We were driving at a gawker‘s pace, grabbing real estate handouts as souvenirs, and a single small car bore down the road the other way, as if in a very low-speed game of chicken. The driver parked and got out with the key alert chiming. He was a white-haired African in vague ceremonial attire -- a black robe with gilded lions, which I managed to ask about.
“Why, I’m from a royal family in Nigeria,” he began. “I‘m worth” -- his tongue tricked out the figures in a sharp cadence -- “one hundred and twenty-five million dollars. I’m going to be establishing a ministry around here. I have a crown, too. Would you like to see it?”
“That‘s all right . . .,” I said, as he steered me toward his rented Chevy. “Sure, okay!”
He placed it in my hands, a stiff braided skullcap studded with gems.
“My friend John over there,” I remarked confidingly, attempting to impress the prince, “is a very serious Christian.”
“That right? You fellows looking for a home, too?”
“I clean some pools around here,” John said.
“Oh -- well, maybe I’ll use you one day!” The prince‘s teeth were tusky yellow. And now there was a pause. “Shall we pray?”
So we seemed now to be joining hands in the middle of the road, a bristle-bearded pool man and an African prince and me, Krusty the reporter, looking over my shoulder to see who might be watching through parted curtains while dialing the police.
The prayer began with strands of Psalms and Scripture (“Wherever two or more are gathered . . . the wisdom of the Lord is perfect . . . he who dwells in the secret place of the most high . . .”). Then it lifted up into a trembling, pitch-pipe kind of song (“I -- love -- the Lord -- He’s -- so -- good -- to -- me”) that settled back down at last into dry silence on the old man‘s tongue. Afterward, he got our addresses and gave us both high-fives. “It’s all God‘s money,” the prince said.