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
Only John heard him differently. John distinctly heard him say, “I’m going to buy you guys a home.”
“A home . . . each?” I said.
“I don‘t know! I just heard, ’you guys a home.‘”
“I didn’t hear that at all,” I said.
But I imagined us moving to the neighborhood, separately or together, and swimming in our pools all day and night (while the regular residents disappeared, a sort of Rapture in reverse): Pool Man Heaven.
Through all this, though, John‘s customers were dying in earnest. After Al Katzaroff it was Jim Stewart, the husband who couldn’t stop smoking. We watched him helped to the passenger seat of a car, heading to Kaiser. “Don‘t just pray for him to hang around,” said his wife. And when he died, she told John, “Don’t you leave me now.”
The same day, we drove to see Mrs. Wadsworth, who not only hadn‘t died, but had let me talk her into an interview.
“I’ve got history, baby,” she‘d told me on the phone. “I’m a survivor. But I‘m not surviving now. Listen to me. I’m a doer, a shaker, a rattler and a roller. I taught my kids to flutter-kick in that pool. I bet you never heard that word either. But for two years I haven‘t been able to do the things I want to do. I can’t get on with my life,” she explained, “until these neighbors cut back these trees out of there! And they‘re both mad at me now, and it’s breaking my heart -- I‘ve never had a neighbor mad at me!”
My fantasy was that in her living room Mrs. Wadsworth would warm to the subject of her life after all. But when we got there, she changed her mind about the visit. Her daughter had been in a fender-bender -- no injuries, Mrs. Wadsworth said, but dealing with insurance companies was a nightmare. It would be simply unthinkable to let us see her house in such disarray, nor could she seem to open the screen door and step out, not if the house was burning. Which, from my view and John’s, it essentially was. It wasn‘t hard to imagine that Mrs. Wadsworth would never use her swimming pool again.
Whereas both John and I felt a fair amount of pressure just now to stay young. Having raised four children nearly to adulthood, he and Barbara were assuming custody of two more, from an overwhelmed friend. Having managed to keep three kids fed, my wife and I were expecting a fourth child by summer -- an unbeatable way to stay young, if you overlooked the fact that you were exhausted already. A joyous chance to set the boulder of your life’s work back at the base of the mountain, where Sisyphus was young. The truth was that I was depressed, and had been since I thought up the idea of riding with a pool man. My work was in a drought, and I lacked even the poolside memory of how to revel in shutting down, let alone recapture a child‘s sense of joy.
Once, a career coach asked me how things were at home.
“I’ve been difficult to be around,” I said.
He said, “When you have been successful in your work, have you been nicer to be around?”
“Actually, yes,” I said. I felt myself sit forward. “When I‘m getting stroked at work, I think I’m much nicer overall.”
He looked sad and confident at the same time. “God can‘t let that attitude continue, Alan.” His tone seemed to say we weren’t leaving the room until I stopped misdiagnosing my problem.
Then he hugged me and prayed for me (what kind of day would it be if I didn‘t get prayed over by two guys in an afternoon?), and I drove home thinking the time has come, this could be the day I receive the truth, that my ability to love and be loved does not depend on how I’m doing in the world. And spent two or three more days sitting around like a yogi, practicing feeling loved, practicing not frowning, feeling like a member of my family and a success and a child.
The next time I saw John, he was talking to another guy, whom John didn‘t know, which was funny, because he turned out to be a pool man too. And they stood around talking spiritual things, one pool man to another, except the first guy looked strung out and ashen. He said he’d just driven back from Joshua Tree, where he always used to feel all spiritually connected, only this time a voice said, “I‘m not here.” Which was not the reassurance he wanted.
“Oh, my word,” John said, his mouth dropping. And he went on to explain that of course, if you were seeking Life in an experience of the past, a voice would say, “I’m not here.” John‘s eyebrows were jumping. “Don’t you see?”