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The Jacuzzi Apocalypse

Illustration by Carson MellIt was the turn of the Millennium, gateway to the year 2000. The night when civilization would realize the promise Prince had made some two decades earlier on the title track of his fifth album. Or the night it would collapse for good: because this New Year’s was the one marred by the abbreviated terror, Y2K. Technology, we’d been warned, might fail us. The grid would go out. Planes would fall from the sky. No more information superhighway. Who knows? — maybe the moon would implode. All because our trusted engineers, back when they wore horn-rimmed glasses and carried punch cards and slide rules, were too lazy to add a couple digits to the clocks of our mainframes, leaving the nation’s entire computational backbone to become confused and think it was 1900 again. And then shut down. Or something like that.My girlfriend, Ronni, and I prepared for this cataclysm by heading for a house in Palm Springs. Several friends, hand-chosen for their potential as survivors, joined us. John was mechanically minded; he had a theory that duct tape would become the most valuable commodity in a post-Y2K hellscape because it has such versatile applications. “Today’s duct tape,” he’d say, “is tomorrow’s gold.” Erica, an artist, would perhaps create a new culture from the ashes of this one. Our childhood friend Tuesday is a waif and lush and therefore offered no tactical advantage, but it seemed appropriate to have at least one wild card. The high desert was chosen for its proximity to Los Angeles: only a couple hours drive, and yet far from the urban epicenter of potential pandemonium. Palm Springs, we reckoned, would surely provide a better redoubt than nearby Desert Hot Springs, since DHS, as the locals call it, is a much scrappier place, not much more than a struggling cluster of down-and-out “resorts,” drug rehabs and three-legged dogs blocking the door to the 7-Eleven — just the kind of wasteland where you could turn around on Y2K and realize you were surrounded by apocalyptic zombies.Palm Springs, on the other hand, has grass and orderly rows of skydusters. There are bagel shops painted with soft pastels and navafaux detail. Its inhabitants are mostly geriatric refugees from the Midwest and gay aficionados of mid-century modern furniture. Presumably, an undead onslaught originating there would be more easily repelled, and certainly more stylish.We arrived at the house New Year’s Eve day. It was big, filled with marble tile, linen closets and a glass bauble chandelier in the foyer as big as a ship’s wake. We stocked the vast pantry with survival provisions: unsalted blister peanuts, Scharffenberger chocolate (78 percent cacao), 4 pounds of ground pork.Out back was the Jacuzzi, an amenity perfectly suited to the desert winter, with its cold nights and clear skies. This New Year’s, however, the Jacuzzi was even more important, because we knew in our heart of hearts that in the event of global disaster, no amount of ground pork would save us. It would only be a matter of time until eschatological chaos would arrive. And we’d resolved to greet that chaos with champagne in hand, floating blithely in the jet-froth whirlpool of that Jacuzzi.“Let her rip,” Ronni said, and flipped the switch on the heater.Content with our mode of retreat, we wiled away the afternoon. Tuesday made her way to the blender but pronto, while Erica and Ronni assembled elaborate, personalized tribal masks from our grocery wrappers and discarded beer boxes. John and I watched what we thought might be the world’s last People’s Court marathon. After a few hours, Tuesday wandered out back and discovered a problem: The Jacuzzi was not heating up. “We have to do something!” she shouted at no one in particular, furiously drinking her third (or maybe fourth) margarita from a coffee mug she’d found in the dishwasher. We mobilized at the Jacuzzi’s edge, and stared at the bubbling lukewarm water.“We’re screwed,” someone lamented.“I didn’t touch it.”“Me neither.”“I saw Tuesday in there earlier. She probably broke it.” Tuesday downed her margarita, and swayed indifferently. I noticed the text on her margarita mug: I’M THE GRANDPA — AND YOU’RE THE DICKHEAD!The late afternoon haze was sharpened by the distinct sound of our settlement’s social fabric unraveling. I sensed a short window for positive action before descending into the State of Nature.“Let’s make sure she’s running,” John said, snapping into action to inspect the pipe assembly. He pronounced the equipment sound, then lifted the drain cover to reveal a fistful of Flaming Hot KC Masterpiece Cheetos floating in the well.“Wasn’t me,” Tuesday volunteered without being accused. Half her fingers were stained with deep orange Cheeto dust. Soggy Cheetos, however, cannot keep a Jacuzzi cold. The cause of our troubles, it turned out, was a fundamental imbalance, a yin overwhelmed by its yang. Like all built-ins, this Jacuzzi had a tile-topped membrane with a small trough for excess hot water to harmlessly spill over into the pool for homeostatic water-level control. In our case, John discovered, the osmosis was reversed: the pool’s surface was too high, meaning the two bodies of water were joined, and the little heater’s work was all done in vain.“Looks like we have to figure out how to get six inches of water out of the pool,” John said, stunned. A quick calculation showed that this was, well, quite a lot of water, too much for bailing, although in desperation we tried that anyway — useless! After an instinctive frenzy with buckets from the garage, we fell into the grass, panting.“Maybe we can use duct tape,” John said weakly, realizing as his words were formed that his theory was already in tatters.It was Tuesday who discovered the eventual solution, when she tripped over a 50-foot garden hose coiled up at the side of the house. As she got up and stumbled forward, brushing dirt from her legs and yelling at the hose’s insolence for being in the way, John’s face lit up: “Maybe a siphon would work?”Yes! — we would embrace that simplest of technologies known as gravity and use the hose, in combination with a slight altitude differential across the back yard, to solve our problem. We lowered one end of the hose into the pool, and surveyed the yard’s topography for the best discharge position. Behind the garage was a ditch that ran to the curb, perfect for draining the entire top of the pool into the street.Let me tell you, it takes tag-team sucking to get a 50-foot siphon started. We were about to give up when, almost miraculously, a trickle dripped from the hose. “Glorious water!” We renewed our efforts to bring the siphon to full flow, and carefully arranged the hose for maximum gravitational pull.Mount San Jacinto was just starting to turn pink from the sunset, and we left the immutable laws of the cosmos to d­o their work. By eleven thirty, the Jacuzzi again become its own body of water. Just in time, our survival plan was restored. The heater churned that water to a boil, and we piled in. Poolside placards in hotels say that hot tubs and liquor don’t mix, but I can assure you they mix very well in Palm Springs on the eve of destruction. We turned on the TV so we could see it from the Jacuzzi, where we soaked for hours, our fingers becoming too pruned to grip our own mugs of margarita. Only Tuesday managed to hold onto hers, as the countdown came and went, followed by the world continuing to exist. No bedlam, no skeletons rising from the grave. Only steam floating quietly around us. Tuesday lifted her mug to make a toast: “To the future!”