Setting the Swimming Pool on Fire

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A friend told me the other day about how his ex-wife once accidentally set their swimming pool on fire. I do not think this was a factor in the divorce but tend to not inquire deeply into such delicate matters. Anyway, she and a girlfriend were throwing a bash and decided it would be lovely to have floating votive candles in the pool. Probably she saw something similar on cable television. I am sure it provided an atmosphere of luminescent festivity on an East Texas summer evening. Plus the candles might have helped ward off mosquitoes.

Speaking of which, I read an amazing story in the New Yorker the other day. The article was about attempts to genetically engineer a male mosquito that, when it mates with the female, releases a dominant gene that kills all the participants and the eggs that were produced. I am quoting here: “Researchers estimate that mosquitoes have been responsible for half the deaths in human history.”

Normally, I am pretty skeptical of such shenanigans, but mosquitoes serve no useful purpose that anyone can discern. The poisons used to attempt to kill them pose a greater risk than genetic engineering, I figure. Half of all deaths in human history? That is incredible.

Anyway, I have mosquitoes on the mind because while working on our swimming pool the other day I was flat chewed up. If those researchers profiled in the New Yorker need an ideal spot to unleash a passel of genetically engineered stud mosquitoes, I would welcome them to our backyard. It is a lovely, pastoral setting, with beautiful shrubbery, trees, decks and a blinking neon sign that says “Welcome Home, East Texas Mosquitoes!”

Well, it may as well have one.

But back to the swimming pool that was set on fire. My friend had a vinyl-lined pool, a very expensive version of the material used in kiddie pools. I recall his pool and idyllic backyard — another town, another time.

In-ground pools have pumps that re-circulate and clean the water, so that what you’re swimming in doesn’t look like the Sabine River. A removable basket catches the leaves and pine straw. In this case it also caught the lighted candles, which set the vinyl pool liner on fire. Vinyl does burn, as proved by certain preachers who set fire to Beatles albums in the 1960s. My friend didn’t say whether he called the volunteer fire department to put out the fire in his swimming pool.

He told the story in commiseration after I complained of two busted pumps, leaking liners and other woes with the pool that came with our abode in the first month of residency. This is our first pool, which of course brings to mind the old saw — equally applicable to bass boats, motor homes, time-share condos and swimming pools:

What’s the second happiest day of your life?

The day you bought (or got) the swimming pool (or insert your foolish purchase here).

What’s the happiest day of your life?

Well, you likely get the gist.

I really can’t complain. First off, nobody is listening. Second, the place came with a home warranty, so the cost has been minimal. I just don’t like not being in control of systems that I should be able to maintain. The swimming pool is a very large foreign thing in my backyard that I must become acquainted with, and thus far it has not been a great courtship. To wit:

• A few days after moving in, it started losing water. (This was before we moved in and I left the water on all night and had flooded the pool. I was on a roll. ) A pool guy came out and detected two slits in the liner. That’s the downside of vinyl. Not only does it burn. It can be cut. He told me to drain the pool and patch it myself. I dutifully bought a submersible pump from Harbor Freight, came home and then realized there was nowhere to drain 18,000 gallons of salt water without making permanent enemies of my downhill neighbors.  My Beautiful Mystery Companion urged me to get a second opinion from friends who have a pool. They referred me to an old hippie who patched it under water. Phew. I took the pump back.

• I paid $100 for someone to fix the little snake thingy that cleans the pool automatically. This machine is a source of endless amusement. I can watch it for hours. It roams the pool, powered by water pressure, sucking up leaves and pine straw. Every few days I empty the mesh bag. One day it quit working. I was in a panic and called a pool person. He came out and replaced a plastic wheel using a crescent wrench. It took about as much time as it does to empty that mesh bag. I felt like an idiot.

I am overcoming my pool phobia out of necessity, recalling what that same friend (whose former wife set the pool on fire) said about his pool: “All I ought to do is go out there once a month and toss three $100 bills in that pool. It would be about the same difference.”

Fortunately, I am bit handier than my friend. Besides his experience has taught us to never use votive candles in the pool. And, you know? Being able to jump in your own swimming pool after working up a sweat working in the yard or around the house, or to hear the teenagers laughing or playing in the pool?

Well, it is hard to put a price on that.

At least not yet.

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