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Thursday, Dec. 23, 2004
Every now and then I need a day like yesterday.

Since we’re not actively working, and since I’ve assumed the role of a housewife with a hammer, I knew of and have been dreading the inevitable project that’s been sitting in my backyard ever since I moved into this house.

The infernal swimming pool.

In 1992, when Ally and I figured that it was time to shuck the pioneer project out in the little bedroom community, sell the house that I’d essentially rebuilt and move closer to the big city (and we told ourselves that it was for the children, for better schools and whatnot. What a crock. We wanted a cooler house, plain and simple), I sent Ally out on various fact finding missions to see what she could see. House hunting. She started taking lunch hours and a detour or two on her way home to do some realtor recon, snooping over fences and peering into windows and all sorts of stealthy activity.

This was back in the days where 100k was still a pretty good chunk of change and could buy you a fair sized tepee. 150 would get you the whole lodge and a horse stable to boot. But I was in the habit of going into seizures every time she came home with a brochure that had 150k as a header, so she more or less stopped doing that after a while. It was also back in the day where it was a buyers market, and we were very much sought after indeed.

We had a realtor, of course, a very nice lady who still sends us calendars every year. She was looking too, but Ally was a determined and thorough shopper. And one fine summer afternoon she burst into the house. “Ooooh, I think I found it! It’s right in the good school district, 4 bedrooms and a big yard and everything!”

“’Kay. But we’ve seen lots of those.”

“Yeah”, she said, with just a hint of cunning in her eye. “But they didn’t have a swimming pool.”

I should have, in my right mind, stopped the madness right there. Swimming pools? Big money pits that require chemicals and much fondling with long handled nets and brushes? Nuh uh, not for this lad.

She was nothing if not persistent, and it became clear that nothing short of a second trip was in order. Couple of days went by, and we took off a little early and made the formal visit, realtor in tow.

It had to be scripted, the seller was a pleasant enough fellow, and graciously swept us in and invited us to look around. “I’ll uh . . . just go out on the back deck and leave you folks to it”, he grinned.

It was indeed a four bedroom colonial and quite nice, only 10 years old and beautifully maintained and landscaped. But the trap was sprung when we strolled outside on the back deck, where the owner lay semi-prone in a lounge chair, feet propped and comfortably shuffling through a folded newspaper as he (this was so much a scam) dangled a free hand in the shimmering pool water. The very picture of contentment, he was. A big umbrella drink on the teak table next to him, hell the bastard even had a flowered shirt on.

Did I mention it was summer? And 90 degrees? Ally and the realtor took one look at that pool and nearly swooned. When two women, in perfect unison take that deep breath and go “Ooooh, my, isn’t THIS nice!” you’ve got a problem on your hands.

But it wasn’t 150k, so any argument that I might have been able to come up with had little chance after that.

Not to say that I truly resisted. It was a very nice house, it was in a great location and Mr. Hawaii Backyard even made some accommodating concessions to sweeten the pot. Like I said, it was a buyers market at the time. We moved in 90 days later, with Ally eagerly promising to tend the pool. She’d had some experience at that, having had one in her yard as a teenager, so I was suitably mollified.

It wasn’t so bad, at least not at first. It was an above ground pool, big sucker at 18 x 30 feet, with a deck built up right to the coping all around it so that it resembled an inground of sorts. The kids were delighted with it. For years, we’d play the game of “How early do we open the pool this year?” which usually turned out to be 60 degree April, with son Ben taking the inaugural and pretty chilly dive. But come mid-May through September, you’d think we were the community recreation center. Every kid in the neighborhood, along with parents, were traipsing over at all hours. The grill never seemed to go out, the hamburgers sizzling, the coolers constantly needed ice, there were towels strung along the handrail like so many wet cocoons all day long.

We strung a net and played midnight volleyball. We had the entire softball team over for season ending parties. We strung lights and would sit there on a summer night, gazing on a dreamscape of glowing blue water and listening to the crickets and sipping a beer. There were some wonderful, wonderful times.

There was a helluva lot of work involved. Ally and I used to get up every Saturday morning and spend hours on that pool and the surrounding vegetation. Thousands of dollars on chemicals and toys and tools. All new wood decking, and then the pressure washing of same. New motors, new filters, new liners. Notice how all those are plural? We did everything twice in the course of the twelve years we’ve lived here.

The last time the guys came and changed the liner, I asked how much longer they thought those poor overworked pool walls would last. “Not as long as the liner”, the one guy said. And he was right, and I knew it.

Years go by and teenagers discover motor vehicles and bigger pools and the pool was fast becoming what pools always do: A forgotten hole in the ground.

So after last summer, when I might have climbed in there once, and Ally used it only as a convenient way to float around on a raft and tan, we faced facts. Too damned expensive to maintain, we said. Nobody ever uses it, we said. The walls are gonna fail one day and we’d just as soon it not be anything spectacular, we said.

She drained it in September, and we kinda stood on the deck and looked at it rather sadly. Empty, the leaves already falling on the fading liner, the motor and filter silent, the decking faded and discolored.

Yesterday I went out there with a sawzall and a drill and took the whole thing apart. In a very few hours it was a heap of metal, lying in the center of a big hole in the deck. If the weather holds today, I’ll be out there tearing about half the deck off and yanking the framing out. A right impressive pile of stuff fit for a dumpster, but little else.

I stood there yesterday, in the middle of where the pool used to be and looked. At a spot where I used to heave myself out the water, like a human torpedo, and spike a volleyball into my neighbor. Where I used to lift small children up and put them on my shoulders to dive back into the water. Where my wife and I would spoon, on a dark night, with a dim light touching the tips of small waves while we shivered in the cool air, not wanting to leave the warmer water.

As many things as I’ve had to put behind me in the past year, that was one of the more wistful ones.

It was hot enough yesterday that I worked up a sweat and a thirst, and I swung by the Watering Hole to try and take care of those annoyances.

Stu was there, and Chief Mo, and we laughed away my melancholy about swimming pools and spoke of football and dwarves and good barbeque. They hung in there for an hour, and left, and I was ready to leave too.

Until the door swung open and somebody walked behind me saying, “Jeez, you’d think you’d get some recognition in this dump.”

I literally tilted my head, saying “I know that voice. I’d know it anywhere.”

It was my favorite Troll, he of the infamous Troll Brothers who lived with Mom in the tree stump in town, hording their gold and watching NASCAR and pulling each others beards. A carpenter as opposed to a metal smith or stone mason, but regardless, a more startling troll you’ll never meet. Ricky Troll it was, and I hadn’t seen him since he’d up and split town 8 months ago.

I looked at him and it shocked me. A once proud troll, weighing not less than a round 250 pounds at a little over 5 feet, with a bushy beard and beady eyes was now clean shaven and thin as hell. I mean seriously thin, like he’d dropped 100 pounds.

“Troll! By God good to see you buddy!” and we hugged and shook hands and generally embarrassed each other. I bought him a beer or six and sat back in disbelief, as though an apparition had just waddled into the Hole. “What the hell you been up to?” I quizzed, when I was more itching to say “What the hell happened to ye?”

He slurped a longneck in practiced draughts, dropping an empty on the bar and stabbing a fat finger at the barmaid for more. Sudden weight loss was not due to cutting back on the ale for this troll, apparently. “Met a woman. She makes a damned fortune working for the gubment and she had to go outta state for six months, some god-awful work assignment. Married her, by God. We just got back yesterday and . . . well, I was out running around and saw the truck out front and figured you might be in here.”

“Uh, Troll. The weight? You lost half your weight in six months. The hell?”

“Damn skippy I did. Bet you want to know how, don’t ye?” he grinned, with a poke at my somewhat ample belly.

“It had crossed my mind, yeah.”

He leaned back expansively and inhaled another beer. “Well I’ll tell you. You shack up with a woman for six months. You don’t leave the house. And you never, ever go outside and so much as walk the dog. You work in a potato processing plant and sit there and sort potatoes all day. That’s how.”

I had to let that one sink in. The Troll had never married, was a contented and fervent basher of the fair sex, and was older than me. The image of a grumpy troll shacked up with a woman for more than 6 minutes was a little hard to swallow, let alone 6 months.

“She’s never been married either, just so’s you know. Had a helluva note getting her to wash the pick-up on Saturdays but she came around. Regular little housfrau she is. Tell ye what, I’ve never had it so good.”

This from a man who lived with mother for 47 years. I was reeling by this time. And still trying to work my mind around the whole thing.

“You worked in a . . . potato plant? Fer gosh sakes, you couldn’t find anything to build out there?”

He burped comfortably. “Didn’t have to. Like I said, she makes scads o’ money.” And a certain gleam was in his eye.

It was the gold. The Troll had finally found a sack full, if not a shack full of gold.

But I still haven’t figured out what happened to the beard.

Say hello to Gimli dwarf, who isn‘t a troll but who looks just like the old besotted friend of mine here in the Guestbook. But don’t go stealing his gold. I have a feeling he’ll need it. Thanks for reading.

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