Times have been tough lately. Fresh out of college, no jobs for a philosophy major in this economy. So when my cousin Fred in Orange County offered me a job at the pool cleaning service he works for, I couldn’t say no. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know the first thing about taking care of a pool, but if Fred can do it, it shouldn’t be too difficult. I learned quickly enough (memorizing heater specs is nothing compared to Sartre) and was soon on my first assignment. Fred had warned me that the customers were freaky, but I had no idea what I was in for.
My first job was at one o’clock, and, in typical Southern California fashion, the sun was scorching. The house was a simple two-story family home in the middle of suburbia, green lawn, nice car, clean pool, almost the archetype of the typical suburban home. I pulled the white pickup truck alongside the curb, grabbed the chemicals and skimmer from the bed, and went around the side of the house to the backyard. The pool was, I roughly estimated, forty by fifteen feet, with a maximum depth of between nine and twelve feet. It was surrounded by a gate, which is highly recommended to prevent tragic accidents. My skimmer was already in the pool when I realized that the client (one Mrs. Benson, according to the billing information), was sunbathing on a lounge chair, on the concrete about ten feet from the pool. She was wearing a red bikini, sunglasses and wide-brimmed hat, a bottle of suntan lotion on the ground next to the chair. She noticed me looking at her, raised her head and smiled, waved. I waved back.
She called out, “I hope you don’t mind if I watch.”
“Not at all,” I called back. It’s good to see a homeowner take an active interest in their pool’s maintenance. The surface of the water was spotted with clusters of leaves, which are best to remove before adding chemicals. I realized soon on that watching the skimmer glide across the water was relaxing, almost hypnotic even. I walked around the pool, the little blue net filling with soaked foliage, until I got to the filter, which I realized was directly in front of Mrs. Benson. It was also broken, and I leant down to check it. This got Mrs. Benson’s attention, as she propped herself up on an elbow to get a better look. This filled me with a sense of anticipation; if I couldn’t fix the filter, with a pool-owner as astute as Mrs. Benson, I could be in for a hard time back at the office.
Mrs. Benson got up from the lounge chair and walked over to me, putting a hand on my shoulder. “What seems to be the problem,” she said, kindly.
“It looks like the filter’s broken,” I said, “It’s probably blocked at the pump, Mrs. Benson.”
“Please,” she said, “Call me Anne, and it hasn’t been Mrs. for months,” she smiled.
I smiled back. “I’ll be sure to change the billing info to ‘Miss’,” I said, looking around for the pump. It was near the side of the house opposite from the side I entered from, so I walked over there, followed, to my surprise, by Anne. I was sweating pretty badly by this point, and was tempted when Anne suggested I take my shirt off. Unfortunately, I burn very easily, and the sun tan lotion by the lounge chair has a disastrously low SPF.
“Sooo…” Anne said as I squatted down next to the pump, “this problem with the pump. Does it look hard?”
“Too soon to tell,” I said, “I’m going to need to open her up and have a look inside.”
“Do you have a special tool for that?” she said.
“Sure do,” I said, reaching into one of the pockets on my khaki shorts.
“Can I touch it?” she asked, “Your tool I mean?”
I stood up, and turned around. She was rubbing her hands along the sides of her torso. “Sure,” I said, “hold out your hand.” She placed her hand palm up about waist height, which struck me as odd as I handed her my wrench. She looked at it, even though she was wearing sunglasses, I could tell she was squinting her eyes in confusion. “It’s a Foreman 3/8 inch standard wrench,” I said. She looked at me like I was an idiot, then it hit me. “Oh!” I said, feeling like a complete fool. I took the wrench back and started fumbling around with my shorts. It took me a moment, but I found it and got it out.
The filter uses metric nuts, and there I was like an idiot with a 3/8 inch wrench. I showed her the adjustable wrench. “Sorry,” I said, her face still shocked by my rookie mistake, “I’m new at this.” Fixing the pump was a piece of cake, but Anne still seemed put off by my mistake with the wrench.
“Sorry again,” I said. “I’m a bit nervous, but I swear, I’m all business.”
She seemed to respond well to my reassurances, and her face lit up with a smile. “This is your first time?” she said, stepping a little closer to me.
“Yeah,” I said, “There’s a big difference between practicing alone and actually doing it with someone else there. You know, theory versus practice and all that.”
Anne nodded emphatically, “I know just what you mean.” She leaned over and whispered into my ear, her breath hot and moist, “How about some practice, then?”
I nodded. My bucket with the chemical containers was sitting unattended and unused on the other side of the pool, and here I was chatting. Time to put my training into practice. Anne seemed flustered when I had finished adding in the chemicals and said my goodbyes. In hindsight, her behavior throughout the entire ordeal had been odd. I guess Fred was right about the customers being freaky.