It’s hot, humid, windless. The two tempests, Irma and Maria, are not only threatening our dear friends who live on islands to the north, but the double trouble is sucking up all the trade winds here on Bonaire. That’s what enormous Cat 5 hurricanes do in our neighborhood. So while I sweat away the day and worry about my amigos, I feel a need for more than a cooling rum drink. Yes, it is time for poolside reflections. I stare into the clear water, slightly rippled by a ghost of a breeze. Five feet down I see my nemesis, the pool robot. There was a time that I held the prestigious position of pool boy at our household on the hill. I relished the job. Early morning shirtless, I would rhythmically move a 16-foot aluminum pole back and forth vacuuming the bottom. The sun was soothing. The early birds of tropical oriole, parakeet and parrot cheered me on. It was bliss.
Thoughts ran back to my teenage years when I tried to score a summer job as a lifeguard at a posh Cleveland suburb country club. I was foiled by more mature, buff dudes that impressed the management. Undeterred, I applied to be a pool boy. What better than to get a tan, watch bikini-clad girls frolic poolside and make minimum wage? But again, I was rejected. I resorted to washing cars and mowing lawns. It was an endless summer, but not in the good let’s-surf-around-the-world kind of way.
A half century later, I own the damn pool. I immediately proclaim myself pool boy. I don the surfer shorts and cool sunglasses, Ray Bans of course. I quickly absorb the intricacies of the pump system, conquer the chemistry of sequestered water and scrub the opalescent tiles with vigor. Then the accident happened.
After a fifteen foot fall and five fractures I could barely stir my cup of coffee let alone maintain a pool. My sidekick didn’t fancy doing the vacuuming so with a rapid keystroke on the Amazon dot com site, I was replaced by The Pool Cleaner, a robot vacuum system that proved to do a more thorough cleaning than even yours truly, the overachieving pool boy.
So I sit here today in my wheelchair staring at the machine that replaced me. I watch the four-wheeled gadget crisscross the pool in its arrogant, haphazard manner. I’m steaming, not so much from the sultry weather, but out of indignant rage. How could this clump of plastic, gears and hose take away one of life’s pleasures? Pool boy was now obsolete.
As rocker Stevie “Guitar” Miller once sang, “Some things are better left alone. Like that bulldog in the bathroom. Like that wombat on the phone.” Perhaps this applies to The Pool Cleaner too. It is sometimes better to first understand your enemies before aggressively confronting them. So I sit and watch the contraption with slight contempt.
After a few minutes I realize the mechanical beast and I have some commonality. I watch it spin in circles incessantly in the middle of the pool. I flashback to doing donuts with the family’s red 1964 Chevy Impala Super Sport in the snowy parking lot of my high school, abandoned on a winter weekend.
The Pool Cleaner then abruptly changes direction and heads for a wall. It collides with the side, spinning its wheels, dead in its tracks. This reminds me of too many times in my life I was in a similar stalemate. The most recent was when I was in my 50s, trying to score on the last job of my career. Nobody wants an old dog anymore in spite of the fact that you have decades of experience to draw upon. Paying your dues has become obsolete. Silly. I applied for jobs nearly every month for two years. The rejections piled up. I felt much like The Pool Cleaner might, grinding against the wall, if only the thing had feelings. Finally, after nearly fifty applications I got a job of a lifetime, which ended up being a joyous capstone to my career.
Suddenly the robot breaks away from the wall, scurries ten feet and deflects off the side to only head in another direction. I recall another time from the past when I did the exact same maneuver. Friends and I were sailing south in Chesapeake Bay for most of the day. As the late summer afternoon sun burned into a golden haze, the crew’s thoughts turned to pistachio-crusted crab cakes and cold beer that could be had at our destination port. We arrived there in fading light and I was at the helm. My mate had no chart but read how to enter the harbor from a cruising guide. Not an ideal situation. We saw the town ahead, its lights twinkling to starboard and decided it was time to turn. Wrong. Our sailboat hit a shoal. I immediately turned to port, gunned the engine and the boat bounced off the mud bottom, just like the robot glancing the wall. We continued south for another hundred yards in deeper water and finally found a channel marker that led us to those cherished pistachio-crusted crab cakes and cold beer.
As The Pool Cleaner grinds on, a soft, tropical rain begins to fall. The drizzle turns the surface of the placid pool into an obscure aquatic mosaic. I can no longer see the gizmo below and I’m getting pleasantly wet. Gone is the opportunity to witness more mechanical metaphors that strangely mirror my life. I end my poolside reflections remembering the wise words of Ernest Hemingway as he sloshed down an endless procession of rum daiquiris at La Floridita Bar in Havana, “A man can be destroyed, but not defeated.” Pool boy will rise again some day.