Ballad of the pool grifter
My neighbors are perfect people, and we have the ideal neighborly relationship, which consists of waving a semi-authentic hello from our cars, exchanging the occasional holiday baked good and routinely dragging one another’s garbage cans up the driveway. But we have never been in their house, much less their pool.
This year, before they left town for summer vacation, they asked my girlfriend and I to keep an eye on their house, as we have asked of them. Pro forma neighborly. But this time, they added in a final text, “Feel free to swim in the pool.”
We don’t have a pool. Often, in the plaintive late-summer afternoons when we sit on our back porch fanning ourselves with well-loved issues of Desert Companion, sweat coming out of our ears, trying to suck down tepid sangrias before the ice melts, we hear them splashing. We hear them laughing and enjoying icy beverages on floats and dipping in and out of the delicious, cold pool, at which I have sneaked many a peek. It is the perfect kidney-bean shape, in a perfect, well-landscaped oasis, with a perfect set of chaises surrounding it. Often, we hear the 3-year-old shriek with the glee of emerging from the water after a splashy jump, or one of the adults say, “Brrr!” while toweling off before cracking open a beer. We even hear the dog — the dog! — shaking off after a refreshing swim. We wipe our brows and stare at one another, mildly bitter.
In short, we have had pool envy for years.
So it was an amazingly generous offer, one I would never have made without thinking of all the calamities for which my insurance policy is ill-prepared, like a stranger drowning in it while I’m on vacation. But I quickly replied with a simple, “Thanks!”
The next morning, a Saturday, we stood at our living room window, in our swimsuits and SPF45, watching them pack their car.
We were dying for some pool time. Dying: skin-parched and relaxation-starved. We were not pining for public pool time — the kind in which you think about your belly fat and the bacteria floating in the pool — but private pool time. The kind in which you gently launch onto a float, dangle your limbs in the water, nap, awaken for a dip and a drink, and relaunch. For hours. So when they drove off, we gave it 10 minutes for possible forgot-something turnarounds, then grabbed our floats (every pool grifter owns a float) and tiptoed through their back gate.
It felt wrong, despite having permission. I felt like a thief — an awesome thief launching her International Leisure Sunchaser Padded Floating Lounger into a stolen paradise. I felt like my 14-year-old self, who joined friends climbing over the walls of country clubs to which we did not belong, to take night dips in pools where we were not welcome. That surreptitious feeling echoed louder in suburban Las Vegas, where so many of us don’t really know our neighbors.
Just as my floating girlfriend and I were drifting off, physically and mentally, our cares dissipating with the quiet waft of the water ...
WRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHH, ppr-prr-prf, WAAAAAAAAAAAH! A leaf blower, or a death ray shot by drone, or an alarm signaling The Apocalypse. Instinctively, we took cover under water, and emerged to find four landscape workers spread across the yard. I waved my semi-authentic Saturday morning hello, and we waited.
And waited. Turns out, luxurious eco-friendly desert oasis landscaping takes care. Turns out, leaf blowers are still the loudest contraption on Earth, and I had plenty of time while sitting tensely on the steps of the shallow end to contemplate the irony of a device meant to clean that causes so much noise pollution. When finally the yard was tidy and the air thick with dust, I offered them water (no takers), thanked them as if it were my yard (suddenly I’m a baller) and we returned to our International Leisure Sunchaser Padded Floating Loungers.
The quiet was even quieter now, the water even waterier. My girlfriend took a deep sigh. I shut my eyes.
Then: “Well, good morning to ya, ladies!”
My eyelids popped open. The garden-hatted pool man was staring back at me, chemical kit in hand.
Paradise is short-lived. I felt a little peculiar leaving through the gate, rather than through the house. But such is the life of a pool grifter.