26 July 2009

This is Only a Test

I remember being fascinated by the design of my grandmother's inexplicably-colored, green, 1962 Valiant when I was very young.

This isn't Nano's, but it's very much the same car.

The big, blue and red, split, "V" logo in a circle on the grille. Or was that Papaw's black 1963 Valiant? Anyway, Nano's Valiant had two horizontal fins above simple circular tail lamps, and a seemingly giant chrome circle bisected by the letters "V-A-L-I-A-N-T" in a black bar across the deck lid. She used to pump the hell out of the accelerator every time we got in the car, causing a giant, black cloud to waft out of the garage when she started it.

Another example of the Valiant, found somewhere online.

The single turn signal indicator, which was a green diamond in a chrome circle on the dash was always curious to me. Why weren't there two arrows? Then, oddity of all oddities, everything on the dash was push-button: the transmission, climate control and, of course, the radio.

I spent many a trip with her looking at the Civil Defense logo on the Valiant's radio dial. At the time I didn't know what the "CD" in a triangle inside a circle meant. The little symbol, along with the broadcast copy, "this is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. This is only a test," is a familiar refrain from the "duck and cover" Cold War era.

The announcement is firmly implanted in my psyche, just like how her car smelled inside on hot afternoon trips to Scotty's for pork cutlet sandwiches, Jesse Schook's Beer Depot, home to a foul-mouthed Mynah bird, for Blatz beer in waxed, flip-lid cardboard cases and Charms Blo-pops.

Nano and Papaw enjoyed a few of these during airings of "The Lawrence Welk Show" and "Hee Haw" on Saturday nights.

As I ponder the many things that have taken place over the last several weeks, I keep remembering "this is only a test." And, I sometimes have wanted to climb under a desk and cover my head. Or have a fit, like I might have in the past. But, if the personal work I've been doing for the last nine months has taught me anything, it's that... if... I... just... pause... and think... I realize that whatever "this" is will pass.

Like a kidney stone.

In early May, we noticed that the water level in the pool was consistently, slowly decreasing shortly after we removed the winter cover. Upon further inspection, we found a 7-inch long crack in the liner. After discussion about whether or not the structure I placed in the center of the pool back in October to "tent" the winter cover caused this I am convinced it didn't. My tray, bell weight and PVC pole were at the very least a foot away from the breach, and I had taken extra care to research my plan and make sure there wouldn't be anything potentially damaging coming in contact with the vinyl. Nevertheless, the liner needed replacing. I drove out to Watson's on May 15 to arrange the installation of a new one. Feeling like one of those asshats I see on cell phones in checkout lanes, I called the credit union while I sat at the service counter and transferred funds from one account to another while the service department set our replacement date for the following Friday, May 29.

I figured this was a fairly elementary liner replacement and worked at making sure the pool was drained, "except for three inches," as I was told. The prospect of draining to this low level unnerved me because the installers told us eleven years ago to never let the pool get below half-filled. Unfortunately, the pump I used didn't work fast enough. When the crew arrived, they put a second pump in the water, said they'd go to West Memphis to do a job there and would return later. At 9:30 that night, they called, said it was too late and that they'd return the next day.

Saturday I waited. I called the Scheduling department asking where the guys were and was rescheduled for Sunday. I waited again. And, again, they didn't show. Then the rains came for two days and the pool walls began to pull away from the soil. In my mind, collapse was imminent. My nervous calls didn't seem to alarm Watson's service department. I was eventually rescheduled again for Friday, June 5. Upon arrival, the crew assured me that even though the pool had begun to separate from the walls of soil around it that the situation was nothing serious. However, discovering a small rust-through spot under the skimmer was. The only option offered was replacing the pool altogether.

I called Watson's to make arrangements and received the first estimate five days later because someone who had to approve the warranty coverage was out of town. The prospect of rain made every delay a nail-biting experience because there was a very real risk of the existing walls collapsing even more. The more the walls collapsed the more hand-digging would be needed to accommodate the new structure. There is no way a crew could get a Bobcat back there to reverse the impending erosion.

Even with warranty coverage the cost was more than we paid for the original pool. Included as a line item on the estimate was a savings of $300 if we removed the concrete, then demolished, removed and disposed of the old pool. During a phone conversation while he was out of town, Cameron and I decided to save the 300 bucks. I put in a vacation request to use Friday, June 12 to do this. Unfortunately, because Cameron is out of the country 75 to 80 percent of the time, he wasn't cognizant of the plans I'd made in the meantime.

He came home Tuesday, June 9. While I was at work the next day I got a call from him. He, with John's help, had decided to begin removing the concrete two days early because he didn't want me to have to deal with it. He asked if it would be okay to dump the removed concrete behind the dumpster for gradual removal when we put out the trash. My reaction was less than grateful for his effort. I had just finished weeding, planting and mulching the bed adjacent to our "dumpster park" and installed a 25-square-foot pad for said dumpster and recycling bin to reside. To me, the idea of rocks, sand and concrete being dumped on my fresh mulch for an extended period negated all the hard work I'd spent the previous two weekends finishing.

All of the ways I've learned to recognize how adult children of alcoholics react to life and the subsequent lessons about how not to be "that guy" completely escaped me. Mind you, I have made tons of progress over the last nine months. But for this moment, I failed. I overreacted. I said things that sounded completely different than what I'd intended. Rather than telling him how trapped I feel when he calls me with a problem like this while I'm at work, I referred to another project that I feel ended in a less than perfect result and it really hurt his feelings.

We didn't speak to each other for more than 24 hours.

By Thursday night I had finally figured out how to apologize for overreacting and explain my feelings. There clearly was a big lapse in communication between us. Sometimes I figure out what path to take to accomplish a goal or finish a project, but then I fail to share those plans with him, either because I just don't think about it or perhaps I expect him to follow my lead. Or, maybe even because I don't want to debate and/or potentially confuse my plans. Fail.

Cameron disconnecting the pump.

The next morning I went to rent a truck for hauling the demolished pool to the county dump. It took a couple of hours to make all of the arrangements, to confirm that the pool crew would arrive Saturday morning for the new installation and to finish draining the last few inches of water from the liner. By 10:00, Cameron, John and I started breaking concrete and hauling it one wheelbarrow at a time to the truck.

First aid for an injury from a sharp rock. Question to self: where were your work gloves?

John taking a break.

Around 1:30 we were pulling out the liner in pieces. About halfway through cutting the wall into sections and removing them we were beginning to feel the pressure of getting finished by 3:00 so I could make the 45 minute drive to the dump, empty the truck, refill it with gas and return it before closing time at 6 PM.

Out comes the walls.

How about those 1980s?


Around 3:30 John and I piled into the truck with a gravel shovel and gloves and drove out to the county dump in Millington. After clarifying that I am a resident of Shelby County with the man at the guard shack who seemed completely out of his element (read: "family"), we backed up to the ramp where four dumpsters are lined up in rows of two and began chucking concrete and pool parts out of the truck bed. It was evident that somebody lost a freezer or refrigerator and had emptied their spoiled food before we got there. The stench was at times overpowering. Finished, we started driving back to Midtown under skies that were growing rapidly dark with the radio warning of hideous storms over eastern Arkansas. About halfway-home we started getting a steady rain. Cameron called and said that if we'd let him know when we were getting near Midtown he'd meet us at Affordable Truck Rentals.

John and I pulled into the Circle-K station, at Cleveland and Madison. I never buy gas anywhere but the mom and pop BP station at Madison and Belvedere or the Shell station at Union and Belvedere. In this case I wasn't driving my car, but a rental that I don't care about as much as I do my VW. I planned to put just enough gas in the truck to put the needle on the fuel guage where it was when I picked up the truck. Because I expected it to be a quick stop, I left the truck door open while I pumped - something else I never do. Suddenly, the rain became torrential with high winds. It was raining sideways, rendering the canopy at the station superfluous. Debris and random trash were blowing all around making me wonder what to expect from this storm. It was a bit scary.

Completely soaked I climbed back into the truck on my way to meet Cameron. We arrived at the rental store and I saw my station wagon parked there. It was still pouring rain. John leapt out of the truck and met Cameron inside. I got the shovel and gloves out of the truck, opened the tailgate and placed them in my car, and went inside to turn the truck in without much fanfare. We got into my car to drive home, I put the transmission in "R" and backed out of the space. In "D", we stopped at the edge of the street and a wall of water rolled out of the roof onto Cameron's and my head. I had left the sunroof open when I parked it early in the day. Fail.

The storm left as quickly as it had arrived. Nearing our house we noticed that none of the traffic signals were working. Oh, joy. We knew that this had the potential to be yet the fourth time in the last 17 years that we'd go without power for an extended period of time. The first was back in 1992 when during an ice storm our Sherwood Forest home was off-the-grid for thirteen days. Since then, there have been two other occasions we've been without power for longer than a week, including so-called "Hurricane Elvis" — a phrase I loathe — when straight-line winds devastated University Park among other neighborhoods citywide.

We listened on the battery powered "beach radio" to news reports of downed trees and power lines and tens of thousands of powerless Memphis Light, Gas and Water customers. Reluctantly, I agreed that we should pull the generator out of the garage even though, in some twisted way of thinking, doing so was resignation that we'd be without electricity for longer than comfortable. I grabbed three 5-gallon gas cans out of the garage and planned to drive for a while to find fuel, perhaps to Southaven like I did for ice during the last outtage. Surprisingly, just a few blocks from home, my favorite Shell station had power.

Knowing that this meant all bets were off, I expected the call I got Saturday morning from Watson's to inform us that our pool installation was being rescheduled. Naturally. The "test" in this was that rather than shifting other appointments they put us at the bottom of the schedule again. In the grand scheme I knew that the biggest problem in this was how I would handle my response given my level of frustration. After all, the estimate included all the hand-digging necessary to get the pool into the ground. So let it rain! Who cares? There was no point in being angry, I had a powerless life with which to get on.

I graciously said, thanks and we'll see you in ten days.

The installation day finally arrived and as I was advised, I expected the crew between 8 and 12. Noon came and went. I called. The hour extension I was expected to give came and went. Four men arrived around 2:30. One can imagine my frustration when I was told that they might not finish today. "Like hell you won't" is what I thought. To add insult to injury, the foreman said "it's going to cost you an additional two to three hundred dollars for the hand digging."

Again, I thought, "like hell it is." Mind you, this guy had already been here before. He knew what he was facing and had passed that information along to the estimating department. The digging was a line-item included in the estimate.

Rather than coming unglued and strangling the whole lot of them I said, "I've already paid for that. It was in the signed contract." He found his copy and verified what I'd said. Resigned that they were finally here and that they had work to do, a couple of the guys jumped into the hole and started digging.

As a gesture of goodwill, and because it was a miserably hot, humid day, I offered to go get water, soft drinks, whatever they wanted or needed. After some reluctance they admitted that they'd like to have beer. So off to Midtown Mini-Mart I went, vintage Coca-Cola cooler in tow for a case of Bud Light and a couple bags of ice. Meanwhile, the foreman called in another two-man crew from a job in West Memphis. We would have eight men on the job then, virtually guaranteeing a finished installation at the end of the day.

Returning from my errand, I decided to clean out the garage so I'd be close by if they needed anything at all. An extension cord. A spade. Seeing one of the guys struggle with the concrete-like, rock laden clay, I offered a garden fork. They were amazed at how easy the tool made their toil, commenting that they'd never thought of getting one. They planned to buy one before the next job. Later, when they were close to finishing, the foreman left his crew to tie up loose ends while he and I talked about the yard. He mentioned that he liked the pineapple I was growing. Although the sago palm looks a lot like a pineapple, I explained the difference and offered to give him one. He accepted and told me his wife would love it. As the guys finished he made sure all of the tools they'd borrowed ended up back in my hands. I told one of the crew to grab all of the Bud Light from the cooler. He hosed out their shop vac to take away the beer and ice. As I watched the two trucks drive away, I let out a sigh of relief and thought to myself, "finally, I've made it through this two-month ordeal without compromising my commitment to a year's sobriety. Spiritually the previous eight and a half months have been worth it and I feel like I'm becoming a better person. And it's over! Maybe, now, we can get on with our summer."

But, I was wrong. At least about thinking the ordeal was over.

The following Saturday -- after the pool was refilled with 14,000 gallons of water and all the chemicals necessary to make a it swimworthy -- I was finishing up a few hours' work rebuilding and adjusting the permanent deck steps that lead up to the pool's side. Cameron and I hoisted the "wedding cake steps," for inside the pool, over the wall into the water. We began moving them into position where the handrail attaches to the deck. "OUCH," he said. He'd stepped on a sharp rock under the liner which was coincidentally where the steps would sit. Remembering to remain calm (time already invested be damned) and that this was a fixable situation, I called Watson's. I was connected with Dustin in the service department who listened to my story. His completely uninterested response, which I later explained to the store manager was unacceptable: "You'll just have to move the steps."

You see, we've spent a small fortune deckbuilding and planning our yard around this pool. Dustin supposedly scheduled us for service, "sometime in the next two weeks." No promise date. No time. Not that I've been able to schedule around those promises before, but this was even worse experience than I'd had so far. The following weekend I drove out to Watson's and spoke with the manager, told him my story, showed him photos and shared my receipts. He couldn't find where we were scheduled for service at all.

I know I've gone on too much about all this. It's taken me weeks to write, edit and rewrite this post. Let it suffice to say that the manager took care of getting the problem solved, paid for our water and reimbursed us with new chemicals. The pool is in, the deck is done and I suppose, I've passed this test.


Suz said...

So how is your pool now? Hubby and I are thinking about using Watson's in our area but all the reviews I'm finding are negative. Any regrets?

David said...

The pool is great! Now that it's all said and done, no regrets, just relief that we could use it before Summer was completely past.