Saturday, January 12, 2019

dipping in the pool with jean-jacques

"Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. One man thinks himself the master of others, but remains more of a slave than they are."

Old Jean-Jacques was on to something, but I am not certain he had the correct target.

We can all recite that Rousseauean bromide, and then we go on living it every day -- allowing circumstances to control how we react to the world around us. You know the syndrome. People who live in a everything-is-a-crisis world, controlled far more by the day's news cycle than the far more benevolent cycle of the sun and moon.

That apparatus at the top of this essay is a perfect example.

For a couple of months, my swimming pool has started looking more like than beach than a Moroccan-inspired patio accouterment. With all of the sand in the water rather than on the shore.

That was bothersome. But, it got worse. Because my well water is very hard, the sand picked up enough iron that when the sand collected on the pool's tiles, it left a tea-colored stain. My tiles were rusting.

My pool guy tried several conservative fixes. None worked.

So, while I was in the midst of preparing for my history presentation, he showed up with a crew of three to do some major re-work in the pool room that also serves as my bodega.

I would like to say the idea of receiving a free break from my work came as a relief. I did not see it that way. I reacted as if Chris Matthews had just told me that Putin had invaded another part of the world where the residents were not properly conducting Orthodox rites.

Refreshments would need to be made. I would have long conversations in Spanish about what was going to be done, why options were limited, and how my family was doing and would they be visiting this year. And, of course, there would be the innumerable trips to the local pool stores to purchase one piece of new equipment on each venture.

Attempting to do any work on my research project was going to be placed on hold for the unknown hours it would take to stick a finger in the sand dike.

The origin of the problem was the original positioning of the pool filter. The Canadian-Mexican builder placed it under the staircase leading to the upper terrace. It was beautifully tucked away from the rest of the storage room.

It looked great, but it presented a functional problem. The ceiling over the filter was too low.

The last time Lupe changed the sand, he had trouble extracting and re-installing the lateral assembly, that odd-looking piece of plastic in the photograph. In theory, the water passes through the extended arms in the filtering process. It is designed to send the water to the pool and leave the sand in the filter.

At some point, the assembly was torqued enough that spaces developed at the junction of the arms and the pipe back to the pool. Sand escaped faster than liberty-loving Venezuelans. It needed to be replaced.

And to prevent another breach of the assembly's prophylactic duties, Lupe suggested moving the filter from under the stairwell. That would mean losing more storage space, but it was truly a Hobson's choice.

After five hours of sawing, pouring, pounding, and grunting, the filter was located in a far more utilitarian location. It certainly is not a work of art like the original position. A strap and a brick hold up PVC pipes to keep them from breaking. But, at least, this version will work. I hope.

I still suffer from a northern mentality in some of my transactions -- especially financial -- here in Mexico. Five hours of labor and pool parts made my wallet start twitching.

I needn't have worried. The sand turned out to be the most expensive item at $1,250 pesos (about $65 (US)). The lateral assembly was $1,200 pesos ($63 (US)). It looks as if it would cost around $80 (US) in The States. Despite local lore, pool and car parts are not universally more expensive in Mexico.

The PVC pipe, glue, and other assorted material was $520 pesos ($27 (US)). And for five hours labor for four guys, the labor costs was $1,000 ($52 (US)). For a grand total of $3,970. My pool was up and running for the equivalent of just over $200 (US).

Knowing Lupe, I suspect he was going to give the full $1,000 in labor to his crew -- even though he did the lion's share of the work. Or maybe he knew me well enough that I would top up the wage. And I did.

When Lupe and his crew came through my gate, I had the option of seeing their arrival as an opportunity for me to learn something about my pool -- and as a gift in the form of essay material. I didn't. Even though I hid my annoyance behind the Mexican mask I have learned to develop, I went about my hosting tasks begrudgingly.

I would like to say that going through the experience, and now confessing to my failure, have guaranteed the next time I am faced with a choice as a moral agent that I will choose to take the more enlightened approach and welcome the gift the day has given.

Of course, I know myself well enough that my transmission does not shift that smoothly. I will still act as if I am one of those people who relies on cable news to tell them how to react to the world's vagaries.

But I will eventually get to where I should be. Up north, I am not certain I could say that.

So, here's to Mexico. It may not have made me a good person. But I think it is doing its best to help me let myself be a better person.

And Rousseau? He spouted a lot of nonsense -- accompanied by a few kernels of wisdom. On one thing he was spot on. We do need to take responsibility for breaking our own chains.       

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