Monday, September 13, 2021

don't read this essay

Content Warning!

If you get impatient at foreigners* who move to Mexico and whinge about the tiniest annoyance, you had best stop reading right now. Because today's essay will have all the subtlety of a woman from Montreal screaming at the Oxxo ATM because its instructions are only in Spanish.

We are going to talk about swimming pool maintenance. See? I have lost most of you already.

Most of you will already know that my house was built around the Barragánesque notion that a home should look inward with an emphasis on a water view -- usually a pool or fountain. For my house, it is a swimming pool with a cascade that is the very heart of the house.

For years, that heart was as clear as the arteries of a twenty-two year old vegan. I suspect that was because Antonio, The World's Most Reliable Pool Guy, has done such a good job of balancing the chemicals for the water. 

Up until last year, all was well. I had never had to flush the water out of the pool. By that, I do not mean that the water was unchanged over the seven years I have owned the house. The way the pool system is set up, fresh water is constantly replacing any that has evaporated. And, in our heat, there is a lot of evaporation. That means the creation of the equivalent of a bathtub ring in my pool.

Our water here is hard. Very hard. The iron content is so high that it almost smells like blood, at times. Over the years, with the evaporation, the iron and other metals in the water began to stain both the waterline and the pool tiles. So, while I was off to Oregon in January, Antonio drained the pool and gave it an acid massage. When I returned it looked almost new.

That lasted just a few months. You may have noticed that some of my photographs of the pool this summer have had a distinct green cast. In one week, the water feeding the pool brought in an algae bloom from my well. It soon died off because of the chemicals, but not before it stained the side tiles of the pool. No scrubbing would remove it.

Antonio had a plan. While I was in Oregon last week, he drained the pool and used the time of my absence productively. With over a thousand pesos-worth of various acids, he scoured away at the stains. The photograph at the top of this essay is what welcomed me on my return from Prineville. It looked like the pool that captured my attention when I first looked at the house.

Those of you who have come this far with me are about to discover that I was not completely candid about the theme of this essay. It is about the pool and its maintenance, but it is something more.

Antonio and his son Enrique stopped by the house yesterday afternoon to add some clarifier to the water. It was a good opportunity for me to settle with him financially.

Because he cleans the pool three times a week, I never thought to ask him how much the cleaning job would cost. I suppose I should have done that because when I asked him how much I owed him for the extra job, he merely handed me the receipts for the acid he had purchased from the hardware store.

I gave him the pesos for the money he spent, and asked him how much for his services. He then did what happens so often when I ask people, who have helped me, what their time is worth. He shrugged and said whatever I thought was right.

The response always puts me off a bit. Workmen know their value better than I do. The best I can do is calculate what it is was worth to have Antonio spend a week stripping off the algae rather than doing it myself. So, I offered him a figure and he accepted it -- meeting the criteria of a free-market system. Services that a willing seller will accept and that a willing buyer will pay while staying far above the minimum wage requirement.

Did I pay too much? Maybe. My criterion in this case to set a price was certainly idiosyncratic: "
what it is was worth to have Antonio spend a week stripping off the algae rather than doing it myself." Frankly, by that standard, I would probably have paid five times as much. But what I did pay seemed to be fair. And that is about the best we can do in life. 

So, there we have it. No whinge about the pool. Merely the ongoing question of the proper wages to pay the people who bring us the services that make our lives just a little bit better.

And that is good enough for me today. 

* -- The true Spanish meaning of "Gringo." But frequent readers, and people who have done their own research instead of relying on the interesting tales of tour guides, will already know that.

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