O-Rings and Aqua Lube by Cynthia Romanowski

If it’s summer your pool man will probably wake up when it’s still dark outside but maybe he won’t wake up until noon. Maybe he’ll be hung over. Maybe he’ll drive to Huntington and surf before his first stop or drop his kids off at school or smoke a bowl, but he will never do all three.

His first stop might be a nightmare or it might be easy, it depends on the weather. If it’s been windy it will take him twice as long and he’ll have to bring a leaf trap. If there’s a heat wave he’ll double-up on chlorine and algae kill. If it’s a Santa Ana wind and a heat wave? Well then he’s just screwed, but if it’s raining he won’t work at all.

To check the chems he might bring out a kit with test tubes. He’ll fill the tubes with water before squeezing exactly five drops of test solution into each one. Or he might wing it and squirt the stuff directly into the pool, watching how the drops change color as they hit the water. If he’s been cleaning your pool for decades he might not test the chems at all and just guess, but don’t worry he’s always right.


On his truck, your pool man might have a hitch with a cart on it or he might rough it, skip the cart and carry everything himself like he’s got something to prove.

He might drive an old truck with a crew cab or a brand new long-bed that he can’t afford. He might even drive an El Camino. If not these, then he will drive a white van with no windows that creeps out your neighbors.

While he cleans your pool he might listen to Pandora or the Dodger game or an audio book or he might not listen to anything besides the swift splashes and trickles as he moves his net through the water.

He will probably have to go to the pool store for more chems or maybe some equipment. At the pool store he’ll hear the same conversation over and over:

How’s it going? 

Just trying to clean these fucking pools man

These words will bring him comfort, because for a brief moment they’ll make him feel like he’s part of something, before gets back on the road, alone.


You don’t realize how dangerous your pool is but your pool man does. He knows that drowning is the leading cause of death of children under age five in the state of California. If your pool light has water in it, he knows to shut off the breaker, so you don’t jump in and die from electrocution in your own backyard.

He has scooped up all of the following from the bottom of pools: forty-three different varieties of leaves, pinecones, broken toys, sand, used condoms, children’s poop, drowned rats, branches, thick nests of human hair, bees, wasps, beetles, patio furniture and a dead dog.


Your pool man uses words like diatomaceous and alkalinity. And he also uses words that sound strangely sexual like o-ring and Aqua Lube and nipple job.

He knows how long to hold his breath when pouring muriatic acid so that the fumes don’t burn his lungs. He will have learned this the hard way. He will have felt the instant burn in his throat and nostrils and eyes and the quick panic that comes with it.

After work, your pool man might head out to surf again or he might go to a bar and watch the game. Or pick up his kids. Or, if he’s still young and hopeful, then he might have to rush to get to class on time.

Your pool man might dream about retiring or finishing school or impregnating his wife or getting divorced or saving enough for his daughter’s college.

Your pool man might also be a pool woman but that is highly unlikely.


When he gets home your pool man will smell like chlorine and B.O. with faint notes of sunscreen and ball sweat. He might also smell like: cigarettes, beer, Aqua Velva, vanilla pine tree air freshener, or Old Spice. His wife will hate the smell of chlorine but his children won’t. Even as adults it will always remind them of home and childhood and summer’s spent jumping in and out of dad’s truck, helping him for $1 per pool.


There are times when your pool man contemplates the inconsequential nature of his life. How he’s spent day after day, year after year, picking debris out of water knowing full-well that the wind will blow and undo an hours worth of work in a matter of seconds. He wonders if this is the way life was meant to be lived or whether he should have wanted something more. Other times he feels comforted by the same simplicity.

Sometimes you wonder what it would be like: to turn off the screen and dismantle your cubicle, to use your hands and body, to welcome the mindlessness and revel in the repetition. To simplify.

Then you get back to work.

Cynthia Romanowski is just another asshole with an MFA. Her monthly book column Shelf Awareness can be found in Coast Magazine and she blogs irregularly at Bildungsroman-owski. She’s been working on a collection of linked short stories called “The Habitual Position Of Being Okay” for longer than she’d like to admit.

This piece was originally published on Flash Flash Click. We are honored to host it here in partnership and collaboration.

Image: “cleaning cleaning cleaning” by May