Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Episode III: Pool Boy

I spent a year in Rexburg, Idaho at Ricks College the year before it became BYU-Idaho. I wanted to go to BYU in Provo after my mission, but due to my low transfer GPA from Boise State, I was relegated to the frozen and wind-swept paradise that is Rexburg. I'm telling you, the next frozen moon they find next to Jupiter should be called Rexburg.

Ricks was a Mormon junior college at the time. The student body was an interesting mix of returned missionaries around the ages of 21-24 and freshman and sophomore girls, ages 18-20. It turns out there's a big difference between 22 and 18, especially when the 22-year-old has just spent the last two years in a foreign country counseling adults about how to overcome alcoholism and marital problems, while the 18-year-old has spent the last year choosing the brand new SUV her daddy would buy her for when she goes away to college.

I studied political science at Ricks, and I was the drum line captain on the side, because they gave me a scholarship. The drum line instructor also worked in the college HVAC department, and after a conversation about how I would probably have to quit drum line, because a part-time job would probably fetch me more income than the scholarship, he got me a job, I agreed to stay on the drum line, and I kept my scholarship.

My principle duty was to maintain the pool in the physical education building. I had to turn on the pool vacuum every weekend and clean all the stainless steel railings, and every day I had to test the pH level. This process involved an antiquated machine that held water samples and glowed a light to dark orange color. You compare a sample from the pool with a control to see if the pH level is in the correct range. If it's not, you have to add chemicals. Don't ask me which chemicals. I never got the hang of it.

It turns out that I am terrible at deciphering the difference between two similar colors. The words darker and brighter can be very subjective. To this day I don't understand how to do it. All I know is that the hour or so of training I received was probably not adequate to say the least. I plugged along, taking my best guess at the pH level every day, knowing all the while that my boss would be in every couple of days to double check things and that if something went wrong, he would catch it and be able to fix it.

He caught it. I arrived at the pool one morning to find a team of technicians standing around talking. It seems that somehow the pool had become saturated with ammonia, and the swimmers had begun complaining about rashes on their skin and eye irritation. As much as I wanted to just start whistling a tune and walking out the door, I stuck around to find out what happened. The pool was shut down for a couple of days until they could get everything balanced again. Thankfully no one died. Remarkably I wasn't fired, but I did receive some more training, in which I discovered that I had been completely clueless about reading pH levels for almost the entire semester. There's nothing quite like finding out that all the pay you received for the proceeding four months had been for doing absolutely nothing, except for causing a near catastrophe.

After class that day, I came back to my apartment. My roommate said, "Hey, did you hear about the ammonia leak in the pool today? I guess it was really bad. They had to shut it down."

"Is that so?" I said. "Wow. Sounds terrible. I gotta go study."

Oh well. Pool boy was not my thing. Or maybe it was. In biology lab this year, I actually tested pH levels with a digital sensor. No interpretation of the differences between orange swatches required. Somebody should tell BYU-Idaho about those. Or they could just save some money, dip a child into the pool every morning, and see if he comes out with a rash. They could pay me to do it. That is, after I retire from my illustrious career as a political scientist.

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