Calling Dr. Poolman

Nothing says "summer" like the sting of chlorinated water in your eyes.

Swimming seems a great way to "beat the heat," which is why so many people make the mistake of putting swimming pools right in their own yards.

Pools have become commonplace in warmer climes. Fly over any Sun Belt city, and you'll be astounded by the number of pools you see in the yards below. It's as if our cities have broken out in bright blue freckles.

But those freckles are not the pristine bodies of water that they seem. Instead, they're vats of chemical soup, a mix of chlorine and pH balancer and algacide and clarifier and -- my personal favorite -- "flocculant." Oh, and some water, if there's any room left.

Who do we put in charge of such hazardous chemicals? The local fire department's "hazmat" team? The Environmental Protection Agency? No, we leave it to the homeowners. We give them little kits with test tubes and dyes and potions, and easy access to all the chemicals needed to purify their pools. (Available right in the supermarket! Near the food!) As for training, pool owners are given a hearty, "You're on your own." Then they're qualified to play Dr. Poolman the Chemist.

It's a wonder we haven't all bleached ourselves to death.

This is not what homeowners have in mind when they decide to take the plunge (har!) into pool ownership. They picture themselves blissfully floating on an air mattress, holding a drink with an umbrella in it, while grateful children paddle around, shouting hosannas about parents who know how to have "fun."

Hahaha on that. I've been a pool owner for years now (since we moved into a home that came with one already in place), and I can tell you that idyllic summer moment happens, um, never.

Yes, the pool's right outside. Yes, it looks enticing. And, OK, yeah, the children do seem to enjoy jumping into it over and over, a jillion times, until all the water has splashed out and killed the lawn. But then there are the negatives:

1) The water is co-o-o-old.

2) The children are never grateful. They don't think we're "fun" parents because we supply an oversized bathtub out back. To them, parents have one role where the pool is concerned: We are targets for "cannonballs."

3) Swimming seems like good exercise until you try it in your average residential pool. You can't swim in a pool that size. All you can do is turn around. Stroke, stroke, TURN. Stroke, stroke, TURN. You'll get dizzy before you burn any calories.

4) There's all that maintenance, including the cleaning of filters and the monitoring of electronic equipment (Water and electricity together. Shocking!) and the handling of chemicals labeled with more warnings than your standard package of bubonic plague virus.

It's so easy to make a mistake.

Not enough chemicals and cleaning, and your pool quickly turns into a green breeding ground for the Swamp Thing. Too much, and the children run round red-eyed and squawling while their hair falls out. Such alarm can make a parent spill his drink.

Let the chemistry get far enough out of balance, and the toxic stew can eat the concrete and leave a headline-grabbing sinkhole.

Then, next time you're on a plane, you can point with pride: "My house? Why, it's right there. The one with the big brown freckle."

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