Fishy Business

You know that summer has finally arrived when you get a call from the loan officer at your bank inquiring if you will be taking out a loan again this year to finance the purchase of pool chemicals.

The purchase of pool chemicals is the one thing that prevents the economy from diving faster than a tank in the ocean. When the auto industry slows down, when the world’s financial markets are bearish, when blue chip companies admit finagling the fiscal figures, consumers like myself keep the economy afloat through the purchase of pool chemicals.

This is because ordinary household chemicals like bleach and salt become amazingly expensive when you buy them under the names of chlorine and sodium bicarbonate at the pool and spa store.

I know what you are thinking. Why don’t you just add bleach and baking soda to your pool instead of the expensive alternatives from the pool and spa store?

Don’t be a fool. Who wants to be seen by our neighbors as we pour a bottle Clorox and a box of baking soda into our pools? No, we want to be seen pouring official pool chemicals from official pool chemical containers into our pools because, deep down, we know that our neighbors are jealous and we don’t want them thinking that owning and maintaining a pool is as simple as putting on a load of laundry or whipping up a batch of muffins.

Because it isn’t that simple. No siree! Maintaining a pool so that it has that clear pee-free appeal is a daily task that involved not only chlorine and bicarb, but pH boosters, pH reducers, clarifiers, flocculants, stabilizers, algaecides, kryptonite, hardeners, softeners, pucks, sticks, nets, filters, pumps, skimmers, scammers, hoses, hosers, ladders, vacuums and 25 hours a day.

But the real hard part is not maintaining a balance of the chemical cocktail that is a modern day backyard pool; it is maintaining the temperature at a warm enough degree so that the children will use the pool. Otherwise, the entire chemical balancing act is for naught. Even though the children will spend hours in a lake at the beach that is no warmer than an iceberg, they will not venture into a backyard pool that is less than 75 degrees Fahrenheit, or some other number in degrees Celsius.

The customary way to keep the heat inside a pool is to cover it with a solar blanket each night. A solar blanket, for those who are not familiar with the concept, is nothing more than a giant slab of bubble wrap, the same stuff that people love to spend hours on bursting the little bubbles.

But solar blankets are a hassle. They require an elaborate mechanism to roll them up when you want them off of your pool, and to roll them out again when you want them on your pool. Plus, after a couple of seasons, they become rigid and brittle and tear all over the place because they spend all that time on top of a pool full of caustic chemicals trying to keep the heat inside.

So this year, when I was making my first installment at the pool place for some pool chemicals, I noticed a box full of brightly colored plastic fishes called “liquid solar blankets.” The idea here is that you snip off the top fin of the fish and throw it into your pool. The liquid inside gradually leaks out and forms a protective thermal layer on the surface of the pool to keep the heat inside.

“That’s a bonnie idea,” I thought to myself. No more hassling with the bubble wrap. Now I will have more time to spend on keeping the chemicals balanced.

So I bought one of the fish and the kids became extremely excited over it for some reason.

As I was reading the instructions on the side of the fish, I came across this warning:

“WARNING! Contains Isopropyl Alcohol which is dangerous if taken internally. If liquid is swallowed directly from the package CALL PHYSICIAN IMMEDIATELY. In case of eye contact with liquid directly from package, flush with water. Liquid is also flammable and should be stored safely away from heat, sparks, open flame and keep out of reach of children. The liquid is completely harmless when in pool.”

Good heavens, it seems like I bought some sort of ticking chemical time bomb that would destroy our neighborhood if it ever got into the wrong hands. At least the warning explained why the kids were so excited over it since, as we all know, children are naturally drawn to anything that warns you to keep it out of their reach.

What really got me was the last bit about the liquid being completely harmless in the pool. It made me wonder about all the preceding hazards. How do I know that I spent ten bucks on anything other than a little plastic fish full of plain tap water? I mean, who is going to dare test it given all the warnings? And who can tell that it isn’t anything other than tap water once it’s in your pool? And now that I think about it, even if it isn’t plain tap water, but some miracle chemical as the instructions claim, how will I ever know that it works? I can’t see the supposed film that it makes on the surface of the water to keep the heat in. The pool water may be staying warm simply because of the summer heat and have nothing to do with the presence of this fish. In fact, the whole concept seems fishy to me.

The only thing to do is to erect another pool beside the one we already have and conduct an experiment where we cover one pool with a solar blanket, and use the liquid fishes in the other one and keep a data log of the daily temperatures for comparison when the summer is over.

Then the neighbors will really be jealous.

Nick Burn is a freelance writer, husband, father of three, engineer, teacher, and webmaster for the Canadian Catholic Information Network. In his spare time (hah!), he enjoys camping, skiing and reading.

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