Saturday, July 24, 2021


I've been unusually cranky this week. It's not hard to put my finger on just why, and it's because of magical thinking. Ever since my teenage years, and probably well before that, I've had an idée fixe that even when something seems impossible, I can accomplish it by means of sheer tenacity. I probably had an incipient version of this condition even in childhood, although I had almost no scope for exercising it until I started earning my own money at age twelve. I remember my first job. An older lady who lived a few doors away asked me if I would do yard work for her. The grass in her back yard was really long and all she had was a rusty push mower. Although it took me hours of backbreakingly hard labour, I got it done. I think she paid me five dollars. The following week, she wanted her exterior windows washed. They were really dirty and it was an awful job, but again, I stuck with it. When I was finished, she asked how much she owed me. I said, "five dollars". She objected, claiming it wasn't as hard as mowing the lawn, and gave me $2.50. The injustice impressed me deeply, and I'm sure she realized this, because she never asked me to do any work for her again. But the most valuable lesson of the whole experience was learning the worth of my own time. I worked at various things in my early teenage years and most of them were lessons in power dynamics: the babysitting client who, at the end of my shift, would suddenly ask if she could pay me "next time". Next time the same thing happened, and I learned not to accept babysitting assignments from ladies who tried to pretend we were friends as a means to run a babysitting tab. As I got older, I learned to pick my battles, which greatly increased my chances of being successful at whatever windmill I was tilting at. (Don't get that reference? Read Don Quixote. A thousand pages from now, you'll understand.) A good example of this would be the gutting and rebuilding of The Adam Vaughan, the once-derelict boathouse on my property that occupied my every waking thought for months. I look at the entirety of the problem, feel overwhelmed and tell myself I cannot possibly take on anything this monumental, and then I break it down into bite-size pieces and imagine how I'm going to handle this tiny portion. Then I move on to the next section, until eventually the whole job is done. I think I may have met my Waterloo in the long-abandoned solar heating system for the swimming pool.
When the young fellow from the pool company came in late June to open the swimming pool for the season, he glanced at the decrepit solar array and said off-handedly, "You could probably get this up and running for about two hundred. It's just some cracked pipes that need replacing, you know." Next thing I knew, another employee of the pool company showed up to estimate the cost of getting the solar heating system up and running again. When the estimate came in at just over a thousand, I started to hear alarm bells in my head, and they only got louder when the owner of the pool company phoned to say this was just an estimate, and if it went over the estimate, it would not be by much. The voice of reason told me not to proceed, but the thought of lounging in a 30 degree pool warmed solely by the heat of the sun drowned out any reservations I had. When the bill came in for the restoration, it was a lot of money. Two mornings later, the pool was a few degrees warmer but the water level had dropped several inches, enough that the filtration system was struggling to work. I turned on the hose to top up the pool using well water. A few hours later, I was cutting the lawn near the south fence line, glanced up at the solar array, and it was effectively raining over there. I got off the tractor, phoned the pool company, and they sent the installers over almost immediately. The weight of the water running through the black tubing was so heavy that it had shifted the entire solar array and caused it to leak in multiple places. Some of the tubing was so hot that the installer burnt his hand touching it. That's when the voice of reason kicked in. I told them I was accepting responsibility for the failure of the system, but the reality was, a pipe that hot on an ancient plywood base was going to cause a fire, and I live in the country, far from a fire hydrant. They tried to persuade me that they could fix it, but the engineer in me stepped in and insisted that this was a fool's errand. I asked them to disconnect both the new motor and the controller, which alone had cost me over a thousand, and I would have to try and find someone to buy them both, because this is one project I'm not going to spend another dime on. And that's why I've been cranky all week. My blood boiling should be quite enough to heat the pool for the rest of the summer.

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