Desert Companion

Ode: The Soaker

In praise of the cheapo kiddie pool

I don’t know why I didn’t get an inflatable pool earlier. Oh, wait, yeah I do — historically, I had a perpetual all-access family pass to my siblings’ suh-weet, brochure-ready backyard oases, proper pools resplendent with waterfalls, bubbling spas, beach entries, and cocktail grottoes — a privilege snatched away by the pandemic and relegated to the same purgatory of memory and longing where so much of our old normal life is now warehoused indefinitely.

But I didn’t just rush out and buy one. It took a little convincing. I had been harboring a kind of neurotic block against owning a cheapo kiddie pool, some knot of deep, class-based conditioning. On the one hand, I think I considered it frivolous, broadly unbefitting adulthood, declassé, desperado posh, this idea of a grown-ass man nursing a tumbler of grocery-store rosé in three feet of water because lol loser can’t afford a real pool. It was the sort of thing, I secretly thought, you should only see on the cover of a rockabilly album. On the other hand, I suspect I had some long-forgotten revenant subscription to a principled disgruntlement (maybe punk rock, maybe puritanical) with the traditional forms of suburban comfort, whose mode has always entailed industrializing your personal environment — that is, enlisting outlandishly resource-gobbling systems to make our lives a little bit cooler, wetter, funner. (Think of the elaborate machinery that runs our air conditioners, waters our yards, filters our pools, powers our digital home entertainment suites.) A cheapo kiddie pool was a venial gateway sin to a morally queasy realm. 

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I got over myself hella quick when it started getting hot. Thirty dollars later, I’m chinchilliiiiiing in my backyard, feeling like I’m rightly participating in a revered Vegas ritual. Today I endorse buying a kiddie pool, and encourage all adults to do so. Here’s one little trick to getting over any feelings of juvenile atavism that may prick your overdeveloped conscience: Don’t think of it as a pool per se. Instead, think of it as an outdoor waterbed, or a pleasingly puffy chaise lounge that a race of mer-people gifted our species in a gesture of fraternity and goodwill. Better yet, a kiddie pool’s pleasures provide all the summery, evocative swoon of a legit in-ground pool without the expense and infrastructural intensity — the oneiric heave and sway of water hugging your body; lounging afterwards in your damp trunks in the skin-dazzling honey pockets of late afternoon warmth; that lazy, sun-drunk, waterlogged waddle to the fridge for another round of beers; that bracing blast of sunblock to your back as you prepare for another meditative soak. O portal to a parallel timescape of permanent three-day weekends, bottomless screwdrivers, and endless summer laze, cheapo kiddie pool, this ode is for you.

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