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Kadison Pool News

My Pool Was a Real Dive

A novelist chuckled at other people’s pool problems—until a leaky drain, loose tiles and clogged skimmer plagued his own backyard behemoth. Turns out, only one man could pull him out of the deep end.

Author Paul Theroux at his home on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii. Susan Seubert

A few years ago, a seemingly preposterous, guffaw-inducing story concerned the little history of Rachel “Bunny” Mellon’s swimming pool on Cape Cod. There was a problem. Having ordered the pool to be installed, she arrived on the Cape from her winter quarters in Virginia and threw up her hands.
“But I wanted the deep end over here,” she said, or words to that effect, to a chastened pool installer. And she insisted that the new unswimmed-in pool be broken into small pieces, then trucked away, and another pool put in, with the deep end in the right place.

Just a story we laughed about on the long days, to the smack of the sunshine on the Nantucket Sound and the tang of the pitch pines and the briny, gull-clawed air. It was probably not true. (Bunny Mellon’s representative did not respond to calls for comment.) Anyway, someone’s big defective swimming pool, hardly an issue that wins any sympathy, is on a par with a ding on a Maserati or a Rolex with a dodgy bezel.

Mr Theroux’s cracked and leaky pool old pool in Cape Cod was broken up and trucked away.

Mr Theroux’s cracked and leaky pool old pool in Cape Cod was broken up and trucked away.

But wait. In 1984, I built a swimming pool on the Cape. The contractor was new to pool building and made many mistakes, some of which I corrected, others I learned to live with. But over 28 years, cracks appeared, winter ice loosened the tiles, the skimmer clogged, the plaster eroded, the main drain leaked, the underwater light ceased to function and the surrounding brickwork—Boston pavers, dramatic and deep red—lifted in the frost. One springtime, a 6-inch fissure opened at the end of the pool.

Demolition of the old pool begins.

Demolition of the old pool begins.

I had it patched and pointed and replumbed; men in scuba gear poked at the main drain. A third or fourth filter was installed. Two more pumps and then a new well, because of the demands of the pool. (Many of us on the Cape need to have our own wells, a Third World touch in Lotus Land.) This was a 20-by-45-foot pool, not something I could easily fill with potting soil and turn into a planter for geraniums.

Who would listen to my complaints? Far from getting no sympathy, I would be denounced or laughed at, as another Bunny Mellon.

A view of Mr. Theroux's home during pool construction.

A view of Mr. Theroux’s home during pool construction.

I consulted a number of pool people and got used to the glum head-shaking conclusions. “See, a pool is like a person—it has a natural life. This one is in really bad shape, probably terminal. The main drain is unfixable, the skimmer’s toast,” and so forth.

At about the point I was considering the price of 40,000 cubic feet of potting soil, I met Dave Kadison. He was a confident man with a clipboard and a successful pool-building company who sailed over from his summer home Martha’s Vineyard to look at my defective pool. I asked him his frank opinion.

Another view of Mr. Theroux's home during pool construction.

Another view of Mr. Theroux’s home during pool construction.

“Rip it out, put in a new one,” he said. “This one’s had it.”

“How do you rip out a pool this size?”

“Jackhammer. Heavy equipment. Backhoe. Dump trucks.” He gestured in the direction the trucks would come up the lawn. “We’ll haul it to Brewster to be crushed and recycled.”

“How long would it take to jackhammer the pool?”

“Couple of days. Say, three at most.”

“And the new pool?”

“Depends on the weather. We could probably have you swimming in a month?”

“I always regretted that I didn’t build a lap pool.”

“So build a lap pool,” he said, sketching a slender rectangle on his clip board, but in the middle, on one side, have some steps and a sort of”—he was indicating a lagoon-like semicircle—”section for the grandkids.”

And so I knew the satisfaction that Bunny must have felt when her pool installer said, “OK, Mrs. Mellon. We’ll take out this one, put in a new one, and the deep end will be right over here.”

When I saw the man on the enormous tracked vehicle with its articulated snout, a jackhammer mounted on it, I knew I was in good hands. He had a mohawk and tattoos and lovingly tucked into his wallet a photo of his Harley-Davidson HOG +2.50% . His friend, another biker, rode the backhoe. Two days and the pool was rubble. On the third day it was a big sandy hole, like a bomb crater. And a day later, a team of Dave’s men was driving in stakes that suggested the new pool. Then plywood forms, and rebar, and supports. Who knew?

A view of the finished pool.

A view of the finished pool.

My happiest day was not the day they finished. It was about halfway through, when I counted 12 men at work—hammering, sorting, twisting iron, laying out the deck and the retaining wall, some of them plumbers, others expert masons. Even when I built the house I had never seen 12 able-bodied men toiling, working efficiently—and asking politely if they could work into the evening because the day’s work was not quite done. Would I mind the noise? I told them frankly that the sound of construction—my own—is music to my ears.

Just about a month from the first cracking of the old pool, I had a new one. Almost every day men had worked on it. “The weather helped,” Dave said, handing me the final bill.

I was not the first swimmer. That was the privilege of Timur Shah, young son of the writer Tahir Shah of Casablanca, who inaugurated the pool with an efficient crawl and then called out to his father, “This one is better than ours!” And that was when I told the Shahs how they might remedy their problem.

— Paul Theroux’s latest novel is “The Lower River.” His new book of African travels, “The Last Train to Zona Verde” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) is scheduled to appear in April. He lives in Hawaii and on Cape Cod.