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Shocking, just shocking!

          My friend Margie was kind enough to supply me with a super-sized box of bath goodies, knowing as she does that I’m a thorough hot-waterist if ever there was one. I now have, in addition to my tubby, bath salts, pillows, pumice (owie! Don’t use that on your tuckus, even if you suspect unsightly blemishes which you can’t see because they’re behind you. Just don’t.), loofahs, unguents, salves, balms and a brushed nickel caddy on which to hold not only all this but a book, a candle and a glass of wine. I’m set. The box arrived on a Saturday, so I called my friend and told her “its Saaaturday night! and I’mmmm a-soakin’  !”  She understands me, even if you don’t.

        Next day she emailed me to ask if I was all noodle-y from my soak, which I still was, and all I could say was: “Aahm stull hahvin’ trble pernouncin’ mah wurds, bu s’kay cuz Allie thu dawg knows whut aah meang.” Allie knew I wasn’t drunk (yet), even though I sounded like it, so she took over the keyboard, writing:
        “She’s really happy she had that bath then because the next day she “shocked the well”. That is a procedure she didn’t know she was supposed to do until then. You pour a gallon of bleach into the well, then run water through all the faucets and taps until chlorine water comes out. It’s to kill the microbes that were introduced by the drilling and plumbing processes, and are now reproducing like Alabama high school drop outs on welfare.
           “Now the water smells chlorine-y, since there was enough chlorine to treat 600 gallons of water, and it takes a while to use that much. She’d hate to have turned that bath into an experience more worthy of a public pool, sans the pee (I can not, for the life of me, figure out what is just so odious to her about pee. I love pee. And poop. Its like an encyclopedia right in front of your nose, but she disdains pee. I don’t get it.). I do agree that the chlorine smell is icky.
     “I love to sit next to the tub while she wallows in it. I just bask in the lack of stress-hormone-y smells. It reminds me that she hasn’t always been an uptight, ulcer-ridden worry wort.
      “Thanks. And say Hi to your cats. Do they have claws? If not, I’d like to meet them.”

          On Sunday I did shock the well, and it went, well…well. You’re supposed to open every tap, including the frost-free hydrant, in order to run the chlorine water past each and every microbe, but when I opened the hydrant, nothing came out. What’s up with that? Its just my patron saint putting in his two cents worth, I guessed (Murphy! Get ye behind me!), so I just ignored it (this is my new strategic positioning in advance of the inevitable onslaught of disappointments and freakish breakage of everything around me). Thinking ahead, I had lined up about four loads of laundry to do, all on HOT, so that I’d be sure to draw chlorine water into both the water tanks, and so my Sunday laundry list was my next order of business.

          Over the next couple of days I ran a lot of water, and it was certainly still chlorine-y, but it also started to get cloudy and sort of metallic and rank. Then, on Tuesday when I got up, my putative coffee water came out looking like liquid caramel. I ran the water for a while, and it cleared up. Good, but I still didn’t use it for my coffee or anything. Just pushing through the gunk, it seemed. In the afternoon I came home and gingerly opened the tap, hoping to see the crystal clear, sparkling elixir which had hitherto graced my plumbing. Not. It was bright orange. Not just orange, but a shocking shade of day-glo, with strings of fuzzy inclusions suggestive of algae suspended in it. Holding it up to the light was like looking at a solar eclipse; all shadowy and glowing in a way that was definitely not benign. Saint Murphy had struck again. Each tap emitted this stuff, and it stuck to the white tub like ectoplasm, or at least with the kind of globular tenacity one would imagine ectoplasm to have. It took a scrubby to get it off.

          Needless to say, I was on the phone pretty quickly to Julie, at the lab which had advised me to shock the well. Julie was taken aback, not only, I sensed, because she wasn’t sure what to make of day-glo, shocked water, but also because she felt just a little responsible. I’ve given my share of horticultural advice in my career, and I can identify with that sinking feeling that you just might have goofed, and your advice wound up causing serious harm. She stalled a lot, whilst presumably thumbing frantically through her reference books. She kept saying “hmmn.” and “golly”. She asked if it was metallic tasting, or sour or chalky, and if the suspended gunk precipitated out overnight, and what the weather was like, and if Neihart has acid soil, how much snow did we have, what’s my favorite color, and the like. I answered calmly and gamely, having been on the other side of this particular coin before.

          Finally she guessed that it had to do with having iron-rich soil, which reacts peculiarly with chlorine, but since this kind of reaction was particularly rare, and she’d never encountered it before, she couldn’t be sure. Of course. You know, in medical school (stay with me now, I’m going somewhere with this, I promise.), students who are learning to diagnose diseases are told “if you hear hoof beats in the hallway, don’t go looking for zebras” meaning that the disease the students are looking at is far more likely to be boring than exotic, even though beginning medical students have a penchant for diagnosing obscure diseases, simply because they’ve heard of them. I am not currently a medical student, though my life, of late, is so crowded with zebras I’m actually searching for a lion or two to thin the herd.

          The lion in this case was the sanitarian responsible for all the sanitation in the surrounding six counties. He’d know, Julie was sure, so she gave me his number. I was not encouraged by this, for zebra or no zebra, the lion most certainly had a crowded schedule. When I reached his office I made sure to mention that I had orange well water, which did impress the receptionist, who was no slouch on sanitary matters concerning water, herself.  When I told her that it had the gooey stick-to-it-iveness of ectoplasm she, like Julie, was taken aback. The phone was silent for exactly enough time for her consider whether ectoplasm actually had something to do with cell nuclei or outer space, at which time I took pity and elaborated for her: its sticky-gooey and tacky. “Ooh, she said. I’ll put your slip at the top of the pile.”

          Which she must have done, for the sanitarian called me back a couple of hours later. At the time I was in my tub (though I eschewed the bath salts, worrying about chemical reactions), having reasoned (correctly) that the hot  water hadn’t gotten the ectoplasm in it, and would be safe. He confirmed Julie’s diagnosis, and said I might have to run a hose outside for a half a day to clear it out. He cautioned me not to drink it or bathe in it, as the chlorine levels could be corrosive. I absorbed that, dripping all over the floor, clutching my bathrobe about me. Well. The damage is done; no sense dwelling on it.


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