I wish you could watch me change the hot tub water in late fall/early winter

Why? Because you’d laugh the whole time.

If one is going to have a hot tub, and enjoy spar treatments (q.v.), one must commit to maintenance. Once a week that means dunking a test strip, reading the results, dumping some chemicals in, and forgetting about it. But every four months, or sooner if it gets sudsy (or one has gross people over), a full water change is needed.

It’s enough of a pain in the ass in summer, when it’s nice and the trees aren’t dropping a steady hail of pine needles and other tree crap into the uncovered tub. It’s comically tortuous in winter, when someone looking like Gimli the Dwarf in a feed-store hat and swim trunks is doing it. I should have done this last week, when the temp was sunny and sixties, but I couldn’t get off my lazy butt. And just to help remind myself why I should not get slothful, let’s take you through the schadenfreude show you’d have gotten today. Imagine yourself sitting in my adirondack with your choice of drinking and smoking materials, with me performing this for your amusement.

First off: outside in flipflops and trunks. It’s not cold unless you get wet, which; hello, that’s a given. Throw the breaker; hot tub engine minus circulating water equals no good. Pull off the cover.

Now comes the fun and joy. Get out the extension cord (which looks like a mutated Flying Spaghetti Monster and there is that one cord around which everything is hung up, if only you could pull it out, but you have to pull out every other cord first in order to reach it), sump pump, and the most badass addition of my own: a rollable industrial drainage hose that screws onto the sump pump via a fitting. I also had the nearby downspout fitted with a place to stick the hose end. No siphons for me, and no dumping the whole salted-up hundreds of gallonage direction into the water table.

Of course, all the patio furniture is in my way, including you as you sit with your quiet pleasures enjoying my mild but not uncreative blasphemies. Of course, it is impossible to get the sump pump to stay in one place, and its tethered float is designed to become entangled in the electrical cord no matter how one orients it. Then comes rigging the drainage hose, and it’s not as simple as it sounds. When full of water, this hose bends rather than flexes, and we do not want a solid kink, so it must be dragged out to a sort of broad arc before feeding the business end into the downspout. Even then, that end will spasm ba-thump ba-thump as bursts of water surge through it. The only solution with the current hose would require violation of the laws of physics. I am unwilling to become a fugitive from the physics police, so I put up with ba-thumping. Which now begins, as I plug the pump in, walk along the hose troubleshooting kinks and grousing, and prepare for the worst part. At least when I fumble the end of it and soak my legs, it’s with warm tub water.

After I get the old filter and silver nitrate stick out, it’s time for the turkey baster. While the tub still has most of the water, I walk around it using the baster to suck up the sand and grit and crud that I can reach. No matter how hard we try to keep the tub free of dirt, some gets in. Not all of it goes straight to the bottom center. The stuff in the seats, I can get now, so I circulate while sucking up as much of the dirt as possible. As the water level drops, and the clouds begin to threaten, I climb into the tub and start getting all the dirt I couldn’t reach before. My back hurts, and now and then I jostle the sump pump. This creates some minor misalignment that I must remedy before the thing burns up. So there I am, chilled and wet and not having any fun, slurping up grit and squirting it out of the tub. I’m obsessive enough to do a reasonably good job, though my demeanor suggests to you that I am not at peace with the universe. The ba-thumping suggests to me that at least the hose hasn’t come out and drained it all in my yard instead; quiet joys.

Finally, at last, the damn float falls far enough to stop the pump. I shift it around to get as much as the pump will process, then hunker down to get as much of the remaining grit as I can. I remind myself that I like this tub for four months as a result of this activity. Hoist out the pump and hose, picking up the new bits of tree flotsam that have fallen in the past half hour. Close the damn lid; no need for another hour of that stuff. Lift it enough to replace the filter, watching in fascinated disgust at the milky drippage from the old one. No, I’m not throwing it away. I clean these. If you priced them, versus the cost of the horrible cleaning solution, you would clean yours too. But there you sit, smoking something, drinking something, bemused to know that this isn’t close to over yet.

That’s okay. You are not out of smokings or drinkings. Whoever owns the problem must deal with the problem, and I own this problem. I am not by nature a begrudger, nor am I generally envious. You just sit there and enjoy this. I’m managing my First World Suburban Problem.

Now, we’re going to refill the thing. Uncover the faucet (which is wearing its winter cover). Connect the garden hose. Turn it on and first use that water to wash it off, so we don’t do like we did that one time, when we cheerfully stuck the hose covered with ground filth right into our nice fresh clean tub water. Mishandle the hose so that it shoots water all over me, nice and chilly. Say a naughty thing. Shove the hose into the filter, then put a prop in so that the lid can be closed to tree flotsam.

It is now time to start putting most of this crap away. Roll up the drainage hose. Coil the extension cord. The tub will take an hour to fill, so I’m going to take a load off and enjoy a brief interlude of smokings and drinkings with you. I can’t start to treat the tub until the temp reaches 85º F, and I can’t throw the breaker to turn it back on until it is full. Not partly full; fully full. As you tell me about the sillier parts, and I look up at the darkening skies, we hear noises like a horse having bad gas underwater, pressure squeezing air bubbles out of the tub’s circulation system as it should.

One more obsessive check and el tub es el full, as my Spanish-speaking wife might say. Hose out, prop out, throw the breaker upward. Not long after, I hear the startup cycle beginning. Go us. Now comes the gross, hazardous part.

I mentioned the old filter? First I have to hose it out. I set it on the cheap black plastic table, fit the nozzle to the hose, and start blasting it. Four months of accumulated milky residue, at least part of it dead skin, drain away as I hose the filter down. Point-blank range, taking some back-splash. The filter is about the width of a two-liter soda bottle, but longer and cylindrical. I try to hose out each pleat. It appalls me to see just how much crud this thing has caught.

When I can coax out no more residue, now comes the hazardous part. The filter cleaner bottle is covered with warnings: CONTAINS SULFURIC AND HYDROCHLORIC ACID! MIX WITH 4 GAL. WATER AND SOAK FILTER OVERNIGHT. ALWAYS ADD FILTER CLEAN TO WATER, NEVER ADD WATER TO FILTER CLEAN! I remember that from high school chemistry. Since I can frankly do without getting spattered with a couple of different acids, I follow these directions with care; this filter cleaner is evil. I somehow manage to do this without spilling any on myself, remembering to put the bucket where it will live before filling it up, so I don’t have to walk around with acid sloshing out of it.

Hose off the table (calm down; it sits out in the rain all winter, it will be non-gross by spring), cover up the bucket, and it’s a good thing you are running out of smokings and drinkings because I can tell it’s going to start raining in ten minutes max. Thank you for sitting out here to laugh at me.

Later on I’ll come back, run a test strip, dump in some calcium stuff and sanitizers and get a start on lifting the pH, then keep that up until we’re all nice and balanced.

If I’d waited another week, and had to do it in 44º weather with steady rain, it would have been progressively funnier for you (neatly tucked under the house eave with your bad habits) and far, far uglier for me.

We get to do this again in March. In the meantime, spar treatments.

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