Friday, May 01, 2009

Life's Little Speed Bumps

Still early spring in Oklahoma, the day began as wet and cool. Sometime after lunch, the sun came out and I decided to clean my spa, a task to which I was not looking forward. The problem, I quickly learned, was worse than I imagined.

While Marilyn and I live in the city limits of Edmond, we have no city water. Our house is on a well and septic tank. The water is palatable, yes, even healthy because it is loaded with minerals. Well, healthy for humans, that is.

There is so much calcium in the water that it clogs the pipes and hampers the cleaning ability of our dishwasher. The water is “hard.” Yes, we have a water softener but it never seems to stay ahead of the hardness problem. Because of the minerals in the water, our spa is a nightmare to maintain.

Water evaporates quickly in central Oklahoma making it necessary to add water to the spa almost every day. This means the ph of the water increases every time you add more water. The spa water was dark from dirt, sand and plant debris that had blown into it over the winter, so I decided to drain it and start over. Once the last drop of water drained from the fiberglass shell, I realized I had a larger problem than I had anticipated.

Thick calcium deposits coated the walls and bottom of the spa. My first thought was to throw up my hands in defeat and return to the house for a cold beer. No way, I told myself. I will not let this little problem get the best of me. Grabbing a gallon of vinegar, rags and a stiff brush, I went to work removing the calcium scale.

Commercial vinegar will remove some scale but is woefully lacking when it comes to strong deposits. What should I do? I wondered. My problem, I knew, was a simple lack of chemistry skills. I was not even sure if increasing the ph made things more basic, or vice versa. I was unaware of the fact that I am chemistry challenged until I left home to go away to college.

I had to take many science and math courses to complete my degree in geology and one requirement was twelve semester hours in chemistry. While I like cooking, and creating meals by systematically adding ingredients, I soon learned that the study of chemistry is, by nature, much more precise. Not a precise person, my last chemistry course almost became my undoing.

Advanced qualitative analysis was my last chemistry course; at least I think because I have tried for years now to block it from my mind. I had flunked the course at least once. Maybe it was twice, but I have effectively blocked that little failure from my psyche. This was the only course I had left to complete my degree.

My last semester occurred during the Vietnam War and undergrads deferred from serving as long as they maintained their grades and did not graduate. Because of this, colleges across the country experienced record enrollment. So many young people wanted to attend college that it became necessary to weed many of them out. Advanced qualitative analysis was one of the courses administrators used to accomplish their goal.

Most students completed this course their sophomore year. I was not so lucky. I quickly learned it was my nemesis and likely my undoing. I had a Dee, just barely, going into the final exam. I was far from the best student at the university, but I prided myself in never groveling. As the final exam drew near, I thought better of my pride. Catching the Prof in the hall alone one day, I took the opportunity to plead my case.

“This is my last required course,” I said. “If I don’t pass it, I’ll be drafted. If this happens, I know I will die in Vietnam without a degree. Please, please help me,” I begged.

When I checked the test results, posted on the door outside the chemistry lab, I saw that only twelve out of two-hundred and fifty students that had taken the course had passed. I was one of them. Even though I was last of those that had passed, I felt like the king of the world.

Years have passed since taking that last chemistry course but I thought about it as I pondered how to remedy my spa’s calcium problem. After checking the internet, I realized I needed to lower the ph. Luckily, I had two bottles of ph reducer. Add two capfuls, circulate for thirty minutes and then recheck the ph, the directions said.

I honestly attempted to follow directions, but after an hour had passed, I realized I had done little or nothing to change the high ph of the spa water. To hell with this, I thought as I dumped the entire bottle of ph reducer into the spa. Tomorrow I will check the spa’s chemistry again and hope no one takes a dip before then.

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