Planning For the Future, The Hard Way

For a ponder, there is no more dangerous place in the whole world than a really big Trade Show, especially if it happens early in the season.

Minds aflame with seething, unresolved and inchoate yearnings toward the Perfect Pond, we slaves to the hobby (or PondZombies, as a slightly saner friend of mine once called me) stagger through the portals of a Show, fingers twitching with the need to grasp that new net, salivating over koi foods, lusting after the newest and sexiest pumps and filter arrays, weeping in frustration because our spouses, in their wisdom, have snitched our wallets and checkbooks and printed on each of our sweating foreheads in indelible marker:”DO NOT SELL ANYTHING TO THIS PERSON. AFTER WHAT HAPPENED HERE LAST YEAR, HE/SHE IS SOOOO GROUNDED!”

Humph. Just because that new MikeWhitewater SuperDynamic UV Projector and Ultimate Bugzapper seriously damaged a 747 on approach to O’Hare. The Homeland Security guys were okay about it after a few beers. Right?

Even fully prepared for the experience by our senseis with The CatShow Mantra (“Ommmmmmmmnotgonnabuyakittennotgonnabuyakitten”) and a set of horse blinkers, we can, in fact, still be backdoored by a particularly seductive gadget. I know. It happened to me. Oddly enough, it worked out rather ridiculously well.

The scene is set. Spring 2005 MPKS Trade Show. Our pond had been brought up to peak efficiency by the addition of a more powerful pump set and a boosted-flow bioreactor the year before. Two bead bioconverters, a Turbo-Vortex, the Illudium Q-238 Pond Modulator and a flux capacitor completed the array and filled every inch of the filter bay. Any more pumpage would shoot the waterfall into the bedroom window, and Anne had put her foot down. I got patted down before the show and my cards, wallet and checkbook were confiscated. Only then was I, a confirmed techno-junkie, allowed to wander into the show.

The pond heater that Koi by Keirin was displaying was tempting, but we’d been through that the year before. There was no way we could set it up in the garage and run it off of the gas supply that wouldn’t have cost twice what the heater itself cost. Our fish were doing well with the setup we had and that was pretty much that. A filter pad here, some koi food there, an in-line dechlorinator over at Mike White’s; it hardly seemed worth it.

Then, I saw it. Tan. Boxy. Above all, big. Well sorta big. Bigger than a breadbox at least. What was neater than all of that was that there was what looked like a Harley engine inside. All shiny and clean, it looked like you could drop it onto two wheels and ride off on it.

Steve, the smiling sandy-haired guy showing the thing explained that with a few simple modifications it could, in the event of a power failure, use our natural gas supply to generate enough electricity to run the pond, the isolation vats, and a few other less-important things around the house like the freezers, the furnace, the computers, the kitchen and my CPAP machine.

If you think about it, that’s how you unequivocally identify a true ponder. A normal homeowner in a community beset by frequent power failures will buy a generator to protect his whole house air conditioner first, his entertainment center and home theater next, maybe the food storage and the kitchen as an afterthought. Anybody with a koi pond will invariably supply his pumps and filters first, with everything else in his life coming in a distant second.

The usual impediment to this plan was the fact that in order for this gadget to be useful, you had to be there to turn it on and feed it. This gadget had all the horns and whistles. Automatic start, automatic switch, automatic off, automatic fuel, and the guy would even install it and service it! And it only cost…uh oh. Oh Anne….?

What followed was not pretty. You have not seen true groveling in its rawest state until you have watched a confirmed techno-geek attempting to convince his skeptical and fiscally conservative spouse that this was the one ultimate toy that will solve everything. It took all weekend and multiple drawings and much convincing, but at the end of it, I had my toy.

Installation was great fun for me, but probably drove poor Steve the Handyman quietly nuts. I admit it now, but I would not leave him alone to do his job. Despite my help and endless questions, he finished on schedule and under budget, and even managed to wrestle my village government to a standstill. We were ready. Lightning strike, tornado, wind, rain, line squall, charging rhinos. Didn’t matter. Bring it on.

Typically, Ma Nature countered with a summer of endless dry, sunny and quiet days. The generator sat and sulked, the power stayed on, and I became nervous. Murphy’s Law states: “If anything can go wrong, it will.” and in this instance ol’Murph was batting a thousand simply by not letting anything go wrong. Understand that our block in our neighborhood is the one that loses power when John Stroger sneezes. Everyone on all sides chunters along happily while we languish in the dark. It had happened again and again, but not the summer of ’05. Arrrrgh. Not to say that there wasn’t the odd moment of fun. The generator has a self-maintenance cycle that turns itself on and runs the engine for ten minutes or so once a week. Startled the neighbors the first time it kicked in. Happily, they all ran over to make sure nothing was wrong. We got nice neighbors.

Vindication came at a time when the pond’s demands were at their lowest. Christmas Eve night, with the house full of overnight guests, the refrigerator and freezers full of holiday food prep. Picturesque heavy snow falling and everybody just dropping off to sleep. Sure enough, Ma Nature and Murphy together again. Paf! And out go the lights. Just on our block. Again.

Suddenly: Vroooooooom! A loud “Clonk” from the switch, and everything important (including the pond’s air pumps!) comes up on line. There we sat, happily glowing in the dark while the rest of our block sat and froze or melted (depending on whether they were folks or food) for eight endless hours while ComEd tried to find a crew to fix anything on Christmas Eve.

I feel better now. No, I feel smug.

Bob Passovoy