Ponytail Pools

Ponytail Pools

The detective with the Mario Brothers’ mustache stared blankly at me and that manly caterpillar on his face rose and fell as he moved gum in his mouth from side to side. It was mesmerizing and made me stare at his mouth when he spoke like I was watching one of those dubbed Kurosawa films. Officer Caterpillar, that’s what I called him, not to his face of course, sat across from me smelling of spearmint gum and Gentleman’s Talc, while the tall officer, skinny as a ferret in his slimming, metrosexual suit, leaned on the table with his poisonous algae-green tie hanging in my face. The color alone was a chi succubus. Poor guy also had thinning hair and a pasty complexion.

“Look, Pal,” The Ferret said. “We can’t help you unless you give us something.”

“The last time I saw the doc was outside her office,” I said for the second time. “Like a week ago. I swear. Truth be told, I’m harmless. A pacifist.”

The white interrogation room had one black tinted window and one door. Sweat crawled down my forehead and tickled my nose. I scratched it with the cast on my left arm. My right arm was handcuffed to the tabletop. They usually put the cuffs around both wrists, but they couldn’t get the cuff around my cast. My right cheek throbbed where my face hit the pavement, courtesy of an overzealous cop. The two detectives fired questions at me but wouldn’t reveal why I had been arrested. Then we had this revolving door conversation. Why am I here? You know why you’re here. No, I really don’t. We think you do. Finally, I asked for some herbal tea or spring water and explained that I’d been working in the sun all day and was dehydrated. The Ferret left and returned with a Coke in a red can with cold sweat droplets clinging to it. He popped it in my face and I could smell the caramel, sweetness of it and I shouted, “No thank you, Eve,” to make an impression. That was kind of a biblical reference, but he knew what I meant. “I’m not going to desecrate my body.” Sure, I’d polluted my body plenty. But that wasn’t me anymore. It was just another temptation put in my face.

“So, go thirsty,” he said, picking up the soda and drinking it right in front of me.

“I can see your dirty pores,” I said.

“What the hell’s wrong with this guy?” The Ferret said to the Caterpillar who sat there with his amazing Tesseract mustache, forcefully chomping on gum. It was a pure testosterone appendage.

“Why did you have it out for the doc?” the Caterpillar said. “Revenge?”

“I’m a pacifist,” I repeated. “Besides, me and the doc had a little thing going. It was progressing slowly.” I didn’t want to let on that I was madly in love with the idea of this woman. She was svelte, rigid, and pale with harsh Germanic features.

“She had a restraining order on you.” The Caterpillar slid an official looking document across the table. “And you went to her office and threw a brick through her window. Luckily no one was hurt or killed.”

I heard thunder outside. It was raining. Hot Florida rain, creating the perfect environment for algae growth, which meant that while I sat here captive, pools were turning green. These guys were going to sink my business.

The Ferret popped me in the head. “Hey idiot. Wake up. Are you, daydreaming?”

“I’m deep in thought trying to solve this case,” I said.

These guys were posers. They had never heard of Executive Functioning Syndrome. It’s how some of the greatest minds in history solved the most complex problems. It happens to deep thinkers. Though I guess if you’ve never been exposed to it, or had a kid with a borderline high IQ, but with attention deficit, you could just throw out the word daydreaming like you’re better than someone else.

“He’s doing it again,” the Ferret said. “What’s with this guy?”

“Are you high right now?” The Caterpillar said.

“I’m thirsty,” I said. “I need water.”

The Caterpillar handed me a Styrofoam cup of tap water and all I could think about was the five hundred years it would take that cup to decompose in a landfill and I explained that to them and that they should lobby for something washable.

“This guy ain’t right,” the Ferret said.

“Drink it or don’t drink it I don’t really care,” the Caterpillar said.

I drank. It tasted like chlorine.

The Ferret said they were going to charge me with attempted assault with a deadly projectile, destruction of property, violating the restraining order and that I could be looking at three to seven in the Federal pen. I explained that this was a total Shawshank thing. I wasn’t anywhere near the doc’s office today.

“How did you meet the doc in the first place?” The Ferret said. “It’s not like you met at the country club for cocktails.” The Ferret smiled at the Caterpillar. Everyone finds it so easy to condescend the working man. These jerks couldn’t keep a pool blue if their lives depended on it.

I told them the truth just as it happened, but I knew they wouldn’t believe me. The situation was virtually impossible to explain, especially if you weren’t privy to the whole “pool guy” phenomenon. When I said it out loud, even I had to admit it sounded far out there, and I even omitted some of the really weird stuff.


I’d awoke on such a high that morning feeling like one with the organic world, floating in my waterbed, suspended by nature. I hit what was left in the vaporizer to take the edge off. Sunlight filled the room and I felt totally recharged. I clicked off the frolicking Orcas and chilled with some valerian tea and organic orange blossom honey, before heading out to make the world blue. My spirit animal was totally the dolphin, but their call doesn’t have the same influence in the morning as the whales. They always sound like they’re trying to warn you about something. In hindsight, the dolphins should have been there to chirp me up.

The pad I rented in the historic district was above a detached garage that the homeowner, Miss Mary Margaret, a defrocked nun, let me use, seeing how she didn’t drive anymore because of glaucoma or cataracts or something. An kidney-shaped Tropicana took up most of the backyard and I kept it blue and sparkling for free. I even retro fitted the pump to make it a salt water pool, which is nice on wrinkly old skin and doesn’t require chlorides, which totally fry hair and kill the organics.

The light and dark of it all was clear to me and I knew if one domino fell, the rest would follow. Sure, I felt guilty about filling up my little pick-up with ethanol made from corn, which ensured terrible mileage and contributed to global warming, but a man has got to make a living and people have to swim. It’s human nature to be drawn to the water because we yearn to get back to where we started.

The garage under my apartment had old-fashioned barn doors and while I swung them open, Nero King rolled to a stop in the street with his stupid diesel monster truck billowing black smoke. Nero had this notion that his company, Poseidon Pools, owned every concrete pond in town and he always seemed to be lurking around, ready to poison every available pool of water. He used chlorine and toxified his body with processed foods. Once, at a little bar where all the pool service technicians hangout, I saw him eat a hamburger practically raw. I’m sure he has worms and pounds of undigested meat in his bowels. He’s also bald and lives with a raving jealousy of my long, natural hair. People don’t realize that hair is a powerful thing. When you don’t have it, you want it. Nero followed me around town trying to scoop business from me. The pool business was ruthless like that.

“I know where you’ve been, Ulee,” Nero said to me over the clunking of his global warming diesel truck. “You’re going to find yourself in a sea of trouble.”

“Whatever, Nero,” I said. “I’ve never taken a client of yours that hasn’t come to me with bloodshot eyes.”

He revved his engine, shot me a bird, and tore out of the neighborhood leaving a cloud of black smoke in his wake. I watched him drive away with his stupid vanity license plate that read: CHLRIDES-RCK. The smell of his carbon footprint totally ruined my chi, but I did some deep breathing techniques that I learned in pranayama yoga and held it together.

I was six houses in and fully recovered from Nero’s morning assault, but still four houses behind, because of the cast on my arm. I parked my little pick up at the next job, a rectangular Aqua Lane lap pool with an accompanying Jacuzzi. That’s when I heard the sirens. It was the po-po and they were looking for me. I popped my edibles, which might explain my fuzzy state of mind. Two cars screeched to a stop on either side of my little truck like this was an episode of cops and I was one of those illiterate fugitives. The cops jumped out of their cars, rested hands on their weapons and barked orders. They were like pit bulls these guys, except one was a beefy looking woman with thinning hair and a mountainous chest. She looked like an MMA fighter who’d put an air hose in her mouth to blow herself up. The woman was bursting out in all directions and reminded me of a girl I was sweet on in high school. Katie. We had a little thing going for a while. Could it be her? Katie? It had been ten years. The Florida sun was so bight I couldn’t get a clear picture.

We used to sit at the same lunch table, Katie and I, because all the other tables were full. Of course, she invited me to sit because she was sitting alone, and I was standing up with my tray trying to eat. I obliged. I was surprised to be getting hit on like that, but it was cool. I hoped that the cop wasn’t her, Katie that is. We ended on a sour note, a misunderstanding of sorts, but I ended up getting my GED and learning the pool trade, so it was for the best.

“Put your hands in the air, and drop to your knees,” the male cop said. He had a gut and bad skin and reminded me of that final frontier dude who played T.J. Hooker.

I did exactly what he said. Put my hands up behind my head. Then I realized that my ponytail was coming lose so I tighten it up. I wasn’t worried because cops are unlikely to shoot a dude with a ponytail and Birkenstocks given of our general appearance of pacifism.

“He’s reaching for his hair,” T.J. Hooker shouted and placed a hand on his weapon.

“Drop the ponytail,” the girl cop said. She even sounded like Katie, and at that moment I had a vision of her. Sweet Katie. The edibles were kicking in.

“Katie? Katie Caboose?” I said. “Is that you?” Next thing I knew, I was face planted on the blacktop like a common criminal and I realized, it wasn’t Katie at all. The other cop laughed and repeated, Katie Caboose and this set her off.

“You jerk,” she whispered. “That’s the kind of nickname that sticks.”

“What about my truck?” I said. “It’s got all my equipment.”

“It’s going to be impounded to look for evidence,” she said, staring at my ponytail, which made me feel pretty good. Hair jealously was not gender specific.

As we drove off, I looked out the back window to see a line of dark clouds on the horizon. It rained every afternoon this time of year and I had four more pools to do. That rain would turn them all green. Someone was trying to ruin me.


“Aye, Dipshit, we want to know about the doc, not what kind of day you had,” The Caterpillar said. Guess I’d zoned. I was high, high from the double dose of watermelon gummies I’d popped.

“And did you call me a ferret?” said the Ferret.

“You might have a thyroid issue,” I said.

“Shut up and tell us about the doc,” the Caterpillar said, that thick black beast dancing on his face like a circus animal. It looked to have a life of its own. In that moment, I dreamt about growing my own blond version of it on my face and waxing the ends, or maybe a bushy, cowboy style, “Howdy Boys” mustache. I imagined all the things I could do with a signature look like that.

“Hey,” the Caterpillar said. “The Doc?”

“Right,” I said.


We were introduced at a dinner party that I wasn’t invited to, per se, it just so happened that I ran late on my schedule and the house with the pool where the dinner party took place was last on my route. I arrived so late the party guests began arriving while my work truck was parked in the driveway. Penelope, that’s the doc, pulled up alone in her aqua blue Jag, blocking my truck. As I approached her about letting me back out, I could tell right away that she bought into the whole pool guy fantasy. It’s a common psychological occurrence. All the pool guys know about it.

The Caterpillar cocked his beefy mustache up on one side and eyed the Ferret, skeptically.

“You know how some women fall all over themselves for fighter pilots or pro athletes?” I said. “Same thing for pool guys.”

“This is getting better and better,” the Caterpillar said. “Please, continue.”

“I’m sorry, pretty lady,” I said to the Doc with all kinds of charm, making sure to tighten my ponytail. Older chicks got it bad for pool guys with ponytails. That’s part of the aforementioned phenomenon. Anyway, I said, “If you let me back out, you can park a little closer to the house.” She smiled at me with her pale blue eyes and why wouldn’t she?

While she backed out of the driveway, I noticed the vanity plate in the front of her car read ORTHO. She explained what it meant and I said that was cool. Then, she smiled at me again, and asked for my card. She had one of those volleyball pools with the deep center and a Jacuzzi. Both were over chlorinated and burned her eyes and she told me who did the work and I said I knew the guy. Nero.

She said, “Think you could stop by and take a look? I’d like to see what you can do for me.” Her strong Germanic pheromones where were practically gelatinous and they stuck to me like musk. Of course, I got the gig, put her on rotation and worked toward balancing the chemistry in a truly organic way. The first week the doc text me to say how great the pool looked, and blue, and that her eyes didn’t burn, and that her skin felt so soft. I read the text out loud and thought about the words she had chosen. “So soft.” There was a subtle and deeper meaning to them that I came to understand when I repeated them. So soft. So soft. Oddly enough, the doc was never there when I stopped by, so I had to somehow up the ante. Then it hit me. Literally. The 2 x 4 that held up the topper on the bed of my pickup dislodged and the topper hit my arm. It didn’t do any damage, but that snapped a lightbulb. If I gave her a reason to care for me on a deeper level, the situation would change dramatically. I placed my arm on the back of the pickup and slammed that topper down. I heard a pop. Hurt like shit. I threw up. I was kind of hoping for some superficial bruising. I drove directly to her office without an appointment and told the receptionist to tell the doc that her pool guy had an accident. She worked me in and was very attentive, even though she kept starring at my Birkenstocks, which were covered in dried vomit. She tended to my arm gently and lovingly with her skilled doctorly hands.

Over the next couple of weeks, I called on her, one handed of course, and made sure to show up late in the day on Saturdays, hoping she’d be home. The last time I went by, she was there, and we ended up chatting by the pool. We marveled at her pool water and shared a laugh at Nero’s expense. She has this cute, nervous little laugh, and when she talks, she takes these little steps backwards, which naturally draws me forward in this yin and yang kind of dance. It was mesmerizing. I looked into her pale blue eyes and, being good at reading these things, I leaned in to kiss her and she freaked. I was like, whoa. Okay. I’d pushed a little too fast. Our relationship wasn’t there yet.

“We know the rest,” the Ferret said.

“You broke your own arm?” the Caterpillar said.

“Look,” I said, “mistakes were made things were said. Can we move past that?”

“Why did you go to her office?” The Caterpillar said.

“I thought if I apologized, I mean, she’s my doc, right?” I raised my cast in the air. “You know how when you meet someone and have that chemical attraction. That happened to us. We just got off to a bad start. I pushed it too fast, just like Katie Caboose.”

“Who the hell is Katie Caboose?” The Ferret said.

“Never mind,” I said.

The Caterpillar opened a file and said, “This is what the doc had to say about your burgeoning romance, ‘If we were the last two people on earth, I would set myself on fire.’”

“I would never hurt Penelope, or anyone. It’s not in my nature. This is like one those battles between good and evil and I’m the good guy here.”

The Caterpillar reached beneath his seat and produced a red brick, which he placed on the table. It had a white residue caked on one side. “Is this the brick you threw?”

I sunk in my seat and stared at that stupid brick. Then a faint scent hit my nose. A vile scent that was quite familiar to me. “What’s that white stuff?” I asked in my sing song victory voice. I knew what it was, but I wanted to hear him say it.

“Chlorine,” the Caterpillar said.

“Come again?” I said, drawing out the moment and holding it like a hit of good sticky herb.

“Chlorine,” the Caterpillar said. “We had it tested.”

“Why do you think we picked you up?” the Ferret chimed in.

My heart lifted. I only service saltwater pools. My truck doesn’t have any chlorine on it. Nero had the motivation and the chlorine. I laid it out for the cops, spoon fed it to them like a couple of babies. They were doubtful, and the Caterpillar said I could have planned all this to frame Nero, like I’m some kind of criminal mastermind. I said I’m no criminal mastermind here. The Ferret laughed and said he knew with great certainty that I was the furthest thing on God’s green earth from a criminal mastermind, and that buoyed my spirits a bit.

They held me until my truck was thoroughly checked out. Of course, they found no traces of chlorine and no one could place me at the scene, so they had to let me go.

“What the hell are you smiling about now?” The Caterpillar said, taking off the cuff, his beefy mustache rearing up on one side like a black stallion.

“When Penelope finds out I’m the hero of this caper,” I said, straightening my ponytail, “I’m betting she gives me another shot.”

The Ferret said something rude and demeaning, called me a creep for one thing and warned me to stay away from the doc.

Walking out of the station, I realized there was some bad mojo floating around. That’s when I had an epiphany. I needed to create good Karma and that required a good deed, a selfless act, like maybe a little midnight pool cleaning. Penelope would wake up in the morning to a sparkling blue pool and think, Ulee, Ulee.


About the Author

Joseph Allen Costa is an adjunct English professor in Tampa. He received his MFA in creative writing from the University of Tampa and his BA from the University of South Florida. Costa is the author of COMETS, published by Unsolicited Press, July 2020.


Photo by margot pandone on Unsplash