Compared to brain-eating amoebas and urethra-nesting catfish, pool algae is our friend

The algae in my swimming pool has become immune to chlorine. I clean the filter, vacuum it out and it comes out the jets again, resettling itself. Oh, I know. I'm going to get all kinds of letters from pool technicians telling me there's a scientific explanation for this. That the pH is wrong, there's too much calcium carbonate or some such nonsense, but I know differently. That algae wants more out of life and gets bored simply sticking to the sides of the pool. I firmly believe that if it wasn't recirculated once a week, it would get angry, rise up and take over the house.

I heard a story once about a slime mold scientists were training to answer the telephone. If they can do that, the thought of what well-organized algae could do is too terrifying to contemplate.

Living in a desert, a relatively water-free environment, we should count our lucky stars. My swimming pool is not an isolated case. Water is dangerous. I just read about a brain-eating amoeba living in Lake Havasu. Naegleria fowleri, goes up your nose and proceeds to eat through your brain. This might not be a problem for some people--politicians should be the least troubled--but some of us value our gray matter and the idea of microscopic beasties eating through it is less than appealing.

Naegleria fowleri is scary, but oddly enough, it doesn't bother me. I've accepted for years there are beasties that eat human brains, ever since watching an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery back when I was a kid, in which a guy gets some kind of rare Egyptian earwig into his head. It not only starts eating through his brain, at the end of the half hour he discovers it was pregnant. Oh, the horror.

It wasn't until fairly recently I was told earwigs don't do this. Not even Egyptian ones. Earwigs are just bugs and don't do much of anything to human beings. When I think of all the money I could have saved on earplugs, it really steams me. To be so misled by a medium I trust as much as television! That hurts.

People in this country get so goosey over microscopic pests. Anything. A little Lyme disease from a few ticks and Terminex stock goes so high it punches a hole in the ozone layer. A couple of people in Europe drop dead of Mad Cow Disease and everybody starts eating tofu burgers. We think we're so macho with our big trucks and guns, but say the words liver fluke, lungworm or, Lord have mercy, brain eating amoeba, and we soil our camo fatigues.

People in South America aren't nearly so sissified. They've got malaria, dengue fever, the Yaws, all kinds of parasite-borne diseases, all with devastating consequences, and they hardly bat an eye. They've got something called Chagas disease, for which there's no cure and which often totally destroys the heart and intestines. It is transmitted by, get this, assassin bugs. They look like our local kissing bugs, only with silver backs instead of red ones, and let me tell you something: Kissing bugs may be nasty, their bites itch like a sonofabitch, but given the choice of kissing bugs or assassin bugs living under the stoop, I know which I'd take.

But even South Americans, hardy though they may be, quiver at the thought of a creature that though not microscopic, might as well be. It's tiny and nearly transparent. The candiru or vampire catfish of the Amazon is only about 4 inches long and less than an eighth of an inch wide. Mostly, it lives on blood from the gill cavities of unsuspecting fish. But candiru is opportunistic and would just as soon head up a human rectum, vagina, or urethra and attach itself there. It's got spines and is almost impossible to get out.

So Arizonans looking for waterholes other than Havasu are well advised to shun the Amazon. Either that or buy latex Speedos.

Given what water can produce, the only reasonable course of action for me is to co-exist with my algae. As the cooler weather approaches, I'll have to recirculate it less frequently, and then after a month or two, it will retreat into miniscule colonies until the heat comes back and it emerges to bask in the sun.

It's an arrangement I can live with, though if I ever decide to swim in it again, I think I'll wear ear plugs. Why not? I've got, like, a 30-year supply of them already.

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