Home improvement


I had to cut to the chase. There was no beating around the bush. No soft sell. I texted my wife:

“The end may be near for Sybil.”

My wife sensed the gravity of the situation and texted me back the only thing that you really can in such a dire family moment: a frowny face emoticon.

It’s never easy when you come to the very real prospect that this could, in fact, be the end for your automatic pool cleaner.

We acquired Sybil in 2001 when we bought our house. She is a Polaris brand cleaner, one of those things that has water shoot through a long tube, making it race around the bottom of the pool collecting leaves and such in a big mesh bag. After a few weeks of using our new pool, I learned that our Polaris was a different breed of factory pool cleaner. Namely, I found that she had numerous personalities, hence the name.

She could be sullen, sad cleaner, with a desire to hide underneath the steps on the deep end.

She could be confused cleaner, who went in small circles in the shallow end.

She could be distant cleaner, who would spend hours bobbing in the deep end.

On rare occasions, she could be super engaged cleaner with an insatiable desire to find and collect every piece of dirt in the pool. Unfortunately, when that is about 10 percent of your personality, you are, quite frankly, not a very effective pool cleaner.

I have done numerous surgeries on Sybil over the years. I have replaced belts. I have replaced gears. I have left her out in a thunderstorm in the hope of electroshock therapy. Most times, she would get a little better, only to fall back into her sad ways after a few weeks.
This year, when I opened the pool, I found a new Sybil personality – one that would just turn and repeatedly bang off the pool wall. I am fairly certain she sighed during each bounce.

I took her to the pool place for examination. There, I had a very frank discussion with someone about Sybil and her time left prowling the pool. Sybil is probably 15 years old, which is apparently well beyond the average life span of a pool cleaner. I pondered my options. A new top-of-the-line pool cleaner would be pretty snazzy, I thought. I looked down at Sybil. Pretty sure she sighed again.

I looked at the old gal. Despite her personality issues, she’s been a noble trooper for years. Sure she’s had some personality glitches over the years. But she tried. And, when all the gears and belts and such were in place, she performed like a champ. For years. I mean, she has seniority over my son and my dogs. How could I just cast her aside like that? (Also, in the past month, I have replaced two car batteries and a car alternator, paid for a child’s broken thumb, replaced an iPhone that went swimming in a pool, and fixed a broken garage door spring. The Mike Gibbons Replacement and Repair Fund is running low.)

Another employee cast a gander at Sybil. “Couple of wheel bearings should get it working,” he said.

Now, as some of you readers may know, I am not the greatest home repairman. And by “not the greatest” my tools often shriek in horror when I approach them.

The one exception, however, is Polaris repair. I can field strip a Polaris in no time and, now that I have about 400 hours or so of practice, usually put it back in the right order.

I bought a couple of wheel bearings, brought Sybil home and prepared her for surgery. I spread her out on the kitchen table – her usual surgery spot – and proceeded to replace the wheel bearings in about 10 minutes. I pumped my fist in the air and said, “Aw, yeah!” Thankfully, no one was in the room to see that sad little display.

I took Sybil to the water and had my daughter flip the filter switch as I eased her back into service. And water began spraying in my face.

I noticed, however, that this was not Sybil, but a connector on the hose that had apparently become, as I technically diagnosed it, wonky.

I removed this part and headed back to the pool place, securing a replacement. In minutes, I had this part assembled and the whole unit turned on. And off she went, vacuuming up every bit of leaf, stick and leftover goggles she could find. I am fairly certain that, during one of her moments breaking the surface, she looked over at me and winked.

So Sybil is back up and running. I’d like to think this repair will take her for years into the future. But I know the reality. Sybil is old and more repairs will be in her future. And at some point, her bell will toll. And I will be sad. But I will know that I gave her all the chances to continue to be the best Sybil she could be. And I know my wife will console me. With a frowny face text.

Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken. A graduate of the University of Alabama, he can be e-mailed at or followed on Twitter @StandardMike.



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