16 September, 2018

Soft Water Makes for Hard Time

The first time I washed my hands here really got me in a lather. Furiously working them in the sink for what had to be the third minute of my wash, I finally turned to my new cellmate. “What is this, have they got a water softening system here?” He nodded, and I cursed with frustration at the oily sensation that would not rinse off.

This is my life now, standing at the sink, scrubbing, scrubbing, ceaselessly.

Look online: you’ll see page after page of universally positive reports detailing how soft water — water treated to remove the minerals that can dry your skin and scale your plumbing fixtures — is some kind of modern miracle. I haven’t viewed the results personally, since I lack Internet access, but I’m told that googling “does soft water leave residue” gets you only praise for the stuff. This is weird. A Season Two episode of the FX series Fargo, set in the late-1970s, included a scene of two gangsters voicing displeasure at a hotel’s soft water. And this dry humor (no pun intended, this time) worked because soft water does somehow seem like a throwback technology, the kind of thing your grandparents would’ve bought into, as passé now as Pet Rocks and polyester pants.

The only people I’ve ever known who could tolerate (in fact love) soft water were my paternal grandparents. They were Missourians, through and through, and fixed in their ways. Their three-bedroom house had been built in the ’60s, out of what always struck me as cheap materials, and moved in to at some point in the ’70s, after which they never gave a thought to redecorating. A console TV and pilly brown couch populated the living room for as long as I can remember. A bland landscape painting graced the wall. Precious Moments figurines, sleepy eyes gazing from polished honey-gold wood shelves, mutely, as though narcotized just enough that they could hold their enormous heads steady forever while embodying Scripture. The rest of the house maintained the same mid-century Midwestern middle-class aesthetic.

As a kid I overnighted there on occasional weekends, on a twin bed that crinkled viciously, thanks to its plastic undersheet. A worshipful blue-eyed-Jesus print hung on the wall overhead, the guest room’s sole decoration, watching over my fitful rest. Grandma’s saccharine “Rise and shine, the morning’s fine!” always came too soon. Raisin Bran with skim milk didn’t improve matters. But more than any other aspect of the accommodations, it was the shower that soiled little Byron’s experience.

Grandma and Grandpa told me I used too much soap, too big a dollop of shampoo. If I simply eased up, they insisted, I wouldn’t need to linger under the spray, and they wouldn’t have to knock and ask what was taking me so long in there. Many were the fantasies I had of disabling their water softener. The problem lay in first finding the key to the utility room in their basement. Why keep it locked, anyway? I was tempted to imagine foul, maybe even supernatural, doings in there, all my grandparents’ Christian piety just a front concealing their true, demonological beliefs.

Water softeners don’t use salt to treat hard water, they use the rendered fat of unbaptized children! It’d be a Soylent Green-level revelation. News of this kind wouldn’t have surprised me much — it might’ve even explained the Raisin Bran and skim milk: keeping their grandchildren thin would deter Grandma and Grandpa from sacrificing one of us if their water softener supplies ever ran too low.

But I digress. Unpleasant memories are simply what come to mind when I'm letting the water run and run, just like I did during those weekends of my formative years. My hands hardly ever feel fully clean, these days. And showers are always a bit of a letdown. Contrary to what Google will show you (pro-treatment fake government websites included), not everyone’s happy using soft water. Once again, conspiratorial ideas dance in the shadowy regions of my mind. Why, if it’s so great, doesn’t everyone have soft water?

Eastern Reception, Diagnosic & Correctional Center has it, and I’m not pleased. This blog post is proof that soft water’s not as great as its proponents want you believing, and if it’s buried irretrievably deep in search results I’ll only be that much more inclined to suspect a diabolical soft-water plot. Keep close tabs on your unbaptized kids, my friends, and be wary of anyone who spends an inordinate amount of time bad-mouthing calcium. Better to be safe than sorry.

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