Great Spaces: Pool playing

This pool conversion will employ modern technologies of harvesting rainwater. (Photos provided by Jeremy Delost)

Turn an unused pool into an eco-friendly space

By Jef Tingley

It’s been said that swimming pools are like boats — they’re lots of fun, but it’s better to have a friend who has one than to have one yourself. Sure, the escape from Dallas’ hot summer sun into a private blue lagoon can be rewarding, but the upkeep and maintenance can be overwhelming, not to mention pricey.

Historically, homeowners who called it quits with their pools had few options. They could either drain it dry, leaving both a backyard eyesore and a would-be skate park for marauding teens, or fill it in which takes a surprising amount of dirt (and cash). But now, there’s a third option for saying au revoir to an outdated oasis: giving it a new life as an ecologically friendly rainwater tank.

“Just about any pool can be transformed into a [water storage tank],” says Jeremy Delost, owner of Rainwater Harvesting Systems, which has been transforming unwanted pools across North Texas since 2008.

As Delost explains it, there’s always a cost involved with owning a pool. If it’s usable, the homeowner has to continually pay for water, chemicals, resurfacing, maintenance and prepping for the season change. Demolition of an unused pool can be fiscally challenging due to the labor and materials. And while the conversion of a pool into a rainwater cistern comes with an initial expense, it actually helps to save some money in the end by reducing water bills.

“Many of our customers just don’t want to keep up with the maintenance of their pools any longer. Their kids may be grown or they just don’t use it,” says Delost. “Changing the pool into a rainwater tank saves time, saves money on water bills and helps the environment.”

The process for changing a pool begins by sealing it watertight. According to Delost, even if an outdated pool cannot hold water it can still be transformed by fitting it with a liner. From there, the curved bottom of the pool is leveled with rock. This prepares the space to receive a series of milk-carton-like boxes that will later support the topsoil allowing it to be nearly undetectable in the yard.

The boxes are wrapped in water-permeable cloth, put in position in the pool, filled in on the sides with aggregate and topped by a geo-grid mesh that allows rainwater to seep through.

Finally, the entire structure is covered with topsoil leaving a buried “green” treasure ready to catch the rain, which can be used for lawns and gardens thanks to the assistance of a submersible pump installed during construction.

The final product isn’t just functional; it’s sturdy, too. “When finished, [the tank] could take the weight of a truck,” says Delost.

And that’s how the cycle of recycling carries on … from swimming pool, to water tank, to potential parking space.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 15, 2011.

—  John Wright

Watching the hypocrites self-destruct

As the dirty little secrets of ‘family values’ politicians and religious leaders come to light, the scandals help the cause of LGBT equality

DAVID WEBB  |  The Rare Reporter

The new year is well under way, but it’s like Christmas just keeps coming for the LGBT community in terms of our enemies destroying their credibility by performing what amounts to high dives into empty swimming pools.

Just a few weeks ago we saw New York Republican Congressman Christopher Lee hastily resign after the website Gawker.com published an expose about the congressman’s attempts to hook up via Craigslist.

The website revealed Lee had e-mailed a shirtless picture of himself to a woman, along with the lie that he was a single lobbyist, rather than declaring his true identity as a married father and elected public official.

Now, the National Enquirer is treating us to an expose alleging that married Republican Speaker of the House John “Cry Me a River” Boehner engaged in at least two affairs with mistresses. It would seem that Boehner, who created a sensation tearing up on a 60 Minutes broadcast while discussing his rise to political fame, really has something to cry about now.

I would say that these fellows who portrayed themselves as champions of family values had exhibited a level of stupidity in their behavior that defies reason and distinguishes them as clowns without comparison — but I can’t. Because this is a story that we have seen play out time and time again.

For naysayers who criticize the sources of these exposures: Remember, when it comes to really distasteful news, it usually surfaces in alternative publications before the mainstream media dares to pick it up. A case in point would be the exposure of former presidential candidate John Edward’s infidelity that was revealed by the National Enquirer.

While Edwards wasn’t an enemy of the LGBT community, he was a champion of family values. So it’s only fair to point out that stupidity and compulsively destructive behavior obviously know no political boundaries.

It’s hard to figure out why a prominent public official would secretly engage in an activity that they publicly condemn. But they just keep on keeping on — to our enormous benefit. There’s nothing that turns off people and awakens them to the truth more than a good dose of reality via the exposure of false prophets’ hypocrisy.

My first recollection of this type of hypocrisy dates back to 1981 when I read The Gentleman from Maryland, The Conscience of a Gay Conservative by former Congressman Richard Bauman. Bauman, who by day railed against gay rights and by night cruised Washington, D.C., gay bars, lost re-election in 1980 over a scandal involving a gay prostitute.

Since then it has been one revelation after another involving foes of the gay rights movement. Who could ever forget the 2007 scandal involving former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig when it was revealed that several months earlier he was arrested in a vice squad sex sting in a Minneapolis airport men’s restroom? The married politician’s denials of guilt and attempts to explain away his behavior made him the laughing stock of the country for awhile.

Over the years, straight Americans’ acceptance of gay and lesbian people has steadily grown, and I suspect at least part of the reason for that has been the exposure of the secret lives of political and religious celebrities who denounce homosexuality and bisexuality as aberrant behavior.

It’s sort of like a housewife who is leading a fight against an ordinance that would allow liquor sales in a community getting busted for drunken driving while ferrying the neighborhood’s kids home from school. Her motives suddenly become suspect.

Of course, we can’t thank our foes for all of our good fortune. The relentless fight by gay activists during the past 40 years has had a tremendous impact on public perception about who we are and what we want.

The battles for parental and marriage rights, along with other nondiscrimination goals, have led many people to realize that many members of our community are in fact champions of family values. Our families just happen to look a little different sometimes, but they are essentially the same as the one next door.

It’s been a wildly successful formula for achieving gay rights since the birth of the movement in 1969, and I’m sure the success is going to continue. And for that we can thank ourselves and our foes who just can’t seem to help being true to their real natures.

David Webb is a freelance reporter and former staff writer for the Dallas Voice. He has reported on LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for more than two decades. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 25.

—  John Wright

Oat, bray, love

Gay men in Argyle, Texas, give lives to livestock with Ranch Hand Rescue

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer stevencraiglindsey@me.com

When Bob Williams walks into the barnyard, there’s a near stampede as miniature horses big and small, llamas and a donkey run to greet him. This is the man who’s given them a better life of love, safety and, most importantly, hope. At Ranch Hand Rescue in Argyle, Texas, it’s easy to believe that animals can have such complicated feelings and emotions. You can see it in their eyes, and in the case of Ozella the donkey, hear it in her enthusiastic brays.

For the former telecom executive, rescuing farm animals was never part of his long-term plan. But a stroke in October 2007 changed everything.

“I decided it wasn’t about money any more. The stroke was pretty devastating and scary. I decided to do something I loved, but I never pictured myself with farm animals,” Williams laughs.

But that’s where he ended up. After the stroke, Williams retired and began helping out more with his partner Marty Polasko’s business, the American Spa & Pet Resort.

“Marty’s whole philosophy for the pet resort was the best of everything, Disneyland for dogs. That’s why you’ll see swimming pools, play parks and suites. When people come here, they see that it’s all about animals. It’s designed for dogs and cats. Everything he’s done is just overwhelming,” he says.

Soon, rescuing horses and donkeys became part of the equation.

“We started off saving them one at a time,” he says. “Then about a year and a half ago, a guy walked into the lobby and said he wanted to make a $250 donation to us for our animals. I thought, ‘Wow, what are we going to do with that?’ We couldn’t take his money because we’re not a private charity.”

Williams soon realized that he and Polasko were all about the animals and giving back to the community. Thus Ranch Hand Rescue was created. What started out with donkeys and horses has grown to encompass everything from neglected and abused ducks, geese, turkeys, pigs, rabbits, goats, even turtles.

The goal is to rehabilitate the animals and bring them back to good health, then adopt them out into loving homes as companion animals. In a few instances, the animals remain with Ranch Hand Rescue and join the on-site sanctuary to live out their lives in comfort and safety. Goats in the sanctuary will never be milked again; horses will never be ridden; turkeys enjoy a permanent pardon from Thanksgiving dinner.

Since forming in April 2009, Ranch Hand Rescue has saved more than 85 farm animals. The efforts have required building a new barn, creating a quarantine area for the sickest of animals, hiring staff and leasing additional land, all of which is costly and ongoing.

“We get three to four calls per week from people reporting possible abuse or neglect,” Williams says. Cases are turned over to the sheriff’s department and investigated before Ranch Hand Rescue is tapped to make an assessment. In most cases, people are given the opportunity to take corrective action to bring their animals back to health, but that often never happens.

During a recent tour of the facility, a call came in to Williams from Deanne Murillo, an animal cruelty investigator making a site visit to a farm. Neighbors had complained that they’d noticed horses that were tied to a fence post with a rope, limiting their ability to run and roam. They appeared seriously malnourished with no access to food or water.

“There was not a blade of grass on their property,” Murillo says. “The [owners] were very nice to me, but things were all very iffy. There were 20 or more puppies there, too. Some were walking on three legs and had sores on their bodies.”

Bob Williams
FARM  TEAM | Bob Williams, right, tends to Lips, an abused horse; Ozella the donkey, facing page, enjoys a good life now. (Photos by Steven Lindsey)

The horses in particular were suffering though.  “I’m going to go back and check in three weeks and if things haven’t improved, they could have their animals seized,” Murillo says. “I left copies of the law, I read the law to them, I told them where they were in violation and we don’t want to take their horses.”

Even though the family was cooperative and seemed concerned, it was doubtful things would improve. That’s when Ranch Hand Rescue would rescue the horses, adding the new horses to four others currently in the quarantine barn.

“This is Lips,” Williams says walking up to a stall. “He’s a stallion that needs to be gelded. He has severe nerve damage to the face. Lips was beaten, so he’s skittish.”

Indeed, Lips immediately cowers, moves to a far corner and begins to shake. He won’t even look up because there’s somebody else there besides Williams, whom he’s just barely beginning to trust.

“One of the ways we get them to get used to people, I take a lawn chair and I come in and sit down. The best way for them to rebuild their trust with humans is to spend time with them, so I’ll bring a newspaper or magazine or the Dallas Voice and just hang out. He’s getting a little better, but only time will tell if the nerve damage is permanent.”

It’s heartbreaking to hear these stories and see the fear in an animal’s behavior, but simply seeing Williams’ passion for the animals prevents the mood from being one of sadness. Instead, there’s a palpable energy of healing and compassion. Perhaps it’s because this former executive who never dreamed of this new life has clearly been won over by the beasts in his care. He calls each animal by name, softening his voice and cooing like a doting father to a newborn child.

“Hi there, Sweetie! Come to daddy,” he calls to the horse. “It just brings tears to your eyes. There’s no reason any person or animal should have to go through this,” he says as Lips finally raises his head and slowly makes his way to the front of the stall, stopping halfway. It’s progress, but just barely.

Rehabilitation can be a very slow process and patience is paramount, which Williams and his staff have in abundance. Spending time with the animals that have been brought back from the brink of starvation is all it takes, however, to understand that it’ll all be worth the wait. And in the end, Ranch Hand Rescue is the best place any of these animals could ever hope to be.

The cost to maintain one horse averages $3,000/ year. Donations can be made either to Ranch Hand Rescue, Inc., 8827 Hwy 377S Argyle, Texas 76226 or online at RanchHandRescue.org. Tours available Saturdays, 11 a.m.–4 p.m. Volunteers always needed.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

‘This is what we get for voting for a clown’: Reykjavik mayor opens gay Pride in drag

Reykjavik Mayor Jon Gnarr, left, dressed in drag for the opening ceremonies of his city’s Pride festival.

I am sure that most people would agree that there’s a lot of funny business going on in politics. But when it comes to Reykjavik, Iceland, it’s not the kind of political funny business you might think.

In June, the citizens of Reykjavik elected top comedian Jon Gnarr as mayor. Gnarr ran for office on a platform that promised free towels at swimming pools and a new polar bear for the Reykjavik zoo. His Best Party won the council elections after promising transparency in government and used campaign videos of the candidates singing along to Tina Turner’s “Simply The Best.”

Gnarr had promised that, as mayor, he would appear at the city’s Pride festival. And this week, he made good on that promise: appearing in drag at the opening ceremonies. His blond drag persona told the crowd the mayor could not attend himself because “he’s busy, even though he promised to be here.”

Gnarr added: “What might he be up to? Maybe he is visiting Moomin Valley [the fictional setting of a series of Finnish children's stories that feature a family of white hippopotamus-like trolls]. This is what we get for voting for a clown in elections.”

Iceland, by the way, became the first country with an openly gay head of state last year when Joanna Sigurdardottir became prime minister.

Go to BBC to read more.

—  admin