I love the city pool. I’m surprised, as an adult, how much of the same enchantment I feel as I did when I was a kid, when my brother and I spent every afternoon from Memorial to Labor Day at the pool until we were paged over the intercom to come to the front desk and talk to our mom on the phone while the Parks and Rec employee looked on irritatedly and twirled her keys. They didn’t have a multi line phone system, so you were supposed to hurry to free the phone for the next mother to call. This made bargaining for more time impossible. I’d go collect my towel and the sticky half of a grape Tangy Taffy that had melted underneath it, and run to my bike while my brother sped across the parking lot ahead of me. “Wait!!” Of course he wouldn’t. Not ever. I’d furiously pedal to catch up to him, but it was uphill most of the way home. Uphill has never been where I shine.
Sometimes we got lucky and our sister would give us a ride in her rad Fiat. Sometimes I got really lucky and my brother would split with his friends so I didn’t have to share the passenger seat with him, and my sister would let me crank the tape deck while the Cars’ Heartbeat City or ZZ Top’s Eliminator blasted out of the open top and onto the small town summer street.
Getting to the pool was always fun. I’d spend a long summer morning watching that 80’s Aerobicise show with the three brunettes who wore pastel spandex accented by three layers of scrunchy socks and matching headbands that maximized the poof potential of their hair. I don’t think I ever did the exercises. I just watched, and imagined that when I grew up, that’s how I’d dress and do my hair. I pretty much do. After that I’d laze around the house for a couple of hours watching the clock until 12:50, ten minutes before the pool opened, then haul ass (downhill) to City Park to wait in line, my bare feet dancing on the hot concrete in anticipation of the click-clack that preceded the unlocking and rolling open of the big aluminum door at the pool. The pool, at that time, was a big rectangle with a shallow end and a deep end with three diving boards. Compared to the fancy aqua-complexes that now standardize municipal pools, I guess it was pretty boring. But there was a concession stand with Fun Dips and Tangy Taffy and all your friends were always there and there were shiny, tan high school girls who wore two-piece swimsuits and eyeliner and always kept their hair dry. There were tyrannical 15 year old lifeguards who blew whistles if you ran or played too rough, or if it had been more than three minutes since they’d had occasion to blow said whistle. Their authority was absolute. They don’t give these whistles to just anyone, and don’t you forget it, kid. There was also the weird dude in the bright orange speedo who always brought a little toy which he sometimes wound up and stuffed into the front of his suit. We called him Mr. Tallywacker Man. Probably every small town has one of these guys. I heard he’s not allowed at the pool anymore.
Aside from Mr. Tallywacker Man, I can’t recall seeing any adults at the pool. I’m sure they were there, I just didn’t notice them. My recollection is something like Lord of the Flies with lots of chlorine. Today, when I take my kids to the public pool, I love to sit and watch the grown ups. There are, in fact, hundreds of them! I’ll admit right now to a pretty twisted, voyeuristic tendency which is exclusive to the public pool. I doubt I’m alone in this. These are the people in your neighborhood, some of whom you may have nothing else in common with, people who likely cancel out your votes, who practice a lifestyle entirely unlike your own (I’m just guessing based on homemade Hello Kitty tattoos and junky drug store novels next to their towels and the occasional very small bikini on a large body) all wading around together in what amounts to our underwear -sometimes less- in a swash of chemically treated, sunscreen clouded water. What a strange thing for strangers to do. I don’t feel guilty for watching them and making up little stories about them in my mind because, let’s be honest, if you are going to get practically naked and hang around a place so public that it has Public in the title, you are availing yourself to the surveillance and imaginings of weirdos like me. I’m there in my underwear, too. They’re all free to do the same thing to me. Some of them don’t require much stretching of the imagination. I’d be crazy to pass up the opportunity to silently and harmlessly employ the patrons of the public pool for fashion and parenting advice. It’s a super cheap self-improvement seminar every day in there!
Do walk to where your kids are playing to offer calm correction of inappropriate behavior.
Don’t scream from the side of the pool, so voraciously that your entire left breast flops out of your suit as the population of the kiddie pool looks on, horrified, while you blame the nip slip on your 6 year old.
Do be proud of your body, walk with confidence, know that you are a beautiful woman and that tummy and those hips are lovely and useful to boot.
Don’t wear a string bikini that is so much smaller than your body that it requires safety pins to fasten the ends of the strings together because they are stretched too tightly to make a knot.
Do immediately find your kids when you hear three short whistle blasts from the lifeguard. This means someone has crapped in the pool. It happens more often than you'd think. It's best to have an emergency plan in place and maybe run through a few drills, much like you'd prepare for a fire or tornado, because your kids will be scattered across the pool and it can be tough to reunite in the confusion and panic that follow a city pool poop evacuation.
See? I might not have ever known these things. I’m happy to share my wisdom with you, but I suggest you go gather your own. It’s well worth the $3 to have a place where you can cool off, wear out your kids, exercise your imagination making up stories about almost naked strangers, and leave with a handy list of life’s dos and don’ts.