There is something about the pool.
The line to pay stretches out the door and stinks of beer sweat. It’s a sunny day and we’re not wasting it, none of us.
The dressing rooms are crowded and stressful. Everyone walks in together, boys and girls, to a psychedelic rainbow-lit hallway. It’s a row of a few dozen individual stalls; you go into one side and emerge on the other in your suit. Find a locker, dump your stuff, and close it with your rubber entrance bracelet. Join the claustrophobic crowd waddling on wet floors down the narrow passage. Don’t use the bathroom, if you know what’s good for you. You emerge from the locker room exhilarated at having survived it.
We’re mostly parents--only here because our kids wanted to come, yet we’re not having the worst time either. Nothing makes us happier than making our kids happy. That is the uniting factor here: old and young, single parents and double, one child or many, fruit of our wombs or flown in from another continent--we paid kind of a lot of money in order to cram ourselves into choking lycra and chase them around and get splashed in the face, jiggling as we go, trying not to run into other parents doing the same thing. All for some smiles (or some exercise or some therapy or some life skills--I won’t pretend all parents are as short-sighted as we are).
I have friends who refuse to swim in public pools, and I don’t think that’s an unwise position.
We spot a two-foot span of empty cement next to a lady sunning her back with her bikini unclipped; my husband spreads my towel for me then heads for the baby pool with our enthused minions. We all know what’s in the baby pool.
We’re a tribe of lumpy flesh and crowded bodies: wedgies, cleavage, speedoes (loose trunks not allowed!), bikinis, swimming dresses, love handles, cellulite, scars, sunburns, stretch-marks, bald and hairy spots, regrettable tattoos. Entrance bracelets dangle on our arms like notches on a procreation belt, one for each of our children. Or one for each of our living children, if you think of it that way, which I do now. Only two six-packs in the whole place, and those are both rippling under shaven and oiled torsos above feet which kick a soccer ball in the grass over there. I see 20-year-old dads, matching high-and-tights with their toddlers, and I see women who could be grandmas or could be moms, you never know with the smoking and the tanning and the hard lives. Oh, the humiliation we endure, putting our flaws on display! But we’re not looking up, we’re looking down at our dunking, sputtering offspring.
The Belgians are comfortable with the crowd. When I sit on the pool stairs for a bit, my little boy rests his hand on the thigh of the lady next to me and she doesn’t flinch or even look.
There is one girl posed on the edge of the baby pool with no attachments in sight. Later I see her leaving alone. She’s free of lumps, a perfect olive hue, big sunglasses, shaved head except for a towering bun of ombre dreads piled artfully on top. Kind of too pretty to be a punk, or whatever one calls the youths of alternative persuasion these days. I wonder how she can stand the chaos and what she is thinking. She stands up and walks away and I realize two things: there is a whole world--childless or childfree but there doesn’t seem to be a neutral world for it--on the grassy side of that hedge right there, and she is escaping to it. Second thing: she has laces tattooed up the back of her calves, topped with red ink bows.
I lounge on my towel on the cement, as much as someone with zero muscle tone can lounge with nothing to support her but her own muscles, and the lady with the Belgian flag bikini sits down next door, six inches away. I flop to my stomach and my wet three-year-old dives in for a quick cuddle. The lady to my other side softly asks me in French to fasten her bikini top. I understand the intent if not all the words and pause for a split second--am I really about to engage in this way with a stranger when I’m not completely sure what she said? I dive in and snap it. She thanks me profusely. I realize that she’s been trapped there on her stomach for a few minutes trying to refasten it, and maybe working up the nerve to ask for help.
All the teenagers are in line for the thing inside that we’ve come to call the Crazy River. Don’t put your little kids on it. Just don’t. It has a distinctly unamerican disregard for safety. The inside pools are heated but we don’t mess with them today.
It’s 77 degrees and sunny. It’s a perfect day, one of three or four that we’ll see this summer. We’re all at the pool here together.