Everybody Into the Pool!

To a kid growing up in Philly, nothing says summer like that first splash

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Famous book, famous movie. Had I written that book based on my surroundings it would have been called A Swimming Pool Opens in Southwest Philly. That’s how important that day was to every grubby child who ever ran away from a cop because someone had just opened a fire hydrant. While no day tops Christmas morning to a kid, the opening of the public swimming pool sure came damn close.

It was a world before air conditioning. NOTHING had air conditioning. Cars didn’t have it. Trolleys didn’t have it. Schools didn’t have it! Can you imagine that? Schools without air conditioning? It was awful enough getting the shit kicked out of you by Sister Charles Bronson day after day, but to sit at the same desk, hour after hour, sweating like Mike Tyson at a beauty pageant, was just too much.

Ask any cop who works a tough rowhome area of the city and they’ll tell you how quickly violence will erupt when the heat and humidity are
off the charts. (By the way, wouldn’t you just love to nail the
jackass who first coined “it ain’t the heat, it’s the humidity?” IT’S
FUCKING HOT! Who gives a shit why it is?) Everyone living right on
top of each other. It’s a wonder there’s not more murders during the summer. [SIGNUP]

Movie theaters used to advertise “air conditioning!” in these 10-foot-high icy dripping letters. No one gave a rat’s ass what movie was playing. You went for the air conditioning.

That’s why pools were and are so important. Mayer Nutter was quoted “pools are important to maintaining a strong sense of community in which friends and neighbors can connect.” He was quoted saying this right before one of his aids pushed him in the pool, suit, tie, and all. Did he mind? You bet not.

My pool at Finnegan Playground was so popular they had to stagger when you could go. Boys, girls, adults, all swam at different times. This was to prevent sexual shenanigans from the teenage boys no doubt, but I remember lining up at the chain link fence with all my homies just staring away at all the bathing beauties when it was “Girls Morning” or “Girls Afternoon,” so I believe it made our sexual desires even more wanting. Torture is what it was. Men and women adults, however, were allowed to swim together, which I guess accounted for the 8.2 kids per household in my parish. “Holy Bikini, Batman, look how stacked Mrs. Stackowitz is!”

The routine was you had to take a shower at these stalls connected to the pool before you were allowed in the water, but no one ever bothered. Then you had to give your street clothes and sneakers to a man who worked in the “basket room” after you had stripped down to your bathing suit. This man would them put your clothes in a basket behind the counter and give you a pin with the number of that basket that you would pin on to your bathing suit. This was to prevent some junior criminal from stealing your clothes while you were in the pool. THAT rule EVERYONE followed, because thievery was something we all understood.

Amusing aide story. One year the baskets never arrived from the city. The entire summer there were no baskets. Yet the eight people the city hired to man that basket room worked the entire summer. They stood there in the sweltering heat THE ENTIRE SUMMER and mumbled “sorry, kid, no baskets. Just roll your clothes up in a ball and stick them over there against the fence.” Every day they said the same thing, hour after hour, week after week, and the city paid them every taxed penny. Ah, some things never change, do they?

Then you would sit on the edge of the pool splashing your feet until the whistle blew. Once it did you would immediately dive straight to the drain because there was always a rumor that there was some kid down there stuck in it attempting to get free. The thought that the kid might have died since the day before never occurred to us. Then we would spend the next four hours attempting to drown each other. Mayor Nutter’s “sense of community” well at work.

Now I live in a “development” in Jersey where about a third of the homes have pools. My kids are older now and our pool is rarely used. Truth be told, if you added the hours up that my neighbors pools were in full swing, theirs wouldn’t amount to much time usage, either. It’s sad and embarrassing, to tell you the truth. If there was a way to give my pool away to some neighborhood that would use it and treasure it, I would. I really would.

So listen, even if you don’t live in the city anymore, sign a check the next time the cities pools are in danger, write a check. Even if it’s five measly bucks, it all adds up. It’s that important to a kid that the pool is there. Walk a block, climb a fence, cut through the alley, and DAG! There it is in all it’s blue glory.

Throw someone in, dunk the a chick you’re sweet on, play tag.