Living in New York City can be amazing or amazingly frustrating. Sometimes one episode encapsulates both simultaneously. That happened today, when I was part of a group of regulars who showed up for a last lap at our local swimming hole on the day before it was to close for renovations.
We never made it in the water.
First, the amazing part: The fact that the place exists at all. I'd lived in Harlem almost two years before discovering there was a beautiful community pool hidden less than a mile from my apartment.
Then a fellow Lasker diehard touted the Harlem YMCA, so I checked it out, but the pool was in a cramped room and on a different floor than the locker rooms, and the lapswimming hours required a spreadsheet.
The exterior (above) wasn't promising, the entryway was a little dilapidated, and the locker room had seen better days.
But on the other side of the locker room door....
The water was great, and most of all, it had character. Characters. A true community.
It was as lively as the street corner in Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing. The locker room was filled with discussions of everything, including the NBA ("Kids today don't even remember when there was no 3 point shot!" "Pistol Pete played like a motherfucker, when he came to town he whooped Walt Frazier's ass.")
There was Russell, a large guy with the gift of gab -- he could hold forth for fifteen minutes about an encounter with a rude woman on the bus. There was a guy I nicknamed The Tortoise who doggedly swam a half mile with beautiful flipturns, but had to be passed almost every lap. There was one woman I called the Jumper, whose entire regimen seemed to be to jump in the pool and get out, over and over. There were a few Diehards like me who got in the pool and swam for an hour straight.
My favorite was was the Drill Sergeant, a grey-haired tough man with a high-pitched voice who goaded a daily group of novice senior swimmers. He brought a boombox and often he blared Motown, r&b, and disco songs to keep the place festive.
Off one end of the balcony hung a banner about a senior swimming group called "The Honeys and Bears" and I Googled and found this video about a synchronized swim group that practiced here (I never ran into them).
This place, two subway stops from home, plenty of room and hours for swimming, too good to be true, right? Right.
Now for the "amazingly frustrating" part. In September, no soon had I discovered this little Valhalla, a blue sign went up on the door:
IMPORTANT NOTICE TO ALL MEMBERS...Effective October 1, the pool and locker rooms will be closed to begin a much needed facelift. Construction is expected to take 9 months."Nine months? Means a year," opined Russell (who also had some choice words about the female architect who was planning to reconfigure the men's locker room as if we needed more mirrors and sinks).
AUGH! I had finally found Brigadoon, and it was about to disappear into the mists.
At the end of September, some of the regulars held a goodbye party, with food and music -- I remember one of the songs was Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive."
And then with just two days left in September, a miracle -- or, truth be told, a delay in contractors contracts -- suddenly pushed the deadline to November 1.
Then a few days later, December 1. We had gotten a two-month reprieve. Or so we thought.
Odd, to think that a construction job was going to start on a Friday, but whatever.
Then when I went to swim Monday, a regular warned me, "Feels like they threw ice cubes in there." Turned out the boiler broke, and the decision was made not to bother fixing it since the pool was about to shut for nine months anyway.
I swam yesterday (Wednesday the 17th), and went back again today -- only to suddenly find a new notice up on the door -- retroactively closing the pool yesterday.
How was this possible? I stood in the lobby with a dozen pissed-off regulars. The head and assistant head of the pool were conveniently not around. The poor fellow who was left to field our anger said there was nothing he could do, that even the lifeguard wasn't here.
Then the lifeguard showed up. He said he was fine letting everyone in. But his boss didn't let us.
Russell immediately flipped open his cell phone and called 311 and filed a complaint. "H-a-n-s-b...We are paying members and this is disrespectful and unfair..."
I ran in a back door to take some farewell photos in case the renovators ruin the 85 year old tilework.
Then I got kicked out.
As I left, I took note of the kids' diorama of the center that sits in a plexiglas case in the lobby, which is also looking a little dilapidated. Maybe they'll renovate that too. (The pool is on the left.)
I was told they were keeping this open till the renovations on the West 60th street rec center were done in the fall. Now that's not due to open until "sometime in December."
I'm not holding my breath.