Thursday, July 14, 2011

Good Swimming/Bad Handwriting

My late mother was part amphibian; she preferred a Best Western with a pool to a Ritz without one. And so I spent my brother's wedding weekend in a horrible Best Western in Seattle. My late Dad swam a mile every morning before going to work.

And as much as we try to rebel against where we come from, I, too, am happier in the water than out of it.  I prefer a lake, but when you're in New York City, where a fire hydrant sometimes is all you have, a pool shimmers like a mirage on the desert.

A friend once invited me to lunch poolside on the roof of the Soho House [left]. It was gorgeous, but like most hotel pools, also small and highly self-conscious making -- like swimming on stage for people whose main concerns are suntanning, immersion, or peacocking. I knew I was never going to pay a membership fee to swim laps that are shorter than a Mack Truck.

A few years ago my girlfriend and I
decided to beat the summer heat one day by swimming at Central Park's Lasker Pool (in winter it's a skating rink right).

We happily packed bags, lugged towels, made our way to the gated entrance. But then a guard blocked our path.

We were sent away to buy a padlock for a locker, and told we could only wear white t-shirts (apparently dark ones could conceal weapons -- or could signify gang colors). When we returned after properly rearranging ourselves, everyone was ordered out of the water: the pool closes daily between 3 and 4. When we finally got in the water, it was refreshing, but somewhat chaotic, and somehow we never made our way back there.

But this past winter we moved  to lower Harlem, and Lasker  is a brisk ten minute walk from our apartment. And this week, via Internet search, my girlfriend learned that Lasker, like several other city pools, offers lap-only swimming times in the mornings and at dusk. This was too good to be true.

On Wednesday I stumbled out of bed and into a bathing suit, grabbed a towel, and  within 15 minutes I walked right in and was in the water, along with maybe 50 fellow New Yorkers.

Some of them had ridden bikes to get there, some of them had serious swimcaps and goggles. One middle-aged woman sort of half-paddled around, mostly chatting up the lifeguard.  One young woman stopped me between laps to ask me how I did my breathing between strokes. Turns out she had been walking her dog past the pool the previous day and seen people in the water, and decided to just go for it, without any previous swimming training. I did the best I could to explain it, but I learned how to swim around age six and hardly can remember how to break it down -- it's just instinctive, like breathing on land.

After the 8:30am whistle cleared us out, I walked home refreshed. Today I went back and ran into a college classmate who was doing the same morning swim ritual. But as we entered, she was waved through and I was stopped by the guard.

I learned that --  being New York City -- my rookie experience was a little too bureaucracy-free to be true. I was supposed to have filled out a "membership card" with my info and an emergency contact, and flashed it on entrance and handed it over to the staff before I got in the water. This, unlike the white t-shirt rule, made sense -- if a swimmer, say, dies of a heart attack, the city needs to absolve itself of liability and find next of kin.

I filled out the form in my best handwriting -- unfortunately, I learned handwriting around the same age as swimming, and it never got any better. So when i got the card back and the end of the day, I discovered that I have been logged into the city's system as "David Hanahan."

If my girlfriend ever gets a call about this guy I hope she responds.


Robert said...

Let's hope your gf (yeah, I know her name!) never gets that call!

CSS said...

Enjoyed today's entry very much! Refreshing - to say the least........

Sal Nunziato said...

That was a sweet post, Mr Hanahan. I don't swim very well. What I do might not even be considered swimming. But boy do I love being near the ocean, or a lake, or a pool.

Anonymous said...

My handwriting is even worse than yours...I notice on the card that the lap swimming hours are weekdays only -- what about weekends?

David Handelman said...

The handwriting on the card is not mine -- it is the woman who works at the pool, based on reading it off the form I filled out.

They don't have those hours on weekends, I guess because it's not a workday for the lappers and because of the additional crowds at the pool.

Anonymous said...

Having been a city girl most of my life I grew up using city pools to cool off in the hot summers, I've loved meeting the different people from all walks of life which you definitely get to do living in the city. The city provides these pools free of charge and welcome EVERYONE to come and cool off, the rules and requirements can be considered strict by some standards but once you actually know why these rules were put in place and are being held up you learn to appreciate them. The white t-shirt rule for instance has NOTHING to do with gangs but everything to do with what is allowed to be in the water colored fabrics such as cotton t-shirts tend to run which is why they fade, the other reason for the white only rule is because if the pools staff allowed people to wear colored fabric into the pools as often they wanted then more chlorine would have to be added to the water to keep it at a safe ph balance and maintain the cleanliness of the water which can be dangerous. As for the showers before entering the water it is also to help maintain the cleanliness of the water it is to help lessen the amount sweat and foreign matter like dust or dirt from entering the water and let's face it it's unfortunate but not everyone showers as often as they should. As for the locks and why everyone a lot of people tend to bring very expensive items to public pools forgetting what open to the public actually means which is why staff also check bags. I remember these rules from when I was a kid they haven't changed some pools actually up hold the rules and requirements some pick & choose which ones to enforce personally I like when they going where it's safer & cleaner