Wednesday, July 29, 2009

In Praise of Public Pools

Ooh-oo child, things are gonna get easier
Ooh-oo child, things'll be brighter-The Five Stairsteps

When you live in one place your whole life, you tend to reflexively think that the "good old days" in the neighborhood or city were better than today. In a lot of ways that's true: I yearn for a Brooklyn where free-wheeling discussions took place on stoops, kids played stick ball, and the term "neighborhood" was synonymous with "parish".

But in a lot of ways things are better today. Look at Times Square. Its light years better today than when we grew up. Look at Prospect Park. It's enjoying a Renaissance. It's clean, it's green and enjoyed by millions. Remember the Long Meadow in the 1970's? It resembled Joe Biden's plug- ridden hairline, with clumps of worn out grass and dirt. Now? It's as lush as JFK Jr.'s hairline.

Another way we are better off today than years ago is our Public Pools. Ever go to the New York Public Pools in the 1970's? What a horror show. The pools were filthy. Chaos and disorder reigned. It made for a horrible experience.

Things were no better in the 1990's. Remember when there was an epidemic of teenage boys molesting teenage girls in public pools? Mayor Dinkins solution was to start a "Don't Dis Your Sis" campaign. Somehow, it did not work.

All that has changed now. My pal Georgie had been telling me for a couple of summers now that things had changed. He loved going to Red Hook Pool. It took me a while to wipe from my memory swimming side by side with shit-ridden diapers floating by, so I did not take Georgie up on his offer until this August.

You know what? Georgie was right. I encourage everyone to use the Red Hook Pool. What a great experience. The water is immaculate. The Pool is huge (130 by 330 feet). The key: there are rules that are enforced and as a result, everyone benefits.

You can't bring food. You can't bring in water toys. If you have more than a towel with you, you must have a lock and use the lockers. Lifeguards are everywhere on the lookout for inappropriate behavior. They don't hesitate to use their whistles and call you out of the pool.

The results are amazing. A great time is had by all. You have one third of the Pool used by people who wish to swim laps. The rest of the Pool is used a cross section of Brooklynites, from all backgrounds. How much does it cost? Nothing. It is free for everybody.

The Red Hook Pool opened during the heart of the Depression, in August 1936. It was a long hot summer, with the temperature reaching as high as 107 degrees. 40,000 people attended the grand opening ceremonies.

The Red Hook Pool was one of 11 Public Pools opened by Robert Moses during the Summer of 1936. Each opening was greeted as a Godsend by city residents.

Its great to see the Pool regain its former glory. Its also great to know sometimes things are better now than when we were kids.

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