This Olympic-sized pool brings out the best and worst in people. By people I mean me.
The ridiculously long line to get in (vs. the manageable line at the considerably smaller pool I used to frequent on the UES) made me want to turn around and go home. The rules–that now include having not only a lock, but one of the 5 specified locks they’ve decided are worthy–made me want to scream. The demand that I had to take off my shoes in the locker room because they weren’t flip flops (apparently now even sandals that are remarkably like flip flops are illegal pool attire because you can slip in them, and I look like someone who is going to be running around the pool deck like a maniac) made me want to punch someone. In essence, going to Astoria Pool made me hate humanity.
But the boy in front of me in line, who looked to be about 11 or 12 and carried his swim trunks and towel in a grocery bag, made me want to hug all of humanity. He had just bought his lock that day, and after he struggled to open the package, he held it up hopefully to the security guard who was the last word on whether a patron’s lock is deemed acceptable. I think I was hoping harder than he was that his would be okay. It was.
I tried not to let my heart break as he tried to close the opening of the bag he was clutching and one of the handles ripped off. I tried to tell myself not to look at the table full of pool apparel in case there was a bag for sale, because I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from buying one for the boy, and I wasn’t sure whether that would somehow be inappropriate in today’s suspicious society. (They weren’t selling bags so we didn’t find out.)
I lost track of the kid once we entered the pool area, and I was content not to think about him again, but then when I returned from swimming, there he was on the step above me. So I watched as he bounded down the steps and into the pool. I saw him visit the snack bar and was relieved to see him buy something because I’d been afraid he hadn’t brought money in that grocery bag.
It was probably my overactive imagination that made me assume this day at the pool was the most fun the boy had experienced in a while. It was definitely my flair for exaggeration that made me guess he had no friends in the neighborhood and that’s why he was alone at the pool. I was alone, too. But I’m an adult. Kids aren’t supposed to have to go to the pool on their own.
True, maybe that morning his mother had offered to accompany him and he had refused because he didn’t want to show up with his mom. Maybe she had suggested he carry his belongings in a proper tote bag, and he had declined because he thought the grocery bag was simpler, cooler.
But maybe not. And because of this maybe, not only did I want to hug this child, but I also wanted to take him home with me. (Which would have been a terrible idea since he would have had to sleep on my uncomfortable sofa bed for however many nights it took before he realized I don’t know how to cook.)
Since I couldn’t do either of these things, I had to settle for enjoying my time at the pool and telling myself that even in the moments when we suspect we hate people, there are still human beings out there who can remind us that we don’t. Not really. In fact, we sort of love them.
Except when someone makes us walk barefoot in a disgusting locker room. We do not love people during that time. By we I mean I.