The Pool Chronicles: Gift Horses and Great Expectations

As you can see by the title, I’ve brought in the big guns: Virgil and Charles Dickens.  And why not?  I believe we are now at a crossroads.  I’ve told of geography and culture and community and thoughtful arrangement of space and its inherent meanings, all elements of setting. 

Now is when detail and background give way to larger themes of a story via the human interactions.  Agendas, motives, motivation, machinations, manipulations, politics, conflict, action and its requisite reaction: the raw stuff of the human condition and precisely what draws people to reality TV.  

And before this pool story goes down whichever path it ends up going down, I wanted to be sure I accounted for how we got here.  Here, that is, to that moment that feels fraught with so much.  So much potential for things to go really well, so much potential for things to go wildly wrong, the chance for hope and optimism to triumph, but also the chance for cynicism to be completely validated.

My father always instructed us not to complain about anything unless we were going to do something about it.  I took that message to heart and have opted to at least try even in the smallest ways to be an active problem solver.  So when I noticed that the lounge chairs at the pool were disintegrating beneath me, I complained first to the teenage lifeguards. 

Now, for the record, I am not a sunworhipper in that I am often fully clothed when I am at the pool and always drowning in sunscreen in case a rogue ray of sun tries to light on me.  I pick up my chair and follow the shade as it moves around the pool in the course of an afternoon. 

But I am an out and out chair user.  I don’t just want a chair, I need a chair.  I find I am less able to hoist myself upright from the cement than I once was.  I also notice that my body is resistant to sitting on concrete for long periods of time without requiring medicinal  interventions.  How I’m choosing to deal with these subtle signs of aging in my own inimitable ways is fodder for another post.  But I am not in denial, that much I know.  I need to sit in a chair when I am not actually in the pool.

The pool chairs were once a blue and white striped plastic chaise lounge-type chair with adjustable backs. I say once, because the original dusty blue (you remember this shade was hugely in vogue during the 1980s and I have the ginger jar lamps in my basement to prove it) has faded into dark grey and the original white is now a dusty light grey.  So I am guessing these chairs may be vestiges of a bygone era of pool chairs, circa 1989 or therabouts, right around the time the city purchased this pool. 

The adjustability of the backs became randomized as the aluminum levers and notches eroded and mechanisms failed over time.  In recent years, I have felt compelled to ask the lifeguards quite politely to remove numerous chairs from poolside when I found bolts with sharp edges protruding from their frames or failed mechanisms that caused the chair to be unsafe to use.  They have complied by taking them away.  Until there were none.  Well, almost none.

As this neighborhood “re-greened” in recent years, as real estate agents like to say, to include many more young families with small children, it wasn’t too long before the handful of chairs that remained were always in use when I arrived at the pool.  Residents jockeyed for position and dove into chairs as soon as they came open.

Since I was coming to the pool to relax, I found vying for pool chairs far too stressful, so I purchased my own lightweight chair at Target and lugged it to the pool with me.  This was feasible now because my children were older and could walk themselves.  I would not recommend such a practice to those with toddlers in tow, especially if walking to the pool requires them to cross the busy street to get there.

And I will say, it rankled me every time I visited other newer pools in my city and observed that brand spanking new deck chairs were de rigeur and in abundance.  So I complained about the chair deterioration repeatedly to the lifeguards, who felt my pain, and who suggested I complain to someone in authority in the Parks and Recreation division of the city, which I did many times.  I’ve since learned that other residents made similar calls and complaints for the past five years.

Unfortunately, all of the complaints fell on deaf ears.  The prohibitive cost of said chairs was always cited as the reason.  So you can imagine my surprise to learn when I read the document presented at the city council meeting in March that pool chairs had been purchased along with the climbing wall and new diving board to replace the 3 diving boards which no longer met safety specs.

My initial delight was tempered immediately by the thud I heard in my brain when I read the lines in the report which noted that these new items could be easily transferred to another pool if Flat Rock Creek Pool was closed permanently. And when I attended the city council meeting last month, the presenter made that point several times during his Powerpoint presentation. 

So am I thrilled to not have to cart a chair to the pool this summer?  Somewhat.  Am I skeptical about the real reason chairs were purchased now after all these years?  Definitely.  Am I looking a gift horse in the mouth?  You betcha, right in the mouth.  Why?  Because that is the only way you can see what’s deep within even if it means you have to crawl inside to get a better view.

Now surfacing among some residents is the sense that they may be living in a sector that the city has forgotten or would like to forget.  You may remember a previous post where I described the geography of the city and how this area sits at its southern tip on the border of another bigger city. 

In another post where I described my impassioned plea before the city council to keep the pool,  I observed that people in this area are investing in their aging homes by updating them and making them more energy-efficient.  Only in American suburbia would we consider 30 years a sign of something being, well, too old for anything except obliteration.

But any real estate agent will tell you what I already know about my neighborhood: turnover is low and people stay here because they really, really like it.  What’s not to like?  It’s a great community with friendly people, people who are, you know,  just folks.  Couple that with good schools, nice amenities, and the fact it is most conveniently located near all kinds of retail and you get a desirable place to live and raise a family.

But the pool chairs seem a metaphor for neglect.  At least, that is how some residents interpret it.  Some think the pool closing is a done deal.  That decisions have already been made and that the city is merely executing a perfunctory exercise by eliciting resident response. 

Frankly, I’ve been a little startled by the depth of the skepticism some residents have expressed about the city’s interest in this area.  Which leads me to wonder: Have I been naive?  Have my assessments and assumptions about this city been wrong or perhaps outdated? 

Has the city changed its character or has that prevailing character as I depicted it in previous posts morphed over time into a new one?  Or worse, was my perception mere myth and never rooted in reality?  Are my expectations of a city just too great?  I wonder and will keep wondering as I watch events unfold and more elements of the human condition come into the frame.

I’m reserving judgment myself at this point because I have only two sources of firsthand information which are directly in conflict with each other: my pool chair experience and the assurances issued at the last city council meeting that resident input is necessary and of real value. 

If you’ve read any one of my 25 previous blog posts, you would easily peg me as the sort who would prefer this story have a happy ending, which for me would include a pool.  But I’ve read far too much literature in my life, including Virgil and Dickens, not to realize that happy endings are just not always possible.

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