As I write this, I’m about a block from the McCarren Park Pool. I have a cold beer, the air conditioning is blasting. I’m feeling pretty good. It’s hard to believe fifteen minutes ago, I was being smacked in the knees by a screaming four-year-old in floaties, standing in the middle of a line that stretched for blocks. I hadn’t moved an inch in hours.
That’s right! I never made it into the McCarren Park Pool on its opening day. I had been told by the Parks Department that the opening ceremony would be at 11:30 sharp. I was picturing elephants, some singing, maybe ceremonial torches. I was, for lack of better words, totally stoked. I got to the park at 10:00 AM.
Turns out, 10:00 AM was just in time to see the honorable Mayor Bloomberg and all his ceremonial fixings (no elephants, though) wrapping up their ribbon-cutting demonstrations. I heard some kids shrieking. It sounded like fun.
But then they closed the pool. They kicked everyone out, and chained the gates. The rumors were flying around the interminable queue, which was 97.2% impatient tots and 2% suicidal chaperones. “They have to clean the pool!” “The mayor is swimming alone right now.” “It turned blue––that means someone peed.” I stalked around for a bit, hoping to see the mayoral AC unit, but a green-shirted Parks Department representative assured me the pool would be open at 11:30. So I sat still.
At 11:30, we were assured the park would be open at noon. “There are rules this time around!” a Green Shirt shouted. Evidently, the morning had been chaos. “You will not be allowed on the deck with anything but a towel, a tube of sunscreen, and a plastic water bottle! Everything else must be in a locker! You must provide your own lock! You must be wearing a swimsuit regardless of whether you’re swimming! Men must wear trunks! Women must wear swimsuits! Babies must wear water diapers!” (What the hell is a “water diaper”?) A number of parents’ faces fell: no one knew to bring a lock. Everyone brought cell phones. Some hadn’t brought suits, intending to simply monitor their children in the pool. But no one left the line.
Noon came and went. Babies everywhere took note. Having finished her peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a baby (I say baby, but she could have been seven––I’m not good with ages) insisted her mother simply tell the guards that they wanted to go swimming. Surely they would understand. A little boy in front of me said “DAD, YOU GOT SUNSCREEN IN MY EYE AND IF I DON’T GET IN THE POOL RIGHT NOW I’M GOING TO GO BLIND.” His slightly older brother mimicked a samurai sword battle. He told his father he was going to kill all the pool attendants if they didn’t let him in immediately. I burrowed my face in a crossword puzzle.
An un-babied young dude approached. He started unlocking his bike, parked just a few feet from me. He looked up at the un-babied yours truly. “They’re not opening the pool till 3:00,” he said, “Thought you should know.” Frantically, I asked the mother of the peanut butter-faced child if she wouldn’t mind holding my place in line while I attempted to confirm this outrageous report. “I don’t know…” she looked at the half-mile line behind us. “I’ve been here a long time.”
I flagged down a Green Shirt. “Hey, so there’s a rumor spreading around the back of the line that the pool won’t open till 3:00.”
“No way!” She said.
“Really? So it’ll be opening soon?” I checked my contraband phone. It was 12:10.
“Yeah! It should be open by 2:30.”
Like I said, I never made it to the McCarren Park Pool on its opening day. I wouldn’t have been able to take photos if I had, and it’s likely I would have been arrested for some kind of assault, so this is probably for the best. A Green Shirt told me it looks really nice in there. For what it’s worth, here’s what I learned: bring a lock, don’t expect to take photos, they will do the “sniff test” for open water bottles so leave the vodka at home. And if you pee in the pool, the water will turn blue.
Happy swimmin’, everyone.
UPDATE: After writing the above, at about 1:45 PM, I walked to the train to make my way in to the ANIMAL office. I walked past the pool. The line was still miles long, but it was moving. I heard splashing from within. Evidently, they let people in at 1:30. And there were sandwiches. Cue Charlie Brown theme.