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“Wait, for real?”
I hear some scrambled version of that response every time I mention that I was just at the pool. But I’m not kidding. Despite my sarcastic sensibility and skin tone, which lies somewhere between pre-rehab Pete Doherty and that guy in Powder, I am—unironically—way into not just pools but NYC’s glorious public pools. And more than people lamenting about how their neighborhood has changed or using internet-speak like “all the things” and “this is everything” in actual human conversation, that quizzical response drives me kinda nuts.
Maybe it hits too close to home. To riff on Goodfellas, as far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a pool boy. And I became one, at a public pool outside Chicago, for a glorious seven years, all the way through my summer after college. I’m 100 percent confident that it will remain the best job I have ever had. What’s more, as an ex-insider, I’m amazed that these gratis watering holes function as well as they do—especially in New York, which tends to ruin everything.
Or maybe it just bugs me that I’ve never once been able to convince anyone in my group of friends—a pretty easy bunch to cajole, particularly when it comes to free shit—to come with me. I’m a self-conscious person. Accidentally making eye contact with someone on the street, for instance, inevitably makes me want to apologize for being a perv. Yet I, a male in his thirties, go solo to a pool filled with kids without feeling like a creep. That speaks volumes.
Let me dispel some common misconceptions for public-pool newbs: No, you don’t need a pass. You literally only need two things for entry: a lock and a swimsuit—that’s it. No, the waits aren’t always long. Avoid the 11am and 4pm opening times (there is a cleaning break at 3pm) and you’re golden. And, no, it’s not gross: Chlorine kills all. (Also, that snobby assumption? Pretty gross.)
But what do I know? People seem more than willing to shell out 150 bucks to get a “daybed” at that McCarren Park hotel with a pool that’s too tiny for actual swimming. Good on them. In the meantime, I’ll be in my element in the free-of-charge renovated pool just across the park. You know, the ginourmous one with the open lap lanes, scene-free suntanning and complete lack of Instagramming. For real.