Who DOESN'T like a good pool? The word itself conjures up group fun, games, and togetherness, from billiards to biology.
After all, there are car pools, gene pools and pool rooms. Whirlpools, reflection pools, and pools of jello. Remember the Pool of Radiance fantasy game? Even Alice in Wonderland shed sweet pools of tears.
But there's one pool that reigns far above the others: it's the rooftop pool at my gym. Sure, one can join all types of groups, from Archery to Zen. Check out pilates, monastery retreats, tai chi, chess clubs, tennis lessons, choirs, birdwatching, stargazing seminars, and even college night courses. And true, bonds often form amongst group members.
But for me, the pool rules. There's a certain sparkle about swimmers. Call it swimmer glimmer. Just look at Esther Williams! Not to mention Mark Spitz, Johnny Weismuller and Michael Phelps. Whether it's the rooptop or the ripples, something mysterious happens, as Carole King would say, Up on the roof.
Yup. My rooftop pool reaches depths no book club ever could.
From Aristotle to Zeus, the Greeks philosophize about the spiritual. Aristotle talks about EUDAIMONIA, long term reflective happiness. Swimming gives me a transcendental, yoga-esque rhythm and space to reflect -- as short as one lap, as long as 50. Poolside chats can be just as mesmerizing. What can I say? Zumba's for cardio. Pilates sculpts. Barre burn burns calories. The crawl breeds meditation.
And now, as the soft shadows of summer sun fade into autumn, and as the pool's closing date draws near, I'm starting to miss the splendor of my May-September romance. The melancholy thought of months without my rooftop pool is already setting in.
Here are ten reasons why:
1. UPS (U.nique P.ool S.tuff) - There are things that happen poolside that simply don't happen anywhere else. These behaviors seem to have slipped by modern psychoanalysts from Anna and Sigmund to Fromm and Jung. Sitting by the dock of the rooftop pool, professors mingle with plumbers; financiers share secrets with fashionistas. Politicians and painters are anything but strange poolfellows. Anything goes. During a horrific bout of migraine, one dear girlfriend led me to the steam room and massaged my battered head for almost an hour with a eucalyptus towel. In one quick breaststroke, BFF's can turn frenemies; in one wild and crazy plunge, a shy sunbather can scream about her splashed-on laptop and solitude can turn to havoc.
2. POOL IS THICKER THAN WATER - We've all got our playmates, teammates, roommates, and classmates. But then there are the fabulous Pool-mates. These are the women and men I've befriended who display more loyalty than friends of 25 years. One such stranger -- the daughter of a renowned concert violinist -- contacted me to make sure I was ok before, during and after a medical procedure; she was the one who instantly found my lost charger plug when I was frantically searching; another comrade passionately requested one of my watercolors to hang in her new office; still another young lovely "A" knew that I'd been dissed by member "B" for some unknown silly schoolgirl reason...so when "A" found herself next to "B" on a lounge chair, she remained silent out of loyalty to me. Another poolboy hunk fave re-inspired me, moments before his underwater dive, to be true to my witty self, and pursue my stand-up comedy career.
3. WHAT HAPPENS AT THE POOL STAYS AT THE POOL - We multi-splash-task, as rotating partners swim parallel laps in timeless ecstasy. We laugh and cry, then burst into song, yelping out Broadway musical hits from Bye Bye Birdie. We sing our hearts out; laugh over being naked with our cats; discuss the pain of losing parents; re-enact obscure episodes of Seinfeld; observe the near-humping couples oblivious to the lappers; share stories about ex-lovers, new lovers and potential lovers. Sitting alone in my corner after my father died, one discreet, dapper poolmate sat with me, offering me conversation and solace, talking about the rain, the clouds, the physics of past lives and afterlife connections. We shed layers of melancholy and share layers of bliss. And all of it remains sacred, left untouched on the towel.
4. STILL WATERS RUN DEEP - During the quiet hours of early morning or afternoon dusk -- when the pool is silent and the air is uncluttered -- clusters of pool women exchange stories about personal things they'd never shared before and may never share again.
I've heard confessions about ex-husbands, extra-marital affairs, roommate shares, apartment nightmares, sexual escapades, break-ups and breakdowns that far outdo Desperate Housewives of Atlanta, New Jersey OR Beverly Hills. Our resident poet sits meditatively in his intriguingly solitudinal chair, lapping up material for stanzas of pool inspired sonnets. My special pool babes have whispered their passion for professions they've never shared with their husbands and significant others, from designing bathing suits to writing romance novels.
5. SHALLOW OR FALLOW - There are Hampton-esque 20-somethings who take selfies till the cows come home of their string bikinis and crotch angles. But they are the new crop, lying fallow until adulthood yanks them from their innocence. They provide another intriguing dimension of pool pleasure and pizzazz. Who can judge about just what and who is shallow, while we're all trying to savor our summer nights and days and block out bleak world news.
6. SUNSET SISTERHOOD SILENCE - Yes, there are signs of Holly Golightly's mean reds and the green envy of gossiping bathing beauty bullies. But there's also the gorgeous acquamarine of sisterhood pool girl talk. Non-stop chatter slides into sudden pin drop silence as quickly as the sky turns dusky cobalt blue. As the clouds float in horizon wisps of lavender, rose and magenta, we watch the sunset in blissful shock and awe.
I've witnessed days when 60 pool members were sacked out around the pool. The empty pool. Not a soul was swimming. Come October, I'll be craving those golden days of pool-dom.
7. ABC's of Pool Lingo
A.lkaline - need the perfect ratio of acid to alkaline for optimal pool conditions
B.ooks - need the right font size and topic to stay tranquil and distract splasher noise
C.haise lounge - need the right angle of chair to rays for best sunbathing or eavesdropping
Some folks resort to reading and solitude. Others bond. The rooftop seems to encourage all of it -- no questions asked. Stay solo in your own corner, like Little Miss Muffet. Catch up on episodes of Breaking Bad. Find a soul-mate to discuss the jealousies between Coco Chanel and Colette. Or the pièce de résistance: compare city steakhouses for the best martinis.
8. LIFEGUARD LIFELINES (and TRAINER TRANSFORMERS) - If one tires of cocktail chatter, gossip, and loud grating voices; high school-ish cliques that exclude; the venting, dissenting, and fermenting; one can always turn to the faithful lifeguard. Amidst the annoyance of adult angst and attitude, the young and undaunted lifeguards are as refreshing as the morning dip.
On one particularly melancholy day, poised at the intimidating edge of the pool, I got an unexpected greeting from the adorable lifeguard and trainer femmes: a duo ready to save us from the deep end. Out of nowhere, I was accosted with optimistic chirps and offered a horoscope read, which cheered me up immensely. Skeptical or not, I was pulled from my downward spiral and revved back up with a tweak of Sagittarianism. The rooftop pool lifeguards offer an invigorating approach to life in the form of hot towels, horoscope readings, and happiness.
9. NOODLE NIRVANA MANIA - The pastel pinks, violets and neon shades of pool noodles seem metaphors for how colorful and playful our lives can be. Some of us romp through life, molding and folding noodles and conversations to match our mood, our bodies, and our spirit; others float around aimlessly searching for answers; still others splash around indiscriminately, carefree, blissful, splattering the readers and their lap-top tablets; others swim in silent meditation; others do a subtle improvisational stroke while observing the rooftop scene and the blur of the onlookers; others ponder from above, barely touching the water; others retreat into silent, bewitching bliss.
I for one love the power of surprise...and can't wait for the next spontaneous noodle encounter.
If Dustin "Benjamin" Hoffman in The Graduate had joined our rooftop pool, it might have changed his whole path; he might have turned so content that perhaps he'd never have pursued Mrs. Robinson.
10. MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT - From waxing to waning, crescent to full moon, Woody Allen has nothing over my rooftop pool magic. When the night lights flick on around the pool perimeter, during that enchanting dusk hour, we whisper together sweet-somethings about our lives, sharing disappointments of lost jobs, lost boyfriends; reminiscing about college sweethearts, reunions with Viennese lovers past, fantasizing about future rendezvous. Exotic European men share priceless thoughts on parenthood. Muscle builders with 9-to-5 jobs offer endless advice on where I should go for a quiet intimate dinner. I witnessed one friend reunite with her partner after a 30 year pause; visited her in the ICU with two devoted pool gents, and, once the breathing tubes came out, saw her survive to swim and love again.
Yes, I will miss the magic of mean girls and marvelous girls and gossipy girls and supportive girls and wonder women and wild women and secretive women , and bosom buddies; flirtatious girls and compassionate guys; gentle giants, petite frilly models and obsessive selfie sylphs whose boyfriends pay for their membership but let them fly loose, just as long as they come back...
Proust, eat your heart out. You may have your madeleine, but we poolmates have our chlorine....and our camaraderie.
Photo by Jennifer Sun, lifeguard