How A Trip To The Pool Turned Into My Son’s First Lesson In City Bureaucracy
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I’ve always wanted a house with a pool. But I live in New York City where homes don’t tend to have private pools unless you earn your living say, stripping the Russian state of its natural gas supplies. Since I don’t have that kind of job, I remain pool-less.
However, I live a block away from Central Park where there is a huge public pool. I’ve lived in this apartment for over 20 years and never gone to the pool.
Lasker Pool is located at the very top of Central Park near 110th street in what used to be a rough neighborhood. The pool is run by the city and has some rules related to gang activity (you cannot wear a T-shirt any color other than white for example) and in the past there have been fights and shootings but one day towards the end of summer, the temperature was in the 90s so we decided, it’s worth getting shot. Let’s take Lev to the pool for the first time.
We arrived at 2:30 PM. There were about 150 people swimming, but the pool is easily 6 times the size of an Olympic pool so it wasn’t crowded. According to the park’s website, the pool can fit 1,875 swimmers at once so you wouldn’t think it would ever be all that crowded.
I wouldn’t say we were the only white people there since Michelle is half Chinese, but let’s just say it was like the opposite of a Connecticut country club. We got to the front gate and a guard told us they wouldn’t let us in because it was 2:30 PM. and for some insane reason they close the pool in the middle of the day from 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 PM. and to do that, they stop allowing people in at 2:30 PM.
Then she asked to see Lev’s swim diapers. I said, “Come on, now you’re just making up words.”
That was frustrating since it was so hot the asphalt was melting and we had walked 5 miles pushing Lev in the stroller, anticipating the pool the whole time. But since we had come this far we decided to wait. So we laid down on some grass nearby and waited until 4:00 PM. By the time we returned to the pool, another hundred people were waiting in line, and it took until 4:30 for us to get back to the front gate.
Police were eying the crowd and a large security guard approached and asked to see our lock. I said, “What lock? I don’t believe in private property. Can’t you see my Bernie Sanders button?”
He said, “You can’t come in without a lock. Someone might steal your sneakers. And you aren’t allowed on the pool grounds wearing sneakers.”
I said, “I don’t care if someone steals my sneakers, I’ll walk home barefoot.”
He said, “Sorry bro, you can’t come in without a lock.”
One nice thing about being with Lev is he tends to melt everyone’s heart and just then a guy in line behind us said, “Here, I have an extra padlock, take mine.”
It was a Thanksgiving miracle in the middle of August. Saved by the kindness of a stranger, we edged closer to the entrance, our mouths watering at the thought of that cool blue water, so close yet so far.
We had been waiting for 2 hours and were all pink and sweaty when we finally got the entrance. There, another security guard asked to see our bathing suits. I showed her mine and she said, “That’s not a bathing suit, those are running shorts”
I said, “Yes, I plan to run in the pool.”
“You can’t come in without a lock. Someone might steal your sneakers. And you aren’t allowed on the pool grounds wearing sneakers.”
She said I couldn’t come in. Next she asked to see Michelle’s bathing suit, which she also rejected because it was cotton. Then she asked to see Lev’s swim diapers. I said, “Come on, now you’re just making up words.”
I explained that we had waited 2 hours to get into the pool and she explained we were not getting in. So we slumped back home, another 5-mile walk in the heat. I was feeling pretty defeated as we pushed Lev up the infamous Harlem Hill, which is a very steep incline at the north west corner of Central Park. A large black man, very sweaty, came running down the hill backwards and yelled at us for being in his way. As he passed us, he called either me or Michelle or Lev the n-word.
Lev said, “Dad, did that guy just call me “bigger?”
I explained the history of racial inequality in our country and how Africans were brought here as slaves and how now sometimes black people will call each other the n-word, and occasionally even yell it at white people. Lev looked startled.
“Wait,” he asked. “I’m white?”
Since Michelle is half Chinese and a quarter Italian and a quarter Czech and I am Jewish, none of our grandparents would have been allowed into a white country club, but I explained how nowadays there were people of color and we were not considered people of color. Lev started screaming that he didn’t want to be see-through or an albino. I told him it’s okay. We were people of non-color and we had a long colorful history of colorlessness to be proud of. But not too proud since a lot of that history involved doing bad things to people of color. And suddenly I remembered being 5 years old and standing in the bathroom watching my father shave and him explaining to me how we had some terrible things to native Americans, and thinking, Wait. I’m only 5. What did I do to the native Americans? And he said, “No, you idiot, not you personally. Just ‘we’ in general.”
Anyway, we slumped home and I took Lev’s little plastic bathtub up on the roof deck, filled it with water and made him his own private swimming pool. We had a merry time splashing and laughing and enjoying life in a penthouse with a private albeit tiny rooftop swimming pool.
Later that night, at 4:00 AM, Lev woke up crying and Michelle asked me to take care of him for the rest of the night. She said Lev could smell her breast milk and that was what was waking him up, so she went to sleep on the couch and I layed in bed with Lev on my chest. He was twiddling and scratching at my nipples and wondering why no milk was coming out.
Saved by the kindness of a stranger, we edged closer to the entrance, our mouths watering at the thought of that cool blue water, so close yet so far.
And although it was 4:00 AM, an hour when some people like to sleep, I realized I was happy. Because after all, how much longer would my son want to lay on my chest and scratch around for milk? And even if he still wanted to in the future, he would simply be too large and crush me. Michelle measured Lev the other day and he is now in the 80th percentile for height. I assume he didn’t get his basketball player genes from me. (While I’m not technically a dwarf, and I did used to date a lot of models, I had to use a stepladder to get to their boobies.) In any event, as Lev’s warm little body snuggled on me, I tried to mentally fast forward and picture some 6’4” semi-Asian dude sprawled on top of me, and defensively I pushed him off me.
He cried a little and then we both laughed and wrassled a little more. Michelle was upstairs on the couch, so she couldn’t hear Lev and me giggling.
At last at 5:00 AM, we drifted off to sleep, with Lev, wrapped around my knee cap.
We may not have a swimming pool but life is good if you know how to dive in.
Dimitri Ehrlich is a multi-platinum selling songwriter and the author of 2 books. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Spin, and Interview Magazine, where he served as music editor for many years.