Pool Crasher

Everyone who has ever known anyone with a pool in the backyard has heard the friendly but completely nonspecific invitation: “Come on over anytime! The pool is open!” But if you think about it, there is almost never any date offered. It’s a check that will likely never be written, and thus likely never cashed.

Wishful Thinking
The pool is a tantalizing notion that hangs in the summer air between owners and their neighbors, coworkers and friends, like perfume. Will they call and invite us this weekend? (No, they won’t). Should we take them up on their offer and just show up on Saturday? (No, you shouldn’t.) Pining away in your sweltering backyard, hogging your daughter’s Slip-And-Slide; you are another summer weekend letdown about to happen.

You smile at them at the Thursday morning staff meeting. You wave to them from across the street, moving the cans on trash day. You insist upon keeping them on your Christmas card list. But no, odds are you’re not going to be enjoying their pool. You will be staying right there on your bone-dry deck while the ice cubes in your cooler quietly sublimate and your lunch turns into a science experiment.

Unless you were like me.

Making it Happen
If you were like me, your cooler would already be full and sweating in the back seat, ready to head out for an afternoon of fun like a slobbering family pooch. In fact, if you were like me, you would already have all your supplies, or at least a plan to get them. If you were like me, you would be forever finished with melting into your lawn furniture in July and August. You would be decisive. You would have no fear. You would take action.

That perfume in the air; it’s a faint whiff of chlorine, Chanel for the suburbs wafting across the neighborhood, and you are ready to spend a relaxing afternoon in its embrace. If you were like me, you would be headed down the street to your neighbor’s pool. You wouldn’t even know if they were home. It wouldn’t matter to you anyway, if you were like me.

I’m a pool crasher.

Why Choose a Pool?
Above all, I’m a pool crasher because I love to swim in a pool. I learned to swim in a public pool in Troy, Pennsylvania. We were dropped off every summer morning by a neighborhood parent. We dumped our waxed-paper-wrapped bologna sandwiches into metal baskets in the locker room, pinned the basket numbers to our swim trunks and made a day of it every day, all summer long. We learned to float, then swim, then swim in the deep end. We dove off the low dive and jumped off the high dive. We splashed girls. We were eight or nine. We were kings.

Our beautiful Finger Lakes are a siren’s song for tourists and locals, and have been for generations. There are many who find peace and relaxation floating down a stream or river. And the sandy beaches from Atlantic to Pacific? I have heard the songs. I remember the lyrics. But the body of water that calls out to me through time is that massive blue-green concrete lagoon back in my own Wonder Years.

It’s just down the road. I can be doing the backstroke in five minutes from my driveway. My neighbor Jim maintains a beautiful in-ground pool tucked behind his attractive home. It is my warm-weather oasis, and I have lost track of the years that I have called it home port. It is, in truth, the natural extension of a solid, important friendship. Yes, of course, Jim and I are close. Our wives are close. We’ve taken vacations together. Well, in the winter that is. In the summer, it’s basically all about the pool.

I keep a bathing suit in the backseat of my car. I have one hanging on a nail in Jim’s garage, just in case. My wife brings a towel when she comes. I usually borrow one. No hot summer day is complete without a quick dip on the way home. Sure, the invitation was offered long ago. I just never stopped taking Jim up on it. It’s the perfect seasonal therapy. Tough day at work? Stop at the pool. Car trouble? Stop at the pool. It’s more relaxing than any martini, lasts a lot longer and an evening of this kind of soaking comes without any painful aftereffects.

Helping Around the Pool
I do have responsibilities. I am the first one in on many afternoons. I roll back the solar cover that warms the water with the help of a few rays. Then I skim the pool for random leaves. Sure it’s thoughtful, painstaking work, but it’s a labor of love. Once the water is ready I head inside and turn on the stereo and the outdoor speakers. There’s a soda in the garage fridge with my name on it. The ashtray is next to the light switch, if it happens to be a cigar day. I place it all poolside, in my special spot by the shallow end, to enjoy in the water after wading in.

Yes, from time to time we are invited to stay for dinner. And yes, my wife and I accept and return the offer regularly. I am polite. Again, these are our friends. But in the warm weather I am drawn to that pool like a moth to a porch light. Life is short and it’s hot outside. Our friend owns a pool. Let’s go.

Tragedy struck last fall, just as the pool season started to wind down. The pool’s liner, surviving well beyond the typical 10-year lifespan, began to slowly leak. The water level crept lower and lower. The saddest day of the year, pool cover day, was doubly emotional, as the possibility loomed that a new liner would not be installed and the backyard would return to a grassier state.

Renewed Hope
But with spring a new bright blue floral liner was installed, holding not just a few thousand gallons of water, but all my hopes for another joyous, buoyant summer. Soon it will again be time for that last swim of the year, as the cover once again settles down for its long winter’s wrap.

But I have off-season plans. I need to put a few towels in my trunk. I need to stock up on a few cases of soda. They make a nice Christmas gift. And I need to move that nail in the garage to the back of the downstairs bathroom door where I change clothes. I need to keep these priorities in mind.

I’m a pool crasher.


by Mike Rusinko