All summer long, you’ve been with me,
I can’t see enough of you;
All summer long, we’ve both been free,
Won’t be long ’til summer time is through.
— The Beach Boys, 1964
I am lying, poolside, in a plastic chaise lounge, listening to pop music and watching water droplets dry on my skin. The year is 2011, but my thoughts keep returning to the mid-1960s, when I spent the summers doing exactly the same thing in precisely the same spot.
The name of the complex has changed, the bathhouse and concession stand have been reconfigured, and a children’s slide has replaced one of the diving boards. But the L-shaped pool is still big, blue and cool, the concrete deck still burns the soles of bare feet, and a Popsicle still delivers a sweet, welcome numbness to the tongue.
There are places for each of us that possess special powers, no matter how far removed we become by miles or years. This swimming pool, planted above the banks of the Wabash River, has been one of those places for me for nearly half a century. I have longed for it from big cities on either coast and gravitated toward it on visits home in the dead of winter — just to stand near its memories.
Largely, I suspect this is because of the time in which I frequented the pool. It was brief and rarefied. The rumblings of a U.S. cultural and sexual revolution had begun, but the vibrations had not quite reached this patch of the Midwest. For most Americans, it still seemed a relatively innocent time — and I was a genuinely innocent adolescent, hovering between girl and woman.
The reality of my own revolutions lay hidden, years away in an impenetrable future.
Life was in near-equipoise during those summer days, structured but unfettered, rhythmic but filled with surprise. School was out — for months, not weeks — and my hardworking, middle-class parents had sacrificed to make my sister’s and my existence as trouble-free and enjoyable as possible. The pool, then private, cost my folks a bundle. My sister and I repaid them by virtually living there, happy, safe and accounted for, all day long behind a chain-link fence.
The fence was like a two-way magnet in those days. Mostly, it drew boys in their cars or on bikes to one side and girls like me to the other. Less often, the genders were reversed; girls cruised into the glimmering asphalt parking lot in cars, pulling males or females, dripping, from the pool. The body language always spoke volumes: fingers entwined in the metal links, faces close enough for quiet conversation, or one party standing several feet away, hands tucked behind the back, neutral, non-threatening or not interested.
Dates were made at the fence, gossip delivered, promises broken, hopes buoyed and dashed. Sometimes, hours of watching for the mere sight of an object of pure bliss ended in existential blackness. Other times, an entire day was rescued by the subtle but unmistakable raising of a hand from the driver’s window of a slowly moving car. He’s going to call!
Several years down the road — when the reality of my own revolutions had greatly materialized — I scaled that tall fence after drinking tequila shots with a young man who had little choice but to follow me over for an illicit midnight swim. The age of innocence had passed.
Now, decades later, my senior-citizen self hunched under a UVA/UVB-blocking umbrella, I wonder whether all ages of innocence are history. The sound system at the pool is perpetually tuned these days to a local radio station that plays contemporary pop and rock. Long gone are the jaunty or plaintive, dreamy lyrics of the early Beach Boys, who sang in close harmony about the girls on the beach, Honda motorbikes, running away to get married and the solace of being “in my room.”
Today, it is the likes of Nicole Scherzinger with an irresistible, belly-dancer beat and the patented baby-sexpot voice that seems to permeate hip-hop and dance club music.
Come here, baby, put your hands on my body/ Right there, keep it right there/ I love it when you put it right there, yeah/ Oh, oh, oh, yeah, yeah, oh, oh, oh, yeah, yeah … Me like the way you hold my body/ Me like the way you touch my body/ Me like the way you kiss my yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah/ Me like it.
I watch two girls about 7 or 8 jump and spin from the diving board and dare one another to try something more difficult. In the shallow end of the pool, a father performs the age-old ritual of acting as a human catapult for his happy-crazy son who cannot fly often enough through the air and splash down in a tiny cannonball.
Just in front of me, an elderly woman with earplugs and a float board swims laps on her back. Her arms move as gracefully as a ballerina’s, in counter-tempo (and message) to Nicole’s throbbing beat and explicit, insistent instructions to guest singer 50 Cent.
I look across the water, past the impossibly young lifeguards and the large signs listing pool rules that prohibit babies with diarrhea, anyone with open wounds and nearly all fun methods of maneuvering down a two-tunneled slide. The late-afternoon sun glints off a modern, decorative fence that stands where the old one used to be. Ghosts return my gaze.
Stephanie Salter may be e-mailed at SalterOpinion@gmail.com.