Trying to catch rides wasn’t always easy and sometimes took some wheeling and dealing.
At times, people arrived, piling out of cars one after another. It was amazing that they fit. It was really too far to walk due to the scalding heat, but there were the crazy few that attempted it. Riding bikes wasn’t safe, either.
Many times parents dropped their children off for the entire day. Kids didn’t care if they ate or didn’t eat. The pool had a drinking fountain full of ice-cold water, and that was their only necessity.
The large, unmarked, unrestricted dirt parking lot was usually packed with many of the six thousand residents as well as the out-of-towners.
The whole recreational area was surrounded by a tall chain-link fence that was virtually impossible to climb over.
There were various picnic and entertaining areas, all directly on top of the good old bed of sand, grit, and rocks of various sizes.
There was a huge concrete slab wrapping around the swimming pool.
The pool of water itself was separated by metal bars, dividing it by depth. There was the baby pool, the three-foot, four-foot, and the largest of them all, the six-foot pool.
The pool was at least 180 feet in length and 120 feet wide—that’s about 1,079,568 gallons of brackish, chlorinated water.
The bottom and sides of this gigantic tub were painted the most glorious deep sky blue.
The blue skies above and the blue waters below with the only separation being the crisp, clean, cool, and refreshing saline water made for a heavenly, vitalizing experience.
Almost every few feet, there was a head bobbing up and down during those hot summer days, while parents attentively sat under the covered benches, observing their little ones. They socialized, relaxed, and appeared to enjoy the break away, as well.
There was the regular blowing of the whistle, followed by “Stop running!” or “Off the bars!” or “No swimming in between the bars!”
Wet footprints of all different sizes temporarily imprinted the common walkways. You couldn’t stand for very long, or the bottoms of your feet became burned. And forget flip-flops; most of the time, there just wasn’t time put them on.
Skinny boys in their cutoff shorts played rough, hardly preoccupied with the girls in their small bikinis lying all over the place on large beach towels, glowing from the mounds of cocoa butter, baby oil, or even cooking oil slathered over their young bodies.
No matter what, there wasn’t one kid who was too cool to swim. Everyone swam, played, and enjoyed cooling off.
The wooden dock surprisingly tolerated the weight year after year of all of the many people who ran and jumped from its sides. Its hollow echo could be heard with each and every stomp. Occasionally, they replaced the worn, fake blue outdoor grass which covered the dock, the pool’s stage. This was where most eyes peered to see who and how someone was jumping off. Was it a perfect dive, straight-legged jump, or a great big bomb that blasted anyone in its path?
The rope, as is was called, floated across the six-foot pool, approximately sixty feet from the dock and partway to the end of the six-foot pool. The goal was to see how far you could swim underwater after jumping off the dock. The closer you came to the rope, the tougher you were. Like anyone noticed.
Sitting on the thick, rough white rope gave you some rest and time to catch your breath before either going all the way to the end of the pool, hanging out under the large white clock, or heading directly back in the direction you came from. Sitting on it, however, required some balance, a playful swing dance of sorts while just passing time.
Everyone knew the few parts of pool where your feet would slide if you were trying to ascend the sides. The thick, slimy algae were impossible. There were also the parts of the pool to avoid where the concrete was sharp and jagged. The triangular corners of the pool were eased with partial underwater steps that made nice conversation retreats.
Inevitably, someone was dunking someone until one of the lifeguards blew their whistle and yelled, “No rough playing!”
Nothing really bad ever happened there, and it was a magical, watery land.
Blind man’s bluff or Marco Polo was actively in motion on the left side of the dock. Anyone could join in, and no one was ever discouraged or turned away.
The three-foot pool was the best for games of chicken. The whistle never blew during that game. The lifeguards watched responsively and on alert, but they always seemed to enjoy the entertaining competitions.
The pool’s recreation hall was a nice retreat from the sun and water. The smell of the cheeseburgers carried all the way to the pool area, calling out your name! All that swimming sure stirred the appetite. The bun had just enough crunch and just the right amount of mayonnaise, mustard, and ketchup, crispy lettuce, firm tomatoes, sweet onions, crispy pickles, and fat slices of cheddar cheese, slightly melted. The fries were impeccable, and they had the best fountain drinks—perfectly crushed ice in the white foam cups. The foam created the best flavors of soda and ice.
Walking down the hot plain gray concrete path toward the snack bar was a bit exciting. This recreation room had an open floor plan with all concrete flooring to tolerate all of the wet feet and constant drips from bathing suits. There were scattered puddles of water and different shades of wet footprints everywhere. It smelled as though the ocean were somewhere, hiding. Echoes were heard throughout, pool sticks hitting balls, girls giggling while they whispered and watched, light ping-pong balls and paddles in synchrony, and of course the famous jukebox playing all of the greatest hits by singers like Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, the Commodores, the Bee Gees, Andy Gibb, John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, Eric Clapton, Billy Joel, and of course the Rolling Stones.
Their music and familiar voices repeatedly heard over the very tall loudspeakers dominated the entire recreational area and were songs that accompanied unforgettable memories that could be recalled in just a flash and took you right back to where you were—that moment in time.
Bats were commonly seen and avoided at the pool. They slept among the treetops or rock enclosures during the days but at night swooped down to drink and eat insects or scorpions or maybe to just scare the crap out of people. Their long, muscular, brown, silky bodies came down and up and were joined in bat gangs. Their webbed wings with their white curved claws threatened all those below them. Their narrow, ratlike faces intentionally pointed in your direction. Their beady brown glowing eyes purposely messed with you. Their teeny sharp teeth had “poison” written all over them. Their ears appeared bigger than a dog’s. Sometimes they slowed flight just enough to allow a glimpse of a conspicuous penis or nipples in the middle of their discolored breasts.
Yeah, being at the pool at night was not that appealing.
For the long days when stranded there, although no one ever looked at it that way, there was the outdoor shower to get the salt off your skin and suit. There were picnic areas, basketball, tennis and volleyball courts, horseshoe pits, shuffleboard, a playground, and even a golf club located next door. Yes, and it too was a dirt golf course.
The golf course was a unique experience. There was a sign by the unlocked front gate that read, “Caution: Rattlesnakes,” and you had better believe it! There were also bobcats, foxes, and even jackrabbits that passed the time by watching the avid golfers come and go. Occasionally, even the animals would entertain the strangers who visited the golf course.
The desert course was maintained strictly by volunteers. They were dedicated and glad to collect the fee that gamers slipped in the slot before heading out to the dirt course. Originally, the golf course was developed as a recreational outlet for company workers who lived and worked in the town. There weren’t any fairways, just desert with elevated greens and tees—an environmentalist’s dream. There weren’t too many hazards: a stray junkyard dog, nearby chemical plants, and many red fire ants busy at work.
What was amazing was the one day a year that the pool closed to the general public and only opened to the corporation’s employees and their family members.
They supplied all the food and fun activities. Balloons and ribbons dangled from the sky. There were mounds of free cheeseburgers, hotdogs, sodas, and ice cream bars. They even had carnivals come in, and everyone rode the rides for free.
They buried change in the sandbox, and each child got to make one scoop with a little bucket, running it through the sand in hopes of picking some of the money. They could see pieces shining in different places of the sandpit. Then the kids filtered the sand through a screen to discover the treasure. It was thrilling!
They also placed coins in balloons, blew them up, tossed the balloons into the pool and yelled out, “Ready, set, go!” All of the kids jumped in after the balloons. Or the staff simply threw money into the water and let the kids dive in after it. It was like being at Disneyland for the day.
The pool…their pool was such an incredible part of all of children’s lives and most cherished memories. For every child who grew up going to the pool year after year, there will always be times in their adult lives that trigger a memory of the pool and special times while there. They, like many other parts of growing up in their exceptional desert town, are undoubtedly memories that are both happy and sad.
Excerpt from “Flowers of Dysfunction, Part One”