In Praise of Public Amenitiesby Sean O'Toole / 23.10.2009
“Is it kya-old?” asks the fat girl with dark hair and tummy like a veteran beer drinker in an exaggeratedly drawn out manner. “No,” says her friend, already in the pool. After a bit of dilly-dallying, the big girl moves to the edge of the rectangular expanse, her toes curling over the rim. She stares at its rippled surface. “1-2-3!” Splash.
“Look at my hair!” the fat girl screeches as she emerges through a meniscus of wet.
I am watching this. So too is the twentysomething lifesaver with a tribal tattoo on his right arm. Difference between him and me is that he has to, I simply want to. Sit and stare. People watch.
Like many of the people who routinely congregate at Zoo Lake Swimming Bath – the car guard in pink Uzzi T-shirt, that guy with a gammy leg, that dude on the grassy knoll who always wears a white Speedo – I don’t know the lifesaver’s name. He’s just the lifesaver, that’s all. Which is enough for me. I come here to get lost.
He reminds me of Anthony Keides from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, the lifesaver. It’s the combination of ripped body and messy tattoos. For a moment I wonder if he thinks me noticing him means I’m cruising him. It’s why some people, usually larnies with Vitality points and gym memberships, avoid this spot. The plebeian behaviour. Funny thing is, the only person to ever have cruised me here is the car guard in pink shirt, and he’s always pretty upfront about his intentions: a few coins for keeping an eye on my car.
“Are you here everyday?” I ask the lifesaver.
“Everyday!” he sighs. “Well, not everyday. I do relief between here and Sydenham. Chows my petrol.”
End of conversation. I mean what else do I really want to know about his life, or he of mine.
“Hey! What are you doing?” shouts a schoolgirl in blue and white uniform. She lobs her words over the head of the lifesaver, past me. They are aimed at the perimeter wall, near where the car guard in pink shirt lives in a backroom, to a large chessboard. Three adolescent boys stand around it, happily marooned in the dry-dock.
“They’re playing checkers,” shouts the non-combatant in the bunch. A spectator to the game, he wears swimming trunks three sizes too big for him. They remind me of the school blazer my mom bought me at the start of high school, the one meant to travel the distance between 13 and 18, which it eventually did.
The schoolgirl jogs self-consciously along the edge of the pool to join the three boys at the chessboard, who like chess pieces are a mix of black and white. She arrives as a black boy, towel wrapped around his waist, picks up a white pawn and jumps a series of opposing coloured pawns in a cunning checkers move.
The girls have left the pool. There’s only a guy in fins is swimming lengths. I imagine what it must be like being the Egyptian Goose looking down from its perch on the tall light. Boring. Probably.
I lie back on my towel, stare blankly up at an ocean of lightly speckled blue. A plane drifts in from the corner of the frame, glides effortlessly across it, purposefully headed somewhere. It’s Tuesday, maybe Wednesday, just after lunchtime. I should be writing about more earnest things. Instead I’m here, at my favourite pool. I smile.
All images © and courtesy Sean O’Toole