Last week, a woman went to Hunting Park Pool in North Philly. The pool staff thought the swimsuit she was wearing was underwear and told her she couldn’t swim in a public pool in her underwear. When she proved to them that it was, in fact, a swimsuit (by showing them the tag), they let her in the pool, but one of the lifeguards publically ridiculed her until she left. Later in the week, the same woman went to Sacks Pool in South Philly, where a different pool staff also thought her swimsuit was underwear. They, too, told her she couldn’t swim in a public pool in her underwear, and showing them the swimsuit tag did not change their minds.
There are many reasons why I’d love to see our pools make headlines. Here are just a few: Because there are more of them (outdoor ones at least) than in any other city in the country. Because they provide relief and recreation to hundreds of thousands of hot and sweaty human beings stuck in the city all summer. Because they employ 800 Philadelphia summer workers. Because the majority of those workers do an excellent job the majority of the time: teaching people to swim, making sure that those who can’t swim don’t drown, cleaning the pools and checking the chlorine levels and making sure the PH balance in the water is safe for swimming.
I’d love to see our pools make international headlines because Philadelphia’s parks and recreation system manages to do all of this EVEN THOUGH our city spends less on our parks per capita than 43 other of the 60 largest U.S. cities. (Philadelphia spends $61 per resident per year; Minneapolis, $214; New York, $171; New Orleans, $104.)
And I guess I just have a hard time believing that Philadelphia Magazine (they of the cover story on how hard it is to be a white person in Philadelphia, among other gems of race and class awareness) actually cares very much about the experiences of most swimmers or staff at Philadelphia’s public pools. Is it funny to them to stir up arguments between people who want to shame pool staffers for not recognizing a name-brand swimsuit, and people who want to shame a woman for her choice of swimsuit? Does lifting up the inappropriate and unacceptable actions of a knucklehead lifeguard help build consensus toward someday getting rid of our pools, or at least shrinking their numbers? Or am I totally off? Because if I am, I would love to see their pages run a piece on, say, the need for Comcast (among other entities profiting off our populace) to pay their fair share so that Philadelphia has enough money to fully fund our schools, our fire services, our parks and our pools.