Getting your two year old daughter into a bathing suit in a men’s changing room can be a bit like stuffing an eel into a pillowcase. For some reason I thought the smart move would be to undress myself first, get my trunks on, my flip-flops, grab my towel, then shed Hana down to her bathing self — coat, boots, pants, sweater, shirt: Off; bathing suit, jelly sandals: On … and away we go, hand-in-hand into the water!
Instead, all we had so far accomplished was: me naked to the waist, my half-hinged belt hanging phallically, one shoe and sock off, and Hana crying in my arms. The more I bounced to calm her, the farther my corduroys slipped down, eventually completing the still-life image: Clown With Babe in Arms, Pants at Ankles; or, Paunchy #3.
At A Certain Upper East Side pool you can bring your child any night of the week for Open Swim, and it’s just ten bucks — Just don’t say you’re planning to get in the water, because that’ll cost you another thirty-five. Our upstairs neighbors hipped us to this. They had been taking their son there pretty regularly over the past few months and we figured it was time to join in.
“I mean, you’re just going in the kiddie pool. Technically you aren’t swimming,” Andrew said. I could only agree. “So here’s the thing. When you get to the counter, just say ‘open swim for her,’” he looked at me in the rearview mirror. We lived just five blocks from the pool but it was too cold to walk back with wet hair, so he’d offered to drive. “The clerks are pretty much clueless,” he said. I nodded. “Okay, so they’ll say ‘ten bucks,’” he went on. “Don’t say you’ll be in the water with her. Obviously, you will be, you’d have to be, she’s two, right? But again, clueless.”
My daughter and Andrew's son, Oliver were already having a good time in the car, which is the nice thing about kids — they don’t even know, much less care, when the fun is supposed to start.
“The last thing, though,” Andrew said, “is that they will give you a bracelet for her. DO NOT put this on her. DO NOT have the bracelet on her when you get in the water.” The bracelet was the keystone to the grift. As with most fandangos, success lay in the details.
I personally like getting away with things like this in New York, since the general level you have to pay just to not spend your life huddled and starving on a street corner is so high. Useless credits like these keep some internal ledger in check, and allow lots of other inescapable debits to slide by less painfully.
Walking toward the desk, I felt a bit nervous. “I’ll go first,” Andrew said. He told the clerk the story, which I thought he oversold a bit, but she only asked him for ten bucks, which he had ready. His wife, Mary, had added in the ride over, in a thick Irish accent that only increased the intrigue: “Just have the money ready. We don’t need all that fumblin’ around.” He paid, wrapped the bracelet around Oliver’s wrist, and moved along.
“Ten dollars,” I said. The girl looked at me. “I mean, swim.” I cleared my throat. “Just her. Open swim for her, my daughter,” I said, sorting myself out. I had Hana in my arms and turned her toward the girl, in an evidentiary sort of way.
“Sure thing,” the girl said. “That’s ten dollars.”
I handed it over and she gave me — THE BRACELET.
“I usually just take it off him when we get in the change room,” Andrew had explained. “The thing is, non-members, which is what we are, have to wear bracelets during open swim. If you’re a member you don’t pay for open swim. You just show your card and go in. But,” he held up his finger in the rearview mirror, “here’s the thing: if she has the bracelet on, and you don’t, the lifeguard might notice. They’re generally pretty clueless t0o,” he said, “but obviously if you’re a member your kid would be, too, right? So someone’s gonna wonder — Why is she wearing a bracelet, but you’re not? So, don’t have it on her.”
A few moments passed as we waited at a red light, during which the car took on the shape of Andrew considering the one glitch in the scheme, something he smoothed over when the light turned green. “The desk and the lifeguards aren’t in any kind of communication with each other,” he said as we pulled forward. “None.”
Tearing the bracelet off seemed inelegant to me, so I’d decided to add my own wrinkle. “I’ll just put it on her once she’s changed,” I said to the girl. “This big coat, and everything,” I made a gesture indicating seasoned parental experience with such things. “She’ll just get upset if I start fumbling now.”
“Sounds good,” the girl said.
Once we got into the water, I noticed that no one had the bracelet on. Maybe the scam was rampant? A kind of whispered truth that had spread across Manhattan, gathering flocks of high-rent-paying parents who wanted to catch a tiny, ridiculous break. A little kick at the wall. Or maybe these were all proper parents who just joined and paid the monthly fee (which was astronomical of course) and were done with it. They swam at 6am before work, then brought their kids here at night to splash around. Someone had seen Martha Stewart there the other day, and I doubt she nibbled the bracelet off her grandkid's wrist before open swim.
Anyway, I didn’t care. Despite all the layers that suggest otherwise, New York is a helluva fine place to raise a kid. The sheer contrast of going a few blocks and getting into warm water as easily as this made the point for me. The minor obliquity merely sweetened the deal.
Splashing briefly in the warmth, in the middle of Manhattan, on an otherwise freezing night, all was briefly right in the world. Finding a moment like this, particularly here, is perhaps the greatest scheme of all. It’s certainly nice when you manage to pull it off.
I held Hana around the waist and briefly let her go. Her face showed worry and then pleasure as she found her balance and righted herself in the water. She reached forward a second later and threw her arms around my neck, flashing me this particular look she has, which says, roughly: THIS-CAN’T-REALLY-BE-THIS-GOOD, CAN-IT?-NO,-WAIT,-IT-REALLY-IS-THIS-GOOD!-NO,-WAIT,-ACTUALLY-IT’S-EVEN- BETTER!!
And so it was.
Trevor Laurence Jockims has a PhD in Comparative Literature, and he teaches at New York University. His writings have appeared in The New York Times, The Times Literary Supplement, Descant, Anderbo, Kino Kultura, and elsewhere.