I love the Red Hook Pool. I hate the way it's run.
I love it as an emblem of urban democracy; as a free source of recreation for Brooklyn's denizens; as a beautiful and opulent example of Depression-era civic generosity.
I hate that all those great qualities are nearly choked to death by the staff's dunderheaded and blinkered execution of a ridiculously capricious and soul-killing set of admission guidelines.
The pool's always been great. Getting in has always been the problem. The Parks Department has imposed a set of rules as long as your arm. If you're found in violation of one, you are sent packing, often after having waited in a long line in the blistering heat. Wearing sneakers and not flip-flops? Gone. Wearing shorts and not a swim suit. Gone. Have a beach ball, extra-large goggles, snorkel, floaties and any such water device? Forget it. Food? Not allowed. Newspaper? Nothing doing. Got a deck chair or stroller? Keep walking. Radio? Not allowed. Want to dive? No, you don't. Wearing a t-shirt any other color than white? Go home and change.
And once inside, barely a second passes when one of the unsmiling junior dictators that have been hired as lifeguards isn't piping their whistle at you. I swear. Non-stop whistling. It's nuts.
I understand these rules are intended to keep order and head off any possible incident or altercation. If nobody has a beach ball, then everyone's on even ground. If there are no radios, there's no argument about the music being played. If no one's wearing a color t-shirt that might upset someone else, there won't be a fight. But the way it's implemented is overkill. The guardians have let the small bit of power they've been given go to their heads.
Throughout the years, the number one rule at the Red Hook Pool has been: Bring a Lock. If you don't have a lock, you can't lock up your stuff in a locker before you hit the pool. (No one can enter the pool area with anything other than a suit and a towel and maybe a book.) The Pool wasn't taking any chances of anything being stolen. I never saw anyone without a lock allowed inside the building.
For years, a small padlock, about the size of a pack of matches, was acceptable. Even encouraged. Combination locks, meanwhile, were verboten.
But here's the thing about the Red Hook Pool. You can memorize the rules down to the letter and it doesn't matter. Because they change them at whim, from year to year, from week to week, depending on who's guarding the door.
This weekend, I went with my wife and son to the pool. We had proper suits, proper towels, no extraneous equipment and the right lock. Only it wasn't the right lock anymore. There had been some break-ins, we were told. The old padlocks were no longer acceptable. Now, to enter, one had to have a combination lock, or some other lock at least the size of pack of cigarettes. People were turned away in droves. I swear, at least half of the people in line were not allowed to get in. They were told to walk to a shop four blocks away where they could purchase such a lock for $2 or $3. I did so. The lock was $8.
There was no warning of this rule change. I had, in fact, checked the list of rules before heading out. It said padlocks were allowed. I checked it again today. It's been changed to say, "Patrons must provide and use their own padlock. No responsibility is assumed for lost articles. A standard master or combination lock is recommended. Small luggage locks are not permitted."
Another sudden change this year: men's bathing suits must have mesh linings. How they're going to check that one I do not now.
I'll continue going to the Red Hook Pool. But I know a lot of people who are disgusted with the suffocating bureaucracy surrounding the institution, and the people who police it.