02 July 2012

Red Hook Pool: New Summer, New Rules

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.


Steve Kennedy said...

This is the perfect example of when the government runs something you give up liberty. Just as in healthcare, in order to insure the estimated 20-30 million uninsured the Congress changed the rules for the other 300 million.

Mike! said...

Long time first time.

Few years back I had the misfortune of taking my son to Wilson Woods Wave Pool in Mt. Vernon.


Cops in the parking lot. Cops at the entrance. A professionally grumpy staff. lines. rules rules rules. There is an imposing black metal fence 10 feet high. Order! Then once inside whistles from the guards every 2 to 3 seconds for hours. I was laughing to myself at the spectacle of it all as soon as I got there. Then I heard this loud buzzer alarm. Bramp Bramp Bramp. It was to alert the swimmers that the waves were beginning. Then it all came together. RULES, COs, a wall, another wall, lines, guard towers, uniforms, and the exact same alarm sound as the one at Sing Sing. Welcome to Willsons Woods prison pool.

I keep seeing this security overkill everywhere. I was recently in the Library at 31st and 3rd ave. Why are there security guards there? What goes down in that spot with the library system as broke as it is that it warrants having a security guard?

Ed said...

Is the real purpose of these rules to keep kids who live in the housing projects in Red Hook out of the pool?

dash said...

Interesting post, considering what twice happened this week at McCarren. People all around the web are calling for stricter enforcement there, a la Red Hook.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

I gave you a pass sneaking in that absurd anti-healthcare dogma, Steve Kennedy. That's the only one you'll get. Stick to the pool.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Ed: No. I don't think so. The kids in the nearby projects use the pool a lot.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Dash: Just read the McCarren reports. Attacking a lifeguard is unacceptable. What a shame. Perhaps it is better to be annoyed, but safe, as is the case at Red Hook. I don't know. But it seems there must be some better middle ground.

Williamsburg er said...

mesh in the bathing suit is to keep pubic hair out of the pool,
bigger locks cannot be easily ripped off without tools like the luggage locks (this has already happened in McCarren park pool where kids ripped off tsa style locks and took the contents of the lockers)
All the rules sound good to me -
The rules are for all patrons benefit, not to torture you
but i haven't been to the red hook pool so maybe i'm missing something?
I've already been to the McCarren park pool and am thankful for the rules and the way the staff stuck to them

Ed said...

You can also look at the umpteen Gothamist threads on the subject (the comments are surprisingly restrained; maybe they are filtering out the racist comments). Anyway this is a real problem, civic amenities being overrun by gangs of hoods -and this dates back to when the gangs were Irish- is one reason why the city has been short of civic amenities.

Anonymous said...

The rules at RedHook and McCarren are the same. They are NYC Park pool rules, applied at all locations. The staff had been rude and irritated at every pool I have been to. Must come from being an underpaid parks employee?
- Jennie in park slope

CM said...

Getting from the front door into the pool (both McCarren and Red Hook) is like going through some kind of prison routine. I hate it. It does kind of take a lot of the fun out of swimming.

Where do they get these employees? I think I heard they are actually in some kind of transition-to-work program. Maybe they're in some kind of system themselves, so they're used to being yelled at all the time, and herded like cattle, so they pass on the treatment. but maybe i'm jumping to conclusions.

And to Steve Kennedy, plenty of cities have awesome facilities that are run by the government, without power-mad security guards running everything. It's not because it's government run, it's because of the culture these agencies have here in NYC.

And yeah, the library can be pretty bad here too. Libraries should feel peaceful...the security guards make you feel like an inmate. Ugh.