5:50 pm Jul. 2, 20121
Joseph Lentol has lived in Williamsburg and Greenpoint all his life, and remembers "a lot of horsing around” at the McCarren Park Pool when he was growing up. At the age of 12 or 13, Lentol, who now represents the neighborhood in the State Assembly, was actually going to the pool against his parent’s wishes.
“They said things like, ‘There are bad kids there,’ and ‘We don’t want you in that crowd,’” he told me over the phone Thursday afternoon. But this is what kids do to beat the heat of their small, stuffy apartments on hot summer days—enjoy the local pools. “It’s a lot of summertime fun that I remember,” Lentol said.
Less than 36 hours after the pool’s inaugural ribbon-cutting ceremony, and Mayor Bloomberg’s declaration that the pool “has an illustrious past and a bright future,” an altercation occurred Friday evening, forcing the pool to shut down 45 minutes early.
The fight, which started when several teenagers were reprimanded for doing somersaults into the pool, quickly escalated when one of the teens threw a punch at a lifeguard.
“Then it just kind of got out of hand," said witness Samantha Tully, a twentysomething Westchester resident who works in Brooklyn. Tully, wearing an indie-ish print dress over her bathing suit and a fabric headband, relayed the facts calmly as she made her way, along with everyone else, toward the pool's exit. "A couple of them were getting on the lifeguard post and diving in. At that point, the lifeguards were trying to be really cooperative, but it just became too much, and there were too many of them doing the exact same thing.”
Most residents admitted it was a shame that the incident occurred so soon after the pool’s grand reopening—it has been empty for 28 years, and unused until about seven years ago when it became a venue for concerts, movies, dance performances, and the like. But most also were not surprised to hear that teenagers, on one of the hottest days of the year, got rowdy in a public pool.
Michelle Irizarry, a stay-at-home mom, was at the pool with her 41-year-old husband Monty, who's lived in the area all his life, and their almost two-year-old daughter Chloe, on Sunday—it was Michelle and Chloe's third visit since it opened and Monty's first.
“Eventually our child will be a teenager,” she said. “Teenagers still need somewhere to hang out, so this is a good place for them to go because it’s free if you’re under 17, and they can use the recreation center. It’s a good place for them to go to stay out of trouble as long as they use it in the right way.”
“But I don’t think it deterred anybody from coming because they’re just teenagers; that’s going to happen when you live in the city,” she said.
Just as Irizarry suggested, the pool was filled with teens there to swim and to take advantage of the free gym membership—I saw dozens on line waiting to get their picture taken for their I.D.s.
But adults, kids, and even several elderly folks were on the scene too. For the most part, it felt like a family destination. A lot of the people I saw and spoke to were parents there with their children, thrilled to have somewhere to take them during the summer. Twenty- and thirtysomethings littered the area, as well, more so on the weekend when they presumably didn't have work or school; but the pool's clientele looked an awful lot like the neighborhood around it.
Those who live here know well that the neighborhood is not just hipsters. And though most suspect the neighborhood's gentrification did have something to do with the pool's renaissance (along with, of course, the efforts of Mayor Bloomberg, his PlaNYC initiative, the strong advocacy of former Brooklyn Borough Commissioner Julius Spiegel, Brooklyn Parks Commissioner Kevin Jeffrey, O.S.A., and more), it doesn’t mean the gentrifiers are the principal audience for a free public pool.
“It’s still the city; you still have all kinds of classes and people, especially in New York!” Irizarry said.
Suzanne Dwyer, a middle school teacher in Manhattan who moved to Greenpoint almost 20 years ago—her 12- and 14-year-old kids were born here, but the family has since moved to Bushwick—could have been a one-woman campaign for the pool’s reopening when we spoke poolside after the ceremony on Thursday. “I never thought that it would happen; it’s beyond what I imagined!”
But she had a slightly different attitude when I ran into her just minutes after Friday night’s altercation. She still plans to come back to the pool this summer, but said she would “take a break” and “let them get things under control” first.
“Originally after the pool closed and they tried to open it, like, 20 years ago when I first moved to this neighborhood, nobody wanted the pool to reopen again for fear that it would bring in people from different neighborhoods and it would be a big hangout. It took gentrification and people seeing that all these different, new people coming to the neighborhood is a really good thing, that it’s going to bring positive change, which it has. And, so, finally they opened this pool, and I would hate for the naysayers to then be able to say, ‘Look, our so-called community center has fallen into the hands of rowdy kids,’ you know? Because then the people in the neighborhood won’t come back,” she said.
29-year-old Dru Green, who manages Bushwick bar Duck Duck and has lived in the neighborhood for eight years, used to come to the pool party concerts. He is also planning to give the pool a little bit of time to cool down, and then reevaluate. He witnessed the fight on Friday, but also hasn't forgotten the 35-minute-long wait on line in the scorching sun for just 45 minutes of swimming before the early close.
Looking mildly defeated as he was ushered out of the pool with everyone else Friday, he said, “Maybe I’ll just wait around for the adult swims and then come back during those times.”
Oliver Crawshaw, a 36-year-old artist who lives in Long Island City and was still dripping wet after going for a dip mid-Sunday afternoon when we spoke, was relieved to hear about the reopening, as there are no other public pools near where he lives.
“I’ve really cooled down after going in there; I feel so refreshed,” he said standing just outside the pool. "I’ll definitely be back!”
Carrie Morrissey, a 30-year-old fashion designer, went swimming on opening day and also plans to get a membership so she can use the pool's new gym. Morrissey, her stylish, bleach-blond pixie-cut hair almost dry as she neared the exit, had to wait for an hour and a half in line before getting in, but she wasn’t complaining.
“The line was long, but we were happy once we got inside. It was totally worth it!”
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