Not all suburbs, of course, are blessed with a resident of such humane as well as financial dimensions, but all are plagued by a sporting problem that lies dormant during the winter months and rises, like allergy bumps, to the community's thin-skinned surface with the advent of hot weather. The great lure around which is built that newest school of romantic fiction known as the suburban real estate development ad is not the low tax rate, the accessibility to commuting trains or the easily tended vegetable plot that will reduce the family's food bill to so low a figure that in a few years the house will, as the implausible phrase goes, pay for itself. The great lure in this latter-day version of the fairy tale is the swimming pool.
Swimming is, of course, the only sport in which a participant with overactive pores need have no fear of offending; the cleansing process is built into the sport itself. It would be an exaggeration to say that I was drawn from the city to my particular splinter of Suburbia by the pictures of its many pools in the real estate ads, or the fact that the town nuzzles right up to the very edge of a lovely beach on Long Island Sound. But I am a child of my century, and I don't want to be half safe, so the abundance of, and propinquity to, water helped mold my decision. My two young sons soon started to unmold it for me.
They, too, love water. But soon after the first mortgage payment was mailed to the bank, I made one of those astonishing discoveries that husbands and parents are constantly making about the members of their own families: my children like fresh water, not salt! And the nearest pool—a magnificent affair with cute little green-and-white cabanas on the lawn at its side, uniformed waiters to bring the young swimmers hot dogs and Cokes between dips, and portable telephones for parents who like to keep in touch with the market while basking in the sun as they watch their offspring at play—belonged to the country club up the road from our house.
My sons pointed out that if we belonged to the club they would not have to depend on me or my wife to taxi them down to the beach every time they wanted a swim, they could just walk to the club; we would not have to be plagued by the nuisance of preparing box lunches for them to take along to the beach, they could just order a hot dog and a Coke right there at the pool; I wouldn't have to keep dashing home from the beach to see if any important calls had come in for me, I could just signal to one of those uniformed waiters to bring me a portable phone; and, after all, Dad, what's the point of moving out to the suburbs where we can get all the healthy swimming we want, if what we are forced to take is the kind of swimming we don't want?
I joined the club.
It was simple enough. Just a matter of buying several thousand dollars' worth of joint ownership bonds, paying the first annual membership fee and then stepping aside to watch myself cascade down into bankruptcy just about as rapidly as Ivar Kreuger when the cigaret lighter was invented.
It wasn't merely that all those hot dogs cost 35¢ a bark and dime Cokes went at a quarter a gulp. No, it was not merely that. It was also the fact that daddy—making his calls from the side of the pool so he wouldn't miss a moment of the pleasure to be derived from watching his two bottomless gluttons eat their way through a daily dose of frankfurters that would have fed Napoleon's army all the way back from Moscow—kept running up telephone bills that changed A.T.&T. common from a blue chip to an indigo plank. Daddy, an admirer of Alexander, handled that particular Gordian knot in traditional fashion. My boys now like salt water.
So does my friend Harris, though for different reasons.
Harris is a gynecologist, one of the most distinguished and successful in America, who moved from Park Avenue to the suburbs to get away for a few hours each day from the lucrative but exhausting importunings of women with real or imagined plumbing difficulties. After a long, hard day and a steaming ride from Grand Central on the only short-line railroad in America that synchronizes the air-conditioning of its commuter coaches with those months when oysters are in season, the one thing that revives my friend Harris is a dip. And soon after he moved to our town, Dr. Harris put in a pool.
This innocent phrase, which sounds as harmless as putting in some tulip bulbs, is loaded with social dynamite. The family with a pool in Suburbia is in a position not unlike that of a family with an entire reindeer carcass in Lapland, the difference being that the neighbors of the latter, after hacking off their chunks of reindeer meat, can take it home to be eaten. The neighbors of the former must share his bounty on the pool owner's premises. Also, while there probably are married couples in Lapland who have no interest in, or are incapable of, reproducing their species, there are none such in Suburbia, where almost all families have children and most have many. All the families in Dr. Harris' neighborhood have many.