I love swimming at Slate Lane Pool, one of the nine pools Levitt and Sons provided for the community when they built Levittown in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Gliding through its cool waters, especially on those glorious, golden, sun-splashed summer days, I’m reminded of George Gershwin’s bluesy song "Summertime" and its laid-back, ever-so-cool first line, “Summertime, and the living is easy.” The words, the tune, the sentiment are my swimming buddies from mid-June to Labor Day.
But the pool affords me more than just easy living. It offers sweet memories that pull me back to the summer of 1966, when I began working there as a rookie lifeguard for the Town of Hempstead. I was 18 then, a month from high school graduation and in my salad days, as Shakespeare might say, eager to engage in an exciting new post-adolescent world. Working at Slate Lane was the beginning of that engagement, and my summer experiences there were early touchstones in my transition to adulthood.
Working as a lifeguard was my first grown-up job. True, I had a paper route and cut lawns in my early teens, but those were things “kids” did. Lifeguarding was different. It demanded a specialized skill set, discipline and responsibility. It carried a cache of prestige with a healthy helping of glamour baked in. It was a job people took note of. Once, a new girlfriend presenting me to her mother ended her introduction with “And, he’s a lifeguard!” The mother smiled knowingly.
I found the job so exciting I would have worked for free that first summer. But paid I was, and earning money for something that was so much fun barely seemed fair. Working six days a week, eight hours a day, I brought home more than $200 every two weeks. That was decent money back then, more than some grown men who worked in the Parks Department made. Each payday when I deposited my check in the bank, I felt like a bona fide member of the adult world.
Working together with other lifeguards, male and female, all around the same age, was especially enlivening and supplied an additional opportunity to grow. Most guards were highly aspirational, either in college or college bound, and their high hopes for success in life rubbed off on me. Lessons on how to work together with others were taught of necessity every day.
After hours, other valuable life lessons might be learned. Warm summer nights were punctuated with lifeguard parties. The drinking age was 18 then and garbage cans filled with ice, beer and cheap wine were party mainstays. The mix of alcohol and lifeguards getting to know each other better after a long day in the hot sun made for some new and eventful understandings.
What is it the Greek philosopher Heraclitus say about rivers: You can’t step into the same one twice? I think that’s true of pools as well. Everything changes, nothing remains the same. I’m much older now, many times removed from that rookie lifeguard. The pool is much older, too — though now a better version of its original self, having been refurbished multiple times over the years. I’ve tried to refurbish myself some over the years as well. I’m grateful for my lifeguarding days at Slate Lane Pool and my coming-of-age moments. I’m grateful, too, for my current relationship with the pool. It’s part still of this later chapter in my life, one that’s more relaxing and more reflective, one where if it’s summertime and I’m swimming at Slate Lane Pool, the living is easy.
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