I’ve always loved swimming but haven’t gone much the last few years. One of the reasons is that I don’t like the beach. Nothing about roasting in the sun among hundreds of other people is appealing. The burning ball of fire in the sky has never been my friend and worrying about things getting stolen while you’re in the water is a drag. But I love being in the water. It’s one of the few things which make summer bearable.
Shay was in town last month and she invited me to go swimming at the Dvorak Park Pool. It’s bizarre fact that in my twenty-four years in Chicago I’d never been to a Park District swimming pool. Shay was staying at a friend’s vacated apartment in Pilsen so Dvorak Park had the closest pool. We met at the entrance on May Street and went to the lockers to change. I didn’t even have a combination lock to store my clothes in the lockers, so I met Shay back out on the street and gave her my stuff to stow away before going to swim.
The men’s changing area at Dvorak is a weirdly large and empty space. There’s a bathroom next to the showers which lead out to the pool, a wall of lockers, and two walls of shallow wooden stalls, with no doors or curtains, for changing. Through the dozen or so times I’ve now been in this place there’s never been more than three or for other people in it with me at the same time. It resembles some sort of corral or holding pen for animals who have been gone for decades. I can’t quite put my finger on what makes it so odd to be in but it always makes me think of one of those De Chirico paintings, which are unpeopled but still ominously portend of doings just out of the frame.
Out by the pool all my misgivings disappear. I recognize several people right away as regulars from the bar. They don’t acknowledge me, but that’s not surprising since I’m out of context and have nothing but blue swimming trunks on. It’s sort of like art kid happy hour here, minus cocktails or much clothes. I see an older guy who I’ve had to kick out of the bar twice for harassing women and don’t make eye contact. Fortunately, thanks either to his alcoholism or to my “disguise”, he doesn’t register my presence. In the water I’m talking to Shay about my upcoming art show at Dominican University, when an older man comes up to the edge of the water and tells me he teaches there. Small world. Shay teases me about being famous. Does being spotted at a neighborhood swimming pool constitute fame?
Whatever the social situation, being in the water is remarkably calming. Even in this artificial, chlorinated version of the sea there is a sensation of being closer to where we all come from. It’s a primal feeling, like some sort of equilibrium being restored which is unavailable while on land.
I’ve been going back to Dvorak Park at least a couple times a week since. I try to go during Adult Swim but don’t really mind having kids splashing about in the shallow end. I clumsily try to swim laps. It’s been so long since I did this regularly that I don’t really know how to breathe in the water correctly. But each time I go back it gets a little easier. I aim to make it a regular thing. One of the things I like best about swimming is that unlike other forms of exercise sweat is instantly reabsorbed into the environment. There’s few things I hate more in my life than sweating.
On my last visit, I had the place to myself for a few minutes. Then a guy who used to cook at Skylark showed up with his girlfriend. I recalled running into them awhile ago at Rossi’s downtown and telling them to avoid Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper, which I’d just suffered through at the Film Center. Then I swam the length of the pool a few times, trying to remember how to repeat strokes I haven’t practiced since I was a child. I’ll keep going back until the weather turns.