Dial D for Desperate


Here’s something I may not have noticed if I hadn’t recently left my full-time job.  But you can’t get away from it around town.  It’s all the talk. 

The Annual Calls for The Town Pool Wait List.

Sadly, I’m not kidding.

There are wait lists for many things in my town.  At first, this made me feel right at home after years of living in Manhattan, where people have been known to call day care centers and secure a future spot for a child not yet conceived.  

But now this is sort of annoying here in suburbia.  Can’t there be plenty of room for all of us?

Right after we closed on our house last year, at the direction of our realtor, I promptly drove over to the Town Hall to put our name on two critical wait lists:  1) parking for the train (which I no longer need, but my husband does) and 2) membership for the town pool.

I asked the municipal employees which list I would succeed in climbing before my kids (remember, ages 3 and 1) went off to college.  They just laughed, but not in a “You’re so witty” way; it was more of a “Your guess is as good as mine” reaction.  It wasn’t encouraging. 

I have since been told that, for train parking, the average wait to get a spot in the “secondary” lot (read “highly undesirable and inconvenient”) is three years.  And then — then — maybe another year until you get to roll into Parking Nirvana every morning for the privilege of boarding NJ Transit. 

Then there’s the pool.

I knew we wouldn’t get in last summer because we got on the list too late, and I was OK with that.  I thought.  Then the temperatures soared.  Still, I figured I wasn’t missing too much — it’s just a pool, after all.

But then I noticed the military precision with which the playgrounds emptied on the weekends at the stroke of 11am — the time the pool opened.  I also started to get insider information.  Members told me all about the gorgeous renovations, the perfectly planned kid area and the  mindset of “I just couldn’t live without it all summer.” 

So I decided I needed to see this for myself.  A stake-out was in order.

I showed up one Sunday last August.  I brought the baby with me so that nobody thought I was just some pool stalker (which, of course, I totally was).  I really wasn’t even sure if they’d let me in “just to take a look.” 

But they did.  And it was sort of like the Gates of Heaven. 

Where I grew up, we didn’t have a town pool and I wasn’t expecting anything really nice — I figured it would be some kind of utilitarian-looking and dated facility with a distinct municipal decor.  Not so.  Everyone looked like they were on vacation.  At a nice resort.  That my tax dollars are subsidizing. 

This may be a slight exaggeration

I never should have gone there.  I wish I could un-see the whole thing my mind — because now I really want my damn spot.

As a natural progression, I decided to casually stalk the Recreation Office at the Town Hall to determine what, in fact, my spot was.  This strategy was met by laughter when I told my friends and neighbors.  They assured me that nobody gives out the list placement numbers.  There’s a Cone of Silence. 

Have you met me?  This wasn’t going to do.

At first, nothing.  No dice.  Nobody was talking.  It was like an Aquatics Witness Protection Program.

Then, finally, a crack in the foundation.  Either I got a newbie or someone who was experiencing a mid-afternoon sugar low that resulted in clouded judgement.  Whether she continues to be a government employee after the following breach of security remains unknown.  In fact, I don’t think she’s been heard from since.

“Uh, let’s see here.  Ah, yes, there you are.  Number 251.”

“251?  Are you kidding me?  Is that individuals or families?”


Then I really pushed my luck.

“OK.  Well, what are my chances for 2011?  I mean, how many families did you turn over last year?”

“About 300, actually.”

“Seriously?  So there’s hope?”

“I’d say so.  Now I need to get going.”

I assume that her abrupt end to our chat meant that she had been discovered by the wiretaps and was about to be confronted for her inappropriate divulgence of information.  I hope that wherever she is, she’s OK.

But back to me.


And here’s the really crappy part.  We were victims of a new system implemented last year.  In years past, there was one night a year when hopeful new members would line up at the Town Hall and it was first come, first served for a spot at the pool.  It became the stuff of legends.  Guys  — grown men with children — were out there at 1 or 2 in the morning with folding chairs, lining up for the 9am start time.  A woman I know told me her husband got there at 3am and still didn’t get a spot.  She told him not to come home.

The town has now put an end to this practice and instead instituted a straightforward, come-and-get-your-name-on-a-list-policy instead. 

See, we would have rocked the old model.  P and I, for better or worse, are well-trained tailgaters.  This gig was made for us.  Or him, I should say, because why should both of us suffer when he could go out there while I slept in our comfy bed cared for our children?  Anyway, he would have come home with a bright and shiny pool pass.

Not now. 

Now, I’m stuck at 251 and here’s how it works:  The current members have until April 15 to renew or forfeit their spot.  And then, the phone calls start going down the wait list for whatever space is left.  Always a student of process, I am dying to know if it’s one part-time senior citizen named Fran who makes 2-3 calls a day for weeks — or is it a well-oiled machine of filling that list in a day or two?  Basically, I want to know when I’m going to know.

Because, in the meantime, I’ve been thinking about what I can do to increase my odds.  In doing so, I’ve considered the key factors that would cause one to forfeit one’s spot. 

  • The kids moved away (and you now want to spend the cash on a cruise)
  • Moving out of town (to a utopia where everyone can use the damn pool and park at the train station; see “Europe”)
  • Boredom/Social Alienation (you have no friends at the pool, possibly from pissing everyone off when you lined up at midnight under the old model)
  • Financial windfall (“Fuck this, I’m putting in my own pool.”)
  • Forgetfulness
  • Financial hardship
  • Death

The last three require no further explanation.  And, to be clear, I don’t wish death, injury or poverty on anyone.  But let’s consider the folks in the “I forgot to renew category” for a moment.  This is the sweet spot, I think.  If I can mount a coordinated, covert campaign of distraction over the next few days around town, I can capitalize on the forgetful souls who still have not sent in their renewals. 

I’m considering the following:

  • Starting a rumor that the Bronx Zoo Cobra is on the loose once again, last seen in our town.
  • Implementing a “tax returns only” line at the Post Office to prevent pool checks from getting in the mail.
  • Talking loudly in public about the regrettable Caddyshack-like pool incident (“This time, it wasn’t a Baby Ruth”) last summer and the resulting sanitary concerns.

And you guys worried that I wouldn’t keep busy enough after leaving Corporate America.  As if.

I mean — if you haven’t gotten your check in yet, it must not be that important to you.  And, people, I need a place to hang out with my kids this summer.  Remember, I’m a woman without a country here.  I left my job.  I need adult interaction.  And town gossip. 

But I’m not buying my bathing suit just yet.  I have to wait by the phone first and see what happens once April 15 comes and goes.

I’ll keep you posted.  In the meantime, I’ll be at the Post Office.  You know, just hanging out.

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  1. Hmmmm. I think you’re a bit more of a social animal than I am because sitting at the town pool with hundreds of screaming kids and gossiping adults sounds like HELL ON EARTH. 😉 Not to mention the packing up of the stuff to bring with you. Ugh! We have a pool in the backyard (it came with the house) that we rarely use. I also happen to live within a few miles of the beach. We rarely go there either. Funny, though, how I always say I need to live near the ocean. Why is that, I wonder?

  2. Kirsten says:

    That is insane! We live in the sticks and have a lake nearby that people use, and if anyone told us we had to use a list in order to find out who could swim there, the you-know-what would hit the fan. Especially if our tax dollars were going towards its maintenance.

    I like your plans for distraction, though I must say I favor the Bronx Zoo cobra one–I miss the Twitter feed from when it was on the run.

    P.S. Found your blog TMC–I’m looking forward to following you!

    • fordeville says:

      Hi Kirsten. Thanks so much for stopping by! I hope you’ll come back often, especially since I’ll have more time to write if I don’t get a spot at the pool. I also appreciate your vote for the Bronx Zoo Cobra rumor. I started it today at Starbucks but it hasn’t really picked up enough momentum. I have to head over to the grocery store soon, so I’ll continue my dirty work over there.

  3. Patty says:

    If only you could have intercepted some of those renewal forms! Good luck on the pool quest! 🙂

    • fordeville says:

      Patty, I like the way you think! That strategy hadn’t even occurred to me. But I’m so using it if I have to endure the wait list again next year.

  4. Jessica says:

    I have never heard of a wait list for a pool. You should build your own and make people sign up for it.

    • fordeville says:

      I wish I had the property. In this model, I would also sell poolside ice cream and train parking passes.

  5. Alexandra says:

    I can’t even imagine.

    We have a beautiful town pool. Family memberships are only 100 bucks a year. No waiting lists. For the past 16 years, no waiting lists.

    I’m so sorry.

  6. Erica says:

    Love, love, LOVE it!!!! You are an amazing writer!! I was laughing…I could not stop being entertained…..and in such suspense! I am SO rooting for you to get a spot at your town pool this summer!! P.S. I admire your tenacity and your attention to detail..you must be a Virgo, no? 🙂

    • fordeville says:

      Thank you so much Erica! I appreciate you stopping by, and I’m glad you like the blog.
      So far, no spot at the pool, but rest assured I am not giving up 🙂
      I’m not a Virgo but a Taurus — which may explain a lot.

  7. Kristin says:

    Wow. I don’t think we have a waiting list, and the charge is pretty low, actually. That said, it’s not pool utopia at any of the locations. Some people shell out very pretty pennies to go to more private locations, and most of those need referrals. No way anyone is recommending me – since I don’t know anyone at these pools! I have to get into shape first anyway. And my kids would probably decide to not ever get into the pool. See how my rationalization works?

    • fordeville says:

      Kristin, thanks for stopping by! Yes, we also have the private and pricey options but I’m not even going down that road. I just have to hope that others do so and free up a spot for me off the town wait list. Plus, you raise a good point about the referral process of private pools. I can’t even imagine what a decently truthful character reference would look like on my behalf 🙂

  8. Luisa Megale says:

    Bella – I live on a island – a big one – and have 100’s of pools and clean ocean beaches to choose from – hysterical post for me.. a queue to go the the swimming pool ….unreal

    • fordeville says:

      Yes, I know, life is better on your island. Now that I’m unemployed, you might find me with two kids in tow on your doorstep one of these days…And I can rate all of your local pools and beaches for you while you go to the office. Deal?

  9. You crack me up! This is great! Can’t wait to hear if you “get in.”

  10. Vinobaby says:

    Oh my–remind me never to move up North or to a small town. Down here in the South there are pools everywhere, and I am slightly ashamed to admit I have only gone in our backyard pool 3x this summer.

    Great story–fab writing. Dropping by from BWOM.

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