This late spring/early summer my wife and I invested in a membership at Atlanta’s Piedmont Park Conservancy, and, concurrently, the Piedmont Park Pool. So far, this has been wonderful, as it’s already topping 90 degrees and 60 percent humidity here in what people sometimes call Hotlanta. We did this because our daughter is nearing one year old, and we knew that she’d like the pool, and it would give us plenty to do on the weekends, or in the weekday late afternoons, if I want to pick our baby up from daycare early. And we can wear the kid out, as it’s a very kid-friendly pool, with walk-in slopes, like you’re at a beach, and the whole thing never gets deeper than four feet, and she can bounce and splash around and generally make herself sleep-ready.
So far, what’s been great is getting down to the pool, dropping off my wife and baby, going for a three-mile jog then returning to the pool, changing into my swim trunks, and dunking in that lovely water. But the other thing that’s great about the pool is people-watching. And I’ll admit that since I’m a guy, I’m always interested in seeing women in their bathing suits.
But what I’ve been surprised about is how average-looking everyone at the Piedmont Park pool is. For the unfamiliar, Piedmont Park and its pool are located in Midtown Atlanta, a neighborhood roiling with “beautiful” people. At the park on a weekend, one sees so many hardbodies you’d think you accidentally stepped into a fitness magazine’s photo shoot. Abs jog along the concreted and graveled paths. Everyone playing volleyball does so in bikini and Speedo, and does so gracefully, beautifully. And at the pool, there’s no shortage of these hardbodies. The thing is that, while I’m walking or jogging in the park, I never have the opportunity to really look at these bodies, not like I’ve had the opportunity to do while at the Piedmont Park pool.
What I’ve seen are certainly beautiful people: men tall and sculpted, women curved and tanned. But what I’ve also seen are all the little imperfections: curdled thighs, sagging breasts (both male and female), wrinkles, weathered leather for skin. Too many hours spent exercising, tanning, being “beautiful.”
It’s important I point out that I am myself the farthest thing from “beautiful” you can probably imagine. I’m overweight (six feet tall, 240 pounds), bearded, red-headed (going gray), and red-bearded (still red). Irregular patches of hair sprout on my shoulders, and squirrel across my chest. I have a triangle of hair on my back at the base of my neck that looks a little like a triangle of pubic hair, and my wife and I humorously refer to this patch as my “back pussy.” I’m covered with freckles. I look like an overgrown hobbit. Another thing to mention is that I’ve long accepted my looks and I deal with this, and as one might tell from the above-mentioned size, I’m rather big and no one seems to talk sh-t, but if they did… No, not really. I’m not a violent person. I’m just okay with who I am. I exercise to stave off the inevitable heart problems I’m sure to endure in coming years.
I like submerging in the pool after my jog and searching out my wife and seeing her in the water, cradling my baby, and for a moment I don’t recognize either of them, and I think, “Whoa, that chick’s cute.” I like that no one seems to care that I am not one of the “beautiful” people. I like that the “beautiful” people aren’t all that beautiful.
A man sidles up next to me and my family, his pecs solid, squared, tapering into the firm outline of his waist, his oblique abdominals leading like arrows to the actual abs which stick out and create spaces that make actual f-cking shade on his body. He smiles, crooked toothed grin, says hello, his voice effeminate, high-pitched, bashful. A large-breasted woman bends at the waist, the rolls of her when-standing belly doubling over, tripling, like a snake’s coils in the tones of her skin. Again she stands, resplendent, navel-piercinged, auburn coif bunned atop her head, above her Gucci sunglasses. A man plays with his sons, his black skin straining with muscles and ridiculous tattoos: a crucifix, old English-stylized font for text: “I Am One of God’s Children”; some kind of tribal-looking pattern rounding a bicep; Asian ideograms drawn down a line on a shoulderblade; flames — as if the man’s right arm alone moves at friction-inducing speeds — lick up to said arm’s crook. I realize that it is in fact possible for one human to contain on one body all of the worst and most clichéd of tattoos. When this same man rises from the blue murk to chase down an errant boy, the paunch of his gut falls over his swim trunks’ waistband like a flopping piece of wet laundry.
At the snackbar they peddle only the worst of food and drinkstuffs: sodas (or, since we’re in the South: cokes) — syrups mixed with carbonated water — dispensed over ice; tiny plastic vials of “sports” drinks loaded with refined sugars; hot dogs — the foodstuff of choice apparently — ketchup and mustard-lined, relished, onioned; microwaved personal cheese and pepperoni pizzas which parents slice into edible bits for their children; potato chips (barbecue, sour cream and onion, jalapeño — this last of which I had and found to be delicious); processed and prepackaged ice cream and popsicle treats; the gamut run of Hershey’s candy bars; packaged and oddly clipped free of crusts and pinched like hot pockets, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, of which my wife partakes and shares pieces with our daughter who leans into me, peanut butter breath.
Still the majority of families come poolside replete with provisions. In the last 15 minutes of every hour a lifeguard (himself or herself almost attractively sculpted, but also displaying the odd wrinkle, the chubbed gut or buttock) sounds a whistle that comically sings, drops an octave and gradually rises again to a screech — not unlike some sort of militarily-driven call to march — and immediately thereafter booms, “Adult Swim!” This call (I’m not sure if it’s a pun, based on the late-night Cartoon Network programming that shoots into your cable television directly from Atlanta) sends children groaning for the nearest poolside exit, some of them lingering, blow-up beach balls and arm-floaties with them, in the water until a lifeguard blows the whistle again, exclaiming, “Children out!”
At this point the few adults unencumbered by offspring take to the laned and buoyed section for exercise, or float around aimlessly, taking in the calm, as calm is what describes the water: two minutes earlier it boiled with the splashing of a hundred kids. Now, these children have retreated to the chairs and tables their parents have staked out — and this is no small feat, as, for whatever reason, the Piedmont Park Pool is in want of shade, and the few umbrella-ed and tabled areas families snatch up come the 10 o’clock opening hour, and such spaces are coveted not unlike parking spaces arranged not only close to one’s shopping destination, but also in the shade of a delicate annual set into a desolate earthen island — and at these stations the adults dole out an abundance of in-between-healthy-and-not delicacies: hummus and pita, potato and pasta salads, and abundance of watermelon, baloney and turkey-and-cheese sandwiches, potato chips, Pringles, Doritos, Funions. Coca-Cola. Dr. Pepper. Ice cold bottled water. The American Abundance.
All these nice people are all so average looking. They slip their shorts back over their swimsuits before they leave. Raise their arms through their T-shirts and tank tops. It’s amazing what this clothing does: all these little imperfections again hidden. But for the glorious moment these people, like me, left them bare. We were all gazelles at the one waterhole available for miles. Maybe we were more like chimps. Maybe more like humans. Did it matter? It was that goddamn hot outside.