When the sun has come out on a spanking spring morning and I have to kick mud from my Doc Martins before tromping inside the house, I can hear the mob at John M. Marshall Elementary School making a joyful noise at recess: Over two rows of hedges and fences — over the rooftops and beyond Dayton Lane — they are running and hallooing and shrieking with high-pitched laughter up the jungle gym and down the slide. The kids’ outdoor voices always remind me of my childhood gang, Daisy and Kate and Nina and Jennifer, shouting “Marco” and “Polo” — “Marco, Polo! Marco, Polo!” — in the backyard swimming pools of my 1970s childhood.
We never had a swimming pool, ourselves. My family lived among the beach plums and rose hips on Gardiner’s Bay, and didn’t need a swimming pool, because the brine of the bay was more wholesome, more lovely, more special, and more virtuous. (So said my parents.) But those 1970s days at friends’ swimming pools in town were the best of times. Endless summers of bathing suits and Creamsicles and the song “Afternoon Delight” — “Sky rockets in flight, ah-ah.” I dearly miss performing showoff maneuvers backward off the diving board, and races to see who could breaststroke the longest underwater, at the Paxtons’ place on Egypt Close and the Dohanoses’ in Georgica. We would pad into the kitchen on wet bare feet and make popcorn with an air popper, the latest in kitchen technology. We’d drink Tab.
Daisy and I would pull shorts over our swimsuits and wander the Georgica neighborhood on bicycles, peddling and stopping, peddling and stopping with the languor of August and nothing better to do. One year, when we were maybe 10 years old, we delighted ourselves with our own naughtiness by riding our bicycles all the way to the Long Island Rail Road station and choosing dis embarking pedestrians to follow home just for the hell of it; we maintained a distance like Harriet the Spy and invented stories about who our victim really was. I can remember one man who we followed home from the train station looking repeatedly over his shoulder at us, becoming alarmed, and disappearing behind a privet on Fithian Lane. I had a T-shirt that said, “If Mom Says No, Go Ask Dad.” We wore rubber flip-flops from the 5 and 10.
Daisy and I also took an interest in Grey Gardens, which was not far from her unheated pool and her quiet backyard. We’d roll past on our bikes, casing the joint. We thought Grey Gardens was abandoned, a ghost house, and once mustered the courage to creep behind it, into the overgrown garden to crawl underneath the rose canes that had become so wild they formed a sort of tunnel. We had come around to the front door again and were peering into the sidelights when one of the Beales — I don’t know if it was Big or Little Edie — appeared suddenly, opened the door, and kindly asked if we’d like some cookies. To my shame, we didn’t even reply. We ran, grabbed our bikes by the handlebars, and peddled like hell.
The lush greenery and rhododendrons that surrounded my friends’ swimming pools created a kind of Eden, and — of course — the days went on forever. They did: They lasted at least three times as long as a July day does in adulthood. (And I still swear to God that it will eventually be discovered by A.I. that time has indeed been compressed — crushed, tightened — by some fankle in the time-space continuum.) We were 8 and 9 and 10, and we would choreograph elaborate water ballets in the Paxtons’ pool to a soundtrack of Broadway show tunes (“There’s No Business Like Show Business”), twirling underwater and rising and sinking with one pointed toe extended toward the blue sky.
I can still do those tricks in the water, as I discovered last month on our lavish vacation on the so-called Riviera Maya. My children, basking in the blazing heat and sipping virgin pina coladas on an all-white cabana bed, had to avert their eyes in embarrassment as I pirouetted like a porpoise, toes pointed skyward, and the canary-yellow flycatchers soared overhead. I wish I had the money to build a pool here in my yard on Edwards Lane, but for the moment I don’t. Nevertheless I persist in perusing pool-company websites and brochures, picking out just the right design for my imaginary swimming pool (which will go between the three apple trees, the old rabbit hutch, and the clothesline by the back property line). I don’t need Gunite; vinyl will do, in a classic rectangle with built-in steps running the full width, salt water heated by an underground propane tank, and bluestone-slate paving all around. Dark teal Latham liner, please, for a twinkly, greenish effect.
Do teenagers still pool-hop at strangers’ homes in the best ZIP codes? I hope they do.
I think of the words “peace” and “tranquillity,” and am carried away to the azure pools and the hot-pink rhododendrons. Kate and Jennifer’s dad is the folk singer Tom Paxton, a figure of some glamour who, in his fisherman’s cap, played the Royal Albert Hall, as well as Katie and Jenny’s birthday parties, enthralling us as we sat around the Paxtons’ dark-wood dining-room table spooning sheet cake and ice cream into our mouths. I’m sure you know some of Tom’s most famous songs, “Ramblin’ Boy” and “The Last Thing on My Mind.” A few days ago, Daisy Dohanos posted a link on Facebook to a version of Tom’s great antiwar song “Peace Will Come,” as performed by him and a children’s chorus for a tsunami-relief album in 2005. You should Google it: Use keywords “peace will come” and “Tom Paxton” and “CDBaby.” Late into the night last night, scouring Twitter and obscure military-intelligence blogs for more and more news bulletins from Ukraine, I have listened to this version of Tom’s song at least 50 times. Peace. Peace will. Peace will come. Let it begin with me.