Words and Illustrations by Sophie Miles
Swimming pools are taken seriously in Vermont, New England’s only landlocked state. The pool in my hometown is a bizarre oval shape, with sloping shallow edges and a deep offset center, like a tasting spoon. Built in 1938 as a part of FDR’s Emergency Work Act, the Montpelier pool has the same oversized goofy presence as a carnival or a theme park, and, like those spaces, it’s spooky in the off-season. According to local historians, it is the largest asphalt pool in the world.
I REMEMBER THE CONCESSION STAND AS A HIVE OF ACTIVITY, ROUGHLY THE SIZE OF GRAND CENTRAL OYSTER BAR, EQUALLY GOVERNED BY A SENSE OF POSSIBILITY AND INSCRUTABLY STRICT RULES.
When I visited this summer, for the first time in 15 years, the concession stand was a bag of skittles under a sneeze guard, manned by a 13 year old red-haired boy who chewed on the cuff of his sweatshirt while I counted my change out. I bought a bag of buttered popcorn and shared it with my mom after she finished swimming her age in laps (64, plus one for good luck).
Standing at the same counter in 2002, there is such a thing as The Right Order and such a thing as The Wrong Order. Varsity-level pool snackers will ask the teenage cashier for a Charleston Chew candy bar from the limited freezer stash (available in Chocolate or Vanilla, or Strawberry, which, gross) and take it back to the grassy lawn, where it can be beaten, wrapper on, against a stadium light pole until the candy bar is reduced to semifreddo shards inside its own packaging. It is then customarily opened with a long delicate rip along the seam of its wrapper, and shared family-style by 6 preteens sitting on the same pink towel. No yellow foods are acceptable, due to pee. Getting a Babe Ruth is only ok if it’s for your mom. You can take Skittles and squish them between your thumb and forefinger and they will look like flowers, kind of. I think of the concession stand as being my first experience of something like a bar, where everybody jockeys around the long counter, comparing purchases, and where the sole employee is mainly there to keep the wares behind the counter from being stolen by the crowd on the other side.
Although I firmly believe that the Montpelier public pool is a world wonder, I only think my nostalgia for it is special because it isn’t special at all, because we all have a swimming pool in our minds of uncertain depth, where we swim under the raft there and hold our breath, where in an anxiety dream we may, as adults, exhume the body of our bosses, or our crushes, ourselves, where you hold your face against the water pump and feel it shake the jibberish out of your throat and your best friend laughs at you, and does it too. In this ether, the concession stand is a small connection to reality: to the needs of the body, to the earthly activity of spending money, where we purchase a bag of M+Ms and take them to the water’s edge, trying to organize the whole bag by color before it melts.