And Water Polo with Marco
By Steve Carr
Memorial Day weekend marked the beginning of summer vacation and the opening of the city swimming pool. As soon as the calendar gave the girls the go-ahead for white culottes, we boys grabbed Mom’s scissors and cut off our jeans. Whether in or out of the swimming pool, those cut-offs were what we wore all summer.
We were soon calling out “Marco” and “Polo” from the shallow end of the pool. Our fraying jeans clogged the filter with threads. My memory of hundreds of kids bobbing and splashing and soiling in the city swimming pool fills me today with emotions both wistful and emancipative. The city has since paved over that kids’ paradise and put up a parking lot. Yet I swear I smell a hint of chlorine and hear the echo of shrill screams as I drive by today.
I’ve never understood how the game Marco Polo works. Somehow, I missed the one time when instructions were given. Everyone else seemed to know exactly how to play so I pretended to know too. The best I could gather was that players were required to splash about, bouncing like corks while screaming, in ear-splitting fashion, the first or last name of the famous traveler of the Middle Ages. The game never seemed to come to a conclusion—we’d just get out of the pool when we saw Mom’s station wagon pull up to the curb. That’s what we did until Labor Day.
Actually, we did abandon the city pool for one week for scout camp, where we ate pork-parts pâté on sliced bread and carved our names in trees. Oh, and yes, I remember playing some version of Marco Polo. It involved jumping off the monkey bridge into the glacier pond. It was so fun and the water was so cold I didn’t even feel the leeches attaching themselves to my skinny legs. The older scouts didn’t jump in, apparently because I didn’t call out, “Polo” in time. Afterwards my friends helped me pull the leeches off.
Our last night at camp, we snuck off on a snipe hunt. It involved sticks and gunny sacks and flashlights. All of the guys except me managed to catch a snipe. I guess it was catch and release. It was pretty fun being part of the hunt, but I was excited to go home and back to the pool for what was left of the summer.
Like Marco Polo, I travel for work. Unfortunately, I’m traveling this week, so in honor of summer commencement, I grabbed my cutoffs and went down to the hotel swimming pool.
Three children playing Marco Polo can take over a pool, making it difficult to swim laps. So I joined them, getting my exercise splashing and bobbing and yelling. I suspect I lost, given their giggles, but had fun. Afterwards I tried to even the score by challenging them to a game of Kublai Khan. About then, their mother said it was time for bed.
Maybe I still spend a little too much time in the shallow end of the jeans pool? Oh well, here’s to summer.