I can't remember who first discovered the hotel pool, but once one of us joined, we all did. As with most clubs, this one has become incestuous. Journalists. If they bombed the pool, there might be no one left to put out The New Republic.

No need to buy the paper on days you're going to the pool. On any given weekend you can walk in to find the incredibly bronzed M, fresh from his laps, surrounded by sections of several major daily newspapers scattered from one chaise longue to the next. You can also usually find several issues of The New Republic. There's S, with a copy of Washingtonian. There's her husband W, perusing an Armed Services Committee report on military preparedness. (Some people bring their work to the pool.) There's J with a George Gissing book. (J's an editor.)

Sometimes this gets confusing. One summer there was a lot of job changing among magazines. I arrived one day to see someone I hadn't talked to in months. Oh, no -- is he working for The Washington Monthly or Harper's? Did he quit the first, or was he fired from the second? "So," I greeted him meaningfully, "how's it going?"

By late August, the number of hotel guests dwindles and the number of journalists is up as we frantically soak up the sun. The competitive conversation turns to wistful fretting over the fact that it's the end of the summer and we've only come half a dozen times -- but paid several hundred dollars for a membership. Let's see, we calculate, if I come every day for the next two weeks, that will only be -- $12 a swim. The goggles are out in full force, and you have to wait your turn for the lap lane.

It's usually still steamy hot in Washington when the pool closes, but I remember one late afternoon a year or so ago on the last pool Sunday when the air was cool and the pool water frigid. I braved a few laps, but instead of warming up as I went, I got colder. As I got out of the water, I looked around at the deserted chaises. There was just the lifeguard, a couple of hotel guests -- and M, of course, lying in the last sliver of sunlight.