In my youth, which was not nearly as misspent as I would have liked it to be, paradise was a place called the Country Club.
We didn't belong to one, but a friend told me about his club. The hamburgers there were as thick as your fist, the milk shakes had to be eaten with a spoon (and they were made with real milk and ice cream, not chemicals), they had french fries, an Olympic pool, a diving board, the works. Money wasn't needed there. You just signed your father's name and that took care of that.
I went to that club once with my friend and, as I recall, the hamburgers were good, the shakes were thick, there was plenty of ketchup for the fries and the pool was more or less as it had been represented to be.
The problem was, how many hamburgers could you eat? Once you had eaten your fill and gone off the high board three or four times, you had pretty much run through the repetoire of activities. Which is to say that there was N-O-T-H-I-N-G to do.
ZThe diving board rattles with
the same thunka-thunka-
thunk resonance that it has
since time immemorial. Alan
Mays, the lifeguard on duty, sits imperially on his throne, surveying the pool with sun-bronzed detachment. Because he can banish anyone from the pool with no right of appeal, he has ultimate power. It shows.
Mike Ratigan, the pool manager at the Tantallon Golf and Country Club, is down at the shallow end measuring the chlorine content. Over at the snack bar, the pool's epicenter, a line has formed while five pre-teens wait for the local delicacy. They can get all the hamburgers and french fries smothered in ketchup their hearts desire with a little coupon book their parents buy or with nothing more than a signature.
It's 12:30. The morning's structured activities are over--swim practice for the club's team from 8 until 11 and then swimming instruction for young non-swimmers. Being too important to leave to chance, fun is organized. You have to work to have it. Swim practice is every weekday morning--for an hour, starting at 8 for those 14 to 18. The pool's prime function as the focal point of teen-age social life in Tantallon is just getting under way for the day. Sometime around 1 or so, the teen-agers start drifting in, with appropriate insouciance. They may or may not decide to immerse their bodies in the water, preferring for the moment, at least, to lie around. They do not use sun screen, because, 15-year-old Denise Villareale explains, "It blocks out the sun." Never mind the bad rap the sun's been getting lately. They want to get a tan, a dark one.
The way they figure it, they're entitled to sit around and do nothing for a month or two. "We work very hard during the winter, so in the summer we rest our brains," 15-year-old Holly Marcum observes. She wants to be a physician and looking down the road 10 years or so, she already can see LIFE closing in. "These are kind of nice summers to sit around and have nothing to do. Because then we won't have any time to sit around."
The point of the pool, it turns out, really has little to do with the water or the sun. For all the attention that the teen-agers pay it, the pool could be a slab of asphalt. "We just come to the pool to find out what's going on for the day," says Holly. "You just hang out. You can do anything that comes around."
That might include driving around, going over to someone's house to watch television (no soaps, they insist) or eating.
The Calvinist in us bridles at all this apparent indolence, but perhaps with teenage unemployment nearly 25 per cent, the point is largely irrelevant. Having time on one's hands is a part of being a teen-ager, from the ghetto to Annandale to Tantallon. Hanging out is a time-honored solution everywhere for teen-agers fighting ennui. The only question is the style and ambience that surrounds them while they do it.
The country club is an elegant replacement for the street corner, an institutional baby-sitter, a place with limits--both physical and behavioral --and constant supervision. "When they're at the pool," one suburban mother said, "they're not getting into trouble and they eat their meals when they come home."
That's an upbeat way of looking at it. Denise Villareale has a lower threshhold. Being bored at the pool, she says, "is better than being bored at home."