“Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Do NOT hit the reply button. Hali, just don’t.” the little voice whispers inside my head as I scroll through Facebook and see random Trump-sympathizers’ comments. The cacoethes is familiar. The urge to explain reality to a fabulist too reminiscent of attempting to argue with mother. There are no facts. There is no foundation on which to base anything. The target is phantasmagoric, like trying to hold smoke between pinched fingers. I am so weary of fighting the *good fight*. I am tired, exhausted, by it actually. I do not expect (or even want) everyone to believe and think as I do. But I would like a civilized dialogue and a modicum of accountability for certain realities.
I heard back from our city’s LGBTQ liaison regarding the city pool. She wrote to say that she’d met with the head of parks and rec and that they were, quote, totally up on the city and state ordinances. She went on to say that she had plans to tour the pool herself and said she’d get back to me after that. True to her word, she wrote back a few weeks later, happily reporting that she’d seen the facility, spoken with the manager and provided a training for the pool staff. Aaannnd we’re all set, she said. I can simply sign in at the front desk as usual and then use a side entrance – telling the people at the desk that I have “Tom’s permission” to do so. Easy as pie. Right?
Well, I guess so, I mean, er, I think, well, actually, ahem, um, “we” are not all that set though really. I mean, it appears that “I” might be “all set” perhaps, but what about other people? There must be others who do not fall so neatly into the gender binary, who don’t know that they have “Tom’s permission” (if in fact they do). What about them? What should they do? And how will they know what to do? And well, not to be too dismissive or ungrateful, but what, exactly, has really changed? I mean, other than the fact that I don’t have to explain myself in technicolor detail repeatedly? I can simply use the password, “Tom sent me” or, “I’m a friend of Bill’s” or “abracadabara”. At first glance here, I’m sorry to report that it doesn’t actually seem that the pool has gotten any more welcoming for *people like me*. But perhaps once again or still I am asking for too much, going beyond the endurance of others’ tolerance, asking for more than I deserve. Isn’t it enough to be permitted?! Must I be acknowledged and welcomed as well?!
As it turns out, I actually went to the pool with my older girls recently. It was a hot and sunny Tuesday (my day off) and they were both itching to cool off in the pool, so I sucked it up and took them. I had no intention of swimming with them, glad to know they would entertain themselves and each other while I sat poolside looking pretty. I hadn’t ever noticed before that there are rules for pool attire that are clearly stated: No street clothes. No t-shirts. Appropriate swim attire (which is entirely subject to management discernment). I felt reasonably comfortable with my prepared defense that I wouldn’t be actually swimming. And I mostly doubted that I’d be called out for my shorts and t-shirt apparel. I decided to skip the coded authorization and simply walk with the girls through the women’s side. There was a gaggle of teenie-boppers behind the desk playfully posturing and romping in cheerful camaraderie. I didn’t want to bring down the lighthearted mood. Read that: I was too ashamed to call attention to myself or give them something to make fun of once I turned the corner to use my special side-entrance.
I walked quickly, head down, through the locker-room, leaving the girls to change into swimsuits, promising to scope out a bench. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d recalled from previous visits. I felt, in all honesty, a bit dramatic for having complained. I found a bench poolside in dappled sunlight and plopped myself down with the towels and goggles. There was a woman at the end of the bench also wearing street clothes and I felt an affinity toward her. She looked to be in her 30s, with a pleasant demeanor and air of joyful energy about her. She wore fashionable shorts, a white cotton blouse and extra large sunglasses that made her look a bit anime and fun. Her hair was thinning and her skin was a flawless coffee color. Her jewelry was stunning and she had lots of it. I’m an admitted chatty charlie, so of course I struck up a conversation with her.
We began talking about the weather and the heat, moving on to our mutual disinterest in public pool swimming – both confessing to be somewhat germaphobic and referring to the pool as a petri-dish. She laughingly, self-consciously, referred to her rapidly thinning hair, jokingly blaming the responsibility of parenting rambunctious boys.
Our conversation was interrupted by several shrieking whistles heralding a *pool announcement*. The speakers crackled with the proclamation, “Sun-Camp swim is now over. All campers please leave the pool and meet your counselors under the clock. God bless America.” For half a heartbeat I thought they said, “God bless America”. That’s strange. I must have been mistaken. A bit jerkily, my new friend and I resumed our conversation.
Not even a half hour later the whistles blared again. “Anyone wishing to take the ‘deep end’ swim test, please report to the ladder area. God bless America.” There it was again. I felt my face contort into something like a confused sneer. I watched as others went about their business, conversing and moving about as if nothing odd had happened. I cocked my head like the RCA dog and said out-loud but sort of to myself, “What’s up with the God bless America thing?” Patricia (my new friend) said, “Yeah, creepy right? But don’t ask me. I’m new here.”
Bolstered by her agreement, I turned to ask the person on my other side if they always add the *tag-line* “God bless America” to every announcement and she said they did. She shrugged her disapproval while saying it was a longstanding tradition at the pool and she had no idea why. “But no one questions it?” I asked. While one woman not too far away gave me the *stink-eye* as loudly as she could (we know on what side her opinions fall), someone walking by overhearing the disbelief in my voice piped in, “Yeah, it’s their ‘thing’. They always do it. Kinda weird, but whatever.” I. Was. Stunned.
Kinda weird but whatever!? Am I living in a different country than these people?! Do they not see the problem with this blind, weird, creepy, tag-line patriotism, given the current political climate in this country and the veritable war on immigrants declared by our quasi-fascist government on a daily basis?! The children removed from their parents and placed in cages?! Do they not have any concept of the required separation of church and state!?! The child of someone sitting near me came over to me and said, “Why do you think it’s stupid?” To which stink-eye-lady gave me a smug, “HA! even a child can see you’re an idiot!” look.
I was still quite disturbed later that night after I’d gotten home. I posted something about it on Facebook. A dozen people responded pretty immediately that it was gross and not appropriate. Even a republican friend (yes I have one) said it was out of line. “Once a day I can see” he wrote, “Thank God no one drowned! God bless America! But after EVERY announcement?!” A friend living in Georgia wrote that it would be “odd” even there in the conservative South. She smartly suggested I write or call and simply be curious, asking what the history of saying, “God bless America” after every announcement was and how it came to be. So I did that.
I got no response to my gentle curious email. In the meantime, I visited the pool with the kids again. I approached a teen-aged lifeguard on break. I asked about the tag-line-prayer and she smiled enthusiastically as she told me it’s “just a thing” that they do. As if it were some cute “May the force be with you” kind of jingle. I asked if she knew when, where and how it originated and she didn’t. She said something like, “Sweet right?” And I couldn’t help but say no. I explained that I found it problematic. And before I could proceed I could see her tense. I didn’t bother to explain myself. She wasn’t listening. And anyway, she was on break. There were only 4 announcements that day. And yes, they said it after each one.
A friend suggested I call City Hall, so I did. Even though I was beginning to feel like an asshat for making such a big deal out of something so seemingly trivial. The gentleman who answered the phone at city hall was lovely. He sounded gay, if one can *sound* gay. He was extremely receptive and clearly surprised. He asked if I’d called parks and rec, telling me that while he will pass on my complaint, he would suggest I call them directly as this is in their purview. Before I got off the phone with him, I tried to explain that I wasn’t simply complaining. That I really was questioning, wanting to dialogue, wanting to hear and be heard.
I called parks and rec and got a much less amenable reception. The woman who answered the phone could not understand, and therefore asked me repeatedly, WHAT the PROBLEM was. I asked what the origin of the tradition was and she suggested I contact the pool manager directly myself. I asked if she knew why they continued to add, “God bless America” after every single announcement and she said, “Because they’ve always done it.” I tried to explain that “we’ve always done it” was an extremely poor argument. She asked why, and I asked if her doctor still used leeches. She put me through to her boss.
Her boss’ eyes rolled so loudly that I could hear them. “What seems to be the problem” was the kindest opener she could muster. She also used the “we’ve always done it” excuse. But when I wasn’t having it, she changed to “The courts responded to the complaint we had last year and found that the recitation of the prayer was not in violation or infringement of anyone’s rights and therefore they are allowed to say it.” I was so stunned I was speechless. In my momentary silence she offered to send me a copy of the court documents, asked if there was anything else she could help(sic) me with, and said, “Have a nice day” as she hung up.
Well I’m glad we got that cleared up. I sat, phone in hand, staring dumbly into space. I know I am not alone in thinking this was creepy and not ok. But am I the only one who thinks it heralds something more sinister? Am I just a crazy apocalypse-prophesying hysteric? Or is it truly one of those slippery slopes that begins by normalizing abnormal little things and before you know it you’re in full fascist mode? Fintan O’Toole wrote an interesting article about this on a much larger scale. I’ll leave you with his words. I’m sure I’ll come back to this, but for now I am WAY over my self-imposed 1200 word limit. Once again, thanks for reading.