Summer in New York City. There is exhilaration in the great metropolis spread before us. Hot, bleak, dreary, and crushing are these dog days, yet the worn and vacant McCarren Park Pool invites the soul to adventure.
The weekend cool-down is essential to maintaining sanity. Between the morning commute, the headaches, the 7:30 a.m. wake-up, and the politics, it's wrong to assume that summer internships offer a total break from the weight of the school year. Saturdays and Sundays are when we take refuge--in our beds, on the beach, or navigating unfamiliar neighborhoods in one of the five boroughs.
Although the city is our oyster during these sacred days of rest, we college students know that our survival is dependent on a small budget. Students who spend time searching, however, can discover ways to save and still have fun. One such find is McCarren Park Pool in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The park is a dry oasis that offers music and outdoor entertainment free of charge. For nine consecutive Sundays this summer, Helio and JellyNYC hosted free "pool party" concerts for weary, musically-inclined youth.
Really, for hipsters. So, one oppressively hot Sunday in July, I squeezed into my skinny jeans, threw on a T-shirt and vest, laced my cons, and submerged myself in the magic of free music in Brooklyn.
The Olympic sized pool was the 1936 brainchild of Robert Moses, the Caesar Augustus of construction in New York City. Moses must be frenetically squirming in his grave at what has become of his heroic, New Deal masterpiece. A fiscal crisis in the 1970's caused the park to cut maintenance funds and eventually, in 1983, the pool was shut down and never repaired. Now, its fate in the hands of Community Board 1, the pool may or may not be restored. It serves, then, as a seedy spot for indie music goers, overflowing with an esoteric group of young, thriving, hip artists and wannabe-artists escaping the city's hyper-capitalist ethos.
The surrounding neighborhood, once home to immigrants and industrial mayhem, now screams East Village with a twist of mellow West Coast charm. Trendy vintage boutiques, corner pubs, and family-owned delis line Bedford Avenue and Lorimer Street. On my walk from the L train to McCarren, I passed a revamped record shop and a couple selling worn shoes outside their Volkswagen van. Woodstock graffiti covered its hood and doors. Another man had strewn used clothes along a cyclone fence in hopes of cutting a deal with a passerby. Ray Ban sunglasses and couples lying along the park's burnt fields define Sunday afternoons. Williamsburg has morphed into a Bohemian paradise.
The line into McCarren Park was distinguished by collective misery. Outside food, we were told, was not allowed into the venue. Apparently even Brooklyn oases are perpetrators of commercialism's evils. So I scarfed down my sandwich, dripped mustard on my shirt, and handed my unopened bottle of water to the undeserving bouncer. He accepted.
Once inside, I learned that music would only be a small part of my afternoon experience. Each member of the ten-piece marching band that welcomed us had designed his or her uniform. One girl added fishnets and Geri Hallowell-style platforms. Another wore unattractive tight man-shorts, while another wore a werewolf mask. The marching band's music was humdrum—probably purposefully so. This band was giving an aesthetic, not aural, experience.
My friends and I looked for a patch of former-pool cement to comfortably sink into. We made our way near center stage, far enough away so as not to be bothered by the serious music aficionados. Ours turned out to be an erroneous concern. Serious music listeners were few and far between. Instead, we were reminded of birthday parties circa fifth grade. On our left: an oversized slip-n-slide. On our right: drunken dodge ball. Everywhere: punked-out twenty-somethings demonstrating that their grown-up (or at least post-adolescent) fantasy looks a lot like a childhood fantasy land.
And if the drunken bo-hos stomping through Moses' pool did not send him spinning in his capitalistic grave, there was the forced irony of the performing bands' names. The folk-rock indie group "Illinois" is from Pennsylvania. Their wit fell short of their live performance.
The next band, meanwhile, was a Cambodian rock group called "Dengue Fever," named after the mosquito-borne virus. Their synthesis between psychedelic reggae and Bollywood was easier on the ears than Illinois' monotony.
As I began my walk back to the L train, the sun began to fade and only a few glazed over stragglers and sweaty employees were left in the pool. I had found an easy, cheap alternative to Manhattan's pricey music scene.
And until a plan for the pool's final restoration takes root, my fellow young urbanites and I enthusiastically await our next chance to drench ourselves in the thick irony and average tunes of free indie music.