Two tribes

My daughter’s first swim meet is an away game in an older neighborhood where sloping lots contain the same 70s split-level ranch houses one finds all over town just they cost a bit more here. “Look at that carport!” I exclaim to my husband. A fleet of five large-finned Cadillacs and similar, with dull paint and weathered chrome, are parked under, around and in front of a small carport next to a modest brick ranch.

We had ended up in this neighborhood over the course of many rainy weekends of house-hunting. We explored vast basements with HVAC ducts and wet bars and windowless storage space and long skinny upstairs rooms with popcorn ceilings and the smell of apple forest ocean rain potpourri plug-ins to eradicate the smell of unseen dogs. Real estate agents with cookies. Cinnamon candles. Sometimes the walls are hung with enormous photo portraits of children in Edwardian velvet or slightly Bruce Weberesque black and white studio shots. The most unusual thing we saw was the closet with mostly white clothing, edged by beige and black. Were the prints, the colors, the wrong tones stuffed into plastic storage boxes and piled high in the garage or in the unfinished basement, or had they too been divorced?

Everywhere there was rain, cookies were on offer and the houses eventually blur together, as do flats and apartments. And then one day you buy one and that chapter and sense of possibility, expectation and despair are replaced by concerns over choosing the best shade of grout and getting the measurements right. And now we have a dog and I (sort 0f) understand the candle thing.

We arrive right on time but already cars line the street where the pool is set on a residential lot behind a chain link fence. Several car windows are soaped with go team messages. The swimmers range from about age 5 up through high school. Both this pool and the one we had joined, sight unseen, from abroad, are among the community pools where they take swim team very seriously. Our daughter, swimming in an exhibition heat, doesn’t mind. She has painted stripes of team color over my nail polish.

The grills are already lit at the concession stand. Swimmers mill about and hang posters and baskets with candy for each other, swim fast, rule the pool. They write messages on each others’ backs or streak the team colors under their eyes. The older girls walk purposefully through the crowd, on a mission for tape, someone’s mom or a missing friend. There are classmates on the other team but the teams stick together. My friend tells us her daughter will not speak to a best friend from this pool when they are at meets.  Folding chairs are ranked along the sides of the pool, cup holders in the arms. They say this time is for warm-ups, but it’s more like preparation for battle.

Then there is an assembling. The coaches stand on the diving board and lead chants, cheers and the kind of songs that are guaranteed to bond campers and teammates, all but the budding misanthropes, and will echo years later in their heads as siren calls to summer and youth and, for some, as it had done their parents, back to these winding streets.

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