Pool Envy

Backyard pools are undeniably aspirational. Not all of us can own one. That’s the whole point!

Woman sitting in a pool

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So, let’s dive right in. Today’s topic is swimming pools. You seriously want one, right? Or you once did, or your neighbors are shaming you for not having one.

If you live anywhere south of Anchorage, you’re practically obligated to dream wistfully, if privately, of owning your very own backyard swimming pool. It’s a fundamental chunk of the American mythos: We all have iPhones, designer clothing, vacation condos, and sparkling pools. That’s patently absurd, but dreams are often spun out of such nonsense.

I’m not immune to any of it. There was a time when I wondered when I’d have a magnificent pool mere steps from my door. Growing up in the Northeast, accustomed to being smacked around by Arctic winters, my foolish fantasy was that I would one day reside in California, where, according to a million magazine photos, all my neighbors would lounge day and night beside their aquamarine pools. Toned beauties worshipping their yoga gods in and around 25,000 gallons of chlorinated water! Heavenly.

Years later, when I eventually claimed a piece of L.A. real estate, there’d be no pool. I was neither a movie star nor a celebrity agent. I had small lemon trees in my backyard. The Beautiful People would call that adorable.

Do you know what an in-ground pool actually costs these days? The ads often pitch a figure around $22,000. Ain’t gonna happen. “I’d say the bare minimum for a pool, assuming that everything is perfect and you want a really stripped-down product, is $50,000, but it usually gets up to $100,000 and beyond,” Jon Hutchings, an Atlanta pool-company owner, recently told Forbes.com.

Even so, there are about 10.4 million private pools in the U.S. That includes those eyesore above-ground models, but let’s be honest, you don’t really want one of those. Naturally, California has the most in-ground pools (Florida and Texas place second and third, respectively), but New York — not exactly notable for its sunny weather — is not far behind. I’m not sure why.

There was a time when I wondered when I’d have a magnificent pool mere steps from my door.

Given their installation and maintenance costs, and in view of what they represent, which is a kind of lofty social status, backyard pools are undeniably aspirational. Not all of us can own one. That’s the whole point! We seldom seek what is readily available to everyone. Now, I happen to know lots of people who splash merrily in their backyard pools. Good people. Kind people. Not jerks or snobs. Okay, maybe snobs, just a tiny bit. (When I was building a house in South Florida some years ago, friends in the area, knowing I was ambivalent about a pool, told me, “Of course you need to order a swimming pool! What are you, some sort of heathen?” Ultimately, there would be no pool. Conclude of me what you wish.) Thing is, backyard pools come fraught with meaning.

That matters little to me, honestly. Also, for the record, I’m not a huge fan of backstroking through urine. Even in your own pool, there will be other people’s urine because other people will, at some point, be in your water and they will pee in it. An industry study conducted last year revealed that 48 percent of people who enter pools do not shower first, and — here we go — 40 percent admit to having urinated in a pool as an adult. I assume that number is unrealistically low.

If you’re someone who feels incomplete in the absence of a personal pool, no matter the circumstances, here’s a tip: Check out Survival Condo, now under construction in Kansas. The complex, which burrows 15 stories deep into earth, will include, yes, a pool — so that you may swim laps following a nuclear attack. That’s definitely snobbish.

In the last issue, Cable Neuhaus wrote about the return of kindness.

This article is featured in the May/June 2020 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

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