The Briley family lived on a cul-de-sac of nondescript houses on a taupe ranch, and growing up every child within a mile of the house knew three things about the Brileys. We knew that Bear, her old dog, only had one testicle; we knew that her grandmother could snap us a cigarette when she was in a bad mood; and we knew they had a much sought after above ground pool.
If you were cycling past the house on any particular summer Sunday, you probably heard Molly Hatchet boom through a tiny boombox and find Mr. Briley, a locksmith, in that pool, his bald head swaying up and down like a bald man Motorhead-style mustache turned to the sky, smiling. As I stared at him from the hot pavement, I first saw an adult who looked really relaxed (what can I say, I come from angry people), and when I saw the sight, I longed for magic through osmosis, reaching the above ground pool provided such a state of bliss.
Where I’m from in Kentucky, nothing really says “backyard oasis” like an above-ground pool, damn bourgeois in-ground versions. A flashy small town and suburban point of pride – or just an excuse to drink and get wrinkled with friends – above-ground pools have long been a way to trumpet appreciation and access to leisure for the working and middle classes became a hot ticket item for summer 2020.
With recommendations on social distancing for the foreseeable future and typical summer cool-down rooms – such as public swimming pools and water parks – that are either closed or severely restricted, the home pool has become a much celebrated and desirable garden accessory. Even for those who weren’t pool heads prior to the pandemic, the urge to feel something refreshing – not just the stale bite of a convection air conditioner – has reached a fever level, and above-ground pools have come into the spotlight.
For decades, however, above-ground pools have been mocked by more snobbish sects than massive plastic kettles made of chlorine that protrude like blemishes in an otherwise pristine landscape, be it in the country, in the city or in the suburbs. What if you wanted to swim and didn’t have a pool in the bottom? In lifestyle magazines, we recommend simply jumping into a fancy hotel pool, finding a friend of a friend with a lap pool, or planning a weekend getaway to a beach clinging to salt water. But do you find your retreat in a pool where the water is above ground? Oh no – never that. The stigma and subsequent nudge of above-ground pools reflects the long-heralded notion that if you are not able to “spare time” in the most expensive, high-end way, you shouldn’t be able to access leisure time at all. to operate .
But this summer, oh how has the melody changed Above-ground pools are now at the top of everyone’s wish-list – and they’re sold out everywhere.
“Were people really that desperate?” interviewed a May 2020 article in the New York Times about the ultra rich suddenly looking for above-ground pools when summer plans dried up. “An above-ground pool in Westport is like a bag of SunChips on a table at Per Se.”
Aside from the unnecessary scrutiny of delicious SunChips, this tone reflects one of the main reasons why above-ground pools have been looked down on by so-called flavor makers: the laws of supply and demand, exclusivity and trend. If everyone can have it, we don’t want it. But if we can’t have it, it’s worth it, the skewed logic seems to go, whether it’s a summer swimming hole or the latest expensive capsule wardrobe. The design, design, and overall function of the above-ground pool hasn’t changed between last summer and this summer – aside from a filter upgrade by a company or two – but now that the resource is scarce, it’s in vogue.
The first above-ground pool was manufactured in 1907 for the Racquet Club of Philadelphia and designed by the well-known bridge builders Roebling & Sons Co. (Even today, you can see similarities between the belt-like metal ring that holds above-ground pools and the steel bridges that connect them in cities – only one version feeds in water and the other rises above it.) By 1947, above-ground pool kits for the city flooded Mass market on artificial turf lawns, when after the Second World War the “me-time” increased for the middle class, parents and their children. Soon, above-ground pools were as common as trampolines, and in 1978 there were at least 150,000 above-ground pools on Long Island alone, according to a 1978 Times feature.
Then and now, above-ground pools leave plenty of room for decorative DIY adjustments as owners often swap out their pools to either stand out or blend in with their garden. I’ve seen dozens of above-ground pools surrounded by tropical potted plants (classic vacation vibe), sponge-painted wooden grids encircling the perimeter of a pool (shabby chic style), and even the sides of a pool that happened to be painted by kids ( Summer camp) luxury). Others opt for custom-made decks around their above-ground pools, creating a faux-in-ground feel. (I know a former local firefighter who recently quit his job to make this type of custom-fit deck all day.)
If I were a more responsible person, I would try tracking down an above-ground pool for myself (and believe me, I’ve thought about it), but I know I wouldn’t be paying proper attention to it – cleaning, changing filters, chemical treatments – it deserves it. Longtime lovers of above-ground pools treat these aquatic wonderlands like family or at least a serious chunk of household dynamics, right up there with landscaping and decking. And because above-ground pools, with careful care, have a lifespan of more than 15 years, they know that their investment will more than pay off when it comes to collecting memories on a budget, summer after summer.
Of course, now that we are in the aboveground pool for a few beers deep in the summer, influencers have already felt the need not only to co-opt them, but also to pretend that they themselves are the creators (or at least the discoverers). of the above-ground pool. Like so many other cultural touchstones torn away from working class (and color) communities, we are now seeing the aboveground pool becoming what the most privileged of us consider inaccessible and, strangest of all, to the Want to put on a show. Aboveground mini-pools with metal sinks are the latest fad in Austin wannabe land, while Instagram darlings and bloggers in Joshua Tree have been decorating their spin on above-ground pools with bespoke fire tile clay for a number of years. If a group of models were frolicking an above-ground couture pool for a Gucci photoshoot by 2021, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Fortunately, these extremely dilute air developments are not that important to the majority of experienced above-ground pool owners. Last summer, when I lifted myself over the side of a friend’s decade-old above-ground pool and plunged into the water that gave goose bumps, I pretended (as always) like I had actually managed to climb into the belly of an old water tower to swim. My supposed above-ground pool in the sky, no longer tied to the earth, quickly became a tank for sensory deprivation and procrastination – I was Mr. Briley, minus the mustache! – until my little daughter splashed in my face, giggling. But don’t bother. I am grateful to be brought back to earth by a new generation who will appreciate the above-ground pool, even if the hype at sea has washed away.
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