Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent. (or, in this case... the guilty)
The statue of limitations should have expired by now and as much as I'd like to use names, I'm going to do my best to not implicate people who might not want to be associated with the following recollection of this incident.
It was July of 1991. I was spending my second summer as the pool maintenance manager. It was a fun job, a decent job... a job where I was able to do things that were classified as work (cleaning, scrubbing, testing water, sweeping, backflushing filters, vacuuming the pool, sterilizing the bathrooms, etc.) but also hanging out at place that was recreational. When I was in between jobs or when I was done working for the day, I could just hang out at the pool and be there in case anything needed to be checked on or cleaned. This was still years before I'd ever have a cell phone and if something broke at the pool or if something happened that needed me there, the pool office would have to try to reach me at my house or call my dad and he'd try to hunt me down. We didn't even have an answering machine... so checking in at the pool was a necessity.
There were times when I knew that checking in frequently was necessary. For instance, when the temperatures were particularly warm, the electric motor that ran the pump would overheat and trip the breaker. I'd need to be up there to reset the breaker and get the pump primed and running again and also to open the two doors to the pump room to allow for a cross breeze to help keep the temperature down in the pump room. There were times that even that was futile and I would try to lay a wet towel over the enclosed housing of the electric pump, like a damp washcloth on the forehead of somebody with a fever, I would do my best to keep the pump tempered down best I could. As soon as the wet towel was hot, I'd go dip it in the pool and start over... as far as I knew, every degree helped. I would do whatever I could.
I would even go up there in the middle of the night. There were times that this was imperative such as when a thunderstorm would come through and any electric surge from lightning strikes in the area would cause the pump to shut off. If I heard thunder or sensed lightning flashes, I'd crawl out of bed and get my essential clothes on for a run up to the pool to re-prime the pump and get it running.
I'd jump in the El Camino, insert the smoothed out 25 year old key into the ignition in the dashboard and give it a quarter turn clockwise. The 296 would rumble to life, I'd run the windshield wipers a couple times to clear the leftover rain on the windshield and then I'd back down our long driveway and out onto third street and then west down the glistening pavement puddled with the remains of the storm that had just gone through. Sometimes there were still sprinkles still falling, other times the stars were already out. There were even times that I headed up to the pool just before the storm was about to hit or was in the middle of hitting. Whatever the case, I'd get up to the pool and park on the east side of the pump room, unlock the padlock on the fence gate guarding the door, then unlock the door and open it into the room.
The pump room was only about 10 feet by 8 feet. As you walked in, directly to the right was the 500 gallon white plastic soda ash container that held a slurry of water and soda ash and housed a motor on top that kept the solution mixing, like a huge shake mixer. There was a plastic hose running down to the bottom from a pump that then pumped the soda ash fluid into the return line from the main pump to the pool. The soda ash was used to balance the pH of the water that would become acidic from the chlorine. Further west into the room and directly adjacent to the soda ash container was two big cylindrical sand filters. The pump drew the water in from the skimmer lines and the main drain and through a screen filter, then through the pump that then threw the water up the 10" line 5 or 6 feet up and two the two filters. The return lines came out of the bottom of the filters and down into the the basement pit under the filters and out to the plumbing around the pool to the return jets set into the walls of the pool. The basement pit wasn't there to be simply a basement, it also had a drain in the floor. Every couple of days, I needed to backflush the sand filters. It was essentially running the water through the sand layers in the filters backwards and then out a dump line into the pit basement. extra dirt, debris and sediment would come off the sand and out through the backflush. It would take a minute or two depending on how dirty the filters were (judgement on the process was by eyeball) and a lot of water would get flushed out into the sewer in the process. But it was a necessary process to keep the filters working efficiently. While I was backflushing, I'd already start refilling the pool with the fill valve, which was like a large faucet under the short diving board. Replacing the water dumped in the backflush would take quite a while, even if it were on full blast (I rarely filled it at full blast as it wasn't quite a TON of water but I was told by the city to limit the strain on the water tower, so half-power or so was more than enough water to refill the pool over the course of an hour or two). I always logged the amount of water going into the pool so we'd be able to look back and see if an extra amount of water was unnecessarily being added which would indicate a leak somewhere in the system which would be a nightmare and involve tearing up concrete to find a leak. The pool was already over 25 years old by this point and SOME of the plumbing HAD been replaced but the pool board and city was well aware that a major overhaul was due in the near future.
On this particular summer night, I made a run to pool at about 10 pm to check on the heat of the pump, open the doors to the pump house and see if there was anything out of the ordinary. There were times that I would even go up on those hot nights to just shut the pump off to give it a break from the heat, and shut the valve so I wouldn't have to reprime the motor before restarting. While the pump was off, I'd just hang out at the pool. Once in a while, especially if it were hot enough, I'd just slip into the water briefly and float around to cool off. Basically, I'd ty to give the pump as much time as I could to cool off as much as possible. Sometimes I'd be there for 10 minutes, sometimes I'd chill for more than an hour.
The pool was a quiet place in the middle of the night in a little town like Garretson. Even if all the streetlights and houselights were on, the stars were very bright and while floating in the dark pool with just the light from the door to the pump room streaming out onto the concrete I could stare up at the stars and watch for shooting stars or make out satellites inching across the black sky. I'd try to be as quiet as possible, especially if it was just late in the evening as I didn't want people around town to hear me in the water. Attracting that kind of attention was never smart, even if it was ok or not that I was in the water, and it was amazing how the sound of the pool travelled all across the town, even in the middle of the day with all the noise of life going on. You could always hear the splashes and laughs and shudder of the diving board when the pool was being used. It was the call of the pied piper to kids wondering if anything was going on.
So I made my appearance at the pool that night, shut the pumps off, swam for a bit and then headed for home well before 10:30 pm.
It's a couple of hours later that the rest of the story kicks in. At about 1:30 am, three of my friends, none of whom I knew were planning on going UP to the pool to pull off their OWN midnight swim (a common occurrence for the youth of Garretson to pull in the summer, especially if they knew that the city police officer was otherwise pre-occupied somewhere else). Larry, Curly and Moe decided to climb the fence by the door to the pump house and then dropping off all of their clothes behind the diving boards by the pump room and going for their swim. As usual, the sound of the pool travelled across the football field and down into town. With three of them swimming, it didn't take long for the sound to carry far enough to the ears of the officer on duty that night. He was driving up Center to the south and heard the ruckus immediately. Being wise, he shut off his light and turned on the gravel road for Tandberg Field and began sneaking toward the pool. Larry, Curly and Moe finally had the wherewithal to sense a car coming down the road and immediately knew that that wasn't a good sound. They leapt out of the water scrambled to grab their clothes and shoes and other belongings and back over the fence. They threw on the clothes they could as the officer, now coming up around behind the pump house saw them scrambling over the 6 foot high chainlink fence and threw on his lights and punched it towards them. They scurried and scattered out into the alfalfa field to the east of the pool grounds where the current crop of alfalfa had grown to about 2 feet high and was close to needing a cutting.
The officer threw on his spotlight and tracked the guys out into the field and drove his car up to edge of the field. He could see them moving slightly still and decided to drive out into the field to try to hunt them down with his lights. Each of them had shot off in different directions, so their odds were improved but he was determined to catch somebody. He circled around a couple of times to where he remembered seeing some movement, but by now the three guys were holding perfectly still and watching the lights of the police car slowly pass over them and continue it's sweeping movement. When the saw only taillights they'd scramble further and further away, all the while trying to stay as low as possible. Eventually they all scrambled far enough away and in one piece while the police officer eventually gave up his search in the field.
Upon his return to the scene of the crime though, he was pleasantly surprised to find some clues left behind. Some shoes, a shirt and a wallet.
It turns out that each of the guys had left something behind and their evidence was now in the hands of the officer. Since they were all on foot, and since they had scrambled off in different directions, it took them a while to find each other in the middle of the night. I'm guess that they all met back at whomever's car was closest to the pool. That detail was not divulged to me.
Fast forward to the next morning and I headed up to the pool and begin my morning routine of hosing everything down. Always the entire bathrooms using the sanitizers and then a rinse. Then depending on how much vacuuming I needed to do or skimming of leaves and loose debris on top of the water, I'd try to hose off the concrete pool deck to provide a clean area for the pool goers to layout. By cleaning it off, it kept the dirt out of the pool too. So I'd play fireman and sweep right and left, section of concrete by section of concrete towards the outside or toward the drain on the pool deck. By my recollection, I don't remember seeing anything out of the ordinary from the night before.
6 blocks away, where Larry slept, the police officer followed the clues on his driver's license to his address and knocked on the door. He answered the door and was presented with questions about where he was last night at 1:30 am.
"Hmm..... home in bed by then. Why?"
"You weren't up at the pool swimming in the middle of the night?" the officer continued while holding his wallet out in front of him.
"Oh no... I wasn't..." pausing for a moment before brilliantly saying, ".... but I was AT the pool last night after closing." The officer perked up and leaned in. "But I was there after closing with JT while he finished up cleaning and backwashing the filters. He said he needed a hand so I helped him. We did go swimming and I put my clothes by the pump room. That's probably where I left my wallet. Why did something happen?"
"Yeah, there were three young gentlemen up there trespassing illegally on city property. They ran before I could get a good look at any of them. These shoes were out on the grass that one of them dropped. Would you mind if I had you try them on. It would help prove to me that they aren't your's."
He tried them on and couldn't get his foot into one of them and upon insisting that they are NOT his shoes the officer relented and thanked him for his time, but not before adding, "Now if I find JT at the pool, he'll be able to confirm that you helped him?"
The officer pulled away from his house and as soon as he was out of sight, Larry ran in and called the pool. He had been a lifeguard at the pool for a few years himself, so he knew the number at the office and he hoped to God that I would answer the phone right now.
Luckily for him, I did answer. "Yellow..."
"JT, there's not much time to explain. Last night myself, Curly and Moe went swimming at the pool and I dropped my wallet and Curly left his shoes out on the lawn and Moe forgot his t-shirt. The cop was just here questioning me about my wallet being there and I told him I left it with you up there when you were cleaning after the pool had closed because you needed my help and that we swam and I must've dropped my wallet. He even had me try on Curly's shoes and thankfully they didn't fit! Just cover for me and he should be cool." I think he said it to me in one breath. I was exasperated just listening to it and trying to comprehend what had happened and what I needed to do.
No sooner was I left thinking about that than I could hear the car coming down the gravel road by the football field toward the pool. I had the pump room doors open and the officer parked his car and got out and came walking in the pool deck area where I was just finishing up the hosing that I needed to do.
I had never met him and he introduced himself and we shook hands. He asked if there was any mess left in the pool last night (I'm sure he was digging for any clues) and went on to explain what he had come across last night at 1:30-ish. I tried to act like it was the first time I had heard the story, which technically it was from his point of view. He told me just the basics. He said nothing of what he had found afterwards.
He then asked if I had been here late in the evening after the pool had closed. I explained that, "yes, I try to vacuum every couple days and it takes a couple of sets of hands to block the skimmer lines and get the vacuum hose hooked up, so Larry had been here helping me."
"Well, he told me that's what he was doing here too... he must've dropped his wallet while he was here. It's cool that you guys swim after hours?"
"Oh yeah, happens all the time. Usually only do it if there's somebody else here with me. Safety first, you know."
He laughed and said, "Well, keep up the hard work!"
"You too... good luck catching those guys." Which is where I should've stopped, but my jaw kept moving.... it was like it was in slow motion as he was disappearing into the pump room to leave... "hey, at least you got a new pair of shoes."
I could see the words hit the back of his head. He stopped, pausing at the edge of the darkness and slightly cock his head. He didn't look AT me, but he was thinking.... I could see him thinking it... "did I TELL him I found a pair of shoes?"
No... no, he hadn't. I was prepared for him to ask me that and I would just say that he had. But he continued into and through the dark room and then into his car. I continued to hose the deck, even though I was done. I was just avoiding looking up at him. I could sense that he was probably still looking at me and wondering about that shoe comment.
Larry later told me the full story about what had transpired and how he had been the one that the officer had followed out into the field. He confessed that he just about got run over a couple of times but he missed him by a couple of feet... once less than a foot. Thank God he had his shoes, or at least that his feet didn't fit into Curly's shoes.
Too bad Curly lost a pair of shoes. I guess that was the cost of admission that night.
With the onset of winter, these cold wet rains turning to snow trigger a lot of old familiar feelings. Feelings that I have felt annually at this time of year since I can remember. It's the feeling that another summer is gone and we have no more warm summer days to look forward to. It's a feeling of inevitable confinement and surrender to an oncoming cabin fever. It always kickstarts feelings of remembering the place I grew up during those longest of summer days: The Garretson Swimming Pool.
Summers at the pool in Garretson were the closest thing we had to a built in summer camp. I would wager a large amount that between the ages of 10 and 17, I spent at least 78% of my free time at that pool or hanging out near it.
I'm just a creative guy that's looking to throw all this spaghetti onto the wall and hope something sticks.