“Evident Merit”

by Al Pastor

Dear Jim,

We’re sorry to say that your piece “We Don’t Swim…” wasn’t right for us, despite its evident merit. Thank you for allowing us to consider your work.


“We don’t swim…”

Those invited to swim in the suburbs once commonly encountered a sign conspicuously posted in the pool area. The sign read: “We don’t swim in your toilet, so please don’t pee in our pool.” At the age of 10, I found the sign disturbing. Decades later it still is. Some versions featured an equally disquieting caricature.

What was this all about? To a boy who loved swimming both notions were absurd. Swimming in toilets? Urinating in pools? Really? People did this? The accusatory tone was also unsettling – snarky, the feigned politeness that didn’t fool anybody. The sign could only be there for one reason. I got it, because someone had peed in the pool. Worse, they had been doing it often enough to warrant buying and posting a sign. Suspicion immediately fell on the child host who may have been a friend or, in the complicated ethos of pool etiquette, merely a classmate who we could take or leave (before we knew he had a pool). The sign, you might say, clouded the waters, if you get the drift.

Something else. There was the larger, remaining question of whether the sign indicated a deeper “problem” (bedwetting!), forever tarnishing the pool invite as just a shameless ploy for young friends for “Joey.” Obviously, no one wants to be tarred with the bedwetting brush, even by association.

Another natural possibility was that the likely offender was a younger sibling…one who probably couldn’t read. Hello. Do parents not recognize that incontinent and malicious toddlers don’t comprehend surreal signs, let alone heed their message? Another possible thread was that some young previous guest had been “caught” (how?). This would place any young guest under suspicion. How in the hell was I, routinely fingered as the prime delinquent whenever cries rung out, going to prove my innocence that, hey, I didn’t whiz in the pool?

The presence of the sign understandably dampened enthusiasm. You’ll recall that an exaggerated related reference got an easy laugh for the makers of Caddyshack. A Baby Ruth bar floats menacingly in the country club pool, assisted by an ominous soundtrack. The announced discovery of the bar bobbing along causes instant mayhem.

The thought of toilet bowl recreation, as expressed on the regrettable sign, would memorably return in the diverting televised image of a nautical man adrift in a commode shilling for Tidy Bowl. Remember? Apparently marooned, despite his (delusional) bonhomie didn’t he have the sense to realize his destiny – trapped on a row boat in a scenario too disgusting for words? One that would end with a hellish whirlpool not unlike the damned victims of Stevenson’s Merry Men? Come on! And how did he get there? What possible crime could have mandated him to be marooned inside a giant toilet bowl?

Who did this to him? How did he retain his rank? He’s obviously mad. I seem to recall in some of the ads he was playing an instrument. Passing the hours with a ukulele, was it? What’s up with that? Did that have something to do with his being there? Good acoustics down there in the bowl? Nowhere in the sea shanties and the tales of the sea, filled with larger-than-life legends of monsters and the unknown, was there ever anything like this. I’d rather face the giant squid.

The riveting Ty-D-Bol spots also bugged me – they still do – obviously – but not nearly as much as that pool sign. On every visit to a pool where it was displayed there remained the specter that someone had indeed “done it,” and might secretly try to strike again, who had, in language we heard over and over as children, “ruined it for everyone,” in this case by leaking a thin yellow stream into thousands of gallons of shimmering blue chlorinated water. It wasn’t me, ever. I swear to God.