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Archive for February 22, 2012

Stuyvesant High School

I attended Stuyvesant High School a long, long time ago. During that time I was on the swimming team. It wasn’t too hard to join the team. Most kids in New York City don’t swim well. Well at least it seemed that they didn’t much in those days. My daughter’s high school team and her league had excellent swimmers.

I also did the low hurdles because no one else did. I even won the Manhattan Borough Championship meet and was mentioned in the NY Times Sports section. Who knew? I was pretty full of myself until I showed up for the City Championship Meet at Randall’s Island. There was a high school in Brooklyn called Girls and Boys High. They were African American. The hurdlers from that team were nine feet tall (I exaggerate) and could step over the hurdles like a speed bump. I came in last to them.

But, I digress. NY City High Schools by and large did not have swimming pools and Stuyvesant was no exception. Hence there were very few swimmers among the 704 students enrolled per class. In order to workout we would swim either at Evangeline Residence or at the 23rd St Bathhouse. Evangeline was a Salvation Army residence for women on about 12th Street in Greenwich Village. It had two lanes in small basement pool, was overheated, and very humid. No women, we were an all male school at the time.

The 23rd Street Bathhouse is still around from the early 1900’s. It was indeed a bathhouse for poor folks to take the occasional bath. The pool also had two lanes. There was a gargoyle at one end spewing out ‘cold’ water so that swimming in one direction was against the current. And this pool area was not heated much. City budget, I guess. In the winter you could see frost on your breath and the few blocks to walk to the subway invariably froze my wet hair.

The point of this picture for me and teammates in the years that preceded and followed, was this figure. It sat in the window of a shoe repair shop. Even at that time this was an old display. Yet in all of our collective psyches,’ this became a symbol of our trudge in the cold to workout and then leave to freeze our hair. It was an iconic waypoint in the life of our swim team.