Sunday, September 29, 2013

Pool, Part 3: The Bathhouse -- The Boys' Dressing Room

by Robert Giles

The mechanics of ticketing, and checking clothes were the same as for the girls. I wore my "diaper pin" somewhere on my trunks near the waistband.

I wonder if they ever ran out of mesh baskets or spaces to store them. What happened then? Did you double up and use a friend's basket or just turn around and go home? How many visitors could be accommodated?

The ticket taker, the basket handlers, the lifeguards were all high school age. As I got older, I recognized schoolmates. 

There was an office in the bathhouse somewhere. I never quite knew where it was.

Most of the time, I sloshed through the foot baths. I had a vague idea that it was good hygiene - if something is unclean, most likely it is the feet (or hands - I was going to add the nose but who wants to go there?).

After all, it was a community pool. The water didn't go anywhere. It had to be treated. 

"Fungus amungus" - words I liked to say when I was four and even now when I am sixty-four.

Remember how red the chlorine made your eyes and how blue your lips got when the water was cold?

The "wringer" - some of you may not know what one is. The English call them "mangles". Wringers are good places to mangle your fingers if not fed at the right angle.

For a picture of a mangling wringer, I am offering a link:

As a young lad, one of the highlights of my day at the pool was wringing out my towel and suit. A couple of passes through the ringer made them remarkably dry.

The mangles probably upset the insurance adjusters, because they were removed sometime before I reached adulthood. The diving boards and slide eventually suffered the same end.

The funky smells of the girls' side may have been matched by the boys' - minus the hairspray. I do catch a whiff of coconut oil when I close my eyes and lean back from the keyboard.

Is that the faint smell of "Aqua-Velva"?

There were no dressing rooms to give a boy some sense of privacy. Everything was out in the open. The human body comes in all sizes and shapes, many of them unpleasant. 

There was often the feel of something icky on the floor beneath my feet. 

Outside in the hot sun, the total concrete surface could get "... hotter than a match head". It was a relief to cool my dogs on cloudless days in the shade of the bathhouse steps .

I have to go back inside the bathhouse now and comb my hair for the seventeenth time. Have to look sharp - good grooming doesn't go out of fashion until the late sixties.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Ambridge Borough Swimming Pool, Part 3: The bathhouse--the girls' dressing room

This is the third in a series of posts about my favorite summer spot, the Ambridge Borough Swimming Pool. Upcoming posts will offer more memories including: the pools, the snack bar, and working there. In addition, there's going to be a post about the boys' dressing room by someone with more expertise on the subject than I have.

To get to the pool area, you had to walk through the one-story, yellow brick bathhouse.

There were external concrete steps on both ends of the bathhouse. These led to observation decks at the top of each side, separated by the main part of the bathhouse roof. Some kids liked to go up to the decks before entering the bathhouse so they could check out who was already there, but I was always too anxious to get into the pool to bother. Besides, I typically was one of the earliest arrivals and beat almost everyone else to the pool.

The bathhouse entrance was an open, covered area in the center with a box office at the front, similar to a box office at the movies in the '50s and '60s.

At the box office, you'd pay your entrance fee ($0.25 for kids in 1969) or showed your season swimming pass. The cashier would give you a ticket. After that, girls and women entered the bathhouse on the right, boys and men on the left.

Here's what would happen on the girls' side: Upon entering, you'd give your ticket to the seated matron, an adult woman employee, who would drop it in a slot in the top of her end of a long counter, and she would give you a metal wire basket similar to the baskets used by shoppers in grocery stores, only without any handles. Then you'd pass through a waist-high turnstile and immediately smell the essence of bathhouse, a combination of chlorine, wet concrete floor, sweaty bodies, musty towels, damp swimsuits, and hairspray. Sometimes, when the pool was crowded, the smell of urine drifting from the toilet area was added to the mix.

If you needed to change into your swimsuit, you'd find an empty wooden dressing room. The dressing rooms, painted a blue-gray (or perhaps a gray-blue) were frequently decorated with declarations of love written in pink lipstick like "Barb loves Tommy," "Tommy loves Jane," or "P.S. + D.W." surrounded by a heart.

In the dressing room, you'd change into your swimsuit and put your street clothes in the basket. Then you'd walk back to the counter where one or more teen-aged girl "checkers" would be standing. The checker would remove a large metal safety pin from rows of nails pounded into the end of long wooden shelves. You'd then exchange your basket for a pin which had a number stamped into the clasp. The checker would take your basket and store it on a shelf in a numbered space that corresponded with the number of your pin. I'd usually attach the pin above the bottom right leghole of my swimsuit. I knew other girls favored their swimsuit strap or put the pin on their towel, but I was convinced that they were doing it wrong.

At that point, you'd take your pool necessities, carried in a fashionable train case or a "beach bag," and your beach towel and head towards the back right of the dressing room. But before you could get outside, you had to pass through the dreaded steamy shower room with its wet, painted floors. When I was young, I hated going through the shower room if the showers were on. I didn't like the water spraying on my head, even though in a few minutes I'd be jumping in the pool and soaking wet all over.

Beyond the shower room was a shallow pan of unidentified, milky-white liquid that we were all supposed to walk through before leaving the building. I believe there was supposed to be an athlete's foot-fighting substance in that liquid, but who knew for sure? I never saw anyone actually walk through the pan, everyone veered around it. I certainly wasn't going to put my feet into a pan of unidentified, milky liquid that other people had walked through (if anyone ever did) with their bare feet.

But after that final obstacle, you'd find yourself on a covered porch area in the back of the building, just a few steps above the sole-scorching concrete of the pool area.

When you were ready to leave the pool at the end of the day, you went back up the steps to the back porch, then turned right and pushed through a full-height turnstile. Immediately upon exiting the turnstile, there was a another large pan of milky liquid that everyone was instructed to step in. And which everyone walked around.

Then you'd walk over to the counter, exchange your pin for your basket, take the basket to a dressing room and change back into your street clothes. If you were a nice young lady, which I was, you took your empty basket back to the counter before leaving the bathhouse. (Not so nice young ladies left their empty basket in the dressing rooms which annoyed both the next user and the checker who had to collect them.)

At one time, a suit-wringer was available at the rear of the dressing area between the counter and the first aid room. If you hadn't been out of the pool long enough for your suit to dry off, you could squeeze the water out by cranking your suit between the wringer's rollers.

Finally, you exited the bathhouse though another full-height turnstile that led to the front of the building, just to the side of the main entrance area. And you were ready to head home. Maybe. First, you still might need to visit the snack bar for food to sustain you on your walk home and/or climb the concrete steps to the observation deck on the roof of the bathhouse to wave and talk to your friends who were still at the pool.

Next: The bathhouse--the boys' dressing room

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

School supplies from Thrift Drug including "Magic Brain Calculator"

Thrift Drug school supplies ad, Beaver County Times, September 7, 1966

We had educational technology in 1966 too. Thrift Drug, which had stores on Merchant Street and in Northern Lights Shopping Center, sold the "Magic Brain Calculator." According to their ad, the Magic Brain was an "Easy to carry, Easy to use calculating machine that adds, subtracts and multiplies. Eliminates time-consuming mental calculation" [Capitalization and punctuation as in original ad.]

OK. The Magic Brain apparently didn't magically divide, but still a bargain at $0.49. 

Surely, teachers and parents worried that once we starting using such a technological marvel, we'd forget how to do math calculations on our own using those "time-consuming mental calculations." Madness!

Also, note the "See Thru Book Bag," also $0.49 which would be just the thing to carry in current security conscious schools and to NFL games

Friday, September 20, 2013

Carrying a plaid, metal lunchbox to school in the mid-'50s

Photo credit: Tamara Ricci, used with permission

The old, red brick, three-story Divine Redeemer School building at 300 Merchant Street, now Karnavas Vending, didn't have a cafeteria. It didn't have much of anything except six classrooms, a few tiny, single-toilet bathrooms, and some cloakrooms. Oh, and a lobby area where we waited for the bus after school. So we took our lunches to eat at our desks.

In early elementary years, I carried my lunch in a red plaid, metal Aladdin lunchbox that looked like the one above.

That lunchbox was a disappointment, although I don't recall ever complaining about it to my mother after she bought it for me, because what would have been the point of complaining? My mom wasn't going to take it back and get me the more trendy lunchbox I would rather have had with that cute Tweety bird or at least Mickey Mouse on the side. (While those weren't my favorite TV characters in my early elementary years, even then I recognized that carrying a Hopalong Cassidy lunchbox would greatly increase my dorkiness quotient in the opinion of my classmates.)

As a practical matter, the plaid lunchbox made sense, as at least it was equally non-trendy--and not Hopalong-grade dorky--for my entire elementary school career.

The lunchbox came with a matching plaid, glass-lined thermos. The thermos was held securely in place, theoretically at least, by a one-piece, u-shaped, metal wire clip. Yet, I don't know how many times I brought home a thermos that made that clinking-tinkling sound which identified a thermos with broken glass inside. I have no idea how I broke them. It wasn't as if I'd used my lunchbox as a weapon, although supposedly some schools banned metal lunchboxes for that reason.

Inside the lid were safety tips, written as a rhyme, and accompanied by illustrations.

Photo credit: Tamara Ricci, used with permission
The text reads:

"SAFETY FIRST" is an important rule

At home, at play, and in your school.
The school patrol is on guard each day,
And they know the rules you should obey.
So watch for cars with each step you take,
And cross at the corners for safety's sake.
There's really no need to play in the street,
Since playgrounds are better places to meet.
Learn all the rules of the games you play,
They'll be safer if done in the proper way.
Remember to walk, not run, in the halls,
Keeping to the right will save you from falls.
When lunch is over, clear the trash away,
And go on to have fun the "Safety Way"!

Having those safety tips inside the lid made sense, because didn't all kids read the inside lid of their lunchboxes? And then think, "Oh, those safety rules, which I never heard before, must be really important seeing that they are inside the lid of my lunchbox, so I'll follow them!"

Obviously, kids' minds must have worked so much more simply in the mid-'50s.

The lunchbox photos came from Tamara Ricci's Etsy store, BeholdAllThingsNew.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Back to school: buying supplies at G.C. Murphy

I'm going to take a break from writing about the pool because kids are back in school and that evoked some back-to-school memories of buying school supplies at G.C. Murphy.

Murphy's, located at 561 Merchant Street where the Dollar General store now is, was my favorite place to buy school supplies. They were sold in the annex connected to the right of the main store and to the left of Enlow's Shoes.

The school supplies were located toward the back of the annex, on the left side. I loved to look over the pencils, erasers, rulers, and tiny notebooks sold individually and stocked on a waist-high wooden counter with glass partitions forming a small bin for each type of item.

There were big, fat black pencils if you were just learning to print; yellow #2 pencils; small plastic pencil sharpeners; cap erasers to put on the top of your pencil after you wore away its original eraser; pink wedge erasers--didn't they smell good?; wooden and a variety of plastic rulers; metal scissors with blunt tips so you didn't poke out an eye if you fell while running with them. Those scissors tended not to cut very well, but safety first!

But even though I could, and often did, buy those supplies separately, in my early elementary years, nothing was more wonderful than getting a pretty cardboard pencil box already filled with school supplies. The pencil box usually had products that were inferior to the supplies sold separately: one or two pencils; a small, hard eraser; a plastic pencil sharpener; a thin plastic six-inch ruler; a small plastic protractor; and a few waxy crayons. But it had compartments! And my favorite pencil box of all time had two levels; the lower one was a drawer that slid out.

When I got older I liked buying ball point pens--I favored inexpensive, retractable and refillable ones with blue ink and colored plastic barrels.

I never got really excited about black composition books, tablets, or binders, but once I got into high school, no binder was acceptable except one covered with blue denim cloth and a spring clip inside the front cover. I know some kids would write or draw on theirs, but I didn't do that. I preferred mine unadorned.

But Crayola Crayons! Now those were exciting! Especially once I got beyond the thick ones used by kindergarteners and early elementary kids. More colors. More choices about number of Crayons in the box: 16, 24, 32! I was never fond of the smaller boxes because they didn't have my two favorite colors: midnight blue and burnt sienna. Of course, after 1958 when Crayola introduced the big 64 Crayon box--with a sharpener built into the box!--I wanted needed it. A box that big wasn't always practical for a small girl carrying a small bookbag to take to school. But at home, oh, yeah!