Strange Associations

I found myself by the university swimming pool this afternoon. Which I found out looks like this:

Sorry the pictures are so small; it’s the best I could do.

Anyway, the point is, just walking past, smelling the chlorine, and looking at the folks in the bleachers around it made me really happy, and I realized it’s because of an odd association in my head that I can’t trace the root of. Ideally I’m hoping someone that reads this can help me figure it out, but mostly I just wanted to share it, because it’s rather strange.

So, I definitely have positive memories of indoor pools from my childhood, because they always either meant hanging out with my dad and brother at Mulberry, or hanging around after ice-skating at Edora, or maybe that we were on some kind of trip at a nice hotel (I can still remember everything about the hotel pool where I finally learned to tread water, after my dad had tried to teach me for like five years with lessons split up into one or two nights every summer vacation).

But for some reason, university swimming pools have always had strong positive associations to me that are independent of this, and in particular, they evoke strongly in me the idealized image I have of what it means to be a college professor.

I can’t even begin to explain this, except that the sight and/or smell of a pool on campus automatically makes me picture an older man, graying around the temples, alone in the pool doing laps in the early early hours of the morning, before classes start. His clothes and glasses are always (pointlessly, because surely he’s going back to the locker room to change) stacked by the side of the pool, and the sound of the water lapping at the sides when he approaches the ends of the lane echoes against the high ceiling (which reminds me, why are pool ceilings so high? Even when there are no bleachers?)

For some reason, I love the image of this man, because I like to assume he has just come to work after kissing his wonderful wife goodbye, and is taking advantage of the light swim to give him a chance to mull over his latest research problem before he has to go teach his electrodynamics course at 8:30. I like it so much that I used to strategically walk past the university pool at CU between my two toughest courses just to get a little energizing whiff of chlorine, because it never fails to make me shiver at the thought of how exciting it would be to be paid to get up every morning and think hard about how the universe works.

But the thing is, I haven’t the faintest idea where this image comes from. I can only assume it must be a scene in a movie I’ve seen at some point, which for some reason stuck with me? I know it’s not such a widely-used image that it’s actually a common cinematic thing. So why does the combination of “pool” and “university” always make me think this?

There is a scene in the movie “Scoop” which features a couple of people, including a dashing, handsome gentleman who could be a hollywood version of a professor alone in a big empty pool room. And I know that the professor I picture often strikes me as being a lot like the professor from “Good Will Hunting,” but I don’t think there are scenes with him in a pool and in fact, I think these associations started long before I saw that particular movie.

I dunno. If you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear. I’m not even a swimmer, or a morning person. But I swear, if and when I get a job at a university someday, the first thing I’m going to do is get up early and head to the pool. Even if I can’t drag myself out of bed for it ever again.

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About Colin West
Colin West is a graduate student in quantum information theory, working at the Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics at Stony Brook University. Originally from Colorado (where he attended college), his interests outside of physics include politics, paper-folding, puzzles, playing-cards, and apparently, plosives.

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