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Life-Goons All Wet


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[Re: "Lake of Ire," August 13]


I grew up along the lake (in Michigan) and swam frequently on lifeguardless beaches. I consider myself an experienced swimmer--and also experienced enough to know when not to mess with the lake. So imagine the culture shock after I moved here. As a regular recreational swimmer at North Avenue Beach, I too have been subjected to the increasingly authoritarian tactics of lifeguards who have nothing better to do than harass people who swim in water more than waist high. As they must know, it's simply hard to maneuver in water only up to your trunks.

As some of my friends will tell you, I've had my share of verbal (often heated) exchanges with the Lake Michigan Militia, some quite inane (too bad I can't bring my tape recorder in the water with me). Yet I've capitulated to their demands once they threaten to sic supervisors and cops on me. That's why I applaud Greenman--finally, someone--for taking a public stand.

I couldn't believe it when Greenman quoted a lifeguard as telling him that the "lake is not for swimming." I thought I was alone. A life-goon had the audacity to pass along those words of wisdom to me one day last month as I tried to backstroke around his damned rowboat. I was so flabbergasted by this pronouncement that I could barely finish my twice-weekly lap between breakwaters. Had I been less pacifistic, I would've dumped him and his boat over.

I've always maintained that the lifeguards' irrational need for control is due to the litigious-paranoid culture of the Chicago Park District. But at least a part of it, I think, is also because the Guardians of the Lake, like idle members of an occupying force, feel the need sometimes to assert their authority in order to justify their summer jobs and paychecks before they enter the real workforce as predatory capitalists. In any event, I thought it would've been interesting to hear what Joe Pecoraro, the CPD's chief of beaches and pools, has to say about the controversy.

I can hear the counterargument: if you want to swim (as opposed to play), then go jump in a pool or join the Y. But it's not the same. For me, communing with this large body of natural water, with its shifting and sometimes unpredictable personality, never fails to be mentally invigorating and physically challenging, especially in a hard urban environment. And it also involves taking advantage of what I consider Chicago's--perhaps Illinois'--greatest resource.

As every dedicated lake swimmer knows, there is a consolation: post-Labor Day September is weeks away. It's the best time for us. The water is still warm, there aren't a lot of people "playing," and the lake is blessedly free of the stick-in-the-shores who'd rather not have anybody "swim" in it in the first place. Surf's up!

Jeff Huebner

N. Cleaver

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