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Manuscript Documents Voices Of the Berkeley Warm Pool

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday April 10, 2007

Often when we’re in the locker room at the pool, my mother will say to me, ‘Do you hear the singing?’ And I’ll ask, “What singing?” “Don’t you hear the music?” she’ll say. And I’ll listen, and I’ll hear sounds bouncing off the walls and different voices, and as I focus in on them they get increasingly melodic... 

And then, when we’re leaving, and we’re often the last to leave, there is a deep quiet because the pool’s empty, everyone’s gone. You don’t hear voices, you don’t hear singing anymore. But you can hear the pool’s own rhythm, the percussive “dm...dum, dm” of the water sloshing in the drains, sounding like drums, a cool bass sound “Dum, dm...dum, dm ...dum,” like the percussion underlying the voices, the voices of all the people who had been singing that day. 

—Susana Praver-Perez and Jan Praver, Berkeley High School warm pool users, in Daniel Rudman’s compilation Soakin’ the Blues Away: Voices of the Warm Pool 




Susana Praver-Perez and Jan Praver are just two of the 170 Berkeley Warm Water Pool users who have lent their voices to a manuscript put together by playwright and pool user Daniel Rudman to garner support for the pool. 

Rudman, 62, was injured when a slab of sheet rock fell on top of him while he was building a ceiling 24 years ago. Numerous doctors, medications and treatments later, Rudman was still bedridden. That was until he discovered the Berkeley Warm Pool in 1987. 

“It represented temporary relief. Freedom. The pool didn’t cure me, but it prevented me from deteriorating any further,” his testimonial says. “It gave me needed hope. Without it, I wouldn’t be alive.” 

Supporters of the warm water pool flocked to the Landmarks Preservation Commission Thursday to speak in support of landmarking the pool. Lack of time prevented the public from speaking their mind and the issue from being discussed any further. 

“It’s the very first thing on the agenda at the next Landmarks meeting and you can be sure we will be there,” said Berkeley resident and warm water pool supporter Marie Bowman to the Planet Friday. 

Designed by renowned Bay Area architects William C. Hays and Walter H. Ratcliff Jr., the warm water pool and the gymnasium are both eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Founded in 1929, it is the only public heated pool in the East Bay. 

The South of Bancroft Master Plan—which was approved by the school board in January—proposes to demolish the old gymnasium that houses the warm water pool at the very end of the project, which the school district says will give them time to work on a plan with the city to save the pool. 

But for the Daniels, the Susanas and the Susies who have found a lifeline in the confines of the warm pool’s therapeutic waters, the battle continues daily to save the only thing that is keeping them alive every day. 

More than 400 people swim at the warm pool daily, and not all are disabled seniors. 

There’s 20-month-year-old Colin Larkin who loves to kick and paddle and blow bubbles at 88-year-old Dave Marshall. Like Colin, a host of other kids are part of the Berkeley Recreation Department’s highly regarded Special Needs Aquatic Program (SNAP) that serves disabled children. 

For many, the warm pool is like a sacred ground, a haven which helps them forget not just the pain and suffering, but also the aging process. 

As Iris Gomez (real name changed in the book), 56, says in the last line of her essay: “Despite all my difficulties, I am not willing to give up. It is not my time yet.” 

Reading the pages that Rudman has so painstakingly created is like reading the manuscript of a film—every character jumps out at you from the pages and entwines you in their world. A world that is sans the old, obese, sick and disabled, and is instead filled with love, compassion and, most importantly, hope. 

“I was coming to the pool for 20 years and I realized that I had never heard the stories that brought people here everyday,” Rudman said while exercising in the warm pool Monday.  

“I wanted to hear them and this gave me the opportunity to do so.” 

Rudman, who shows up at every hearing about the warm pool in his wheelchair, had originally wanted to create a petition to show support for the pool. When that didn’t seem strong enough to send the message across, he thought of compiling testimonies. 

“When I started, my goal was to get 50 testimonials,” he writes. The final tally was 170. Rudman encouraged everyone to write a paragraph, and for those to whom it seemed an impossible feat, he noted down thoughts and memories at the pool, in cars and even over the telephone. 

“Soakin’ the Blues Away” is in many ways a voice for the voiceless, the battered and the bruised. It’s not just a memoir of the bad times, but also the good times. 

As Rudman puts it, the manuscript “demonstrates again and again the ancient truth that we are all part of each other.” 

“Helen Gee from Hong Kong stretches next to Mariya Grinberg from Russia while Farwa Ali from India exercises near Paula Hasker from Sweden... We don’t have conflicts about sex, race, class. We argue about such burning social issues as what constitutes a comfortable water temperature or whether one window or three should stay open.” 

For 75-year-old Juanita Kerby—former model, policewoman, a tax expert for the IRS, and presently a co-chairperson of the Warm Pool Advocacy Group—every trip to the pool is like Deja Vu. Kerby is an alumni of Berkeley High. 

“We are like a family,” she says in the manuscript. “We share each other’s pain and/or grief... As co-chair of the one warm pool committee, I will go to great lengths to save this valuable resource.” 

On Monday evening, some 50 swimmers were enjoying short laps in the pool, their enthusiasm evident from the smiles and shrieks of joy. 

“They come here tired and frustrated and leave a changed person,” said one of the lifeguards. “For some, it’s the only highlight of the day.” 

“Voices of the Warm Pool” documents 51-year-old Susie Bluestone’s excitement in finding pain relief methods, job tips as well as countless friends in a place she least expected. 

It documents—through brief paragraphs and detailed essays—the faith countless families harbor in the warm pool’s parent-tot classes, fear-of-swimming classes and Spirit Walking Aqua Chi classes. 

But, most importantly, it documents the struggle to save a soon-to-be-extinct resource, that could very well be the only thing that keeps a community ticking every day.