Pool Ties

On January 13, Jeff Jannuzzo-25-year member and self-professed
lover of New York’s Yale Club "in all her diversity"-threatened
litigation against that venerated institution. Citing New York
Not-for-Profit Corporation Law Section 621, he called for Club
President Peter Wells to provide him with a list of the Club’s
voting members within five days. "The list is demanded,"
wrote Jannuzzo, "for an object relating to the business
of the Club, namely to communicate with the members as to whether
there shall be any changes to the Club’s fifth floor swimming
pool." Failure to deliver the list, he wrote, could send
the issue to the State Supreme Court.
The trouble began last summer. In mid-July, the Yale Club Council
distributed surveys to members to determine the popularity of
certain facilities. The Club’s petite, 85-year-old swimming pool-maximum
occupancy, three lane swimmers, and monthly usage, 300-was among
the facilities in question. Its inclusion raised some eyebrows
among a contingent of 50 or so swimmers in the Club, Jannuzzo
included, who instantly began to suspect foul play. "We
began exchanging letters and e-mails with people in the Club
governance," Jannuzzo explained over the phone, "to
say, like, ‘What is going on and can you assure us that you’re
not going to be closing this place?’ and not getting satisfactory
answers." The pool, with its handmade mosaic tiles, solid
brass railings, and three lion’s head fountains (allegedly the
work of a foundry used by sculptor Henry Moore), appeals to many
swimmers because of its old-fashioned feel. The pool’s rumored
"Roman bath" tradition of harbouring nude and inebriated
swimmers in the old days may also provide some nostalgic charm.
After questioning some members of the Club’s Athletic Committee
in early fall, the swimmers received the bad news. The demolition
of their prized pool, they learned, was being considered in a
proposed renovation and expansion of the women’s locker room
and the aerobic facilities. So the swimmers began to organize
and agitate. "We used to go [to the pool] and hang out,"
said Jannuzzo, "and say, ‘Hey, did you hear they’re thinking
of closing the pool?’" One of the swimmers procured the
e-mail address savethepool@aol. com, and then things began to
roll. A few of the pool activists contacted The New York Times-coincidentally,
their employer-which published a fluff piece about the pool on
November 5. Before long, in what seemed to resemble an authentic
movement, the group began meeting on Saturday nights to strategize.
"The people in the elected officership part of the Club
have really been, just, you know, amazed," said Jannuzzo,
who became both the Save-the-Pool group’s chairman and secretary.
"People have grumbled before about the way things have changed,
but no one’s actually organized."
Then Jannuzzo’s troops hit the front lines. At a January 13 meeting,
they voted on a "two-prong plan of political action and
diplomacy." While Jannuzzo sent his fiery missive to President
Wells, demanding the names and addresses of the Club’s voting
members for a "Save the Pool" mailing drive, others
pressed members of the Council by phone on how the Club planned
to get members’ comments prior to construction. Meanwhile, certain
members had been hard at work creating www.savethepool.com, where
one can peruse detailed minutes from the meetings, news from
the front, heartbreaking quotations ("Without the pool the
athletic facilities will be like any others in town. I’ll cancel
my athletic membership in a heartbeat if this plan goes forward"),
and even the instrumental New York Times article.
Peter Wells has been a bit dumbfounded. "One of the things
that has characterized this Save-the-Pool group is they like
to make a lot of noise based on no facts," he explained.
Vice President Tom Fiffer responded by e-mail to Jannuzzo’s early
demand letter, "I am frankly astonished at the degree to
which your committee is and has been relying on rumors-as opposed
to seeking out facts. . . ." (This is the same Tom Fiffer,
by the way, who, in a prelude to the pool affair, last May temporarily
suspended Club member Tad Low, co-creator of vh1’s Pop-Up Video,
for hurling cauliflower florets and cheese cubes at the Whiffenpoofs
during a concert.) Wells insists that the Council never planned
to scrap the pool, but has merely tossed around the idea as one
possibility for the summer renovations. The council is also considering
demolishing one of the Club’s four squash courts. "There
is a small, dedicated group of people that don’t want that to
happen," said Wells, "and we will hear from them as
For Jannuzzo and his chums, there’s much more at stake than an
antique, 32-by-18 foot pool. Many view the pool controversy as
just one symptom of the Yale Club’s widespread decline into kitsch
and profitability. Along with the recent proliferation of "cheap
Holiday Inn furniture" in the lobby, according to activist
Peter Rose, members watched the Club allow University of Virginia
graduates to join in 1996, following decisions many years ago
to welcome Dartmouth alumni and dke brothers too. "[The
Yale Club] is a place that we give a damn about," said Jannuzzo,
"and that we want to make sure nobody tries to turn into
a place where they charge you for the towels and think of new
ways to get your money, and come and go out of business with
the whims of fashion and notions of what is cool." Some
find the Club Council’s increasing aloofness and secrecy "fascistic."
"I think this club is experiencing a leadership problem
at the moment," said Rose, who alleges that he’s never been
offered a chance to vote for a council member in his 25 years
at the Club. "They’ve told employees not to talk about the
pool-a lifeguard who works at the pool was reprimanded for talking
to members."
But are the pool supporters of the nyc Yale Club really entitled
to the democratic process they seek? The Club, after all, is
not only private, but also restricted to those willing to shell
out $1,500 a year, martinis not included. Jannuzzo and his marginalized
swimmers still seem to think they’re owed some sort of voice.
Peter Wells recently handed over the Club membership list, and
the Save-the-Pool group plans to lobby for a general vote. Within
those comfortable environs, a leather-armchair revolution is

by Matthew Underwood

Last month-January 12 to be exact-I turned 20. It was the saddest
birthday of my life. As I turned the key in box 200857 in Yale
Station Post Office, I imagined cakes and balloons and cards
stuffed fat with cash tumbling out at my feet. Nothing. Not
from Mom, not from Grandma, not from anyone. In disbelief, I
stretched my arm through the box. There must have been a mistake,
I told myself. Somebody must love me. Perhaps my cards were
in the box below. Dislocating my shoulder in the process, I
reached 200957. Nothing. I reached above, but still I found
only the cold, gray steel of another box as empty as my own.
Again I peered through, resigned and sad. To my surprise, I
came face to face with a man who understood my pain.
Larry (he requests that his real name not be used) looks like
the stereotypical postal worker: nearing middle age, stocky,
dressed in blue jeans and a sweatshirt. But Larry is something
more: Beneath his Postman Joe façade I found a civil servant
dedicated to the proposition that all postal customers are created
equal. He smoked a cigarette as he consoled me outside Lanman-Wright.
"It’s shameful," he says of the delays that plague
Yale Station. "They’re treating you like second-class citizens.
Something ought to be done. You see that poster over there,
with the phone number on it?" He’s postered every kiosk
on campus with the number of the New Haven Postmaster, hoping
for students to lodge their complaints. "I know you guys
have problems like this," he explains, alluding to the common
complaints from disgruntled Yale Station customers about lateness,
lost packages, and rude employees. "You ought to give that
number a call." My sadness turned to ire. Ready to take
a stand for my rights, I made the call.
Lavinia, the clerk who answered, took my name and box number
and said I’d be hearing from the postmaster shortly. When I
persisted with my inquiries, she directed me to Christine Dugas,
the Post Office’s Communications Program Specialist for Public
Affairs and Communications in the Northeast. I phoned her office
in Providence, Rhode Island, but no one picked up.
I returned to Yale Station, humming "Happy Birthday"
to myself in languid, self-pitying strains. I found Larry, who
once again buoyed my sagging spirits. It wasn’t me, he promised.
It was the system. I tried to tell him that the cards weren’t
ever going to come. He could see I was desperate, and being
a man of conviction he knew he’d have to prove his point. Punching
the security code into the door, we made our way behind the boxes.
All this was "illegal," Larry explained, "but
ok, cause you’re with me."
Packages in carts and white plastic boxes filled with letters
were stacked waist high, covering most of the floor. Still,
something was missing: people. I was sobered by the realization
that the only other human presence was the voice of Axl Rose.
Larry’s existence was even lonelier than my own. "Yeah,
it’s just me back here in this section," he explains, again
expressing his disappointment at not living up to the Post Office’s
promises. "You kids deserve to get your mail on time.
But you know, ever since they’ve cut our staff, we just can’t
do it. I’d say on average I get to your box only three or four
days out of the week."
Larry directed me next to John Dirzius, president of the local
chapter of the Associated Postal Workers Union. He effused a
patriotic vigor similar to Larry’s own. "We’re here to provide
a universal service to America," Dirzius explained. "[Yale
Station] is part of America, but you guys aren’t being served."
His explanation was simple: "The problems at Yale Station
are due 100 percent to understaffing. At one time we had 18 people
there. [Since 1993], our levels have dropped from 18 down to
15 then to 13 and now to the present ten. It’s like trying to
move ten pounds of sand with two people instead of ten people.
Until we have more bodies back there, there are going to be delays,
plain and simple."
When I finally reached Communications Program Specialist for
Public Affairs and Communications Dugas, she took a different
tone. The faceless bureaucrat in Providence, she had no sympathy
for my lack of birthday joy. She corrected me when I spoke of
delayed mail. "You’re assuming delayed delivery to be a
fact," she said. "Our studies show that for the State
of Connecticut and for New Haven and Yale Station in particular,
we have an on-time delivery rate of 95 percent, which is above
our national goal of 93 percent." Dugas admitted that the
Yale Station workforce had been "streamlined" in the
past; but, she explained, "We feel we are providing our
customers with the services they need. As of now, there are
no plans to increase staffing at Yale Station."
As Dirzius sees it, the Post Office has a promise to fulfill.
"We’re in the service world, but we’re unique because we’re
a service that touches you every day. Somehow, in some way,
we make contact, every single day." A week passed before
I had the strength to once again look in my box. I hesitated
as I turned the key. I peered inside to find a cornucopia of
birthday cheer: a yellow package slip and three different cards.
Seeking out Larry to say thanks, I found him wading through
the growing pile of boxes. "These came in yesterday,"
he explains. "Maybe I’ll get to them tomorrow. But I’m
just one man back here. I can’t hit every box every day."
He points to the cards in my hands, all stamped a week before
January 12. "See, I told you," he says, the power-to-the-people
spirit still ringing in his voice. "The postmark never lies."

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