Who doesn’t love swimming at high noon during the dog days of summer? It’s hot and sunny, and there’s little solace found in the air conditioning-bereft rentals lining the streets of Portland. Thankfully sweet, watery relief is only a short drive in any direction. There’s Sauvie Island, the North Santiam, the Clack. But you know what sucks about rivers? Rivers are chock full of people who throw their empties into the water, screaming matches between strangers, and dogs pooping, among other pleasantries.
Sometimes you just want to swim in some overly-chlorinated water until your fingers are pruny and your hair is a little green. Maybe even throw some food onto an open flame and consume it. Hell, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to push your good friend into the shallow end during a game of competitive rock, paper, scissors. Is that so much to ask? No. No, it is not.
But there’s a certain art to throwing a good pool party, one that transcends the sticky popsicle-mouthed gatherings of yesteryear. I’m here to help you throw the ultimate pool party.
Step 1: Find a pool
This one seems kind of obvious, doesn’t it? You need a pool in order to have a pool party, duh. But it’s harder than you might think in Oregon. I mean, given the whole clean-natural-bodies-of-water thing, pools seem kind of…superfluous. Not to mention it rains nine months out of the year—or it should anyways, amirite Portland?
But no matter where you go in the world, you’ll be able to find at least one family that has money to burn or, at the very least, a public pool with passable cleanliness.
The pool at that one friend’s parents’ house
Because, honestly, no one our age owns a home, let alone one with a pool in the backyard. If you want the privacy that comes with one of those fenced-in bean-shaped dudes, you probably need to look to any and all friends who live with their soon-to-be-retired parents while they pay off their student loans.
You’ll know it when you see it: both the parents and the children will have the thousand-yard stare after 25 years of family dinners and arguing over who takes out the trash. But, hey, private pool.
Pros: Private, quiet, no creepy kids around to pick their noses and flick their treasures in the pool. Can drink without getting stared at and/or kicked out.
Cons: Feels like high school, what with the hovering parents or, if said parents are on vacation, a worried host who keeps reminding you not to fucking touch that, Mikey, and for christ’s sake do not use those plates, my mom loves those!
The shitty apartment complex pool in Lake Oswego or Beaverton
Your friend is renting one of those generic beige-carpeted apartments in a winding complex on Barbur Blvd. You hate going there because it smells weird and there are always dead-eyed kids playing on the jungle gym and you can’t for the life of you figure out if you take the third left or the fourth, so you end up driving around yelling your friend’s name until she comes outside to rescue you.
But hey, they have a pool that is generally devoid of people after dark. If you keep things relatively calm, the neighbors are cool with you throwing a little party, as long as Neighbor Dave can come hang out and drink his Twisted Tea. Gew.
Pros: Relatively small amount of people use the pool, deep enough to dive into for games and stuff, and there’s patio furniture and one of those questionable barbecues in the corner.
Cons: You have to stay pretty quiet. Plus, you can’t really stop other people—fucking Neighbor Dave—from joining.
The public pool
You know what I’m talking about. Swim-band systems, an overwhelming amount of kids running around like crazy and screaming like they’re being stabbed, weirdly wet bathroom floors. But desperate times call for desperate measures.
Alternately, there are quasi-public pools like the one at the Motel 6 on Powell Blvd, which just requires you and your crustiest friends to split the cost of a room in order to use the dubiously clean pool.
Pros: It’s a pool. And, uh, it’s big enough to avoid other people.
Cons: You should probably wear aqua socks.
The kiddie pool in the shared backyard of your duplex
A last resort and, perhaps surprisingly, probably your best bet. Water is water, and in this heat, it doesn’t really matter whether you all soak your feet or take turns sitting in the six-inch-deep lukewarm hose water. Something is better than nothing.
Pros: Can take it anywhere. Easy to fill and clean. Can use it in the privacy of your own shitty rental home. Gives you the appearance of being irreverent, playful.
Cons: Shallow, gets warm really quickly, limited space, really not made for adults.
Step 2: Snacks & libations
It’s not a party if there’s not a table full of snack food for anxious partiers to hover around, is it? But the question is: how deep into the culinary game do you need to get in order for this party to be worth remembering?
Keepin’ it casual with handfoods
People need to be able to punctuate their sick backflips with occasional snacks. It takes a lot of energy to swim around and dunk your friends. At the very least, these finger foods need to be easy to eat, especially with chlorinated, wet hands.
That means no goddamn Cheetos or cheesy poofs. Got it? Do you know what happens when you introduce aerated corn snacks to water? They melt. Like the Wicked Witch of the West, they morph into the sickest, stickiest gunk known to man, and you will leave your dirty orange finger prints everywhere you go, no matter how many times you go into the water to secretly try to wash them off.
For the love of Marco Polo, just stick to carrot sticks, grapes and maybe, I don’t know, those little finger sandwiches that British people love. Easy cleanup, keeps people full and happy.
The ultimate pool party barbecue
If you want to go all out, obviously barbecue is the way to go. But, you know, you should keep it simple, since you don’t want to miss any of the action or start a fire.
Hot dogs are obviously the way to go. Throw them on for, what, like five minutes or something, I don’t know. Just make sure they get that nice, carcinogenic burnt thing going on. Pile them onto a plate next to some buns and mustard, and sit back while people eat their weight in reconstituted pig hoofs.
Hot food, lazy hearts
Don’t want to worry about open flames? Order a pizza, ya dummy. There’s something for everyone, even the vegans. Minimal cleanup, maximum delicious.
Drink, drank, drunk
Pool parties are nothing if not the sum of their alcoholic parts, right? Now, I’m not saying I condone drinking alcohol near water. You should obviously use extreme caution when mixing Mad Dog 20/20 and an eight-foot-deep pool. But if you are going to drink—which you are, because adults plus pools and whatnot—the world is your proverbial oyster. My personal favorites? Rainier for lighter fare, and the radioactive-blue Splash-tail for something with a tropical twist.
No glass near a pool, by the way. People are barefoot and generally careless in these situations. They’re too busy cheating at sharks and minnows. Stick to cans and red cups. And if you’re underage, those cans and red cups better be full of ginger ale and Kool-Aid.
Step 3: Make a playlist
People are scared of silence. Don’t make them suffer.
Do you want this to be a bumpin’ party?
Do you want to live like you’re in one of those terrible high school party movies, where people are screaming and destroying shit? You should probably choose some form of what the kids call sticky EDM. Is that right? Sticky? Or is it stanky? Fire? You want to choose something that is “fire.” I heard that dubstep is cool. You can play chicken to the rhythm of the bass dropping. Cops will be called by your uppity retired neighbors.
Do you like shoegazing?
Sitting quietly in a Jacuzzi considering where the word “Jacuzzi” came from? (What even is a Jacuzzi? What’s the difference between a Jacuzzi and a hot tub? Ja-coooo-zzi. Juh-coo-zee. Jah-coo-zeeee.) Then you should probably put together a playlist made up of equal parts Explosions in the Sky and Eluvium. Throw in some Iron & Wine and Ryan Adams for good measure, you sad sack.
Do you just kind of want to hang out with your normal friends on a normal night?
Maybe things get a little wild when you’re playing rummy and you totally catch Tim cheating, and you call him out. But then things calm down again and you continue to play cards and drink a 6 percent IPA like the predictable dude you are. You should pick a nice mix of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs for those screaming matches and LCD Soundsystem for the cool down.
Do you want to do illegal drugs while swimming around because it totally feels like you’re floating through space?
First and foremost, make sure someone is there to babysit you, and secondly, put on some Battles and Fuck Buttons, and then lie back and enjoy the show.
Step 4: Don’t forget the accoutrements
Life is in the details, right? No pool party is complete without some ambiance, whether your feet are all splashing around in a kiddie pool or you’re “not” running around the perimeter of the Motel 6 debating whether or not to go to Safari Show Club next door.
You can’t have a pool party without pool tools, both in and out of water.
Floaties and such
The less suited to your age and weight, the better. Duckies, water wings—the works. Floaties made for little kids are not only cheaper, they also signal to potential mates that you’re young at heart or something.
If you’re afraid of popping a blow-up alligator in front of all of your friends, try pool noodles. They’re the pool float that doesn’t quit. Plus, pool noodles double as water guns.
And if you don’t want to buy anything new, no worries. As you are an Oregonian, transplant or otherwise, bring your river raft so you can float around while drinking just like you’re doing Barton to Carver.
Setting the mood
Depending on how private this party is, you should never say no to ambient lighting. If you’re going along with the tacky tropical Splash-tail theme for the party, you should definitely invest in tiki torches. If they still make those. If not, just stick a candle on a pole and call it good.
If you’re not so into the idea of your friends running around surrounded by fire or if you’re in a public place that might be a little peeved that you burnt the place down, LED lights are a funky alternative. They come in all the colors of the rainbow—well, almost all the colors. And you can stick them in bushes, under chairs, and in Becky’s tote bag without having to worry about igniting anything. Bonus points if your friends are doing mushrooms.
Arriving in style
I live in a strict no-floppy-hat zone. I think they’re pointless, unless you’re having tea with the Queen or getting drunk at Preakness. But I suppose exceptions can be made for the event of the year. So go ahead. Put on your oversized sunglasses, your garish jewelry, and your inappropriate wedges for the first five minutes of the party. Just don’t forget the SPF 1,000.
Step 5: From theory to practice
The only way to find out if I am completely full of shit is to try these steps for yourself. So go on. What are you waiting for? All of your friends are eagerly awaiting your beach umbrella-themed invitations.