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Swim Mobiles give Lucy Ru'iz, and other city kids, a chance to take a dip

PABLO RU'IZ told his daughter that he used to love swimming in the ocean when the family still lived in Puerto Rico. But for 11-year-old Lucy, swimming was something that people did on television and not in the East Bushwick section of Brooklyn. ``I don't know how to swim,'' said Lucy, ``but I've been practicing in our bathtub for the last two days.''

And Lucy wasn't the only one practicing the backstroke, as word spread through the streets that a truck towing a swimming pool would be stopping in the neighborhood on this scorching summer day.

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Even though Mr. Ru'iz admitted it seemed unlikely that a swimming pool would be coming to their street, he told the children - who were beginning to gather on his stoop - that the city's Parks and Recreation Department had promised to send a pool.

And it was just then that a tractor-trailer carrying a 7-by-30-foot, 800-gallon swimming pool, 4 feet deep, pulled into sight. The pool, which came complete with three lifeguards, parked in the middle of Grove Street, within close reach of the fire hydrant.

Within 10 minutes, the ``Swim Mobile,'' as the Parks Department refers to it, was jacked up on four blocks and filling rapidly with very cold water from the nearby hydrant.

It was nearly 11 a.m., and those children who weren't already gathered around the pool hurried home to get into their swimsuits.

``I've been driving this truck for 15 years,'' said James LMcFarland, ``and I've never seen an unhappy kid.''

The truck that Mr. McFarland drives is one of two that the city owns that makes stops in a various location Lthroughout Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan every day from July 7 to Aug. 30.

Henry J. Stern, the city's Parks and Recreation commissioner, arrived on Grove Street just as the pool was filling to the brim. ``Bushwick is on its way back,'' he proclaimed, but before he could finish his official announcement, the children were getting ready to climb into the pool.

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According to Commissioner Stern, the city also operates a Play Mobile, a portable playground; five Skate Mobiles, each carrying 120 pairs of roller skates; a Puppet Mobile for puppet shows; and a Show Wagon, with a portable stage, live bands, clowns, and a stilt walker. ``But the Swim Mobile is the most pop ular unit,'' he said. And the children obviously agreed, as they screamed and splashed the afternoon away.

``Bringing these mobiles into the different neighborhoods is the least we can do for the less fortunate kids of the city,'' said Mr. Stern.

The Swim Mobiles have been in existence for ``seven years,'' he said, ``and it was conceived in an era of more federal spending. When the city first started sending the truck out in the early 1970s, there were seven of them. But now that the local government has been forced to tighten its fiscal belt, New York has just the two remaining Swim Mobiles on the road.

``But we'll have to make ends meet with what we have.''

``I remember one time last summer up in Harlem,'' continued lifeguard Curtis Simms, ``when the entire neighborhood surrounded the truck and wouldn't let us leave until everyone from the street got a chance to swim.''

According to Mr. Simms, he didn't get home until after midnight that day. But, he says, ``that's just one of those occupational hazards that goes along with the job.''

At 3 p.m., the pool was drained and Lucy Ru'iz and her father watched as the truck disappeared around the corner. As the two walked down the street, Lucy finally understood why her father got so excited when talking about going swimming.

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