Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Man I miss being a lifeguard

I was at home this past weekend, interviewing for a job opening, so I got the chance to read my hometown paper in print. By hometown paper, I'm clearly speaking about The Washington Post because no self-respecting DC resident reads the Washington Times.

But of course, I shouldn't have even bothered opening the Post on Friday because what I saw in the metro section just made me want to reverse time about three years and return poolside, where I may truly belong. See, the Post had an article about all the rules that are now enforced at local pools. They sort of took the stance that all these rules suck, but there's nothing pools can do because of all the liability concerns:

This is the age of the Swim Commandments. At county, municipal, apartment and community pools all over the region, the lists of summertime Thou Shalt Nots continue to grow. Where a few basics such as no running and a catch-all warning against horseplay used to suffice, pool managers say they are under increasing pressure from insurance companies, lawyers and swim patrons themselves to forbid more and more specific behavior.

Well, I took a totally different stance. I thought back to my glory days as a lifeguard when myself and friends would compete to see who could make the most kids sit under out chairs for the most amount of time. And I think the best part was when parents would come up and try to bully you into getting their kids out of trouble. It worked when I was a beginning lifeguard during my teenage years, but once I became a grizzled vet, stories like these were more commonplace:

The frequent whistles from the lifeguard stand can make an afternoon at the pool no day at the beach, relaxation-wise. Molly Galvin, a Takoma Park mother of two, said her family and several others with young children resigned their memberships at Daleview Pool in Silver Spring because of what they saw as a culture of enforcement.

"We used to call them the pool Nazis," Galvin said. "They would literally yell at the moms if their kids were more than a few inches outside of arm's length. It was so strict, it just wasn't a fun environment."

Now, I'm sure you're saying something along the lines of "Geez Mark, you really are taking the fun out of a fun place. You need to mellow out on the rules." And ordinarily, in most other situations, I would concur with the laissez-faire attitude. But when you're a lifeguard, you live by a single commandment: No swimmers = No work. And even if you can't get rid of all the swimmers, you can at least have fun making kids sit uncomfortably under a chair while the rest of their friends are having fun.

Ahhh, the glory days.

It's the torture of the swimmer that was so rewarding for me when I worked at pools. One of my finest memories as a lifeguard, and I'm sure Matt will agree with this, was when me and him were co-managers at Regency Estates Pool and it was the swim team's raft night or something like that. Normally, because Matt and I were managers, we never worked together that summer, but since the pool would be so crowded that night, we both were on. See, it all happened during one particular adult swim, when myself and Matt blew the whistle to get all the kids out.

At that moment, there was the single largest collective groan I've ever heard from the kids in the pool. They were all legitimately disappointed that they had to leave the pool. Now, on one hand, it meant all of them were having a ton of fun with the rafts. On the other hand, I was so satisfied that I was ending that fun. When it happened, I wasn't sure if Matt had realized just how powerful that groan was, but then I turned toward the lifeguard chair he was sitting in, and I knew something legendary had happened.

Matt was standing up in the chair, rescue tube raised above his head in triumph, with a huge grin on his face. We did something special that night.

So next time you're at a pool and the kids are complaining about being treated unfairly and how there are too many rules, think about that smile on Matt's face. I can tell you, making poolgoers upset is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world.

1 comment:

Gregory said...

Dont forget to go.... check the pipes mark....