I recently ran across some old writing notebooks and was surprised to find that not everything I’d written was a failed mystery novel or maudlin literary fiction. There was a series of essays on my days as a lifeguard (many, many pounds ago.)
I tell you this because, while the writing was truly horrible, I found the witty-me in these essays. The carefree jester that is Jae was part of my personality all along, I’d just hidden it in a drawer. Painted over it with boring beige.
The essays were collectively entitled “You Actually get Paid for This?!” – which is what most people say when they find out that lifeguarding isn’t a volunteer position. Somehow sitting for hours getting a tan and finding 100 different ways of twirling a whistle doesn’t strike most people as serious work.
“Second Aid” was an essay about first aid training and reads a bit like the Three Stooges with bandaids, which in hindsight doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.
“There’s A What? Where?” was about all the strange things we’d find in the pool (you don’t want to know).
“Oil Shortage” described the paint-by-numbers method of applying sun screen to even out our tans. This was before skin cancer was discovered. Lifeguards now probably apply SPF 100 and are as white as ghosts.
“Rain or Shine; Preferably Rain” was about the lifeguard’s perennial desire for lightening to strike the pool – or at least close it down for a while so we could get back to our poker game – and describes a “typical” lifeguard rain dance.
“Moby Dick” was about our lifeguard instructor – Dick. A large, barrel chested man who struck terror into the hearts of average lifeguards. I saw grown men flee from the pool crying after a session with Dick. Rumor had it that he’d once trained a lifeguard who froze in an emergency and he’d vowed never again. So, he took his pupils to the brink (of the drink).
Basically, he was trying to drown us.
I still remember the day of my lifeguarding test. Tiny me versus The Hulk. If I held on and didn’t panic, I’d be fine. Sure, Dick was trying to kill me, but as he thrashed around, he was also propelling us across the pool. All I had to do was hold on and he’d do all the work.
By passing Dick’s test, I joined the ranks of the men and women who run into burning buildings, the soldiers, the EMTs and doctors – and now the cartoonists. I knew that I wouldn’t panic in an emergency.
In my years as a lifeguard, I only had to go in twice for rescues. Small stuff, but there are two people in the world whose lives are very different because I was there. Afterwards I had a good adrenaline vomit.
Looking back, I learned a lot of good lessons from being a lifeguard.
- It doesn’t matter how tall you are, everyone treads water in the deep end.
- It’s not just the stupid who need rescuing – but it helps.
- Even heroes vomit.
- Hold your breath and hold on.
- Let the big guy do all the work.
- Don’t drink the frog.
This last is really only applicable when you work at a prank-mad pool. Though maybe if I think really Zen…
I’m Jae and I found this message floating in a bottle.