a breakfast serial

One bite-sized story every morning to uplift, motivate, or provoke thought.

The Best Summer Job I’ve Ever Had

< by Jorie of themidwestmaven.wordpress.com >

Hands down, the best summer gig I ever had was lifeguarding.

The public pool where I worked was just one block away from my house. On a summer day, when the windows are open, you can hear the honk of an airhorn, the shrill chirp of a whistle, and the crackle of a safety break announcement drift across the treetops. To me, it was an essential part of summer background noise, as crucial as a chorus of crickets or the faraway crack of a metal bat.

Seeing as it was practically a neighbor, the pool was a natural setting for my first real job, which I started the summer before my senior year of high school. I wound up returning the next four summers in a row, rising through the ranks from Head Guard to Manager by the end of summer two. I also taught swim lessons and became the Birthday Party Coordinator. The latter was a thankless task in which I learned to stay organized, return phone calls promptly, and, as a general life rule, avoid mothers who are planning birthday parties.

I still get nostalgic about lifeguarding because there were so many perks. Working outside. Getting to swim for fun when your shift was over or after nighttime in-services. Scoring free pizza and cutting the line at the concession stand. Feeling superior to lifeguards at other pools. (“Is that dude sleeping? I hope they’re getting audited. What a lazy scan!”).

Plus, the shifts flew by and you could pee in the pool all the live-long day.

All lifeguards pee in the pool. I hate to break it to you. A veteran guard clued me in that first summer after I kept exiting my rotation to duck into the bathroom. She said that you wait until you rotate to the post at the bottom of the slide, and you pee. Enjoy that little factoid next time you’re doing the front-crawl in your local watering hole.

Of course, there were also parts that sucked. That’s why they give this job to teenagers. Occasionally, we’d have to evacuate the pool because someone spotted a rogue turd. A rookie guard would then have to wade in with a Ziploc bag and do some reconnaissance.

Perhaps even grosser, all the floating strands of hair in the pool would find each other and form a super hairball, like Pangaea. This furry continent would casually float by, casting a shadow on the waters below with its hulking presence. Who do you think had to fish it out?

Don’t forget the emptying and cleaning of a public pool vacuum. It’s like that scene in Jaws where Richard Dreyfuss’ character does a shark autopsy and he’s elbow-deep in guts and unidentifiable gunk. Only the vacuum’s bowels contained more used Band-aids.

As a manager, I also had to wrangle insolent middle school boys who weren’t intimidated by me in the least. Once, while I guarded the deep end, a group of preteen boys went off the high dive in quick succession, each of them making the international gesture for “Suck it!” in the air while pointing at me before they hit the water. If it were up to me, they’d still be in time-out, those little shits.

At least once per summer, I had a nightmare (that I think every lifeguard has had at some point, in some capacity) in which I’d get up in the chair to discover that there were babies all over the bottom of the pool. Hundreds. In my dream, I’d jump in and start scooping them up and heaving them onto the deck as fast I could, but I couldn’t save any of them. That’s some PTSD stuff right there.

In all my five years, I only had to do one rescue, when a pair of school-age sisters looked like they were suddenly in over their heads in a section of four-foot water. I blew my whistle and launched off the chair, losing my sunglasses and hat in the process. By the time I reached them, the two little towheads were standing on the pool deck, blinking down at me sweetly with big, curious eyes. Such is life.

And such is lifeguarding. It’s a microcosm of the real world, stripped of its scariness and suitable for a 17-year-old. The job gave me my first real responsibilities. Other people’s safety depended on my vigilance. I had to work with and trust my co-workers in the event of an emergency. As a manager, I had to motivate the staff and keep the pool running like a well-oiled machine, while dealing with nosebleeds, beestings, and children attempting to chicken-fight on each other’s shoulders. (*Whistle blow* “No roughhousing!”)

But it wasn’t quite the real world either. It was a fun, short-lived, in-between state.

Sigh. At my current job, the warm summer air seems to taunt me through the window. I don’t get to blow an airhorn and startle unsuspecting passersby. And under no circumstances can I pee in my cubicle.


  cpasquelene wrote @

What a great life 17 year olds have! Good memories!

  Jorie wrote @


  Rachel Prill wrote @

haha-great article Jorie! I have had same nightmares when I was lifeguarding too. This brought back some memories of that job too. Ugh- only I had to start off as a rookie at the INDOOR waterpark nightmare! No one wants to guard indoor in the summer. The part about the boys on the high dive was hilarious! You can picture that is exactly what preteen boys would do to the lifeguard, thinking they are cooler than all get out 🙂

  Jorie wrote @

Thanks, Rach! And you’re right–no one wants to be an indoor guard in the summer. 🙂 I’ll never forget those pool rats, ay carumba.

  Veronica wrote @

LOL, loved this Jorie! And FYI I’m pretty sure 90% of the kids pee in the pool too so yeah. Thank God for chlorine.

  Jorie wrote @

Thank you, Veronica! Chlorine saves the day. 🙂

  Suzie wrote @

This was a great laugh Jorie! You can tell a story like no one else! Thankfully, I don’t use public pools anymore, I have my own to pee in…I kid, I kid 😉

  Jorie wrote @

Thank you, Suzie! And don’t worry, your secret is safe with me. 🙂

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