Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Substitute

[memories evoked by the Sunday Scribblings prompt "First Job, Worst Job, Dream Job"]

I'm trying to remember my first job(s). I got a little money to babysit my niece (I think it was while she took her nap so it was easy). And I once was paid by our across-the-street neighbors to water their plants while they were on vacation. I felt pretty proud of myself, that they trusted me with the key to their house.


When I was in high school I took a lifesaving class at the public pool and I earned my Red Cross certification. Most of the kids who earned theirs at the same time lined up jobs that would use them - being a lifeguard at either the pool in town, or at the public beach at the lake a few miles away from town. I had no interest (or need) to take on a regular job, but when they asked if I would ever consider being a substitute lifeguard I let them put me on the list.


Sure enough, one day I got a call from someone a year ahead of me in school. She had some family thing to do and needed to take 3 days off from work at the pool - could I fill in for her. I said yes. I showed up at the appointed time and said "hi" to the other teenagers who ran the place. Since it was a small town, I already knew them all. It was the teenagers who ran the day-in/day-out business.


Everyone rotated through shifts (I think we switched every 45 minutes):

(a) inside duty in either the basket room or the admission counter & concession

(b) poolside guarding duty either in one of the chairs or standing by the shallow end

(c) time off to recover from "a" and "b" - could be spent in the water or inside, but don't be late getting back for the switch


The pool was open for business from about 10am until 5pm. It was closed for an hour and then reopened from 6pm until probably 8pm. The summers were hot and humid (this was the midwest) and lots of families didn't have air conditioning. There were a lot of parents who would drop the kids off every day as they went to work, trusting the kids for the hour before the pool opened, then would pick them up after dinner. The oldest kid of the family would handle the pool pass and money for lunch and supper. The price of a family pool pass was a cheap child-care solution. At least the kids were getting exercise, even if they didn't eat well for lunch.


The pool building was painted concrete block. It was scrubbed and hosed down each night and it stayed cool and damp, even on the hottest days - like a cave. The first morning shift in the basket room was hard work, as was the shift leading up to the dinner close. If you pulled those shifts you spent nearly every minute swapping fully baskets for a tag, or retrieving baskets for those trying to "just get something out" or "put something back" or collecting their belongings to leave. And if we ran out of baskets, we had to wind through the dressing areas and shower areas to collect the ones people forgot to bring back to the counter. I never did ask if the boys side was as busy as the girls side.


If you worked the admission and concession counter, that was an easier "gig." Most of the kids coming to the pool had a pass, so getting people in went pretty fast. The concession wasn't too hard either. There was lots of candy and some frozen treats of some sort, and probably corn & potato chips. I don't remember selling sodas, but there were soda machines in the lobby. Mountain Dew was quite popular that summer, if I recall correctly. We didn't have anything that needed heating up or mixing, so it was pretty simple. We did spent a good amount of time making change for people who wanted sodas. We gabbed a lot while we worked the counter, trying out phrases of poor-syntax Spanish out of the few words we remembered from first-year Spanish class, and visiting with the shift of folks who were "off."


After being in the dark, cool inside, it always felt good for the baking sun to hit you at the start of the next shift. I liked sitting up in the lifeguard chair, with a whistle in one hand. It didn't take long to perfect that thing lifeguards do with a whistle on a lanyard -- you know, swinging it to wrap all the way around your fingers one way, then reversing directions and doing that over and over and over. We didn't do much talking while on duty. There were too many kids to watch. Mostly we watched people, making sure those who went under came up, and occasionally yelling at kids to "stop running" or "quit splashing." By the time that shift was over, your brain was buzzing with the constant alert-state and you were ready for a rest. When your relief came, your first stop was usually to get wet first, then head inside for the cool-and-usually-quiet, then a little time chatting on the bench outside the office.


I was so tickled at the end of that first week to get a real, honest-to-goodness paycheck. I was a bit disappointed at how much came out in taxes, but it was still pretty cool. And you know, I still love to open my paycheck and take a minute to be proud that I earn my own living. And I'm still a bit disappointed at how much comes out in taxes.

19 comments:

Redness said...

I could smell the chlorine, loved this, well said, Thanks!

paisley said...

what a lovely read... your memory is spot on,, i loved it....

Stacy said...

I had a summer pool job too and I can exactly picture (and feel the warmth and smell the chlorine) of the places you describe. Great memory for details.

sister AE said...

Thanks, Redness. Oh! I forgot to mention the chlorine - how did that happen? Glad you like this.

Hello, Paisley. Thanks.

Hi, Stacy. I'm just kinda tickled I've found something to do with all that stuff stuck in my brain!

Bob-kat said...

Yeah, me too. The tax man always seems to get far too much of my hard earned pay!

Those are great recollections. I was givent he key to feed my neighbours cat when I was 11 and I was so proud that they trusted me too!

Michele sent me over to say hi!

sister AE said...

Hi, Bob-kat - thanks.

gautami tripathy said...

That first pay check is the best one!

Nothing can compare with the pleasure!

Sandie said...

That was fun to read. I was one of those 'pool' kids for years. I was really sad when our community pool closed.

Jo said...

As someone who is not that fond of water (being in it that is), this would be one of my worst jobs but you sure did it justice here!

Robin said...

Having just finished spending countless summer hours at the pool with my kids I really enjoyed this. Your description was so vivid, I could picture it all.

sister AE said...

Hi, Gautami. I agree - it's probably why I remember it so well.

Thanks, Sandie.

Hiya, Jo. I can't remember not liking water, though if I had had to lifeguard full time I might have liked it less.

Hello, Robin. Thank you.

gautami tripathy said...

Michele sent me here to read about your swimming job yet again. It is indeed a pleasure!

sister AE said...

thanks, gautami. it's always nice to know you were here.

tumblewords said...

I remember the smell of chlorine and the dankness of the locker/shower room. yuck. But I mostly remember male lifeguards. Grin. Nice post!

sister AE said...

Hi, tumblewords. And we were all tan in those days, too!

the Brave said...

There are an amazing number of businesses thaty shocked by the seem to be manned by teens, aren't there. I to, was frequently shocked by the taxmans cut.

sister AE said...

Hi, Brave. yes, indeed, and as a teen it was quite a powerful idea.

Patois said...

I so remember hanging out at the pool as a kid and thinking you lifeguards were all that. I still think that.

sister AE said...

I can tell you some of the full-time lifeguards thought an awful lot of themselves too!