This week I had the pleasure of listening (NPR Radio) to Matthew Debord share his summer job experience as a garbage man. The story was delightful, and it caused me to recall an experience I had one summer while on the job.
For several summers while in college I worked as a lifeguard. In all that time, only once was I required to jump into the pool for a rescue.
It was a typically hot summer day in Texas. The cloudless, blue sky stretched to infinity above the large, blue, L-shaped pool. I lounged under an umbrella attached to my high chair. I monitored the diving end of the pool where two low spring boards and one high spring board stretched over the water. There 12-feet of water accepted divers and jumpers repeatedly.
I enjoyed the graceful dives of the experienced divers and the big splashes of the jumpers. The boys got a kick out of splashing me with their cannonballs. I didn’t mind though because the water felt great in the heat. A few divers I envied with their nearly professional approaches to the edge of the board and confident leaps into the air and splash-less plunges into the water. Inexperienced divers and jumpers made me hold my breath. Many times these jumpers angled themselves at the edge of the boards, and when they jumped they aimed for the pool edge. Thinking about it now, I’m surprised I only had to rescue one person during my life-guarding career.
Things were moving along predictably until a young, African American woman in a ruffled, pink, two-piece bathing suit and dreadlocks that stretched to her elbows ambled to the edge of a low board. David Hockney would have been pleased with such a pool scene. The woman stood with her toes over the edge of the board, the one furthest from me, and peered into the water below. I thought she hesitated because she wasn’t sure if she wanted to get wet. I expected her to leave the board if the height frightened her. People did it all the time. Also, if you know you can’t swim, you’re not going to leap off a diving board into deep water, right?
After a wave to her friends, she pinched her nose and jumped off the board. Once in the water, her hair swam around her face; it was as if a squid had swallowed her head. I thought for a second she was waving her arms and hands to push the hair from her face, but another second later I realized that she could not see where she was, and she could not swim! I did a split jump into the pool from my chair and swam over to her and pulled her to the surface and then over to the ladder.
I was furious. I questioned her sensibility. I could not fathom why she jumped in when she knew she lacked the necessary skills to maneuver in water. My heart pounded. When I completed my rant, she strolled away from the deep end and me and stayed in water no higher than her navel for the rest of the afternoon. It seemed as if it were another day in the park for her. For me, it was one of life’s craziest moments.