What do a band-aid, a hairball, and a wedding ring have in common?
Well, if you’ve ever had the pleasure of working as a swimming pool lifeguard, you’d know. “My favourite thing is cleaning out the hair and lint strainers every Saturday night,” said no lifeguard ever.
The classic, frantic patron would always come crying to the guard room, demanding that the filters be dismantled and searched for their ring. Imagine using a wire brush to scrape hairballs, bobby pins, elastics, band-aids, and all manner of human particles and objects out of large metal screens—but there were never any wedding rings.
Are you kidding me? Sure, let me just pull out my toolbox, turn the whole filtering system off so that everyone can swim through dead skin, hair, pee, and other bodily fluids, head down to the basement, and sift through thousands of gallons of sand and sludge. I’ll get right on that, lady.
The looks on their drowned-rat faces were a little disturbing, so I’d turn on my sympathetic face. Slow, repetitious nods while they begged me to call the manager and the maintenance staff. I assured them that we would check the filters every day for a month, and contact them as soon as their trinket was recovered, knowing that it would never happen.
Why did a sensation of satisfaction, an inner evil laugh, always creep in as I watched them slink away to the change room in ignorance? Like, who’s dumb enough to even lose their wedding ring in a pool anyway?
I must sound like a horrible person (well, maybe I am) but working as a lifeguard for 17 years was enough to turn me off of people. Like, for example, the ones who think it’s okay to slap a swimsuit on their three-year-old, bring the child into the pool, and then head up to the gym to “watch” their toddler from the treadmill. I shit you not.
One of the first times it happened, I noticed the toddler wading into the wave pool unattended from my position on deck. As the child made their way toward the middle of the pool, near-teetering on tiptoes, I did my quick I’m-about-to-go-in walk, keeping them in view as I frantically scanned for an adult where there was none to be found.
I blew my whistle and started running as the child went under.
Seconds later, I emerged from the wave pool carrying the child (non-Baywatch style) and began my follow up. I somehow manage to discern from her that “mama” is up in the gym. Haha, great. This is gonna be fucking awesome.
I carried the now towel-wrapped child through the lobby and up the stairs to the gym, leaving a trail of water behind us. The toddler pointed a chubby finger towards a slender woman with a long, black ponytail. I made my way to the floor-to-ceiling windows on the far side of the gym, where the cardio machines looked out over the pool.
“Mama,” she cried.
I sidled up to the treadmill.
“Does this belong to you?” Water dripped everywhere, a small puddle formed below me.
“Ohhh, oh yeah, what happened?”
“Well, I’m not sure if you’re aware, but, there’s actually deep water in the pool. Your daughter was drowning.”
“Yeah, children under the age of seven are not allowed to be out of reach of an adult. You have to be in the water with your three-year-old.”
“Oh, I thought I could watch her from here, and that the lifeguards would make sure she’s okay.”
What, the actual fuck.
Then, there’s the time when I was seven months pregnant and jumped in to save a two-year-old. Right in front of his mom.
Imagine this: me, huge belly, waddling towards the edge of the pool, desperately trying to get the mother’s attention, and failing. Me, flail-jumping into thigh-high water. Me, with my running shoes on, the ones that have traction on the deck but not under the water. They slip out from under me and my bottom hits the bottom. My head is just near the surface. Me, still pregnant, still underwater, holding the child up above the surface.
I managed to get my round, cumbersome self up, all the while holding the child. The mother looks at me with a non-resting bitch face and says:
“What are you doing?”
Well, I’m soaking wet, standing here with the pool filling my runners, for no apparent fucking reason, lady.
“Ummm, well, he was drowning,” I answered, calmly.
“No he wasn’t, he can swim.”
“No, he was drowning.”
“Well, it’s shallow here.”
“Well, he was doing what I call, “The Washing Machine.” It’s when little kids fall down in shallow water and tumble around because they can’t regain their footing.”
“So, I’ll need you to come over to the guard room to fill out a form, it’s the procedure for anytime a guard enters the water.” The pool water up to my hips, the guard shirt clinging to my belly, my hair slicked to my head.
“Ugh. Well, do I have to?”
“It’ll just take a minute.”
As we made our way over to the guard room, she continued to natter at me.
“I’m really sorry to have to inconvenience you like this,” I said, expression stone-cold as I held the door open for her.
Ah, the memories. I assure you, it wasn’t all bad, but human beings can be a rude and disgusting bunch. What can I say, sometimes the fecal contaminations, kids vomiting on me in swimming lessons, and people shaving themselves in the steam room kinda got to me. I’ve cleaned things that no human should ever have to even see.
But for some reason, some things just bother me more than others.
On one of my last shifts, before I hung up the ol’ whistle for good, I was hosing down the family change room, when a guy near me asked his wife to pass him the toenail clippers.
My head shot up. I looked over at him with sheer panic. He looked right at me, and went into the change room stall and closed the door.
I knew damn well what was about to happen.
Fuck you, and your toenails.