The View From a Lifeguard Chair

By Mitchell Epstein

The water glistened in the sun as I entered the pool area at 11 a.m. on an almost unbearably hot summer day.

“Hey, what’s up,” I said to Kirill, the 22-year-old manager of the private pool.

“Hey, Mitch, could you dump some chlorine in the deep end?” he asked.

“Ok, how much?”

“Six scoops, and dump it over the green scum there.”

I went to the storage room and opened a 100-pound bucket of chlorine. I picked up two containers and filled them with chlorine, trying to not breathe in the strong scent of the chemical. If I stood by the bucket long enough and started sniffing the aroma, I could have gotten high off of it, which would not be a smart thing to do. One time I got a good whiff of it by accident and started coughing repeatedly. It felt like my lungs were going to explode.

I dumped the chlorine over the green scum, which is what we called a substance that clung to the bottom of the pool, particularly in the deepest end. The chlorine did not get rid of the scum. All it did was cover up the scum with a white, powdery layer. Dumping chlorine in the pool and just letting it sit there violated a New York City regulation for pools, but my manager and I didn’t care too much about rules.

Television shows like “Baywatch” portray lifeguards as heroes who routinely save people from drowning. That, however, is far from typical. The pool where I worked in Brooklyn was only five feet deep for most of its length. The odds of someone

getting struck by lightning are probably higher than that of someone drowning at this

pool.

***********************

Kirill, who barely did any work, sat at the desk by the entrance of the pool playing his PSP all day as another lifeguard, Peter, and I took turns sitting on the lifeguard chair.

I hated sitting on the chair for one-hour shifts. It was incredibly boring, no action at all, just old people swimming with poor techniques and children jumping into the pool or messing around with each other.

I quickly figured out that the best way for my time on the chair to go by quickly was to daydream and pay as little attention to my surroundings as possible. I sat on the chair daydreaming about the Mets winning the World Series. Too bad that dream never comes true. I then started thinking about my plans for the night. What should I do? Who could I hang out with? Before I knew it, Peter came by the chair.

“It’s time to switch,” he said.

“Wow, that was a quick hour. Are you sure my time is up?”

“Yeah, it’s time. You look like you’re half-awake up there man. It’s only 3.

We still got five hours here.”

Five hours that I was certainly not looking forward to.

************************

I got on the chair to switch with Peter. About five minutes later, an 11-year-old kid named Lenny started hitting me with a light blue water noodle. Lenny was the most annoying kid in the world. He would purposely try to bother all of the lifeguards every day, but he seemed to take extra pleasure in pissing me off.

“Leave me alone,” I said to Lenny.

He didn’t respond. He just kept hitting me.

“If you don’t stop, I am going to tell your mother.”

Lenny continued to ignore my demands and continued his assault with a crooked smile on his face.

“If you don’t stop, I will hurt you. I will make you cry.”

“No you won’t,” he replied.

I finally managed to grab the noodle and pull it from his hands. I started to tear apart the noodle. I ripped off a big chunk and threw it at him. I chucked the rest of the noodle over a nearby fence.

“That wasn’t my noodle,” he said.

“What! Whose noodle was it?”

“I don’t know. I just found it on the side of the pool.”

I tried to pretend that nothing happened and just finished the rest of my shift on

the chair as he walked away smirking. I wished that I could lock Lenny in a room and throw away the key so I wouldn’t have to deal with his antics on a daily basis.

Luckily, nobody asked me or anyone else about the noodle that I ripped apart. That made my day a little better.

**********************

I went to sit down by the desk. Kirill was playing a game on his PSP as usual. Two pretty 21-year-old girls who often came to tan at the pool were heading in our direction. Kirill always permits them come to the pool without paying a fee, even though they did not live in the apartment complex, which was in front of the pool. Residents of the buildings used the pool for free, but those who did not live there had to pay $6 to get in.

The two girls never paid to come in because Kirill, who was married, enjoyed looking at them.

The girls barely spoke any English, which was unfortunate because when one of them started flirting with me, I could not understand what she was saying. She said some words to me in Russian, but I didn’t know this language.

“I do not speak Russian. I’m American,” I replied.

She smiled, but did not respond. If only she spoke more English, I thought, I could definitely get her phone number. She was only wearing a black bikini top with a thong. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her as she walked into the pool area.

“You like what you see Mitch,” Kirill said.

“Damn, she’s hot. I really need a translator.”

He started to laugh. “Yeah, I guess you should start working on that.”

I kept staring at that girl when she was sunbathing, since I had nothing better to do with my time. After a while, I realized it was time for me to switch with Peter. When I got to the chair, Peter appeared to be distracted by that girl too.

“Nice view over there,” I said.

“Yeah, it’s much better than watching the pool,” he replied.

*******************

Kirill had one day off per week and conveniently a city health inspector paid a visit on one of those days. Whenever Kirill did not work, Peter and I were in charge. The inspector, a tall black woman who was about 30 years old, came to check the pool in order to make sure that everything was in order and that regulations were being followed.

Peter and I were shocked to see her arrive at the pool area right after we opened

the gate by the entrance. We knew that an inspector would eventually be coming at some point during the summer, but we did not think it would be the one day a week that we were in charge.

We cleaned the pool for a while before we opened, but that prevalent green scum was still at the bottom in the deep end. As soon as we saw the inspector with her briefcase, we quickly tried to get everything in order, but it was too late. She was ready to start her task as the fate of the pool hanged in the balance. If we failed the inspection, the pool would be closed and we would likely lose our jobs.

She first asked for our certification forms, which stated that we were qualified to be lifeguards. But, we could not find them anywhere, even though there was supposed to be copies of them in the storage room.

“Could you give us a minute?” Peter asked the inspector as he tried to call up our employer to see where the certification forms were.

“Sure, but you need to have those forms,” the inspector said.

Peter was able to reach a worker in our employer’s office who was not in a good mood. Even though he did not have the speaker on his phone turned on, I could still hear some yelling coming from the other end. The worker told him that the forms should be in a black loose-leaf binder, which we did not bother to check.

Fortunately, the forms were there and the inspector quickly looked them over and then proceeded with the rest of her duties. She checked the chlorine and pH levels of the pool, which turned out to be normal. When she was walking around the pool area, she noticed the green scum in the deep end, but she did not say anything about it.

The process lasted about 30 minutes, most of which the woman spent filling out

inspection sheets and writing comments about her findings. Peter and I were unsure whether we would pass the inspection. When the woman finally finished, we were anxious to find out the answer.

“You passed the inspection. Here’s a copy of the sheets and my comments. Look them over. There were a couple minor problems, but overall the pool is fine. Have a good day,” she said as she began leaving the pool area.

Peter and I were thrilled. We managed to do our jobs effectively and competently for 30 minutes. We were so proud of ourselves.

“Thank god, we passed,” Peter said.

“Yeah, we did a pretty good job,” I replied.

It was my turn to sit on the chair, so I left Peter at the desk reading a book.

When I got on the chair, I almost felt a sudden urge to reform my ways and become a responsible, hard-working lifeguard. Then after about a few minutes, I became entrenched with boredom and started daydreaming. My mind began to slowly wander as I thought about going back to college in a month. I drifted in and out of sleep under the warm rays of the sun.

Mitchell Epstein

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