I saw the sign just before I began the familiar drive up the hill, to the public pool I swim in every Saturday morning. “Lifeguard tryouts today.”
My admittedly rash reaction was because I still remembered the day a few months earlier, when they had held similar tryouts. The crowd of prospective lifeguards had taken up the entire pool. At the time, as I stared at the splashing mob, I had been told that a lane, and possibly two, might open up in fifteen minutes or so. A fat lot of good that will do, I thought, when the usual ten to fifteen of my fellow swimmers show up. I decided later to all that, and drove back down the hill, wishing that grumbling burned as many calories as swimming.
I was about half an hour early today, but I decided to park my car and stroll to the pool to scope out the situation. If it was the same madhouse as last time, there was no way in hell that I would be hanging around until ten o’clock to wait for a lane that would never appear.
As I walked towards the pool I passed a young man who was obviously a lifeguard. Sure, I partly deduced this by using my keen powers of observation, noting his swimmer’s body, tousled hair and overly confident attitude. But mostly I knew it because he was heading towards the truck that had a surfboard on top and the word “Lifeguard” painted on the side.
“How long are these tryouts going to be?” I asked him as I walked past.
“Until noon,” he replied, all tousled confidence and good cheer.
I arrived at the pool and peeked through the slats in the fence. The pool, miraculously, was empty. At its edge three or four apparent lifeguards were sitting at a long table, waiting, I assumed, for prospective candidates to show up.
See, you never know. Things suddenly looked good for today’s swim, so full speed ahead and all that. I headed back to my car to wait for ten o’clock and the start of open swimming. On the way I passed that same young lifeguard.
“Coming back later with your kid?” he asked politely
“Nah,” I said. And then, after walking a few steps and digesting what he had said, I turned around.
“Hey, what are you saying, I’m too old to be a lifeguard?” I yelled at his retreating back.
Well, by this time I was having a blast. This unsuspecting kid was so taken aback, he turned from King of the Beach to Ralph Kramden in a matter of seconds.
“Hamana-hamana-hamana—I didn’t mean—hamana-hamana-hamana,” he sputtered
I tell you, people, it was glorious. I let the embarrassed sap twist in the wind for a while, and then finally let the poor guy off the hook.
“No, I’m just here for the open swim at ten,” I laughed.
I’ve always believed that if I could make just one of these cocky young punks uncomfortable each and every day, well, I’ve done my job. And so I headed back to my car, basking in triumph, my mission accomplished for today. And it wasn’t even ten o’clock yet.