Saturday, June 03, 2006

Youth and the Lifeguard Gig

I saw three teenagers running through a supermarket last night, laughing and joking around. That is as far from my world now as living on Mars. The days of youthful exuberance are gone. In fact, at this point, there is nothing that could possibly happen that would make me leap for joy. Oh, I'd be very pleased. I could possibly muster up the energy to be thrilled. But the days where you run through the supermarket because you have the joyous energy of being young and alive? That is over.
I was a lifeguard at a huge community pool in Arabia years ago. Even then, I could see the relative differences in age. I was going to college so I was still young, but these kids? My God, where did they get the energy? You have to understand it was sometimes 114 degrees in the shade over there. I had on an Arab headdress because that's the best way to handle extreme temperatures. I would sit in a chair and try and shut my activity down like one of those large lizards at the zoo. The only movement was my arm as I poured 100s of gallons of water down my throat. Arabia could be on the warm side, especially if you were out in the heat all day, but did the kids show any signs? No, they would play in the water at high energy, and then every time they got out, they would run, giggling, down the side of the pool and jump in somewhere else. And it could be 120 degrees out in the sun. All summer, my main job consisted of telling little kids not to run around on the wet concrete because they could slip and hurt themselves: "No running. No running." Ten million times. I'll confess something. Although I saved one adult the next summer when I was lifeguard on a recreational barge that went out on this bay off the Persian Gulf, I was not the best lifeguard. I was too deep in thought. Frankly, when one of the kids would come by and say something stupid, I would often not respond at all. I'd move so they could see I wasn't asleep on the job or anything, but I had the shades on and the Arab headdress and I would just not react, till they went away. Otherwise you'd be having ten million kid conversations a day: "Yes, that was a nice cannonball." So I wouldn't respond till they just gave up.
Even the rescue had a shaky side. The only reason the adult got in trouble, was that the barge was drifting because we hadn't dropped anchor. You couldn't drop anchor everytime we stopped. It was on a chain and we had to haul it up by hand. You do that a few times in the desert heat, and you'd be done for the day. But it was a save, in the sense that the man was drowning in full panic and I jumped in and approached him underwater and got him in a partial headlock from behind, just like I was trained. That worked out. I was alert out in the open waters. But, the community pool? I went into a deep trance at the pool. In fact, the one time a little girl got in trouble and started calling for help, I was so deep in a heat-induced stupor, that I didn't react immediately, and I was looking right at her. Thankfully, her father was nearby and grabbed her. I'm not saying she would have drowned, but I was a few seconds late realzing she was really struggling and calling for help, as opposed to the ten million screams and giggles that went on all summer.
We had some drama - some tears - on that job but no one died. In fact, no one even slipped on the wet concrete and cracked their head open. But I'd watch these kids and think, "Where do they get the energy?" and that was decades ago. Seeing these teenagers running exuberantly through the supermarket last night, was a modern day version of that. And the old lifeguard in me wanted to say, "Stop. No running in the store. You'll slip and hurt yourselves."

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