Whose on Guard?

January 23, 2011
The Saturday before last was cold and gloomy as the sky took to spitting pitilessly on its powerless victims below. It seemed like an eternity ago now that the cracked blinds generously allowed the sunlight to disturb Penelope’s sleep. Rolling over and burrowing in the covers served as futile attempts at putting off the inevitable start to the day. Penelope persuaded one eye open, stealing a glance at the clock without revealing her weakness to the enemy. Obnoxious red numbers confirmed her worst fears.
“Honey, I’m leaving for the office! I left the coffee pot on for you and the paper’s on the kitchen table. Have a good day at work!”
“Okay, Mom!”
“Need anything else?”
“No, Mom!”
“Bye, Penny!”
In just ten minutes, Penelope was pulling into the parking lot of the community pool and swallowing the last piece of a Pop Tart. Running late, she did not have time to relax in the break room before putting on her uniform.
Penelope hated the orange bathing suit that was so unreasonably chosen as the pool’s lifeguard uniform. No matter how tan or pale any girl on the staff was, the color did nothing to flatter her complexion, and the shapeless fit either couldn’t contain her curves or made the less endowed look even more boyish. Even the boys looked like lost pieces of macaroni and cheese that fell out of a toddler’s dinner bowl. Thankfully, Penelope reassured herself that after this summer, she would be moving on to bigger and better things.
Once she went to college in the fall, Penelope would be treated as the adult she saw herself as. She knew what she wanted to do with her life and exactly how she was going to do it; any predetermined plans God may have had in mind stood no chance in changing her self-approved course. Perfect SATs, flawless applications, impeccable transcripts, All-American and All-State honors were just a few of her lackadaisically achieved milestones on her proclaimed path to greatness.
“Hey Paul, can you get my shoulders?” Penelope handed him her bottle of SPF 30 and turned around only to see the line of over-eager patrons forming at the front desk.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!”
“What?” Joe asked.
“We aren’t even open yet and there are already people lined up! What the hell,” Penelope whined.
“I don’t understand people at all,” Julie said, rocking her head in her hands.
“Time to go up guys!”
“But we have five more minutes,” Becky called back to the manager.
“We have people here. Go up!” The eight lifeguards shuffled out single-file juggling their rescue tubes, whistles, walkie-talkies, and cups of ice water to designated positions at each of the three pools.
Each lifeguard had his or her own practiced strategy for watching the patrons at play, not all of which would be approved by the American Red Cross. Julie liked to settle her feet casually on the ring buoy to achieve the popular too-good-for-this pose, while Ben chose to slip dark sunglasses over his eyes and lightly doze in his chair, only to be awakened by a patrolling manager or a rotating guard. The newer guards sat upright at full-attention, unwittingly on their way to being corrupted by the veterans who slouched in the plastic seats, lazily sneaking glances at the clock.
Penelope’s preferred tactic was to twirl her whistle. She could twirl the whistle clockwise, counterclockwise, on her left hand, on her right hand, on her thumb, pinky, ring, pointer, and middle fingers; in other words, she was a professional whistle twirler. Aside from the money, and whistle twirling, the only other reason any of the guards came to work was for the off chance that they might get the opportunity to play games or do ridiculous, potentially life threatening tricks off the diving boards. But now, officially considered an adult, Penelope was sick of this child’s job, and all the games. Absentmindedly she twirled her whistle, daydreaming about her perfect upper-middle class future.

“Damn it! The manager said we aren’t allowed to play chicken! I think they just hate me,” Ben said when Penelope walked in the break room. She went to the fridge, retrieving her water bottle and yogurt.

“Yo, man! So are you going to Michelle’s party tonight? I need a ride,” Paul said to Ben, taking the precious time to look up from his phone.

“I was thinking about it. But Julie asked me to work the other half of her double tonight and I could really use the money.” Paul rolled his eyes and returned his attention to the text he was sending.

“You’re whipped, man.”

“Shut up, Paul!” Ben said as he punched him in the arm.

“There are so many people here, today. I wish they’d all go home,” said Penelope.

“I know, right! Did you see that kid with the red trunks? I don’t know about you guys, but he would not stop talking to me at the top of the slide,” Ben said smiling as he remembered the conversation.

“Ugh, times up boys and girls!” Paul announced the end of their fifteen-minute break. Unless you were relieving someone wildly attractive, like Joe, or were losing valuable break time, most people exhibited little urgency in rotating their fellow guards. In very few cases did the randomness of the fifteen-minute break prove to be enough time to fit in a meal, a normal length conversation allowing you to get to know your co-workers on a more than superficial level, and a nap. Therefore, in order to compensate, processed, microwavable products became diets, conversation was generalized with only snippets of personalization, and naps were more resting of the eyes. Still the breaks were what everyone looked forward to at the end of an hour-long rotation, aside from watching Joe model on the stand.
The rest of Penelope’s five-hour shift dragged on in the drudgery she had come to expect over her years of working at the community pool. A few times, she blew her whistle. The first time was just to see if it actually worked; having used it minimally in her career, she often forgot what it sounded like. Other occasions were simply to tell the ignorant mini-me brigade to stop running. Usually the blowing of the whistle was avoided, despite angry speeches from the manager. Unless you fell under the infamous category of whistle w****, blowing your whistle broke the lifeguard code. Problems that could not be solved by simply yelling “HEY BUDDY” were brushed off until the next guard tried fifteen minutes later. Therefore, Penelope, a firm believer in the lifeguard code, preferred to use her whistle as infrequently as possible.
Regrettably, today Penelope broke the maximum number of whistle blows by one. It was a sin so horrible that for the rest of the day she vowed not to whistle at all the next time she worked as a penance. And of course, she had had to waste the last whistle on a little boy stupidly using arm floaties in the large competition pool. Penelope tried yelling to him, but neither the boy nor his mother paid any attention. Normally, Penelope would have let the perpetrator slide, but the manager just so happened to be watching her from the nearby pump house.
“Ma’am,” Penelope called, and having evoked no response, resorted to the use of a guilt-filled whistle. Finally, the mother and son looked at her.
“I’m sorry but he isn’t allowed to wear the arm floaties in this pool,” Penelope explained with feigned remorse.
“Oh, but he’s only just learning to swim,” the mother said politely. “I’ll stay with him.”
“We only allow the floaties in the kiddy pool ma’am, sorry.” Penelope tapped her foot with impatience.
Fortunately, the woman complied without further discussion. Penelope’s day continued smoothly from there until she was officially relieved at 5:00pm. All in all, it was her typical day at the pool.
When Penelope woke up the following morning there was no rush for work and she happily laid under her covers into the early afternoon, evening the score with the morning sun. Her breakfast time was everyone else’s lunch. Her mother had left the newspaper on the table especially for her, as was their routine.
She turned to Section C, warming up with the local news and all its pictures. The column on the right was about the butterfly release at the elementary school; second graders proud of the weeks they spent filling Petri dishes with sugar water as if they had broken new scientific ground. The center story was about a local soldier injured in Iraq, who was now home learning to use his prosthetic leg so that he could once again compete in triathlons. Penelope bit into her butter-loaded burnt toast humming along to whatever tone had gotten stuck in her head at Michelle’s party. The next story, the one in the far left column was about a little boy, who drowned at the community pool. The charcoaled piece of greased bread lodged itself in her throat as Penelope gagged and gasped for breath. The phone rang, Penelope’s hand shook as she listened to the manager’s familiar voice tell her that the pool would be closed for the day.

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mamorris06 said...
Nov. 17, 2011 at 1:00 pm
please tell me what you think
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