Whistle-Blowing Robots This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

May 4, 2008
“Hey, you have to make sure that your hands aren’t anywhere near your face.” The bird-like head guard’s squawk brought me back to reality.

“Oh, okay! I’m sorry,” I replied as I lowered the hand that was holding up my head like a crutch. I had been watching one kid go off the slide in the deep end for about 20 minutes. There was really no reason to turn my head in any other direction because there was only that one little boy in the Spider-Man swimsuit. He wasn’t venturing anywhere else but that slide he found so amusing.

I remember when I thought the slide was fun too. Lifeguarding took that from me. Lifeguarding is like running a marathon – you compete with everyone around you, and every second of it you hate yourself for signing up.

Lifeguard training classes are designed to create whistle-blowing robots. Since I was still a human, the other guards wanted to bend and twist me ­until I either conformed or quit. I was pretty accustomed to being ratted out to the boss by the self-absorbed guards.

Facing my boss, Janet, is like locking myself in a cage with a vicious pit bull. She is 300 pounds of lungs. When she starts yelling at me, I wish I could vomit blood rather than take the rest of the humiliation. Every day that I worked I hoped I wouldn’t have to guard the deep end. I knew that if I actually had to save someone, I’d probably do a maneuver wrong and that would be the end of my summer job.

Finally, another guard relieved me for my half-hour break. I was glad that my first time guarding the deep end had been easy so far. If I was lucky, the boy with the Spider-Man suit would still be the only swimmer when I returned.

Retrieving my lunch bag, I passed the dull head guard, who was sitting on a lawn chair in front of the boss’s office reading a pink paperback. She looked up, and her eyebrows rose.

“Janet wants to talk to you, and she’s pissed,” she said in her most authoritative voice. I halted my trek to lunch, and went into the office. Before I could even say hello, Janet was already ranting.


I made any and all assuring replies – anything to get me out of there fast. As I exited the office, the guards on break casually looked up from their books to see who the fool was being yelled at. The head guard smirked and her buddy giggled.

I was relieved when Janet yelled “ROTATE!” from her air-conditioned office. I wanted to get back in a guard chair so I could be away from the others who had witnessed the yelling. I let out a huge sigh when I saw that the Spider-Man boy was still the only one in the deep end. I mounted my chair near the diving board, trying to calm my brain that was still quivering with embarrassment.

I settled in. Watching the Spider-Man suit boy was almost relaxing. I observed him swim to the ladder, go down the slide, to the ladder, down the slide, to the ladder, up onto the diving board. He gave me a smile as he proudly walked the plank. I smiled back. He jumped off the board. He rotated a bit in the air and his face slapped the water. His head broke the surface, but instead of the toothless grin he had just ­given me, I saw a look of fear. His arms were paddling uselessly; his head was like a bobber attached to a worm that a fish was nibbling on.

I should have told him not to go! He was on the slide the whole day for a reason. The board makes the jumper plunge deeper, and it’s a longer swim to the ladder!

I was in a panic. My hands shook as I groped down the arm rail, trying to find the air horn. The honk was like a gunshot at the beginning of a race. I ran down the chair ladder and leaped into the pool. I could hear whistles and gasps as I hit the water.

It felt like I was swimming against the Pacific waves, or across the Mediterranean. When I got to the boy, I tried to do the behind-the-back catch that we had practiced. It didn’t work; his arms were too high up. Finally I gave up and just grabbed him by the wrist and slung him over my safety tube. I fluttered my legs until we were at the edge of the pool.

Janet was already there. I could feel the salty tingle in my eyelids where tears were soon to fall. That was it. I was done. I should have told the boy not to jump, I took forever to get him, and I didn’t use a training maneuver. I screwed up again.

I got out of the pool and was about to start explaining – anything to get Janet away as fast as possible. Before I could say that I thought the boy would do okay off the board because he’d been on the slide all day, she interrupted with three words, then walked back to her air-conditioned office.

“Good work, Stone.”

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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