My feet dangle at least a foot from the ground. The backs of my thighs cling to the tall, black stool I’m perched on. The end of its back digs into my shoulder blades, and that bothers me. So instead, I sit at a 60 degree angle facing the towel rack. The guards, iPhones in hand, ae sprawled about the shack, watching the clock’s hands to make sure they don’t miss their next rotation. But not I: no tiny red suit with “guard” across the breast, no plastic whistle to spin on my index finger, just me. Nike shorts and a worn down T-shirt, navy KU ball cap on.
Hello, my name is: Cabana girl. Towel chick. Window Woman.
For hours on end, I wait for a silhouette to appear in the narrow hallway leading into the pool. I stare blankly at the bulletin board across from me, and by now I’ve memorized the two flyers it is home to.
“Do YOU like to swim?”
“Want to improve your strokes?”
As a matter of fact, I do. And thanks, but no. I would like to improve my buoyancy, though. Do they have lessons for that?
A prepubescent redhead approaches the pool window. “Wait… your sister’s a lifeguard, why aren’t you?”
People can’t quite wrap their heads around the concept of a non life-saving pool employee.
Yes, she is a lifeguard. So was my other sister. And both of my parents, too. Heck, they MET through lifeguarding. And no, I am not.
“How come?” His dirty blonde sidekick questions with wondering eyes.
Allow me to explain. On the last day of my freshman year, a broad-shouldered, chisel-jawed, short-statured YMCA lifeguard trainer approached me, looked into my goggle-marked teary eyes and broke it to me that I could no longer continue with the training program because, well, I sunk like an anchor. I went down with a simulation brick on my chest, belly-up and unable to use my arms to keep myself afloat.
You see, after the last day of freshman year, I had my neighbor Kennedy drive me to the community center for the mandatory Red Cross Certification to become a lifeguard. She left me with a “Good luck Boots!” and an encouraging look. She even let me use her Hawaiian-themed towel. Its warm pink and orange flowers still haunt me, sitting neatly folded on a chair in my room…sorry Kennedy.
Towel in hand, I went in and nailed the 300 meter swim, even befriended the jittery 20-something who was mulling over the water resistancy of the bandage binding her knee. We sat on the chlorine-covered concrete and waited for further instruction as we exchanged nerves.
But then, I failed the brick test three consecutive times. In front of all my peers, the guard on stand and the two siblings on the other side of the lane line. I swam to the opposite end of the pool, dove down to retrieve a black, tape-covered brick and made it half-way back looking like an impaired otter who couldn’t get her nose to break the surface of the community center’s pool.
I suppose I am the sole Booton to inherit the recessive trait of sinking. But, with sisterly connections, Meadowbrook Country Club still hired me. I wouldn’t be performing CPR or spinal rescues, but instead rolling a trash bin full of towels up to the kitchen to switch wet from dry every 1800 seconds.
A quick look into my occupation (outside the towel duties):
I hear footsteps and look up from Twitter.
“Hi there!” I chirp with a fake smile. A mom swings her youngest child from her left hip to right. She gives me their last name. I misspell it.
“And your number?” I scribble down the four digit identification.
“How many members with you today?” She turns around and counts with her eyes. One…two…three-
“Four, and can we have six towels?”
I tilt my head to the left and smile, “Of course.”
I really try to be genuine when I say “Have a good one” to strangers 100+ times a day, I promise.
After all, it’s what I’m certified to do.