Friday, June 29, 2007

Leslie's Aviator Sunglasses

One of the cool things about raising my kids in the same neighborhood that I grew up in is that they get to have some of the same experiences I did as a child. My kids are going to the same elementary school that I did and are even playing in the same backyard that I spent nearly every day in. It's a pretty cool thing. They are also taking swimming lessons in the very same public pool that I learned to swim in many, many summers ago.

I was sitting at the pool this week watching two of my girls and my niece learn their strokes. It was hot in the sun, so I found a nice shady spot near the shallow end to sit. I was enjoying the peace for bit until I looked up and saw her. Leslie, the world's meanest life guard. My breath caught in my throat and my heart started to race. Leslie is an impossibly tall, manly built woman with a severe blond haircut. She had the same aviator style sunglasses she had always worn when I was a girl. To tell you the truth, I'm not certain she even has eyes. I've never seen them. The only thing a kid ever saw when they looked Leslie in the face was their own shivering, pruney reflection in her mirrored sunglasses.

The swimming lessons were actually the brilliant plan of my friend Jeremy's mom. She thought we needed them, and told my mom that she would be happy to drive the two of us to the pool every day during summer vacation to make sure we had the lessons. I hated the idea of it. I never wanted to go but my mom made me, so I went.

It never seem to matter how hot the summer afternoons were going to be, the mornings were always frigid. The pool water would mimic the air and be just like an ice bath. That, however, was easily remedied by jumping in to the pool. You could acclimate to the ice water pretty quickly once your head was wet. The hard part was getting to the pool and past Leslie. She had an almost sadistic need to make us "shower" before we could get in the pool. By "shower", I mean that we would have to go to the locker rooms and drench ourselves with water via the communal shower head. If you thought the pool water was bad, the shower water was sure to send you into sheer epileptic fits. I pretty sure that it came directly from frozen glaciers with ice chunks still flowing through out. I fucking hated going under that shower. Not just for the cold temperatures, but because Leslie insisted it had to be done. We had germs, you see, and the shower would keep her pool clean. I'm not sure what kind of germs Leslie thought a few middle class kids from the suburbs had that couldn't be killed off by massive quantities of chlorine. And let me tell you, she kept that pool juiced. Jer and I went around looking like pre-teen stoners for most of the summer with our chlorine induced red eyes. Still, she demanded we shower before jumping in the pool. So we, of course, found ways to avoid it.
Our first line of defense was getting in the pool quicker than Leslie could inspect us. Jeremy and I would dump our towels on the ground and run to the deep end and jump while Leslie was getting her clipboard.
"Hey!" She'd shout. "Did you two shower first?"
"Yeah, of course!" We'd yell back, and we were safe for a day.
That didn't always work. Some mornings she'd be waiting for us. We'd get turned around and sent straight back to the locker rooms for a shower. We'd splash some water on our bathing suits and hair and head back to the pool, dejected. There was one day that I ran and jumped in pool confident that I'd fooled her. I hadn't. Leslie actually made me get out of the pool and go shower. She was nothing if not consistent.

The showers were not the only area that Leslie ruled with an iron fist. She was a Nazi when it came to laps and treading water. We would tread water for ten minutes straight and then do twenty pool laps. We'd be exhausted, clinging to the edge of the pool for dear life and Leslie would decide that we hadn't done the laps right. "Jennifer!" She'd bellow. "10 more laps!" It never occurred to Leslie to actually instruct us on how to properly swim a lap. She'd just sit in her lawn chair with her towel wrapped around legs, her whistle hanging from her neck and bark orders.

By the summer of fourth grade I'd had enough. I told my mother flat out that I hated swimming lessons, hated the lifeguards, and I wasn't going back. "You can pay the money if you want to, but you won't get me in the car. I will not go." I told my mother. She decided that this was not a battle that she was going to win, so I didn't go back to another lesson.
I watched Leslie saunter across the pool yard and over to some workmen at the far end of the property. She talked with them a while, then left. I can't believe she still works here. I can't believe she still wears the same sunglasses. But mostly, I can't believe she still makes my breath hitch in my chest and brain ask "Can I make it to the deep end before she sees me?"

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