It was the summer of 1999 and I had a job working at the public pool. I wasn't a lifeguard, nothing as glamorous as that. I wasn't cut out for that line of work, and in fact I couldn't decide which was a more terrifying prospect: wearing a bathing suit to work every day or being contractually obligated to haul potentially limp and lifeless bodies out of the water. Either one sounded much too stressful for the $7 an hour they were offering, and so I took the easy way out, sitting in an air conditioned booth drinking iced coffee and collecting admission fees. The easy way out turned out to be anything but, I soon discovered, as I had to deal with increasingly hot and cranky patrons who found a way to complain about everything: this line is too long, how dare you ask me for identification to prove county residency, what do you mean I can't bring my noodle, I don't understand why my baby has to have a swim diaper when we have this waterproof diaper cover that works just as well, god, and also I don't see why I should have to pay when I'm not even going to swim. Seriously, I'm just going to sit there reading a magazine while my children swim, and yes, of course I will be supervising them, just from farther away. I really don't see what the big deal is because my children know how to swim, and besides, that's what lifeguards are for, right? This is an outrage and I demand to speak to a manger!
The worst part was that all these conversations had to be shouted through a plate of glass. The useless metal grate used to speak through had been removed to facilitate communication, leaving a perfectly round hole in the window about five inches in diameter. My biggest pet peeve was when, instead of asking me to speak up, people would take it upon themselves to insert their ear through the hole in an effort to hear better. The ear in its normal context is inoffensive enough, but when all you see is a disembodied ear coming at you through a hole, it becomes freakish and grotesque. These were the same people that would attempt to put their mouth through the hole to answer back. Talk about a violation of personal space. I quickly lost all sense of humor. One day a group of young punk asses swaggered up to the window, one of them smoking a cigarette like he thought he was the shit, and blowing smoke all through my hole. I, to put it mildly, was not impressed.
"How old are you," I asked the first one in the flat, lifeless tone normally reserved for toll booth operators and diner waitresses, the words indicating that you are asking a question, but the tone saying you don't give a shit about the answer.
"That'll be $2.50."
Repeat for the second one. Also seventeen. Also $2.50. Then came the cigarette smoker and smoke blower.
"How old are you," I repeated, my head propped on my hand.
The punk ass puffed himself up a little bit. "Eighteen," he boasted.
"That'll be $4.75."
"Wait, what?! No, they just got in for $2.50."
"They're seventeen. Eighteen is an adult. That's $4.75."
"Naw, naw, I was just kidding, I'm really only seventeen."
"Sorry, you already said eighteen."
"Naw, for real, I lied before, I'm seventeen."
"I'll need to see some ID."
"I don't have any ID."
At this point his punk ass friends jumped in to help. "Naw, for real, he was just trying to impress you before. He's only seventeen." The punk ass nodded vigorously while blowing another lungful of smoke through the window.
"You're seventeen?" I asked.
"So why are you smoking, then?" I said, enunciating my words like you would to a small child, while his friends erupted into a chorus of guffaws and Oh, snaps. He looked mildly chagrined and put out the cigarette. "Just give me $2.50 and get out of here," I said wearily.
Word of the event spread around the office: the shy girl turned hard ass. "That was awesome!" exclaimed a couple of the lifeguards who had witnessed it.
"So you're really against smoking, I hear?" asked the manager, Jeff, later, pulling up a chair in the front office to eat his sandwich in peace.
"Not really," I said. "I just didn't like the kid."
Jeff was an unlikely suspect as far as crushes go, small and bookwormy with thick glasses, pale blond hair and pinkish skin. His saving grace was an acerbic sense of humor and a really nice set of shoulders. He was sort of an acquired taste, and the first time I saw him I remember thinking I wouldn't like him at all. It was at a staff orientation meeting, and when the speaker was unable to get everyone's attention, Jeff leaned in, grabbed the microphone, and yelled "Ok now everybody SHUT UP!!!!!" God, what a dick, I remember thinking. And then, for whatever reason, my brain followed that thought up with, I would never like him, which caused some confusion to my inner monologue. Well of course I would never like him, that's a given, I mean ew. Why would you specifically bring that up, brain? Weirdo. So no one was more surprised than me when I found myself actually looking forward to the times when he brought his lunch into the office and sat with me for a bit. I also found myself doing strange things, like watching for his reflection in the glass, so I could check his whereabouts while it looked like I was nonchalantly looking out the window. I would try to park my car right next to his, just in case we both ended up walking out together after work. But the absolute best was when we would close together, just him and me. Usually swim team practice would screw that up, because he would have to stay, but every once in a blue moon the stars would align. I would count the money, then he would count the money. We would lock up and walk out to the parking lot together. Heaven. One night Sherry and I were both working in the office. "One of you can go home," he said. "There's no need for both of you to be here."
"Oh, I don't mind staying," Sherry said. "You can go home, Rachel."
"Oh, well I actually don't mind staying either," I said. "It's not a problem. Go ahead."
"No, really," she said. "I can stay."
"But no no," I said, "I insist. Don't worry about it."
She looked at me. I looked at her. We looked at Jeff. "Look," he said, "I don't care who stays, just work it out." We waited for him to leave the room.
Once the door closed, "Rachel," she said, looking me straight in the eyes this time, "I really want to stay..."
To be continued...
Ok, so place your bets now. What do you think will happen in the next installment of Chlorine-Scented Love?
a) Sherry gets the man. They live happily ever after.
b) I get the man. We have a brief but intense summer fling.
c) I get the man but still manage to all kinds of screw it up.
Care to take a wager?