Monday, 25 April 2011

I was going to quote High School Musical 2, but you're already going to judge me hard enough after reading this post.

When I was just a teenager I used to get so mad when adults said things like “You’re just a teenager.” Like I was too dumb to understand the world or something. But looking back on it now: Jeepers H. Christmas, was I ever too dumb to understand the world or something. I mean, a) Science (your skull is still soft when you’re a teenager and also your brain isn’t finished growing), and b) Tesseract (teenagers have exactly zero frame of reference outside their tiny square on the space-time continuum). Maybe that second thing isn’t true for every teenager (Hermione Granger, for example), but it was true for me in my one-horse town.

I got my first job when I was 17 at Lake Lanier Islands Resort like every other 17-year-old that attended every school in my county. I’m not even kidding. Practically every kid I knew worked for LLI. It was like when the Saved By The Bell gang got jobs at Mr. Carosi’s beach resort. Or like the second High School Musical.

There were about a gazillion jobs at LLI. You could be a cater-waiter at the hotel or an errand-runner at the Harbor Office or a caddy at the Legacy on Lanier golf course. You could sell ice creams inside the water park or work at the tube rental station. Or you could be a lifeguard. It paid the least of any LLI job — $5.15 an hour for shallow-water guards, $5.35 an hour for deep-water guards — but it was at the tip-top of the social hierarchy and you got to sit in the sun in a swimsuit all day. And so a deep-water lifeguard I became.

About 150 lifeguards worked at the water park, and 130 of us were under 18. I don’t know how to over-emphasize how catastrophically insane that was. Our supervisors were all college kids, which meant one thing: access to booze. I worked at LLI for two summers and never did I ever make it through a whole water slide or wave pool rotation that didn’t include at least one lifeguard who was still drunk from the night before. Even the guards like me, who were absolute teetotalers, were skilled in the art of not giving a fuck. We were teenagers; it’s who we were.

Adults who couldn’t swim felt perfectly safe riding the slides all day long. Or riding an inflatable tube in the ten-foot-deep wave pool. Parents would drop off their elementary school-aged kids on the way to work and pick them up on the way home. Once a week, this inner-city camp would bring us four busloads of kids who couldn’t swim. Their counselors would just strap life jackets on them and then abandon them for the shade.

Did this misplaced trust make me and my fellow lifeguards worry? Did we think maybe we should take things a little more seriously, like CPR lessons and, you know, staying awake? No. No, we did not. We saw those buses of sinking kids and giggled to each other about, “The rocks are here!” before getting back to our primary concern of sunscreen application.

It seems impossible that no one has ever died at that water park.

I’m ashamed to know that an actual grown-up with an actual fully-formed skull was either dumb enough or greedy enough to hire a gaggle of teenagers to keep people alive. I’m also ashamed to know that if I had a time machine to take me back to those summers, the first thing I’d say to my young, dumb self is, “Oh my God, look at your tan!”


eclectic said...

Lifeguards, holla! I was one at summer camp for 2 summers, then while at college & grad school for 5 years. SO INSANE! But really, best job ever (minus the skin cancer).

Ashley said...

Is this week's theme about stupid things you did when you were young? Because if so, I might have an aneurysm from excitement. If it's about first jobs, that's pretty good, too.

Aren't you glad you guys have my approval?

P.S. You're funny.

Heather Anne Hogan said...

It's first jobs! So, also, yeah: stupid things we did when we were young.

Jennie said...

I think we should definitely do "stupid things we did when we were young" at some point. Also, I'd be willing to wager most water parks were/are like this.

mysterygirl! said...

Yeah, I'm with Jennie-- while this is somewhat terrifying, I'm pretty sure that every water park is like that. Plus, who just dumps their kids off for the day? I can't imagine my parents doing that, but maybe we aren't normal.

Kiti said...

I was one of those Hermione Grangeresque teenagers who DID have a very real awareness of the world, and I would have judged your teenage self so hard! Not in an intentionally mean way, but rather in an exasperated "I can't believe she doesn't understand!" kind of way. But lest you in turn judge my teenage self, you should realize that sometimes ignorance really IS bliss, and I realized that even then. I think that mixed in with my concerns for safety (Will no one think of the children?!) and world hunger and world peace, I would have had a little bit of envy at your ability to be so joyfully carefree. Hermione enjoyed being productive in her work for SPEW, and definitely found it fulfilling to be championing a good cause, but I absolutely know that she sometimes wondered what it would be like to maybe switch places with Lavendar Brown even for a day. [Not that I'm claiming that anyone in particular is Lavendar; I'm just giving an easily relatable literary example.] That's why growing up is so nice--eventually you have the opportunity to get to know and love some people who would have been incomprehensible to you 10 or 20 years ago.