Saturday, July 24, 2010

The best job I ever had

My Mom emailed me a picture and it reminded me of the job I had every summer between the ages of 16 and 20.  It was undeniably the best job I have ever had.

I was a lifeguard at a little park in Woonsocket, RI.  This picture was in the paper.  I was not doing anything noteworthy, believe me.  It was one of those random, slice-of-life pictures that they run to fill space.  The caption said something about me blowing my whistle to stop some horseplay.  That is pretty much an accurate description of what I did most of the day.

I loved that job for so many reasons.  The first one was the dress code.  I could roll out of bed in the morning, put on a bathing suit, shorts, t-shirt and the official, bright orange baseball hat and be ready to go.  I was quite the low maintenance gal and that was perfect for me.

Another reason I loved it was that I could be outdoors.  The park was a mere 14 acres of man-made landscapes plunked down in the middle of a depressed, industrial area of town.  There were no majestic views to meditate upon or opportunities to commune with wildlife creatures (depending on your definition of wildlife.)  Instead, there was an abundance of cement, rolling lawns and gravel-filled paths.  The centerpiece was a single man-made pond that I could swim across in about two minutes.  The joy came from simply being outdoors all day.  In the sun.  Barefoot.  Dirt on my toes.  Sweat on my skin.  I felt so unfettered.

I was in charge!  People had to respect my authority!  Well..not really.  But it was fun to blow the whistle and holler at kids.  Get off the ropes!  There aren't too many places in your life where you get paid to holler.  I was a quiet kid, so it was good for me to be able to do a little hollering.

If anyone gave us too much trouble we could always call on the Park Police to come deal with it.  Another perk of the job - handsome, clean cut, strapping young men in uniforms hanging around all day.  Well, to me they were older young men - around 18 to 22.  Some innocent flirting can really make the work day much more interesting. 

Some days I would ride my bike the 10 miles to work, jump in the water to cool off, take a quick shower to get the funky pond water off me and start my day.  I would spend the time in my perch on the lifeguard chair in that peculiar mixed state of alertness and boredom.  It was extremely rare for anyone to actually need any lifesaving.  I think in my four summers there, I saved two kids who had both gotten tired and panicky while swimming in water over their heads.

We got to know the neighborhood children and that was the first time I was exposed to lives that were not as cozy and comfortable as mine.  Erica was 8 years old.  She'd come to the park with her 4-year-old sister with no parent in sight.  Erica was in charge of taking care of her sister all day.  There were a lot of kids like that.  The park was like their extended back yard.  We always watched out for them but I think I was too naive to really grasp some of the things that were going on in their lives.  We were their unofficial babysitters for the summer and played games with them on our breaks.

All the jobs that I have had since then have been quite different.  I drive my air-conditioned car to work and spend my days in climate-controlled indoor offices. A shower before work and appropriate footwear is expected. No hats.  I never get to spend any time in the natural world. I stare at a computer all day. I rarely get to holler at anyone.

I miss the simple freedom of those summer days.   I could really use some of that joy in my life right now.  More bare feet.  More sun on my skin.  More sweat and dirt in my daily life.  

[ I feel like this isn't quite finished, but here it is anyway.  I've had no blogging energy.  Can't write.  Hardly read or comment on anyone else's blog these days.  Hopefully I'll snap out if it soon.]