Q: How long were you a lifeguard?
A: From age 15 through 20 or 21. Basically summers in my high school and college years.
Q: Where? At public pools?
A: It was in Virginia at different apartment buildings. Every summer I was assigned to a different pool. The company I worked for provided lifeguards for around 100 pools all over the area.
Q: What made you want to be a lifeguard?
A: I grew up at the beach, and it was cool to be a beach lifeguard. My sister was a lifeguard and I wanted to be one too.
Q: What was the job like?
A: Our boss was laid back. He let us wear bikinis as skimpy as we wanted. The only rule was that if you dove in to save someone, you had to save the drowning person and not your top.
Q: So you didn’t have uniforms or anything?
A: Nope. He was a hippie manager, and if he could get stoned in the pump room he was good to go. He would stop by once a week to check on us. The more you worked for him, the less he checked up on you though. He would pull up in his hippie van — he didn’t really have paint on the van. He just had, what’s that stuff that you put on before the paint? The primer? The van only had primer on it. You could see him coming, and if we were chewing tobacco on a rainy day we could get rid of it quickly.
Q: If he saw you, would he care?
A: Probably not.
Q: Did you work by yourself?
A: I worked with three or four people. Every summer you would set up your schedule, usually so you worked with a cute guy.
Q: What was your first lifeguard job like?
A: My first pool was at a really bad apartment complex. A couple times a day, boys from the neighborhood would just jump into the pool. They didn’t know how to swim; they would just jump in. This happened at least once a day. A couple of guys were seriously going to drown. These were big guys and I was a little five-foot-tall girl. They were just big guys who wanted to be saved by the lifeguard.
Q: Did you wear a bikini?
A: Yes. I had to maximize my tan!
Q: Did you stay there very long?
A: No, I asked to be transferred.
Q: And the next job was better?
Q: Tell me about the other apartment complexes where you worked.
A: One year I was placed at a pool that kind of serviced the military. It was close to the military base, and all of these women were getting boob jobs. Like seven women. It was the thing to compare incisions. Some of them had them on the sides, others by their nipples. It was like, “Susan is getting her boobs done today,” and the next day they would compare.
Q: Did you consider getting a boob job?
A: I pretty much thought about it, but the job didn’t pay that well.
Q: Was the hippie guy your only boss?
A: One year, the boss hired another guy who checked up on us. He did whippets in the pump room.
Q: What is the pump room?
A: Where you keep all the chemicals, where you grease the pump. Every pool has a pump room.
Q: How did you know he did whippets in the pump room?
A: He caught us on a rainy day, when we were doing dip and playing cards. He threatened to tell the boss but someone said, “You can’t tell him about us, because we’ll tell him you’re doing whippets in the pump room.” He said we’d just keep it all between us.
Q: Did you ever save anyone from drowning?
A: I saved this girl who was in the pool with her mom. The pool was closing in five minutes and I had shorts and a T-shirt on. The girl wasn’t more than two and was in a floatie, like a ring around her. Her mom kept letting her float away while she talked to her friend. I warned her but she didn’t really care. The girl was on the other side of the pool from her mom when she fell through the ring. I had to jump in with my clothes on.
Q: Did the mom apologize or seem to feel guilty after that?
A: Not really.
Q: Any other good lifeguard experiences?
A: Another time I was at a pool where I would get the volleyball every time it went out. The guys left me a case of beer. I was 17 so it was like gold! Another summer, a woman was having an affair. A couple of days a week she would bring one guy to the pool, and the other days she would be there with her husband.
Q: Did you learn any life lessons doing this job?
A: Yeah that people have a lot of problems. Some people think the lifeguard is like a hairdresser and they tell them their life story.
Q: Would you let your daughter be a lifeguard?
A: Oh yeah. But I wouldn’t let her work for as loose an operation.