In college I was a lifeguard at a pool that was notorious for shutting down because someone had pooped in the shallow end. While such incidents are usually attributed to very small children, in our case the #2’s were due to the enticing discounts we provided for the nearby special education camps.
These campers ranged in age from 5 or 6 to well into their 40’s and came with a plethora of needs and challenges. As a young, inexperienced lifeguard, I too felt that life was full of potential dangers and challenges – one being – supervising the deep end swim test which often resulted in an ‘active drowning’ rescue.
One day, as I singlehandedly “manned” this section of the pool, a bus full of campers opened it’s doors and a sea of people with varying mental capacities came charging towards me.
I watched, helpless, as over twenty campers stampeded through the gates and flung themselves into the deep end. I didn’t know what to do first. Blow my whistle? Jump in and try to grab them all at once? Simply walk away?
I saw my co-workers; Juliana on the other side of the pool leisurely applying sunscreen, Eddie asleep on a towel. Did no one see what was happening?
I prepared for the group rescue of a lifetime but just as I was about to launch myself into the murky blue water, I realized that none of the kids were actually drowning. As a matter of fact, they’d all bobbed to the surface and were yelling and screeching and laughing.
At that moment, their camp counselor strolled up to me and asked how my day was going. I slowly pointed at the deep end and she said,
“Most of the campers are autistic so they’re all really good swimmers.”
“Yeah,” she continued. “They have really good instincts and a lot of them just naturally know how to swim.”
Later, the lifeguards rotate and I take up post in the shallow end where a lone African American teenager in a life jacket bobbed in the two-foot section. This was more like it. I was relieved to just sit back, relax and chill with this guy. He even giggled a little, which was great, cause I love to laugh.
Juliana had taken up my post, glancing nervously at the campers flailing and screeching in the deep end. I looked at Eddie, who’d gotten off the towel, and was standing near a man with down’s syndrome. The man was climbing up and down the ladder of the slide, crying cause he was too scared to go down.
My one camper giggled and bobbed his head to his own beat. And then he said something.
“What?” I asked.
He giggled and said it again. I leaned in, repeating, “What?”
He shook his head and then articulated clearly and flirtatiously, “Girl.. shutchyo’ mouth.”
I looked around. Excuse me?
“Girl, you nasty.”
“Girl, you so nasty. Shutchyo’ mouth. Girl… you nasty.” He laughed again and I looked around in horror.
“Nasty, nasty. Mm. Hmm.”
Was this kid faking? Was he hitting on me? What?
He said it a few more times, chuckling to himself like he knew something I didn’t. This went on for several minutes and not once did I actually respond. I focused my attention on the man with down’s syndrome, overjoyed when he finally made it down the slide.
The camper in the life jacket continued to address me.
I glanced desperately around the pool, momentarily distracted by the overweight middle aged camper circling the perimeter with an early 90’s boombox hiked over his shoulder blasting The Pure Prairie League’s “Amy” on repeat.
Eventually, thankfully, it was time for the lifeguards to rotate.
I was back to the deep end where my terror was replaced by relief. I watched Eddie take up my post, wondering what the kid was going to say to him. A few minutes passed but he seemed to have no visible interest in telling Eddie that he was nasty.
Then I heard Juliana squeal. She was using a net to fish something dark and solid out of her side of the pool. Upon close inspection she announced, “We got a butterfinger! Clear the pool!” I blew the whistle and she, Eddie, the counselor and I helped herd the distraught kids out of the water and back towards the bus.
Just another day at the office.