Mildly Humiliating

How every waterpark employee’s nightmare taught me not to take crap from anybody


Yes, it was as disgusting as you would imagine. No, I was not happy about it. And yes, I have tried my best to suppress this memory from my brain. But let me give you some more context.

It was a beautiful, blisteringly hot summer day in California — peak drought season. It was the kind of heat where the warm air is very full, seemingly taking up a lot more space around you than usual and feeling really thick when it enters your lungs. The sort of heat where even in shoes you can feel the warmth creeping in from the ground to the soles of feet and if you’re barefooted, you end up doing that funny looking shimmy, hopping one foot to the other, trying not to get your toes smoldered off while you scramble to find shade or a puddle of quick-drying water for some relief. It was the type of persistent heat that if anyone feels the need to comment on just how hot it is you fight the urge to slap them upside the head for that very insightful observation.

I became all too familiar with that routine as having bare feet was part of my uniform that summer and dealing with patience-testing people became customary. I was a bright-eyed bushy-tailed 16-year-old, naïve of the world to come to her at her very first job as a lifeguard at a run-down waterpark.

I remember being so excited to have this job, not only to make my own money for the very first time but because I felt like a grown-up, with this sense of responsibility as I worked on my tan whilst saving lives — except it wasn’t nearly that glamourous.

In actuality, the majority of my fellow lifeguard trainees or at least the ones I got the pleasure of knowing, were either melodramatic teenagers, 20-something-year-old potheads, or some sort of combination of the two. There was also one creepy looking 30-year-old who didn’t talk much and was always meticulously applying his sunblock. He was nice but I try my best not to associate with people twice my age or half my body mass index.

When I wasn’t avoiding my problematic coworkers, I was usually dealing with cranky customers who reeked of chlorine and entitlement. I’m almost positive that the combination of the fuming chemicals along with constant talk to overbearing customers had me lose some brain cells that summer.

But despite all the dehydrated complainers, sunburnt mothers of four who always had me calling for my manager or the disobedient kids who I’d have to remind constantly to wait their turn or threaten to revoke their pool privileges — I kind of loved my job. Of course, that was before the incident.

We had this point system as lifeguards: Do something good and your leads or managers see, you get a bead added to your lanyard. Now only the coolest most accredited lifeguards at the park had their whistle lanyards decked out in a beautiful and unique arrangement of sparkling beads that were worn like a badge of honor, okay? It was truly a prestigious achievement. You attain one of those bad boys and you, my friend, were the talk of the town.

Now I was perfectly aware of how juvenile this bead system was and I was sure they kept a bulk-sized bag of these beads somewhere in the rat-invested corridors of that filthy waterpark but that didn’t stop me and my competitive spirit to seek after those highly coveted plastic beads.

It was that delusional thinking and competitive heart along with my instilled fear of authority without question that leads to my fecal demise.

My first opportunity of escape was the chubby kid in the red arm floaties. He looked up at me through the fog of his scuba goggles to tell me that there was a chicken nugget at the bottom of the pool. This wouldn’t be the first time a kid has tried to tell me about the repulsiveness that is a community pool in mid-July, I was accustomed to the murkiness from sunscreen, sweat and potentially a lot of other bodily fluids. I’ve seen it all: bandaids, food, stray flip flops, tampons…yes, tampons. But most times, it was very minor and the job of the custodial staff. I’m just here to make sure nobody dies and yell at kids to stop running. I reassure the boy and continue watching my water when I start seeing a small crowd of kids forming to get a peek at the mysteriously shaped item at the bottom of the pool.

Oh gosh no. It couldn’t be. I thought to myself. Oh sweetie, yes it was.

It’s fine, it’s fine I told myself, we all heard the funny stories our managers told to scare us about all the treacheries waterpark guests commit. That’s all they were, just stories. I’m sure it’s nothing. Oh sweetie, no it’s not.

Time passed and more kids swam over to see what the commotion was about. Pretty soon a large crowd of little delinquents were all holding their breaths trying to figure out what the strange object was.

Today, I can’t help but wonder which one of those little suckers did it.

Just ten more minutes, I kept thinking to myself. Just ten more minutes until lifeguard rotation then I can take my lunch and this won’t be my potential problem anymore.

Then my second opportunity for escape. I can see my breaker across the pool walking to me to do our routine switch, passing the inflatable lilypads and the oscillating mermaid fountain, oblivious to my urgency for him to take my post and what I thought to be his victimhood awaiting.

He was so close, but unfortunately for me, not close enough as I hear my manager step behind me and say in a reluctant voice,

“So…apparently there’s a code 0–2 near the lava slides.”

Code 0-2. Oh, the funny phrase we laughed about in training with uncertainty. The phrase we threw around for a cheap laugh. Yeah, I was not laughing at that moment.

“You’re — you’re joking, right?” I respond, completely aware that she, in fact, was probably not joking.

“Um, I just need you to do a quick routine dive to double-check,” She said blankly. “I’m sorry.”

At this very moment, I kid you not, my reliever steps in next to me ready to switch out with me. Couldn’t have come a little sooner, bud?

“Uh, I don’t uh, I don’t have my goggles on me.” Cheap excuse.

She reaches to her lanyard filled with alternating pink and blue beads and pulls off her goggles and a single blue glove from her pocket, holding them out to me saying,

“It’s probably nothing, I just need you to go make sure.”

I look at her blankly, eyes winced, lips pursed.

“You’ll uh, you’ll get a bead for it,” she said apprehensively, knowing fair well a bead was not going to make this situation any better.

Now at this moment, any sane person would respond with a prompt: oh heck no. But you see this was my first job, my first manager, I didn’t know I could just refuse to do it, I had a reputation to uphold, I had beads to acquire, my judgment was impaired!

So, not willing to oppose my manager, I took the goggles from her hand and stepped in the water. I’ll spare you the gory details but just know that I think I took about an hour-long shower that night in close to boiling water.

It took the adornment of an aptly colored brown bead, the drive home and one boiling hot shower later for me to ask myself the question,


What is the worst that could’ve happened? Anything worse than the loss of any fleeting sense of dignity you had? Anything worse than the memory of swimming to the bottom of a pool to retrieve something that certainly was not a chicken nugget? Did I care that much about the bead? Did I really think I had to prove something? Am I that scared of authority? And bingo, there it was.

This painfully laughable moment in my life had me realize exactly that: I completely abide by any sense of authority — without question.

What can I say? I am a law-abiding citizen, a model student, a goody-goody, a teacher’s pet, a stand-up gal if you will and I subconsciously prided myself as such. How does this translate to you complying to pick up some kid’s crap, you may ask? Well, I discovered that my inclination to blindly trust authority was just a means of a passive lifestyle. A lifestyle made easy because someone already placed the rules and expectations for me. People-pleasing in my mind went from a place of pride to a place of diminishing value all in one brisk swim to the bottom of a pool.

Now don’t get me wrong, I still greatly respect authority and also am much happier when those around me are happy, however, the level of how much I appease people in my little teenager mind had a bit of a self-reflection that day as all those hooligan kids watched while I retrieved that life lesson in the blue glove.

Oh, who am I kidding? You know dang well, what I retrieved that day was most certainly not a life lesson. But look, I’m a glass half full kinda gal, okay? Or maybe a glass two-thirds full kinda gal — missing the point, but with a great attitude.

What I have come to realize as a now, big-girl teenager, is that an entirely people-pleasing outlook on life is very un-journalistic of me and even bigger than that, very un-moralistic for me. If I can’t understand and purposefully execute everything I am doing or stand behind something I value firmly, then what is the point? If the motive behind something was driven by my fear of authority or people in general rather than my own conclusions, then is that even a valid motive at all?

I have since learned — how to say no to people, and in both senses of the word, not to take anyone’s crap without question. Pun intended.