MY SO-CALLED
 LIFEGUARDING

No day at the beach for Corey

                               Daily Breeze, June 2004

 

BY COREY LEVITAN

PHOTOS BY BRUCE HAZELTON

 

      The buzz of authority, the scent of Coppertone, the company of young females. What more could I ask for than a day as a lifeguard?

      One problem: The young females here are 5 years old.

      I wanted to be David Hasselhoff for this adventure, to blow my whistle and save Yasmine Bleeth. It was gonna be South Baywatch.

      But the city of Redondo Beach didn't return my calls, while Hermosa Beach wouldn't cooperate because it took lifeguarding "seriously."

      Manhattan Beach was my sole taker. Unfortunately, it wouldn't let me anywhere near its ocean.

      "We can put you at Begg Pool if you want to take the required training," said Jesus Sandoval, the straitlaced San Pedro resident who manages the pool.

      Why not? A pool is where all the action happens at the Playboy Mansion.

      Begg Pool, I didn't know, is a four-foot wading puddle whose users splash each other and scream, "Hey, mommy, look!"

      Training for this auspicious moment in my career was no day at the beach, either. For four break-less hours, Sandoval drilled me and a dozen high schoolers in tedious detail: how to watch the water, how to rotate positions, how to stand.

      Hey, no one told Hasselhoff how to stand!

      He then commanded us to swim laps and drag one another across the pool. My colleagues were great rescuers; I was a great victim. In fact, while trying to ferry a tall, dead-playing 16-year-old to the nearest wall, his weight ended up submerging me instead.

 

 

        "Dude, are you all right?" asked Ryan, a Mira Costa swim team member, as we reversed roles without Sandoval's authorization.

      As long as all my unconscious victims kick to propel both of us, I'm in great shape.

      Oh, and did I mention this all transpired back in April ... at night?

      "Couldn't you train us in a hot tub?" I asked Sandoval through teeth chattering harder than Leonardo DiCaprio's at the end of "Titanic."

      Honestly, I learned less about saving lives that evening than I did about precisely where Begg pool's jets of warm water are situated. But I did learn CPR during a course Sandoval taught the following evening. And that was a good thing, since I nearly had to use it on myself from the fever I contracted.

      "Hey, mommy, look!"

      Two months later, Ryan and my other fellow lifeguards have returned to Begg Pool for its grand opening party. They gather around a picnic table to catch up on their summers and gossip. I snag some empty bench and try joining in.

      "Hey guys!" I say.

      "Hey," comes the awkward communal response. Their conversation resumes without me.

      I know this feeling from somewhere -- being ignored by high school students. Oh yeah, it's from high school!

      Every lifeguard this summer is here, 25 of them. Normally, only 4 show. But Sandoval says he wants everyone to get a feel for the pool on opening day. (The real truth, I suspect, is that he wants at least 20 standing behind me while I work.)

      The sun is far from out, suntan lotion providing more warmth than protection from anything. But I slather some white stuff on my nose -- following the bylaws of the 1981 Blotto song "I Wanna Be a Lifeguard" -- and hit the big chair.

      I'm ready. For what, I have no idea.

      Whoa. Small boy at the bottom of the pool. I poise myself for the rescue. Stay calm. Oops, he's only playing dead. That would have been one embarrassing rescue.

      "All we usually get is smaller kids who can't stand up in 4 feet," says Begg Pool lifeguard Tristan Wright, 21, of Hermosa Beach. "They'll flounder or get too far away and not be able to reach the edge. That's pretty much it.

      "Most of the time, their parents will grab them by the time we even get off the chair."

      But Wright is wrong. Ten minutes into my watch, a four-year-old girl pops out of the water, lips bluer than her Hilfiger swim trunks. I ease her to the edge and listen for breathing. There is none. I administer rescue breaths, 1 1/2 to 2 seconds each, checking for a pulse after each 2. Her chest begins heaving on its own. EMT workers arrive and congratulate me. The girl's parents are overjoyed.

      Nothing in that last paragraph is true, by the way. How could it be? Would 24 lifeguards more qualified to save a drowning girl sit back and watch me do it?

      Plus, at the very least, I would have led this column off with that episode instead of introducing it down here.

      But didn't you just love that detail about the blue Hilfigers?

      No, the closest thing to an incident on my guard is two little girls slapping each other silly with foam snake-y things.

      "No horseplay," I admonish, "or I'm gonna put you under lifeguard arrest!" The girls paddle away, terrified. Such is my big rescue.

      After 20 minutes, I rotate around the pool. Counterclockwise, like Sandoval taught us. But another lifeguard already mans my new station. Not eager to report her disregard of protocol, I simply find an unguarded side of the pool and stand.

      And stand. Turns out, I've been training for the real job of being a lifeguard my whole life ... at the bank, at the DMV, at Disneyland.

      A half hour of standing later, I realize the other lifeguards have rotated again, but none has approached to relieve me. I hit the lifeguard table for a head's up.

      "Oh, we don't need anyone on that side," says a lifeguard who identifies himself as Amir, then laughs as though the name is fake.

      "That's why we let you stand over there."