Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Lifegaurd

I have worked a lot of jobs over the years. I’ve even been fired from a few. But I have only been fired by my own sister once. I wish every young person could have the opportunity to be fired from a job by a sibling or parent. But not everyone can be that lucky. I learned more from being fired by my sister than I ever learned by being fired by anyone else.

My sister is an organized, goal-oriented achiever. No one was surprised when she landed a job as assistant manager of Brook Lane Community Pool. The neighborhood pool is the center of the suburban social universe in the summer time. Kids go there to escape from their parents. Parents go there to escape from their kids. I went there to look at girls. But I also worked there, as a lifeguard.

Anne came to the job with excellent qualifications and a can do attitude. This was her first real management opportunity. And she intended to make the most of it. She set goals and developed action plans. She was going to do everything in her capacity as assistant manager to make Brook Lane the cleanest and safest pool in Omaha.

Her noble intentions ran into a massive road block. The road block’s name was Craig Lundy. He was the Nebraska state record holder in the 1000 yard freestyle and he was Anne’s boss. He was also sleeping with his girlfriend in the tiny pool office after hours. No one talked about it. But everyone knew about it. You just can’t have people having sex in the office of the cleanest and safest pool in the city. So the deck was stacked against Anne from the beginning.

Craig Lundy was not a bad guy. He was actually a really nice guy. He just had some different ideas about how to run the pool. And some very different ideas about the delicate balance between personal and professional life. He and Anne had a few professional conflicts.

When Anne thought about safety, he thought about fun. When Anne thought about rules, he thought about fun. When there was a piece of poop floating in the pool, he thought about fun. And there is nothing fun about poop. He let Anne handle it. Fun was the core element of Craig’s management philosophy. This was not something Anne had encountered in her management classes in college.

There are a million ways to kill yourself at a neighborhood pool. Anne was concerned about all of them. Craig’s focus remained on fun.

As her little brother, Anne expected me to have her back. Someone needed to have Anne’s back. Craig’s girlfriend, one of my fellow lifeguards, definitely had his back. Anne saw me as a potential ally. Unfortunately, I preferred Craig's focus on fun to Anne’s focus on safety. So when Anne arrived at work one day to find her little brother firing bottle rockets across the pool, having, in fact, a bottle rocket war with her boss Craig Lundy, what could she do? Who could argue with Craig Lundy? He was the state record holder in the 1000 yard freestyle.

It was the best of times and the worst of times for the lifeguard staff that summer. When Craig was the manager on duty the only rule was to have fun all the time. We listened to Snoop Doggy Dog on the PA. We enforced discipline by throwing kids into the deep end. We spent the money from the till on frozen yogurt and pizza. When Anne was the manager, we once again lived in a world with rules. Fun was no longer the only thing that mattered.

I operated under the influence of Craig’s fun philosophy most of the summer. Cleaning bathrooms wasn’t particularly fun, so I didn’t really have much interest in doing it. The same went for enforcing rules. I was not an ideal employee. But in my mind I was only following the directives of management. I was acting like my new hero Craig Lundy.

You can’t fire your boss. But you can fire your little brother. I guess I felt sort of untouchable as Anne’s little brother. I did less and less actual work on the job. I got very casual in my dress and manner of speaking at work. The incident which provoked the firing was my use of profanity around small children. I guess I dropped a few F-bombs and a few S-bombs and probably a couple of A-bombs. This is, no doubt, conduct unbecoming a lifeguard. But I was her brother. She should have had my back.

I stormed out of the pool in a dark cloud, full of fire and brimstone. What an unjust world! My own sister unable to see the extraordinary leadership I’d shown at the pool that summer. My mind swam. All the things I had done. The people I had helped. She didn’t see any of it. She couldn’t see it. She was a monster.

I decided to walk home. I would have taken the car, but she had the keys to the station wagon. And I didn’t want to go back in there and ask her for them. I made it about a half a mile when I saw my dad’s truck headed right for me. Anne had called him. I wanted to keep walking, but it was hot. So I got in the truck.

“So, you and Anne had some kind of fight at work.”

“Yeah, she fired me.”

“Wow. She fired you. What she fire you for?”

I couldn’t really explain why it was that Anne fired me to my dad. I couldn’t really say anything. Everything made perfect sense in my head. The injustice. Anne’s inflexibility and all of her cock-a-dootin rules. When I started to talk about those things they just didn’t make sense anymore. I sounded like an idiot.

Realizing that you are an idiot is one of the most important experiences a person can have. There simply is no denying it. If you are a lifeguard and you get fired by your own sister for swearing around little kids, you are an idiot. And so I was. Anne had to fire me to help me realize it.

I went home with my dad and meditated on my own stupidity for awhile. I realized that the fun way is not always the right way. And that being a great guy did not necessarily make Craig Lundy a great pool manager.

When Anne got home I begged for my job back. I told her that she was right and I was an idiot. She gave me my job back and never had to fire me again.


Anonymous said...

The Snoop Dog over the PA system is my favorite. So typical Tom! I love hearing these life lessons that incorporate your siblings. Having two younger brothers, I should be so lucky...

Laurie said...

I worked a few summers for my dad, aka "the slave driver." He didn't have to fire me. I quit and went to college. Maybe . . . that was his sadistic way of encouraging me to go to college after high school. It worked.

Amy said...

Great story Tom. It really made me smile - thanks for sharing it. Love you all so very much.

Live Simply Love Strongly said...

Good story. Good moral. Don't think it's good bedtime story material though...

Candace said...

You really can tell a great story! Congrats to you and Karine on the little one coming your way! Enjoy that little life!