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Pool Daze: It Happened One Summer

There is something to be said for the effects of hard work. Real sweat, even bloodshed; putting food on the table and pouring your last into the American Dream.

I started working at the age of 13, keeping books for a branch of ServiceMaster. My mom was able to locate this gig for me through one of our church-going acquaintances. Goddamn that post-worship church coffee hour, for allowing my mom to whore me off into her sugar cookie networking, as only a post-worship coffee hour could. That place was crawling with women looking to get rid of their children for an afternoon, my mom obviously included.

This short-lived employment involved me commuting a few miles, via car and licensed adult driver, to the home of our church friends; appropriately on Sunday afternoons, following coffee hour. Just what I needed as a teen; one more reason to hate Sundays.

Once my mom peeled out of the driveway and gunned it down the street to my place of employment, I was escorted downstairs to the basement, where a sort of office existed. I call it an office because there was a computer on the desk, a small copying machine, a file cabinet, and most importantly, a pen cup. But given the closet-like dimensions of the room, as well as the rigid cement design, I would just assume call it a cell.

The cell bore no vents, nor natural light. The temperature remained the same all months of the year - somewhere between 60 degrees and fucking cold. I was forced to remove my shoes upon entering the household, way upstairs ago, so I always sat teeth-chattering in my socks, using my butt cheeks as temporary foot heaters, rotating when my circulation slowed to tingling paces.

I can't say I enjoyed my work there, balancing the company checkbook and processing invoices, but it did adequately season me to hate bills and all related financial matters, which I still demonstrate monthly via my payment procrastinations. Every time I see a bill in my mailbox, a strange chill appears in my feet.

* * *

After my brief ServiceMaster stunt, I took a well-earned leave of absence from the world of labor. It wasn't until the age of 16 that I deliberately sought out an employer. But even then, my mom willingly steered the car that took me to the application. This time, I found myself at one of Chicagoland's most privileged shopping malls, where I did hard time for The Gap.

The job seemed like fun at first, but looking back I realize that the only fun part about working in yuppie retail is receiving some form of compensation, even if it is just a company discount and a measly paycheck that fittingly supports your company discount. My co-workers were the only highlight of this job; a younger group of attractive people, all khaki-ed out and swing dancing around the place . . . pretty much what you'd imagine.

The Gap lacked any . . . connection to me, I suppose. Something was missing and it wasn't just a clever name.

When I was 17, I was more or less done with occupational clothes-folding. I quit the job, but re-appeared for seasonal work later that year, only to learn that working the retail holidays is comparable to carefully jamming ice picks into your asshole. I was hardly able to legally drive a car by the time my first homicidal thoughts occurred, one day in the fitting rooms, to the blaring tune of N'Sync's Home for Christmas. I knew I had to leave the scene, so I again returned to unemployment, sanity shakily in tow.

It wasn't until this time that I finally learned what a real job was, what it felt like to put in 40 hours, oftentimes more. My friend Kathleen stumbled upon a gig at a local apartment complex, the home of her now seasonally Chicagoan grandparents, as a pool attendant. Before I get into all the hard labor details, I should take a moment to paint an image; a setting, if you will.

The Betsy Courts pool boasted a depth of six feet. The length of the pool ran a screaming 30 feet. The six-foot metal gate that captured the white cement deck could maybe have kept someone out on a snowy winter day when the bars were icy . . . and no one wanted to swim. There were long chairs, 20 of them, that also happened to colorfully align with the dark blue tile that lined the inner wall of the pool. There were massive planters scattered here and there around the deck, but they were poorly kept and mostly just attracted the bugs and evil August bees. Not to mention the inevitable lack of space that came with them, and summers full of scraped knees in eager passes by.

On the shallow west end of the deck was the pool house, a small shack complete with tubs of chlorine, an enormously loud and superbly faulty heater, a few pipes and gauges, and shit I knew nothing about other than what it looked like running properly. When I didn't see that, I was instructed to just call Steve. Attached to the front of the poolroom was an old pay phone and a drinking fountain with a sign that said not to drink. Even if you missed the sign, the warm brown water spewing from the hole was a pretty solid warning. The pay phone became Kathleen's and my second line; this back in the unfortunate days of teenagers without cell phones.

The east, deep end, was the primary pool attending hangout during our shifts. It kept the only table in the area, with a big blue umbrella that gave the gift of shade on hot Chicago days. Plus, we were seated in reach of the life-saving hook mounted on the fence behind us . . . a tool that we used exclusively in the event that Kathleen's future brother-in-law came to visit. Not because he was a bad swimmer and the six-foot deep end threatened to do him in, but because he would entertain us by running around the deck with the tool, towing Kathleen or me through the water, while we clung limply to the hook end.

But before your imagination gets away, and I am mistaken for once having been a lifeguard, I must clarify that Kathleen and I were no such certified creatures; don't let our proximity to the hook mislead you. Our list of chores included measuring the pH and chlorine levels every two hours, vacuuming the pool in the morning, skimming the pool when necessary (open to interpretation), checking pool passes, and just flat out holdin' down the fort.

Kathleen and I had mild modifications to the job. We figured the pH and chlorine rarely changed in a two- or even eight-hour period, so we usually checked it once a day and then wrote in the rest of the numbers. The temperature reading we actually did perform bi-hourly, but only if the hour didn't interfere with our under-the-tree naps and 7-Eleven runs, during which we would delegate a regular poolie to keep an eye on the place.

We also made sure to add the task of having friends come by and hang out with us and bring us foodstuffs. Sure, they didn't have pool passes, per se, but that was another slight variation - Kathleen and I together, in a combined seven years of pool-attending, checked a total of four passes. You could say we were liberal with the gate. I say we didn't sit close enough to give it much thought.

To an onlooker, we may have seemed like merely a couple of lazy bums, getting paid $8.50 per hour to be best friends and nap in our sunny employment bliss. But to Kathleen and me, the pool was our hang-out, our summer home away from home, our subculture. We ran that pool the best way we knew how, with pure passion, loyalty, and killer tans that held on until the chill of Chicago winters set in.


To be continued.


Posted on August 9, 2007

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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