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The Best Thing About Today

Day to Day Thoughts, Recollections, and Chicanisma

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Another Personal Essay Entry: Queen of Chlorine
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                                     Queen of Chlorine


Her name was Colleen, and she ruled the pool. Each blow of her whistle was followed by a “Heeey, don’t run!” or “Get off the staaairs!” or “Nooo splashing!” She usually wore white-framed Vaurnet sunglasses that matched any of her brightly colored bikinis: a solid pink, a solid yellow, a solid turquoise, and white. When she wasn’t screaming at us and blowing her whistle, she spun it around her finger with the intensity of boxer jumping rope. With her left hand on her hip, she’d get that whistle spinning to the right, and once the string had wrapped itself around her index finger, she’d get it spinning to the left. It was like her special lifeguard lasso – you didn’t dare get too close.

I don’t know if it’s because she seemed to single me out, or because I was intimidated by her sun-bleached blond hair, and all-American beauty, or a combination of both, but Colleen became my nemesis. She was everything I wasn’t: beautiful, blonde, and powerful. Sure, she was a bit thick around the hips and had cellulite, but to me she fit a standard unattainable to all those around me. All the kids who swam at the pool were afraid of her, and she seemed to revel in her role as queen of chlorine. You didn’t dare pee in the water anywhere near Colleen’s umbrella perched high above the mass of sun damaged bodies. She was tightly wound, that was for sure, but it’s true that the majority of the kids at the Tuolumne pool had been sent or dropped off by parents without jobs who used the pool like they used elementary school, as a babysitter, only the pool stayed open much later and there was no homework.

 It always seemed that nearly half the town’s kids were there. Even on weekends, when I would get there on foot with my brother in tow there was always a line of kids waiting at the gate before the pool had even opened. My family had very little money and while my mom didn’t like us to eat candy, she always managed to scrounge enough change from pockets of dirty pants and under the couch cushions to get us into the pool and a treat. Meanwhile, she’d stay home and get stoned with her friends. We’d usually see their kids at the pool or in line at what we called the “little store” – a lot of poor and working-class white kids, a lot of the super dark Mi-Wuk kids from the racheria, and me and my brother, two of the only Mexican kids in town, passing as town Mi-Wuks. There were a few parents who came to the pool with their children; these parents often wore swim caps and nose plugs while they splashed around in the water with their little ones, or they sat on towels in the shade. They were an oddity and their kids even odder. I don’t think I ever heard Colleen or any of the other much younger lifeguards tell those kids to take a shower before entering the pool, and they never came wearing cut-offs, so they were never turned away.

 Maybe I wasn’t the only one, but Colleen always glared at me whenever I had to walk passed her and her flying whistle lasso on the way to the diving boards. There were two boards, the low board and the high board. Just climbing the stairs to the top of the high board made my stomach flop over, but it was a fear I knew I had to conquer. Some days, I’d march right past Colleen, daring to get close to the blur of her whistle, and other days, I’d walk the long way around the pool, opposite of Colleen, as slow as I could until I reached the high board. I’d let a kid or two, who seemed more eager, to cut in front of me, and once the board was empty, I’d make a panicked assent to the top. The slight bounce of the board under my feet as I made my way to the tip gave me a floaty, slow motion feeling that I savored. It was exhilarating to be up so high above the smell of coca butter, baby oil and chlorine. Inevitably, my thoughts were interrupted.

“Heeeey, you on the board; you’re taking tooo long,” Colleen would scream and blow a long shrill blast on her whistle. I remember her using my actual name only one time – it made me feel very important, but normally she’d shriek, “Hey!!!!!!!” or “Hey, you!!!!”

Sometimes, when spooked, I would turn and make my way to the stairs then down, each one a mark of inadequacy, but after about my third summer in row of Colleen screaming and blowing her whistle in a way that had nothing to do with saving my life, I forgot about wanting to disappear. Instead, more swiftly than ever before, I climbed the ladder, hand, foot, hand, foot, then pulled myself up and onto the board, and marched to the end. Hesitating at the tip, I waited for Colleen to notice, and I forced myself to jump at the first blast from her whistle. I heard a “heey” cut short as I fell through the air until, splash, I was under the water, fighting my way back to the top.


                                                      *                *          *


I recently took my son to the neighborhood pool one unbearably hot afternoon, and when a young lifeguard passed by me in white-framed sunglasses, I found myself thinking about Colleen. Did she really hate me? Maybe she was just tired of the noise and being under appreciated. Tired of busting kids for dunking each other under water. As I fought my way through throngs of kids in rather warm pool water, I found myself thinking fondly of her, hoping she, unlike the rest of us, wore sunscreen with a high SPF. I wondered what she’s up to these days, and as I was sure I was being peed on by more than one of the nearby children, I found myself wishing her well.

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Queen of Chlorine

I truely like Colleen besides lifeguards do not paid much yet they save lives sometimes this is priceless.
the discription of how Colleen was dressed is vivid and I can see her and the are hot sun had me reaching for the sunscreen too.

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