Your Local Sexy Lifeguard is Probably 16.
I knew this particular resident was going to be a problem from the moment he walked in with his massive YETI cooler. He was short, with a buzz cut that accentuated his round face and wearing a wifebeater; he stood out against the neighborhood’s hipster scene. The resident instantly slid into the pool and began to pull out the first of many beers from inside his massive cooler.
Luckily enough, he eventually opted to sit on the edge of the pool and dangle his feet into the water. I had been a little agitated with his arrival. I only had to be a lifeguard if there was actually somebody in the water, and with the SAT coming up, I really just wanted to return to my practice book.
I wasn’t a bad lifeguard and I didn’t hate my job, but this had been my second seven-hour shift of the weekend. From 3:00 pm to 10:00 pm was a long time to spend alone, especially when I knew my friends were out having fun. There was also no possible way to get real food while I was working, which meant I had been surviving off of meal bars and water for the entirety of summer.
This particular apartment complex was mainly millennial age doctors who liked to day-drink by the pool and enjoyed the benefits of a gentrified neighborhood. I spent a lot of time telling them they couldn’t have glass in the pool, no matter how great they think rosé is.
So, I sat at my table and drilled algebra problems until my brain turned numb and he drank beer and listened to his radio. I was in the process of going over my mistakes when he finally spoke:
“What are you studying over there?”
Not wanting to be rude, I responded: “An SAT practice book.”
For most adult men, the SAT was a big turn off. It was one of the reasons I brought it with me to work. This guy, however, was not to be deterred. Thankfully he stayed on the end of the pool farthest away from me.
He hadn’t been my first problematic resident, and he certainly wouldn’t be my last. However, he certainly was my most aggressive.
Every now and then, a guy would approach me as though he didn’t quite understand what my position at the pool was, even though the fluorescent red swimsuit and whistle should have been an obvious indicator. In the previous week, it had been a very attractive nurse who wanted to know what I had been so intently reading (a very bleak book about Chinese migrant workers and sweatshop labor I had been assigned as mandatory summer reading). After I told him I was, in fact, a high schooler he just stared at me for a few seconds, perhaps thinking I might look up at him and continue the conversation. When I didn’t, he gave up and went back to his friends. Even the hot ones can be creepy.
Back in the present, I was still watching my resident. When his friends showed up with even more beer, I knew my study time had come to an end. I watched as they reminisced about the good ‘ol days back in college and downed beer after beer. They seemed to be too engrossed in conversation to notice me. Inevitably, they decided to move into the deepest part of the pool. There was little visibility from where I had been previously sitting which meant that I had to move towards them. Things did not get better from here.
“She’s studying for the SAT!” He shouted to his friends. They stared at me and I felt a sudden urge to crawl underneath the table. Each friend offered me their own advice and hoped that I would “do better than they did.” I made small sounds instead of words in the hopes that they would go back to their walk down memory lane.
Soon it became questions about where I wanted to go, what I wanted to study, and what kind of grades I got. It was like visiting my family for the holidays, only worse. It didn’t take long before the resident has invited me into the pool with them. Unsurprisingly, I declined.
And yet, he remained persistent, asking what it would take for me to get in there with him. He started flailing around in the pool, pretending that he was drowning. Afterall, as a lifeguard, it would be my job to save him in such a scenario. I asked him to please stop messing around. He said I was no fun.
Unamused and now very uncomfortable, I went back to my table. It was 9:30 and my shift would be over soon. Unfortunately, time crept by slower than usual, forcing me to continue watching the pool. While his friends had mostly lost interest in talking to me, the resident hadn’t. He then that he said those four magic words that every girl loves to hear: “Give me a smile!”
He had to repeat himself just to make sure I had heard him, and I managed to let out a nervous laugh - the kind where your mouth moves but your whole body becomes stiff. I put my sunglasses on so he couldn’t see that I was about to cry. I had barely turned 17 and he was roughly in his thirties. “There’s that beautiful smile,” he purred.
I wanted so badly to go to the front office and tell the manager, but I was the only person left on staff, everyone else had left hours ago.
9:45. I had to survive 5 more minutes and then I could begin to close the pool and kick them out. Maybe he also sensed that his time to romance me was running out because he amped up his approach.
“Why don’t you just come in here and gri- no never mind, I’m not going to say it.”
I didn’t need him too, I knew what he was going to say. He laughed and looked at me like I should have responded to his comment. His friends did nothing but look on and laugh quietly. I was petrified into silence.
Fortunately, they left of their own accord to go back to his apartment although they had indicated that I could join them if I wanted. Instead, I ran straight to my car and called my mom.
Apparently, I was not the first one to have experienced something like this while on duty. Not with the same resident, but other female lifeguards had been asked to come up to various residents’ apartments before, despite all of us, like most lifeguards, being underage.
The majority of pools have posted rules prohibiting patrons from distracting the guards while on duty. This is for several reasons. For one, it’s a massive safety hazard as it distracts us from actually having to do our jobs. For the other, it’s massively creepy. The sexualization of lifeguards probably has something to do with Baywatch, and the other million TV shows and movies that depict ways to get female guards to kiss dweeby teens. The sexy lifeguard trope is a staple of any male-driven summer-themed comedy.
When I told people (men) what happened, I got asked why I didn’t do something right then and there. It’s hard to put into words how uncomfortable and scared I felt; there was a massive power imbalance between the two of us. The resident was physically a lot bigger than I was, and he was older. I am a tiny teenage girl who technically was employed to protect him. His rent paid my checks. Moreover, there was no protocol for what to do in a situation like that, even though multiple girls had reported incidents of harassment. Was I even allowed to say anything to him?
I reported the incident to the apartment managers as well as my supervisor and gave them every detail I could. They assured me they would go over the footage from that night from their security cameras and make sure the resident was held accountable for his behavior. I also informed my supervisor that I was no longer comfortable working the late night shifts at that apartment.
When I got my schedule for the next two weeks, it was clear that what I had said to him had gone in one ear and out the other. I was slated to work the 3:00 pm to 10:00 pm shifts on both weekends. I quit immediately after.
Quitting felt like a defeat. Like I had heard that god-awful Trump quote: “I would like to think she [Ivanka] would find another career or find another company if that was the case,” and applied it to my life. I was an outspoken feminist, so why had I given up so easily?
I probably wouldn’t have quit if I hadn’t been scheduled to work those shifts. Afterall, it was so close to the end of the summer. But it had been disheartening that my supervisor hadn’t taken my side or, at the very least, listened to my scheduling request.
Speaking out against workplace harassment, no matter the workplace, is important. Even more important is for those workplaces to support their employees. Without that, harassment is allowed to and will continue to, exist within our society.