I’ve always been impressed with the things that Yalies do for their summer vacations. I’ve heard the most amazing stories. Some people were teargassed, some nurtured homeless refugees and some even saved lives. People saw a lot of profound things, too. Beauty in the devastating poverty of the Dominican Republic. The running of the bulls in Pamplona. A violent riot in Chile.
And me? I saw an 80-year-old man blow-drying the hair in his own ass crack.
You see, my friends, I was a lifeguard this summer.
In a naked pool.
When I got the job after a five-minute cell phone “interview,” I should have been tipped off — but at Yale they don’t teach you things like “job savvy,” and “basic common sense.” The next day I showed up for work, and I was impressed. The club was beautiful, marble from floor to ceiling, and the guests were unquestionably rich. I was convinced that this was going to be a dream job.
We descended to the basement fitness center and they gave me my uniform, a tight monogrammed T-shirt and short shorts. They clearly knew my style. Then they gave me a tour of the fitness center. It was all male, and it was fancy. The lobby was plush, the workout room was well-stocked, and the pool was amazing. It was lined with plants and marble columns, and a giant gold lion’s head continually spilled warm water into the deep end. There was a sauna, steam room and lines of showers.
And everybody was naked.
Clothing, apparently, was only allowed on the exercise machines.
Naked men reclined everywhere, on the furniture, in the sauna, reading the paper, chatting —
— swimming —
At the first instant, I was thrilled. Working all summer surrounded by naked men! Who could ask for anything more?
It was around the second instant that I realized I was very, very wrong. This was a snotty New York social club. All of its members were white, fat and yes, over 60 years of age. Pale, shriveled and bloated bodies were everywhere. I had only been there a minute, and already I’d seen more geriatric nudity than an altar boy at the Vatican.
And really, who swims naked? Swimming naked should be reserved only for young people who are drunk and attractive. These people were drifting back and forth in the pool like wounded manatees, trailing a slick of old man grease behind them in the pool as they went. I had never seen anything like it, and my bosses were acting as if it were the most normal thing in the world.
“Now most of your job will be cleaning up after these guys — we’re not worried about them drowning, they’re all so fat they float anyway,” my boss explained. “We’re more worried about heart attacks.”
This was actually said to me on my first day at work.
“There are sheets all over all of the furniture so they don’t leave spots behind, and you will be changing those. Also, they seem to use a lot of towels, so you’ll be picking those up after them and bringing them new ones.”
And there was my job in a nutshell. Changing old-man-stained towels off of furniture and bringing towels to people who referred to me as “the help.”
“So Chris,” my boss asked me jovially, “what magazine do you work at again?”
There was a moment of silence. A naked swimmer wobbled lazily by.
“Outside Magazine,” I replied.
I tried to look chipper as I said it, but somewhere deep down my inner Richard Simmons was choking.
To this day, I still do not know if Outside Magazine is a legitimate title. I only knew that I could not say where I really worked. I was surrounded by powerful men at their most vulnerable and, well, naked, and it was a pretty safe bet that none of them voted for Gore. At Out Magazine, I got gay porn as a going-away present and people said “mwah mwah” to one another because constant hello and goodbye kisses were too time-consuming. At the naked pool, the only queens around were the ones related to the clientele. So I lied about my job and my sexuality, and alternated all summer between being Out, and being in.
My co-workers at the pool were pretty homophobic, and unbeknownst to them I was caught in more than one extremely uncomfortable situation (as if the job weren’t awkward enough). But I take it as a lesson — it was, after all, partly my fault. The first time they made comments it was their fault — the rest of the times it was mine for letting them. Also, if I had thought my sexuality would be a problem for my bosses, I shouldn’t have wanted to work for them.
Yale teaches us that whoever we are is great. But even our esteemed university can’t teach us how to prove it to everyone else. I certainly don’t know how. What I do know now, however, is that the only thing worse than prejudice is not doing anything about it.
It was, to say the least, an interesting summer. If you see me on the street, ask me about the naked swimming lessons — I think there’s a limit to the number of times you can use the words “bobbing testicles” in a Yale Daily News article.
Oh, and my co-lifeguard and I figured out halfway through the summer why they used so many towels, too. Apparently when you are old and rich, you do not use toilet paper. You use towels. Then you leave them on the ground for the “help” to pick up and launder.
Then, if you’re especially decadent, you blow-dry the hair in your ass crack.
I hope I never get old. n