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Running in slow motion along the shoreline

For eight of the past nine summers, Ive lifeguarded at Saranac Lakes William Wallace Memorial Beach. Commoners or, to be more politically correct, laypeople know the place better as Lake Colby Beach, but thats unacceptable. I consider it my duty to ensure that William Wallace gets the respect he deserves. After all, if it werent for William Wallace, Scotland might remain under English tyranny to this day. Thats right Saranac Lakes public beach is named after the thirteenth-century Scottish freedom fighter portrayed in the movie Braveheart by the perfectly sane Mel Gibson. Had the town elders asked me, I wouldve suggested naming the place Robert the Bruce Memorial Beach, because Robert the Bruce is a cooler name than William Wallace. Also, whereas William Wallace got disemboweled by the English while wearing kiss-style makeup and screaming about how they could never take his freedom, Robert the Bruce became King of the Scots. But the town elders didnt ask me, and while that breaks my heart, Ill get over it in time. Anyway, as I said, Ive worked as a lifeguard for almost a decades worth of summers. Ive only sat out one year of the past nine the universally reviled summer of 2006 and that certainly wasnt by choice. I tore my Achilles tendon during an all-night dance marathon that spring, and, when it came time to renew my lifeguard certification, I couldnt pull off a convincing slow-motion run along the shoreline. The slow-motion run along the shoreline is a key move in the professional lifeguards repertoire, and the Red Cross refuses to certify anyone who cant perform it proficiently (as determined by how closely the would-be lifeguards performance resembles David Hasselhoffs for the gentlemen or Yasmine Bleeths for the ladies in the opening credits of Baywatch). While some people might call it laughable and pathetic that Ive worked the same job almost every summer since I was seventeen, I call it laughable and pathetic, but also kind of heroic if you stop to think about it instead of sticking with your first knee-jerk reaction. As lifeguards, my colleagues and I go to work each day knowing full well that we might forget to reapply our sunblock every three hours and end up with an irritating sunburn at the end of our shift. Also, we occasionally have to jump in the water and rescue a distressed swimmer. Of course, Ive only had to make three such saves during my unnaturally long lifeguarding career, but does that make me any less of a hero than, say, thirteenth-century Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace? Yes, it does. I mean, for Gods sake William Wallace led a ragtag band of Scots against those ratfinks the English in order to preserve his homelands liberty, and what did he get in return? Disemboweled, thats what! Still, I made a save this past summer that bloated my ego to obscene proportions, if only for a few minutes. It happened on Rugby Weekend Sunday, while I was manning the lifeguard chair on the end of the dock that juts into the swimming areas deep end. A boy of maybe ten and his rather large uncle either a rugby player or a professional sandwich eater decided to swim out to the raft. The big guy quickly left the kid behind and, upon reaching his destination, turned and shouted back words of encouragement stuff like You can do it, Junior! and Keep on truckin, Junior! and Dont stop now, Junior, or youll drown, and youll never see anyone you love ever again! Despite his uncles motivational chestnuts, I realized that the raft wasnt in Juniors future. He was in way over his head, and though he was still kicking, he wasnt going anywhere. Blowing my whistle, I jumped off the dock, swam out to him, and handed him the rescue tube strapped around my chest. As I towed the kid back to the dock, I imagined his family weeping in gratitude and showering me with sandwiches, and newspaper reporters taking my picture and asking me how it felt to be someones savior, and the mayor handing me an oversized key at a special ceremony held in the town hall to celebrate my greatness. Then I got the kid out of the water and, without saying a word, he ran laughing back to the picnic table where the rest of his family was hanging out, apparently oblivious to the whole incident. The big guy swam in from the raft, hauled himself onto the dock, nodded at me, and followed Junior also without a word. And that was when my bloated ego burst. I realized that nobody considered me a hero, because Id done nothing heroic. Id simply done my job, and the town elders werent going to name a public beach after me for it. But, I figured, they probably werent going to disembowel me for it, either, so I should just count my blessings and get over myself. Dan Leonidas makes shallow observations. He can be reached at dpleonidas@yahoo.com or myspace.com/lastminuteconcerns.

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