Throughout my high school career, rather than flipping burgers at McDonalds like most of my peers, I spent my summers earning cash as a lifeguard and swimming lessons instructor at a park in upstate New York. Compared to most of the other summer job opportunities in the rural hell that was my hometown, Barean Park (commonly referred to as ‘The Reservoir,’ or just ‘The Rez,’ for us employees) was like a tiny oasis in a sea of fast food restaurants and strip malls. I mean, aside from having to save the odd drowning child, being a lifeguard was great. Hello—I got to lounge around all day looking hot while simultaneously scarfing ice pops and working on my tan. What more could a vain, airhead sixteen year old ask for?
The park itself was meant to be a place for people in and around our town to swim, play tennis, and have picnics. In reality it was just a fenced off bit of grass full of skanky teenage mothers, Mexican immigrants, and rednecks giving each other blow-jobs behind bushes. It was quite an amazing site, actually. I totally became BFFs with all the town cops while working there, as their presence was a constant feature of the park. There was always something—a drunken mother beating her kids, a homeless man sexually harassing the snack-bar girl, someone being stabbed in the parking lot—that kind of vibe. I could spend hours talking about all the horrendous things that went on there. Like the time a kid decapitated a goose with a baseball bat. Or the time a senile old man forgot his five year old granddaughter and didn’t come back to pick her up for nearly five hours. Or when Tiffany, the town crack-whore, would swim laps with one hand raised above the water in order to hold her cigarette / crack pipe. One time I caught a guy jerking off behind the shed where we kept the swimmies and water toys for kids. Good times.
The memory that stands out most of my years working at The Rez, though, was the night I nearly died at the hands of a crazed Hasidic Jew. It was around eight o’clock, and my friend Megan and I were the only people left in the park. We were closing up to leave, when suddenly out of nowhere appeared this massive, beast-like Hasidic Jewish man, running toward us at top speed and screaming frantically. Terrified, I pick up the nearest stick I could find and held it up above my head like a trident. Megan seemed quite shocked by the severity of my reaction, but was scared nonetheless.
“This gas station?!” shouted the monster as he rushed toward us.
“This isn’t a gas station,” I replied wearily, still holding my trident. “It’s a park.”
“No gas station?”
Me: NO. (Just for reference, the park looks nothing like a gas station. It looks, quite obviously, like a park.)
“I see, I see,” he said, calming down slightly. “No problems, no problems.” Next came a long, extremely awkward pause in which the gigantic man just stared at us motionless, then after about a minute he clenched his fist, raised it up into the air like a torch, and let out a mammoth, Earth-shaking roar. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
“Strong women, yes?” he shouted as Megan and I stared up at him in wonderment.
“Uh, what?” muttered Megan.
“You two women like to wrestle, yes?” he continued, flexing his muscles.
“What do you mean wrestle?” I asked, my confusion beginning to eradicate my fear.
“You know,” he said, “like throwing people to the ground.”
“Umm… not really.”
“Why not?” he persisted, looking slightly puzzled.
“Uh, I don’t know,” I said. “We just don’t.” I looked up at the beast. He was at least 6’3’’ and must have weighed nearly three hundred pounds—his back woolen suit causing him to sweat profusely in the August sun.
“Do you want some water?” asked Megan, changing the subject. You’re kinda sweating.” (‘Kinda’ being a complete understatement)
“No, no,” he yelled, flailing his arms as if to dismiss the statement. “Now throw me to the ground strong women!”
When neither of us responded, he let out a resounding cry. “THROW ME TO THE GROUND STRONG WOMEN!”
At this point the maniac grabbed Megan by the arm and pulled her toward him. I, being the great friend that I am, grabbed her other arm and pulled back. The brief tug-of-war, unfortunately, resulted in how you’d expect a tug-of-war between a savage beast and a helpless teenage girl to—he won. Megan then went flying into his protruding stomach, then bounced back off again, landing in a heap on the ground.
“We don’t want to wrestle you, you psycho!” I screamed, helping Megan to her feet.
“Throw me! Throw me! Throw me! Throw me! Throw me! Throw me!”
“Look,” shouted Megan, helpless. “If you don’t leave right now I’m calling the police.”
“No no no,” he replied. “No police. Here, let me just feel your muscle.”
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” I screamed. (It sounds funny now but at the time it was actually quite terrifying.)
“Here, let me feel your strong muscle,” he said as he slowly moved toward us, his arms outstretched. As he moved closer and closer I could begin to smell his breath, which stunk of sour milk and wood.
“Look, you fucking lunatic!” I screamed, picking up my trident. “We don’t want to wrestle you, we don’t want you to feel our muscles, and we don’t want you breathing all over us, so back the fuck up before I stick this is your eye!” Immediately after I said this I felt rather proud of myself, having sounded impressively intimidating.
What happened next was unexpected. For the first time, the giant began to show an aura of vulnerability. He seemed embarrassed, even. And as he backed away, head down, I almost felt sorry for the guy. For a second th
ere it almost looked like he was going to cry.
“Look, I’m sorry,” I said, after a moment’s silence. “We didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. It’s just—I don’t know if where you’re from it normal to challenge young girls you’ve just met to wrestling matches, but like, we’re in America now, and people are just going to think you’re a rapist.”
The barbarian looked up to the sky ponderously, and in his moment of reflection, I began to think that maybe I reached him—even if just on a subconscious level—and I suddenly felt really good about myself.
“I see,” said the man, as if in a state of enlightenment. “No Wrestle.”
Me: “No wrestle.”
And at that moment the three of us just smiled at each other. No further words needed to be said. There was an unspoken understanding. And with that, the monster walked off into the sunset, in my opinion, a changed man.
And that’s it. To date it was probably one of the most surreal moments of my life. This and the time my dad decided to deep fry the Thanksgiving turkey. Oh my God. I’ll never forget the sight of my father slowly and epically lowering the genetically modified bird into the vat of boiling fat. All, might I add, to the soundtrack of Enya’s It’s in the Rain, which my dad was blasting out of the tape-player of his white, rusted pick-up truck. After if was done everyone clapped. I cried. Not out of amazement, but out of… well yeah, I guess amazement works.