Swimming in the Pool. With an Electric Eel. Part one

Somewhere in the beginning of August, my job coach called me all excited. She had just heard about a job she thought would be a good fit for me: A position as office manager of an outdoor swimming pool. When I asked her if she could send me the job posting, she told me she couldn’t. It wasn’t official yet.

I checked out the – outdated – swimming pool website. The pool had a long, exciting history. It had been built in the seventies, being the center of all social life over the summer ever since. When the city was planning on closing it in 2000, a few citizens took matters into their own hands and started a non-profit association running the pool, which they had successfully been doing so for over fifteen years by now.  A newspaper article on their website also told me that in April, the old president of the swimming pool had been replaced by a new president, showing a picture of a very old man next to a much younger man. It reminded me of my daughter’s cooperative preschool in Seattle, where all the parents together are responsible for running the school. The mix of voluntary work and employees working together for a public service convinced me to give it a shot. I sent my resume and application letter to the email address I had been given and got a response soon after setting up a meeting.

The meeting was set at a little restaurant in the city center. Because of pictures on the website, I knew who to look for, but the guy I was meeting, did not come alone. He brought a woman whom he referred to as his personal adviser. During the meeting, it became clear that she did not work at the swimming pool herself.

It was a beautiful summer day, so we sat outside. Wasps were trying to get into our drinks. He proposed to have lunch together, but I told them that I would pass. I was too nervous to eat during my interview, I told him, I would eat afterwards. He told me not to be nervous. Out of courtesy, they decided to wait for lunch, too. In front of me was a tall man with a bit of a belly, the good life belly so to speak. He had short hair turning grey on the sides. He had a friendly face, almost childish, with two of those little apple cheeks that always turn red too quickly. Afterwards I told Frederik that he was around his fifties, which was way off I found out later. It turned out he was two years older than me.

He introduced himself, telling me that he was a judge, which was the reason why we were meeting in the city, but that he was also the president of a non profit swimming pool association. He continued laying out the history of the swimming pool. (I knew all of it already from the website.) He also described the people working at the swimming pool: “They are like a tight-knit family. They bicker among each other, but they eventually always pull together.” And then, it was my turn. I told him about my education and how I had moved to the States with my family after my PhD; how I had been involved in the cooperative preschool of my daughter, how I had liked this way of organizing and wanted to pursue a career in social management. As a result, the conversation shifted to the swimming pool again.

He explained how the swimming pool functioned as a combination between paid employees and volunteers, that the former president had been great at all the technical aspects of running the swimming pool, but had neglected the community part of it. There was now “a difficult situation” with the office manager in place, a lady who had been doing all the administration (and more) for the last six years. Without going into detail, he made clear that she had already been fired, but she still had to work there until the season was over.  He added that he did not know how he could introduce me into the office while she was still there. I came up with the perfect solution:”Well, why don’t I do an “internship” at the swimming pool?” He thought it was an excellent idea. He instructed me, as to not raise suspicion, to send an email to the general email address of the swimming pool, which would then be forwarded to him. When I left, I was cautiously happy. Everything seemed to finally fall into place after a year of searching. When I came home, I said to Frederik: “I think I got the job, but I am not entirely sure.”

The plan worked. When I started my internship, a week or so later, people were suspicious. Friendly, but suspicious. People asked me why I was there and how I ended up at their swimming pool. I told them I was planning on taking a course on social management, but that I needed experience in the field to enter the course. All of this was true by the way. It was the reason why I had applied for the job to begin with. I planned on doing the course work in the evenings, while gathering the necessary work experience during the day time. I would be able to study more over the winter, so as to be ready for the summer. I did however put my enrollment on hold as it was an expensive course and I wanted to be sure of the job first.

I had a good time during my internship. I got to work on some fun projects and after the awkward social dance of “Who are you?” and “What are you doing here?”people were mostly very friendly. I loved seeing all the ins and outs of a swimming pool: the technical room with its three huge water filters filled with sand and charcoal, the chloroform installation, the underwater vacuum,… “You can’t be afraid of water if you work in a swimming pool!” I even liked the office manager. I didn’t really see much of him during my internship. We had one meeting during my internship, discussing what I had been working on so far. I had a hard time reading him. He kept a formal distance. While most employees by now had invited me to use their first name, he never did. Considering his line of work, I thought nothing of it. As law school professors like to say: “There are two types of people in the world: those who’ve studied law and those who haven’t.” He was very clearly the first type. What bothered me, however, was what I can only describe as ‘never showing the back of his tongue’. He never engaged into small talk or talked about his personal life and somehow, it made me wary and I always was on guard with him.

By the end of my internship, it had become public that the office manager was leaving the swimming pool. I told the people I had been working with during my internship that I would be applying for her job. They reacted enthusiastic about it and told me that they would put in a good word for me. I even called the office manager to tell her that I would be applying. It felt like the right thing to do but I ended up leaving a clumsy message on her answering machine.

When the internship was over, he invited me to another meeting in the city center again. I did have lunch with him this time, but I was still nervous. It felt like having an oral exam probably because he reminded me so much of an old-fashioned professor. I presented the projects of my internship, which we briefly discussed. He then told me that he could offer me a fixed-term contract of twelve hours a week until the end of the year. The job needed to be officially posted again at the end of the year but by then, I would – “hopefully” – have so much experience on the job that I would be the preferable candidate. He summed up all the things I had to take care of and all the people I had to cooperate with: the payroll and all staff matters (with the payroll office); mail processing; the upcoming Xmas party (with the treasurer); membership management (with the lady in charge of all membership matters); public relations; setting up the online shop; setting up a filing plan and from January on: accounting. He also wanted me to do a crash course in Sports Club Management as quickly as possible, because by doing so, I would be a licensed sports association manager and the pool would get funding for employing me. His list made me nervous and I told him that none of this had been shown to me by the office manager during my internship. His answer was short: “Well, you will have to learn quickly!”

By now it was mid October and the swimming pool was officially closed. And so, on my ‘official’ first day, the lifeguard came by to let me in and hand me the key. She welcomed me on the team, wished me good luck and left. I dived right in.

(Part two will be posted on April, 7th, 2019.)

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