Sunday, December 04, 2011

My First Lesson in Leadership (1997)

I worked for John one summer at a park in my hometown.  He was a substitute science teacher at my high school who spent the summer as Director of Recreation.  He was a popular teacher, young, athletic and easy-going.  I'd just finished my freshman year of college and had landed the coveted job of "gate attendant" at the public pool.  We had strict limits on the number of swimmers for health and safety reasons, a subject John had warned us about since bending the rules for friends was always tempting to staff. I was very by-the-book, a future bureaucrat.  Luckily, it wasn't usually an issue, since every kid in town would have to show up to exceed the 40 capacity.

One very hot Saturday there was a political fundraiser at the park, and between the regulars, the Democrats at the picnic and the summer residents from NYC, the limit was taxed.  I was on duty, and mindful of the rules as always, I turned away numerous regulars and a pair of weekend residents, a father and son.  When
someone left, I'd dutifully let in a replacement, in order of arrival.  The father wasn't satisfied with my stance, argued with me, then left briefly, and returned with Ernie, a member of our town board, who had been shaking hands at the picnic.

Ernie yelled at me in front of the forlorn group of local kids waiting at the gate, and with John's acquiescence, forced me to let in the father and son out of turn and over the limit.  They passed by me at my post with a very superior attitude and a smug look, as if to say, "we showed you, you ignorant hick." Meanwhile, the local kids now had to wait for two more swimmers to leave before they could enter.

Later, John was apologetic, but it was too late.  He'd already lost his credibility.  In my teenage mind I nurtured a grudge against Ernie, privately planning to return to that small town one day with all my degrees and unseat Ernie from the board.

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