Never Judge a Book…

"Waves of Consequence and Culture" is Andy Anson’s story of a lifeguard’s chaotic day at the pool as he attempts to control a rebellious Mexican boy named Chuchi. The lifeguard, also named Andy, is portrayed as a young man obsessed with order and predictability. For example, his first seven lines of dialogue address his concerns with different imperfections about the pool he is guarding; they range from Chuchi’s misbehavior to graffiti in the men’s bathroom. The author reveals the genesis of this perfectionism to be the circumstances of the lifeguard’s upbringing; when the lifeguard looks back on his childhood, he says, "We used to read, and for every five minutes we read we got to shade in 10 miles towards a trip to Kennewick. At the end of the summer, they’d take us for a day at the water slides…" (Anson 3) Throughout the narrative, the reader witnesses the unattractive consequences to the lifeguard’s tendency to expect every situation to be as logical and structured as his childhood was. The lifeguard’s culture taught him to reward/punish actions one at a time, without thinking to evaluate the context of the act that might make it seem more understandable; without this context, the lifeguard applies consequences to acts that are based more on assumptions than knowledge. By mentally inserting identical cultural backgrounds into the lives of the people around him, the lifeguard unfairly assumes they should act and behave the way he would.

The passage cited in the previous paragraph about the lifeguard’s childhood is the only literal example the reader receives of his cultural upbringing; it provides the rationalization for the actions and attitude of the lifeguard in the narrative. The lifeguard plainly states that the act of reading as a child was not one of choice, saying, "You know what my parents would have Jaime and I do when we were little?" (Anson 3) This shows the reader that the lifeguard was exposed to the importance of obeying authority at an early age. However, this act of compliance with his parents’ demands was rewarded with a day at the water slides. So, rather than seeing authority as a master who orders about a slave, the lifeguard was taught that authority figures were generous and just if obeyed. This assumption about authority appears in the narrative. The lifeguard cannot relate to Chuchi, who does not listen to the rules set by the pool employees. The lifeguard assumes that "No respect for authority is what it is" (Anson 2) that causes Chuchi to misbehave. When the lifeguard tells Chuchi he has to sit out on the deck for splashing others, Chuchi tries to explain. However, the lifeguard literally cuts Chuchi off in mid-sentence, states the pool rule, and then proceeds to ignore the boy. Instead of contemplating what might have caused this lack of respect for authority in Chuchi, or listening to his explanation, the lifeguard merely dismisses Chuchi as an uncontrollable child, without hope of reform. The lifeguard is not able to separate his childhood experience from his evaluation of others, unconsciously assuming their background was as structured and sheltered as his was.

Other assumptions dealing with class and race reveal the lifeguard’s problem of judging a person’s act using the value system of his culture, rather than the culture of the person committing the act. When the lifeguard hears that Chuchi might have snuck in without paying, he immediately begins to form assumptions about Chuchi’s family and financial status, saying, "It’s only a buck twenty-five, and he has to sneak in? Like he can’t just ask his parents for a buck twenty-five; I’m sure they’d be happy to get him out of the house" (Anson 2). Within this statement lie three assumptions that stem from the lifeguard’s upbringing: Chuchi actually has two parents, they have enough money to give him a dollar twenty-five every day, and he has a strong enough relationship with them to ask them for the money. All of these situations hold true with the lifeguard’s family, but they all might be inaccurate for Chuchi. The culmination of all of these judgments, misunderstandings, and assumptions comes when Chuchi, fed up with the lifeguard’s strict methods, pushes the lifeguard into the pool as a rebellion. So, the lifeguard judges Chuchi using standards from his own life, and therefore reveals to the reader the pitfalls of applying past experiences to our thoughts about other people who do not necessarily share them.

This image of the lifeguard’s view of consequences being scientifically applied to punishable actions is symbolically presented through the patterns of the waves in the pool. In the beginning of the narrative, the lifeguard looks into the pool crowded with Mexicans (who he assumes do not realize the value of authority and consequences) and notices "an iridescent surface of disjointed, choppy waves" (Anson 1). The author is creating the image of the lifeguard’s perception of the chaotic, unorganized lives of the Mexicans. To contrast this image, when the lifeguard is left alone by the water at the end of the day, he sees a much more organized,

"…glass-like surface. Each preceding wave causes a sequential wave until the gentle disturbance has spanned the length of the pool, and licks the opposite side in silent satisfaction. In the fading light, each wave is clearly distinguishable, its impact predictable, and its final destination almost taken for granted." (Anson 4)

In the lifeguard’s mind, consequences, represented by the waves, are sequential, clearly distinguishable, predictable, and taken for granted. The last quality on this list further suggests that the lifeguard takes his application of consequences on the Mexican swimmers for granted, imposing judgments without concerning himself with their cultural differences.

The lifeguard in Andy Anson’s narrative "Waves of Consequence and Culture" portrays his methodical upbringing by objectively assigning consequences to the actions that occur around him. What he fails to do is examine the individuals around him to understand more fully the cause of their punishable rebellions. The lifeguard’s culture was one of black and white rules, containing no exceptions. Therefore, the lifeguard assumes the people around him are also not exceptions to the rules of his culture, and assumes they are appropriate subjects of the values and methods it practices.

 

Bibliography

Anson, Andy. Waves of Consequence and Culture. English 101, University Puget Sound: 2000.