You bought an inflatable stand-up paddleboard (an iSUP, dontcha know?). You found a good deal online, the reviews were decent, and before you really gave yourself time to think about it, you bought it. Trusted your gut reaction, you did. And why not? You’ve gone on 4 SUP excursions in the last 2 years, and enjoyed each one. And it was easy to pick up. Plus, given the plethora of lakes around your house and the incredible amount of time you have off each summer, you figured you can’t go wrong.
You practiced inflating it a few times in your living room. This is what happened:
It makes a tidy, if somewhat heavy, package when it’s broken down and stowed:
You realized that, given your schedule, you had to get it out last weekend or wait 3 more weekends. You weren’t about to let it sit in your condo staring at you, like it has been for the past 5 weeks. The title of this post reveals what you decided to do.
You learned some quick lessons that you’re sure are applicable to life in general. You just haven’t taken the time to do that generalizing and metaphor-making. Still, here they are:
1. Every piece of equipment, whether for safety or convenience, paid for itself within one minute of being on the water. That’s because for the first time ever, you fell off an SUP. The life vest kept you out of the muck in four feet down. The 8′ leash attached at your ankle kept your new iSUP from getting away from you. The towels you kept on board (pun intended) stayed dry because of the waterproof bag you bought. And you kept hold of your sunglasses because of a cord you bought some time ago and had the foresight to attach as you were preparing to SUP. You learned all of this because you realized…
2. You really should use the attachable fin that comes with the board. It’s a simple yet effective accessory. You might even say it’s mandatory. Slide that thing on there and lock it in with the pin. It’ll really help you stabilize the board so you don’t end up quickly appreciating all the equipment you bought for iSUPing. Nevermind that you didn’t think you’d use the fin, because for some reason you understand how water and resistance and flotation and other water stuff works, even though you have little experience with all those concepts (which is why you refer to them collectively as “water stuff”). You’ll be crashing into water, so it won’t hurt your pride too much. But it will be cold if it’s May 25.
3. Inflate your iSUP most of or all the way. It’s going to be hard because of the incredible pressure you have to pump into the thing, but the stability of the board will pay off. “Nah…,” you said to yourself. It feels pretty rigid and stable on your living room floor when you reach 10 of the maximum 18 psi. Because your living room floor is a lot like being on a lake. But once you got on the water, the board didn’t feel too stable. In fact, it felt kinda soft.
4. The “P” in “SUP” stands for paddling. That’s what you’ll be doing to get around. Duh. But make no mistake: If it’s windy, you’re the sail. And of course it was windy. You got halfway around the lake before the wind grabbed you, and about 1 minute later you fell of an SUP for the second time ever.
5. The “i” in “iSUP” makes a difference, even though it’s only the small letter “i.” But it’s incredibly flexible. It’s a diphthong, and can have a short and long sound. It’s only the fifth most common letter in the English alphabet. And it makes a big difference in SUPing. The inflatable board isn’t as rigid and easy to pick up as a standard hard board. You’re going to have to be on it a lot longer in order to get used to it. Maybe you’ll have some command of it by mid summer if you practice. What else you gonna do?
So, yeah. You bought an inflatable stand-up paddle board. You’re never too old for new toys, are you?
You’ll have to trust me when I tell you that I didn’t intend to think of The Simpsons when I first saw the video of Michael Slager murdering Walter Scott. I take the issue of police brutality, excessive force, corruption, and downright murder far too seriously than to initially compare it to something as irreverent as The Simpsons. However, I can’t help but see the grim reality in something that happened on The Simpsons more than twenty years ago and what happened to poor Walter Scott on April 4.
What came to mind was episode 9 of season 6 of The Simpsons, “Homer Badman.” It originally aired November 27, 1994. In it, Homer stole a priceless Gummy Bear from a candy trade show. Before he could consume it, it ended up on the backside of the babysitter hired to watch the kids while Homer and Marge were at the trade show—she inadvertently sat on the Gummy Bear in the car when Homer drove her home. When Homer attempted to reach for it, the babysitter interpreted his grasping for sexual harassment. When she made her complaint public, Homer was vilified and the intimate details of his life were put on display.
Fast forward to April 4, and North Charleston, South Carolina police officer Michael Slager justified his shooting of Walter Scott by claiming that Scott posed a threat to his safety, if not his life, by seizing his stun gun. The story came unraveled when an unexpected video surfaced that showed Slager murdering Scott and then planting what appears to be the stun gun in question on him to legitimize his claim that Scott had taken control of it. The unexpected video has some air of divine intervention to it, too. Not only did it reveal the facts of the fatal encounter, but it was able to draw attention to an accusation of excessive force filed against Slager two years ago—an accusation that was never fully investigated, but of which Slager was somehow miraculously cleared. The North Charleston police department is suddenly breaking land speed records back peddling in an attempt to look at the accusation again and “properly” investigate it. It’s reasonable to assume that had the video of Slager murdering Scott not surfaced, all of this would have been covered up and swept away. That’s what we can expect all too often when the police are left to police themselves.
At the end of “Homer Badman,” an unknown video surfaced that exonerated Homer. It was shot by Groundskeeper Willie, who said he secretly videotaped couples in their cars. Marge summed up the ordeal by remarking on the idea of constant video surveillance, a phenomenon that was just rising in the social conscience of Americans at the time of the episode, but has since become a normal part of everyday life. The truth her remark captured is now far too realistic and far too grim for me to appreciate the humor originally intended. She said, “You know, the courts might not work anymore, but as long as everyone is videotaping everyone else, justice will be served.”
I subscribe to “The Time is Now,” a service through Poets & Writers that delivers a set of prompts to my inbox each Thursday; one prompt for poetry, another for fiction, and a third for creative nonfiction. The prompts have been underwhelming for the most part, but it hasn’t hurt to look at them and print them off for my students. A few have caught my attention; in particular, a creative nonfiction prompt from a few weeks ago: Write 100 words on a subject that’s been on your mind lately. The catch was that it had to be exactly 100 words. Baseball has been on my mind ever since pitchers and catchers reported, so I gave it a rip. In the least, it helped me create the year’s first blog post on baseball.
What day will you get away to the yard and settle in with a beer and a scorecard? It won’t be soon enough. The smell of grass won’t be thick enough in the air. The snap of 95 MPH cheese in the catcher’s mitt won’t be crisp enough. The crack of hardwood on horsehide won’t echo across the park just right. The 6-4-3 won’t be acrobatic enough; the take-out slide won’t be hard enough. Nine innings just won’t do for that day peaking over the horizon just now. You’ll have to return again and again until you don’t know when.
(continued from yesterday…)
The first thing I did was call the LGPD and ask if there was a form to fill out to file a complaint against an officer. Despite a number of phone calls throughout the end of the summer, I never got a direct answer to that question. The most I got was a hand-off to someone else in the department. The first person was Lieutenant Gritzner, who told me he was aware of my encounter from July Fourth and that I was correct in that Officer Buchburger should have identified herself to me upon request. He also intimated that he had spoken to her. I initially took that at face value, but now I doubt that conversation ever took place.
I next talked to Sergeant Hall and informed him that I planned to register a complaint against Officer Ward, and asked him what procedure I needed to follow. He told me I could tell him about it over the phone. That wasn’t going to work because it would be too easy for him to tell me whatever I wanted to hear, say he’d speak to Officer Ward, and then do nothing at all. I have little doubt that has happened before with the LGPD, and is probably their preferred operating procedure so as to give the appearance of accountability.
I ended up writing my complaint and sending it by registered mail to the LGPD and a Lake Geneva city councilman. That advice came from a website I consulted that explained when you make this kind of noise, the police can’t ignore it. Plus, the registered mail proves that all parties received the communication. You know, in case the police would ever dream up a scheme to say they never received a complaint.
Soon enough, I got a call from Sergeant Hall requesting my video footage of the interaction that shows Officer Ward threatening to break my phone and his other antagonistic behaviors. It seemed a dubious request to me since Officer McNutt assured me during the encounter that they were filming me. Nonetheless, I stuck a CD-ROM in the mail that showed what happened, along with a note about contacting me by mail.
What I got instead was a voice mail from Officer Hall telling me about Officer Ward’s right to seize my phone and what would have happened had I been arrested. None of what he said was relevant to my complaint. Those issues were never in question or even brought up by me, plus he was contradicting what Officer Ward confirmed with me during the encounter: That I have the right to record him performing his duty. So, I wrote another letter; this one to the Chief of Police. I made it clear that it feels like the LGPD is actively working to hide things, and regardless of how true that is, he needs to know that that is the perception. I asked him to look into the situation described in my initial complaint.
Chief Rasmussen handed the issue off to Assistant Chief Reuss, whose letter back to me stated:
“After a thorough investigation, I find that the actions taken by Officer Ward, Officer McNutt, and Officer Buchberger were lawful and showed no personal bias.”
Once again, the response I received had little to do with what I registered in my complaint. My complaint never mentioned the two other officers; nor did the issue of “personal bias” ever come up. Another thing he wrote gave me pause:
“I would never discourage a person from seeking resolution from a matter that concerns them, however my obligation remains to fairly and objectively view the information received.”
It wasn’t the mangled grammar and punctuation that caught my attention; rather, it was the absurdity of the statement. Of course he would never discourage people to seek resolution because he, and most everyone I encountered in the LGPD, seems practiced in running people around under the guise of internal accountability until they give up from frustration. It’s interesting to note, too, that the words “malicious threat” and “antagonizing behaviors” were never said by anybody but me. It seemed as if the use of those phrases by the LGPD would give them legitimacy.
In the end, I’m left thinking that accountability means little to the LGPD, and in that regard they are no different than far too many other police forces. I can’t see that situation changing until the idea of police monitoring themselves is abandoned. Thankfully, the police in general are on the nation’s social radar and we might start to see some significant changes in how law enforcement is managed. It’s too bad this hyper-awareness had to come at such a high price in numerous places around the country. Thankfully, my episode is little more than a $90 annoyance. Still, a lot more needs to be done to reduce my skepticism. And as far as building any amount of respect for the Lake Geneva Police Department, that might never happen.
(continued from yesterday…)
I’ve not made any attempt over the last few years to hide my skepticism regarding the police. I even wrote herein about an encounter I had with a Michigan State Police officer five years ago. I’ve had a pair of speeding tickets since then, so my personal business with the police has been minimal. What happened in Lake Geneva came well before any of the other highly publicized police disasters of last summer, and I’m grateful that my story is little else than a blip on a radar screen; still, it was my experience, and it was distasteful, and I think it’s worth writing about in the context of the current state of the police in our country.
My geographic location and reading habits are most responsible for my skepticism in regard to law enforcement. Lake County has been rattled by several police corruption and forced confession cases the last few years, one of which directly impacted a person with whom I work. Another case now appears to be tagged with police manufacturing evidence to impugn someone, and just two weeks ago another person who was falsely convicted based on a forced confession was released. My tax dollars are wasted because of these episodes, which really only amount to police wanting to look like they are doing their jobs and getting whatever numbers they need to please mayors who are hitching political campaigns to being tough on crime regardless of the legitimacy of the law enforcement tactics that get them their numbers. Add to these other cases I’ve read about in The New Yorker: another forced confession in the Chicago area that was recently resolved, a recent article about police killings in Alburqueque, NM (Rolling Stone covered the same issue the same week as The New Yorker), the constitutionality of stop-and-frisk policies, and malicious prosecution of an innocent teenager. Pile on what has recently been covered in The New Yorker and The Washington Post regarding civil seizure, and then the jackass who got national attention when he wrote I’m a Cop. If You Don’t Want to Get Hurt, Don’t Challenge Me, and I’ve got to wonder: How can a person not have a healthy amount of skepticism for law enforcement?
A few days after the unpleasantness on the shores of Geneva Lake, I reviewed the video I shot on my phone. I discovered exactly how many times I had asked Officer Buchburger to identify herself (five), and was able to hear again what Officer Ward had said to me. One of his first comments was that I would have to lower my phone because it could be a weapon. He also threatened to break it if I didn’t comply. His aggressiveness presented two problems. One, the phone is not a weapon, but Officer Ward had probably been trained to say exactly what he said so that he would have a modicum of defense if he was brought under investigation for anything that may have happened during the encounter. It was obviously a catchphrase of sorts that would keep him safe regardless of how ridiculous it seemed. What’s more, police officers don’t have the right to threaten harm to a person or a person’s property to get them to stop asserting their rights. Even if the phone had been a weapon, it wouldn’t have been broken at his whimsy; it would have been confiscated and put into evidence.
Later during the encounter, Officer Ward told me, “I’m gonna ask you again to keep your hands out of your pockets. You could have a weapon.” I did have my right hand in my pocket, as is my habit at times when I speak with people, but he was being antagonistic. He’d never asked me to take my hand out in the first place. After viewing the video, I was left wondering why he had never asked me if I had a weapon, or why he never frisked me. Not that either approach would have yielded any results—I didn’t have a weapon. It’s obvious in hindsight, though, that this is all de regueur for the police to try to escalate episodes to justify force.
I was incensed enough after watching my video to register a complaint against Officer Ward. I found lots of tips online about how to do that, and also uncovered some unexpected things about the public’s reaction to the antagonistic police state that has emerged in our country. It turns out that YouTube is flooded with videos people have uploaded that show police misbehavior, antagonism, and illegal brutality. It doesn’t surprise me that such an ocean of video exists—I just never had cause to search for them. I’ve come to think of this trend as a populace reaction to the television show Cops! Furthermore, there are fledgling organizations like Copwatch that were founded to do exactly what its name says. Judging by the tons of videos they have on YouTube, the folks at Copwatch aren’t popular with the police.
Last July Fourth could have gone better. I was in Lake Geneva along the lake shore enjoying the day with some friends. I had fired up the grill and was preparing to do some chicken and shrimp when Officers McNutt and Buchburger stopped by to tell me that grilling in the park was a violation of the city public burning ordinance. I countered that the City of Lake Geneva website said something different. The officers contended that grilling is only allowed in one park somewhere away from the lake shore. I showed them on my phone what I had read on the City of Lake Geneva website that led me to believe that what I was doing was fine:
Grilling & Other Fires: Fires for cooking are permitted in picnic areas, but only in grills provided or in a suitable device that contains the fire up off the ground. A permit must be obtained from the Fire Chief for any other fires within a public park.
I found nothing that indicated what a picnic area was, precisely, and thus believed what I was doing was fine. For that matter, I assumed that the dozen or so other groups in the immediate area who also had grills going read the same thing and interpreted it as I had.
It turned out that officers McNutt and Buchburger weren’t in the mood for deliberation, and especially weren’t in the mood for me to be asserting myself. Officer Buchburger seemed to be the most peeved (or at least quickest to rile when I didn’t acquiesce to her authority), and began demanding that I show her my ID so she could know who she was talking to.
I refused to produce an ID and told her she could call me “Sir” if she needed to address me. I suspected her real plan was to hold my ID to inconvenience me or check for warrants, probably both, to see if she could escalate things and have an excuse to be more aggressive in her enforcement of the law. After her second demand, I got out my phone and began recording what was happening. She refused several times to identify herself, and wasn’t wearing a badge that would identify her.
I realized I was in deeper than I wanted to be, and capitulated regarding the grill. We packed up our things and prepared to leave the park. Officers McNutt and Buchburger demanded that I stay. I asked if I was being detained. They said I was. I asked why, and they said because I had violated the public burning ordinance and they would have to cite me. I had extinguished my grill, though, so I told them I wasn’t violating the ordinance. They planned to cite me anyhow, not because of the grill at this point but, as far as I could tell, because I didn’t respect their authority and the citation was all they had to grasp at. They couldn’t cite me of their own accord, however, since in addition to not having badges, they also didn’t have ticket books with them.
I didn’t make it out of the park before Officer Ward showed up in his patrol car. In short time, Officer Ward threatened to break my phone, ran a background check on me, cited me for public burning, and made an all-around solid effort to antagonize me since he, too, seemed unhappy that I was asserting my rights and asking questions at every turn about why he was doing what he was doing. My guess was that, much like Officer Buchburger, he was hoping to goad me into reacting so he could be more aggressive in how he was enforcing the law.
I left the park about thirty minutes later with my grill and a $90 fine. What happened was only the start of an experience that has left me thinking that the Lake Geneva police do a lot more to reinforce negative police stereotypes than they do to effectively police the public and themselves.
…continued from yesterday…
Tim’s boots only got dustier with each step away from the farm, despite the damp soil and drops of dew that clung to the points of corn stalks poking out of the ground. It wouldn’t do to show up in Esther’s back yard like that, but the boots could be wiped off in the restroom at the train station where he’d stop anyhow to recomb his hair and wash his hands.
He tuned his ears to the sounds of the land as he walked. He wanted to take it all in, everything to be heard and then seen once there was ample light. It was his final chance to pack his sense memory, and it was as important to pack it as carefully as he had Slim’s Army duffle. A robin sang in a trilled tweet. There was the bluebird’s chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp, and then the squawk, squawk, squawk-squawk of the magpie. There was the low rumble of a tractor taking to a field. All of it was a chorus struck in anticipation of the sun soon to break the horizon.
The shuffle of his boots on the soil between rows soon formed a rhythm. His breathing fell in with the rhythm of the shuffle, and his heart beats followed. He felt a part of every living thing around him, as if a root system burrowing beneath the soil connected all of them, and that indiscernible strings and fibers from those same roots tethered even the birds in the sky and critters skittering among the trees. They all belonged to this place at this time; they all somehow made the whole greater than the sum of its parts. So immense was that greatness that it felt immeasurable. His thoughts fell to Iowa City, which laid in the direction of the rising sun but was too far away to fully reckon. What is life like when green veldts of gold-tipped corn don’t surround you like a blanket? What did late summer smell like there if not the sweet smell of corn rolling off the fields? Where was the inspiration among the limestone buildings and asphalt? It would come, wouldn’t it? He tried to clear his mind of all that was too far past the horizon to see, and focus instead on what was going to happen within the hour.
Once at the train station, he would purchase his ticket and ask Milt the ticket agent if he would mind the duffle for a few minutes. He would walk to Esther’s house, cutting down the alley that ran behind their property and come up the back yard. He would toss a pebble at her window. When she came down to the yard, he would explain everything, give her the poem from the last page of the leather-bound journal, and if nothing else, leave her with a kiss.
He had to be perfect. If he didn’t get this train, there was no way he would be able to see, much less talk, to Esther. The townsfolk would know he was leaving, and the news would spread like a brushfire. Some would make their way to the station; others would insist he wait for the train on their front porch or in the parlor. He’d be loaded with more food than he could ever eat or take with him. Esther’s ma and pa would be awake by the time the next train came through, and there’d be hell to pay if he tried something so bold as he was going to try within the hour. They were sleeping off their Saturday indulgence right now, so her pa was in no shape to charge into the yard again.
He would show Esther the thick stack of bills and explain its legitimacy. There was enough for him to establish himself in Iowa City and cover two years of expenses and tuition once the university accepted him. And the university would accept him. She’d have to trust him on that. Rising from the grass roots like this, it would be a great start for a poet, wouldn’t it?
He would find a job right away, maybe even on campus, and squirrel away everything he made. Soon, he’d send her a blank postcard and that would be the cue that there was a ticket waiting for her at the station the following Sunday morning. Once her folks gave in to their whiskey, all she would have to do is pack what she needed, and then slip out before they stirred. They’d marry right away so nothing and nobody could break their bond. Not ma or pa. Not the sheriff. No one.
She could do this, right? They can always mend fences later. But she could do this, right?
The full body of the sun had inched above the horizon by the time Tim arrived at the train station. He fished through the duffle and pulled out the envelope of cash and the leather-bound journal with the pink stationery tucked inside. He purchased his ticket, and then stuffed the envelope into the back pocket of his jeans. He handed the duffle over the counter to Milt the ticket agent, and then double-checked the train schedule. He had twenty minutes, exactly as planned.
He stopped in the restroom before he left and combed his hair and washed his hands. He wet his handkerchief at the water cooler and wiped the dust from his boots. Once outside, he felt a gentle breeze moving across the town. With any luck it would cool him as he walked and keep him below a sweat that felt inevitable.
He walked with his shoulders back and his chin up. It was an unfamiliar but quickly comfortable posture. He walked on the strength of his convictions. He was the only person still alive who believed this would work. It felt like somehow Uncle Slim and Aunt Joan were walking with him, and that Mom was watching from somewhere above. He strode to the rhythm of Aunt Joan’s words, you know you’re right for her… she knows it, too… don’t mind the rest. Don’t mind the rest. Don’t mind the rest.
Within a few minutes, he was standing at the edge of the Giles’s back yard. Sunlight was kissing the roof and working its way down to the darkened windows. It had already illuminated the top of the willow that hung over most of the grass. A cobblestone pathway led from the alley to the back door, cutting between a distended garden on the left and grass on the right. A tire swing hung from one branch of the willow, but the rope was frayed and ready to snap should someone try to take pleasure in swinging.
Tim found a pebble, tiny and smooth and perfect like it had grown in a field. He walked across the lawn and tossed it to Esther’s window. It dinked the glass, fell to the roof, and rolled to the ground. Tim picked it up and cocked his arm again. Before he could fire, the curtains in the window parted and Esther appeared. Her face lit up and she waved excitedly. Tim waved her down. She drew the curtains, and the window was again expressionless. The sun was almost touching it.
Tim imagined Esther tip-toeing through the house. She padded around a squeaky floorboard, eased her long legs over a footrest, and impetuously scratched the cat behind the ears as she passed. She would emerge in a moment, beautiful even with her sleep-saggy face, her blonde hair mussed but still lovely in its imperfect state if only because it was her hair. In his mind, he jumped ahead to the indeterminate time when she would step off the train in Iowa City in her lavender church dress, her powder blue sweater on her shoulders. He would sweep her in his arms and inhale her heavenly scent, feel her warm cheek against his, and for the third time kiss her.
She emerged from the back door, but stopped to gently place the door back in its frame. She wore jeans and a red Henley with the cuffs rolled to the elbows. She carried a small suitcase in her right hand. How could she have gotten ready so fast? She stepped quickly to him, reading the puzzlement on his face. “I knew you were coming.”
He pulled the envelope of cash from his pocket and showed it to her. “I know,” she said, covering the money with her hand on top of his. “Ain’t nobody seen you in the fields. My uncle’s been downright giddy. He told pa everything. Didn’t count on me hearing it. I asked him why he was so danged happy, and he was all smug. He said, ‘A man can just be happy, can’t he?’ I figured a girl could, too.” She giggled with her hand over her mouth, and then stopped to catch her breath. “I knew you were going somewhere. I just wanted to make sure I was ready. Call me crazy. Or a romantic. You’re heading to the train, right? It’s the only way out of here. Let’s get there. After that, I don’t care where we go.”
Tim looked at her, and again the words wouldn’t come. A smile broke across his face as bright and fresh as the sunlight that was washing most of the town. Esther took him by the hand, his feet again not really touching the ground. She looked into his eyes and pressed her mouth to his. When she finally released him, she looked into his eyes and giggled again. “Let’s go. It’s going to be fine. Don’t mind the rest.”