Rejoice

The night of the festival of Shavuot I was a guest in a joyful home.  I ate until I was stuffed.  I drank a quarter glass of good wine.  I stayed up late with friends.  I was twice happy, once for the holiday and again for my impending graduation.

I had a block to walk home along a busy street at 11:30 pm.  I sang loudly and stumbled awkwardly embracing the festive cheer.

That’s probably why the police officer pulled over beside me and asked me to stop.  Someone had called to report a fellow so drunk he could walk into the street and get hit by a car at any moment.

“How much have you had to drink?”  I had learned in Ranger Academy that drunks always answer “Two bears” and I thought about saying that myself.  But I wasn’t drunk, and if I was a smart ass the situation would go from bad to worse very quickly.  I really wanted to graduate.  So I threw the word “sir” in at every opportunity and explained.

I had only had a quarter glass of wine, and I had eaten a lot.  I was simply embracing the Sabbath mood since it was Friday night, and we Jews celebrate Friday nights.  Wait a second.  It wasn’t a Friday night, was it.  That’s right, it’s a special festival.  It was the holiday of, … I wanted to say the name of the festival in English, but couldn’t remember what it was “Penta – something.”  Oh well.  I stood up straight and spoke clearly so as not to seem drunk.

“Can I see some ID?”  He asked.

“I don’t have any.  We don’t carry things on festivals.”

He went back to his vehicle for a moment.  Then came and and asked me for my name.  “Dov Neimand – ‘N’, ‘E’, ‘I’, …”

“M or N?” he asked me.

“M, as in …”  I had just learned the phonetic alphabet.  ‘A’ for alpha.  ‘B’  for Bravo.  What was ‘M’.  I wanted to impress him by using police words, show him that I was one of the good guys.

But I was thinking too long, so he interrupted with “ ‘M’ as in Mike?”

“Yes, that’s exactly what I was going to say.”

He questioned me some more and I assured him that I never stumbled into the street and was perfectly capable of walking the remaining half block to get to my home.

So he told me I was free to go, and I did, without stumbling once and only singing a little.

The next day was graduation.  The keynote speaker was changed at the last minute to someone who told us about how Chinese companies were buying American car companies and how sad the tragedy at Little Bighorn was.  “We lost some good men that day.”  He told us.

Then Random Guy was done speaking.  We were called up and handed our certificates. Ranger Hunt spoke about us kids and almost cried.  There was a picture montage.  And then we were done.  I wasn’t really sure that I would graduate until I was holding the certificate, expecting some last minute divine prank. But I did it.  I made it.  I was done with Ranger Academy.

Afterwards I went up to Ranger Hunt.

“I probably caused you more headaches than any other student.  I appreciate all the effort you made to get me through.

“Stay true.”  He told me.

Wrong

We had two days of sample exercise scenarios, law enforcement confrontations between us and actors.  After that, we’d have a written test, two hours in an arcade, then finish with two last days of scenarios.  I had to pass the scenarios.  I had the exercises ahead to prepare me.

It seemed that my biggest problem with the exercises was that I wasn’t aggressive enough.

On one exercise we were responding to a burglar alarm.  My partner and I approached.  I was supposed to take the lead.  I asked my partner if we were going to go in guns blazing.  I thought she shook her head “no”.

I called out to the building “Come outside. Now!”  A woman exited the building. “Put your hands in the air.”  She did.  

She told us she had locked her keys inside.  My partner had her gun drawn and was pointing it at the the woman.  I did not.  

It occurred to me that I had been locked out of my own home time and again.  I regularly broke into it.  I’m glad I never had to look down the barrel of a gun while a zealous police officer put me in handcuffs.

“Is there anybody else in the building?”  I asked the potential burglar.

“No.” She told me.  I believed her.

“Do you have any ID?”  I saw she did in her back pocket and with her permission removed it.

My partner began handcuffing her while I checked the ID on an imaginary radio.  

At this point Commander Hug ended the drill because we had failed miserably.  Why didn’t I have my gun out!  Why was I using the radio while my partner was handcuffing the suspect.  What was the matter with me?

In one scenario we drove up to a scene in response to an emergency request for assistance.  I was using another student’s car, and not being an experienced driver, took some time to get it into park and turn it off.

As I stepped out the actor officer appeared to be in an intense argument with someone.  I began walking towards them intending to call out “Back off!”  Before I could, there was a shove, then a fake gun, “Bang!  Bang!” and the actor officer was down.

I took cover behind the actor officer’s car and returned fire.  “Kapow!  Kapow!”

There was a little more shooting, and then the exercise was over.

Afterwards, in class Ranger Hunt asked us “If you were an officer in distress, how would you want backup to come?”

Everybody in the class answered “quickly” except for me.

When I was in the military, there were three other medics in my battalion who were killed or wounded by enemy sniper fire because they went to rescue without first looking at the situation.  Sometimes, as a ranger, backup can be over an hour away, we were taught.

“If backup couldn’t make it in time to save me” I began, “I would want them to be careful.”

Ranger Hunt, standing just a few feet from me, picked up a foam baton off of his desk and slammed it down yelling at me “WRONG!  You are Wrong. Take your head out of you ass!  When an officer is down you haul ass!”  He went on a little bit longer.  I don’t remember exactly what else he said, but I’m sure it wasn’t complimentary.  Apparently, I was the villain who wouldn’t hand a fellow officer a glass of water in the desert.  Ranger Hunt finished with “Break for lunch, one hour!”

After lunch I got called aside.  Commander Hug and Ranger Hunt were concerned that if I continued making the same mistakes, I would fail.  Nobody else was making these sorts of mistakes  What didn’t I understand.  How could they help me.  They wanted me to succeed.  They talked to me about use of force and officer safety.  I told them I would try my best to get it.  For the remaining exercises I would amp it up and use more force.

In the very next exercise I thought, it doesn’t make sense to draw my gun here, but they want me to draw my gun (a fake plastic one) even when it didn’t make sense to me.  So I drew my gun and pointed it to someone who had potentially overdosed on drugs while my partner handcuffed her.  Commander Hug had told me that drugs were associated with violent crime so we should always be on extra alert when drugs are involved.  After we had finished handcuffing I put my gun back in the holster.  

I was wrong, Ranger Hunt told me.  Sure, drugs are associated with violent crime, but these were pills, which were not.  It seemed like I couldn’t get it right, not when I went with what made sense to me and not when I tried to guess what made sense to them.

Then there was an exercise where one woman was assaulting another. After the suspect and the victim were separated, I saw the suspect try to grab for something from the back of her waistband.

“Put your hands in the air!”  I yelled, quick drawing my side arm and pointing.    My partner hadn’t seen what had happened.  I asked her to cover me while I handcuffed since “I saw her reach for something.  I think she’s armed.”

My partner thought I was imagining it.  She didn’t want to draw her weapon.  I went to handcuff without cover, and as I did so the suspect went for her gun again.  I manhandled and cuffed.  The actress suspect told me that my arm bar was sufficient and no additional pressure was necessary.

At the end of the scenario we were reviewed again.  This time I got it right and my partner blew it.  Maybe I was making progress.  

The last scenario we both got right, or at least, we did better than everybody else.  Somehow, it still seemed like we got yelled at more.

The next day was my last written exam.  I passed.

The day after that we played a giant video game.  We had a different instructor for it, so I thought I could go with what I thought was right, instead of trying to do what I thought the instructors thought was right.  In the game there was this woman who was yelling at me and waiving a glass bottle.  I was the only one who didn’t shoot her.  The arcade instructor said I was the only one who got that right.

Then I was up to the last two days of test scenarios.  There were eight scenarios, if I failed any I would get one chance to retake them.  If I failed the second time, I would not graduate. 

I failed the first one for not worrying enough about my safety while helping a mentally challenged individual get home. Among other mistakes, I was supposed to write him a ticket for being in a closed section of the park.

I also failed my 2nd test and the last one.  

That evening we would celebrate the Jewish Festival of Shavuote.  I had to leave school by 7:00pm to be home by Sundown at 7:45.

Ranger Hunt knew this.  He also knew that I would now have to stay late to retake the three scenarios.

“What if you have to stay past when your festival starts?”  He asked me.

“I guess I could always walk home.  But I wouldn’t be able to drive or shoot.”

We were using paint guns, driving really old police cars, and talking on imaginary radios.

“What would you do then if you needed to do that in a scenario?”

“Well, I could walk and pretend that I was in car, and say ‘Bang’ instead of pulling a trigger.”  As we had done on previous occasions.

“We’re trying to make the scenarios as real as possible.”  He told me.  “I don’t know if that would be good enough.  Can you call your rabbi?”

“I can, but I know what he would say.”  There is no breaking the rules, except to save a life.  Training doesn’t count.

Ranger Hunt seemed to think that I wasn’t even willing to compromise to graduate.  That becoming a park ranger wasn’t that important to me.  That I wasn’t taking it seriously.  On retrospect, I don’t know what he was thinking, but at the time I got a little angry.  “If I have to go home in shame because I failed out on account of my religious customs, then so be it.  I can’t compromise them.  What I can do is walk 29 miles home so that I can retake this test.”

That was the end of the conversation.

When I retook the first test I didn’t give the mentally handicapped person a ticket the second time either.  Ranger Hunt, testing me instead of Commander Hug, asked me about it.  I told him I thought it was a little cruel to give a handicapped person a ticket.  He agreed, though he thought cruel was too strong a word.

The other two scenarios I had to retake, I passed the second time also.  Ranger Hunt and Commander Hug walked me through them and told me how to pass.  They wanted me to graduate, and they made sure it happened.

At the end of the day I went home feeling wonderful.  I finished school.  I got home in plenty of time before the festival.  I would rejoice and attend graduation the day after.  The only thing that could keep me from getting my park ranger certification would be if I got arrested on my day off.

Near the End

So I’m nearing the end of my course.  Smiley and Big are friends of mine now, and while I don’t get along with everybody as well as I

might, I think I’ve left my goof reputation behind.  I’ve eaten a lot more loquats, even climbing a few trees, but keeping an eye on my things so no thefts.

In order to help keep the peace with Bud, and get more out of life, I’ve been biking 28 miles home from school as often as possible.  On Monday it rained hard  I even got hailed on a little when I biked uphill into a river that was once a street. I sang into the torrents and declared that the best way to love life, is to embrace every rain drop.

Every thing in my water resistant saddlebag was soaked  There are now colorful Rorschach water spots on my computer screen.

I took some pictures of my ride on a sunny day, so here they are.

2013-04-30_17-43-50_116 2013-04-30_17-44-30_725 2013-04-30_16-39-21_346 2013-04-30_16-41-20_809 2013-04-30_16-48-32_311 2013-04-30_16-48-37_531 2013-04-30_16-48-44_227 2013-04-30_16-49-15_389 2013-04-30_16-49-49_981 2013-04-30_16-50-58_385 2013-04-30_16-51-25_195 2013-04-30_16-55-31_706 2013-04-30_17-03-05_538 2013-04-30_17-16-09_656 2013-04-30_17-43-41_158

Whakadov

Every Monday at the military hospital in San Antonio there is a game of kayak polo.  For those of you who don’t know what kayak polo is, imagine rugby in a pool in a prison being played by the roughest toughest inmates, and you’ll get an idea of the excitement and fun involved.

The game is played as part of a therapy program for wounded warriors and when I got out of school early, I was delighted to have the opportunity to go there as a kayak instructor. I met up with my new friends Ben and David and began to teach.

I worked with a fellow who had three tours in Iraq.  I was teaching him how to roll.  We stopped to bail the water out of his boat, and when he got out I noticed he was missing one of his feet.  I like that kayaking is a way for some wounded people play as hard, if not harder, than the rest of us.

Then we played kayak polo.  I took a paddle to the face.  I also had a lot of trouble keeping track of who was on my team, a couple of times racing against my own teammates for the ball.  I scored, and at the end of the game I doubt anyone knew what the score was.

After the game, we all got out of our boats, and most of us put on prosthetic legs.  Ben invited me to go kayaking with him through downtown San Antonio on the San Antonio River.  I paddled a sprinting kayak for the first time.  Sprinting kayaks are less stable than most sea kayaks; you can’t use your thighs to control the boat and they don’t roll.  You have to control the boat with your butt muscles.

I did a small loop on the river, almost avoiding scraping the boat on the river’s concrete basin.  I was nervous about flipping over.  I did a couple more, thinking I would get the hang of it, and my butt got tired fast.  I decided I had had enough. I went up to put my boat back on the truck only to find that the truck had moved some unknown distance down river.

I would have to paddle there.  The stop would be just before the next waterfall.  I didn’t feel I had solid control over the boat.  I hoped I wouldn’t go over the waterfall.

I put my butt muscles back to work, paddling hard and trying to keep the boat stable.  I went through rather than around some hanging branches, under a bridge, past happy pedestrians exercising along river, and made it, a little desperately, to the take out.

I liked the challenge.  I liked working different muscles than I was used to.  Next week I’m going to try again.  I hope that by getting to be solid in a sprinting kayak I’ll improve my sea kayak skills.

The Loquat Thief

I was walking home from the synagogue in the evening.  

I was carrying a book, Born to Run.  I was enjoying it.  I was also taking care of it, since I had borrowed it from a friend who had it as a gift from his daughter and stressed the importance that I eventually give it back.

I was also carrying my beat up laptop, my tefillin bag, and a phone cord when I passed the loquat tree.  I passed the tree every day, and I usually stopped to help myself to a tasty treat.  For the last couple of weeks I enjoyed a bunch of ripe loquats every day, but today it looked as though I had finally exhausted the supply.

I could see, up in the higher reaches of the tree, an abundance of juicy fruit.  But they were well above jumping height. I put my things down next to the sidewalk and climbed the tree.  In its upper reaches, I was hidden from the world by a thick canopy and surrounded by bunches of fruity tastiness.  I hung there and gorged myself, each loquat bursting with goodness.  

Someone might have passed by underneath the tree, but I couldn’t see and I didn’t care.  “This is the life,”  I told myself, juices running down my chin.

And then I was full.  So I climbed back down, picked up my things, and went home.  Or at least, that’s what was supposed to happen.  I looked to the spot where I had though I left my things, and didn’t see them.  I began searching, maybe I had placed them farther away from the base of the tree than I thought.  

About 15 feet away I found my phone cord.  It was alone, strewn across the sidewalk.  My preciously borrowed book, ramshackle computer, and tefillin had been stolen!

But the thief had dropped the phone cord, and I knew what direction he had gone.  I pursued.  About 200 yards along, my things were lying a few feet off the sidewalk.  My tefillin were spread out on the grass.  I kissed them, wrapped them preciously, and put them back in their bag.

On the way home, I grabbed a loquat.

Adventure Day

Friday was a day off. I had signed up for a swift water rescue class and was going to travel to San Marcos. I would catch a bus at the Randolph Park and Ride at the edge of San Antonio. It would take about one hour of predawn biking to get there.

I decided to take the Wurzbach Highway. It was still under construction. I pedaled past a bright orange barrier onto a closed bridge. In the dark I wondered if it was completed, or I would I stop short* to see an empty expanse ahead of me.

Suddenly the asphalt was invisible. Had I gotten to the end of the road?  The bridge beneath me was black in the night and I continued on. I cruised down the other side of the empty highway and onto a long open section under bright stars.

An uncompleted bridge, just the columns, crossed over a small  intersecting road. I walked my bike across the road and picked up a dirt road on the other side. I followed it to the next intersection. This time my path was interrupted by a roaring highway. In the center there were columns for the bridge that would one day be built. In the dark, I couldn’t see a way around.

I took an access road to a gas station and asked for directions. The woman behind the counter told me  “Oh, you want to go to the park and ride?  That’s right near where I live. I get off in five minutes, I’ll give you a lift.”

So we threw my bike in the back of her car and were off. On the way she told me about the upcoming Fiesta and Poteet Strawberry Festival.

The bus driver said he’d tell me when we got to my stop in San Marcos. He didn’t. I biked through San Marcos, passed the kayaking place I was headed for, then doubled back and found it.

Ben, a former olympian, would be teaching me. Another fellow, named David, would also join us. I was a little confused. David only had one arm. With it, he picked up a kayak and a paddle and threw then the back of a van. He was going to kayak with us. Ben was training David for the Paralympics. There are some kayak tricks I know how to do with only one hand, but it seemed to me that paddling would be hard.

It turned out he had a prosthetic arm that attached to his paddle. When we were on the water Ben playfully flipped David over, and David rolled back up beautifully. Later, in rapids, Ben capsized and made a wet exit. He proudly held up his paddle showing that his arm was still attached to it though not the rest of him.

I learned how to surf standing river waves. I learned some exciting swift water rescue techniques, like a zip line, and had an all in all good time. Ben invited me to hang around for the weekend to have fun paddling with him. Sadly, I declined. I don’t paddle on Saturdays and had plans for Sunday.

Biking back, in the light of day, I was able to take the abandoned highway almost the whole way back. The intersection I had gotten thrown off at earlier had a tunnel underneath it that I had missed. I had an entire highway surrounded by woods to myself.

I arrived home feeling great. I had finally gotten out on the water, for the first time in months. I felt cleaned of all my troubles. I was walking on water. Or at least, I had been paddling.

*hopefully