We ran laps around the track and on the streets around the academy. If you were in the beginner group, you ran approximately two miles on the local streets, plus the endless laps the supervisor would inflict upon us whenever our rows weren’t straight enough or someone made the mistake of making eye contact. If you were in the intermediate group, you ran four to six miles. If you were advanced, you ran eight.
The tricky part was that if the intermediate and advanced groups weren’t big enough, they were combined, which meant that intermediate runners ran the advanced routes, and you wouldn’t find this out until after the groups had been formed. Because of this, I stubbornly stayed with the beginners. Two miles, plus the laps, plus the jumping jacks and sit-ups and struggling pull-ups and failed attempts to launch myself over the dreaded wall, were quite enough of a workout for me. I was not going to risk going in with the advanced candidates. I was not that much of a masochist.
I got myself through it by reminding myself, “this will not kill me,” and it didn’t. It got me sore, but it didn’t kill me.
Which isn’t to stay that I wasn’t nauseous with nerves before every session, or that I didn’t hate it all day before I went, or that I wasn’t grateful when it rained, and the training would be cancelled, but I went–and was always euphoric once it was behind me.
When it came time for my background investigation meeting, I was prepared. I had all my necessary forms signed and notarized, I had filled out the detailed and lengthy questionnaire (twenty-five pages asking for contact info for landlords I’d had over the last ten years, professional references, personal references, driving record, credit history, and descriptions of any tattoos), and I felt as if all my affairs looked presentable.
I’d even googled myself and cleaned up everything that seemed questionable, removing any photographs that could be deemed inappropriate, streamlined my website, and overall did my best to leave as few red flags as possible.
My background investigation meeting was at 7 a.m., but the early hour was no problem. Sleeping wasn’t an option anyway, I was so nervous. I got to the personnel building at 6:30 with my conservative academy look down — dark suit, button down shirt, hair pulled back in a bun, tiny earrings. I’d been warned in various paperwork that the background meeting could take six hours, so I was prepared for a lengthy wait.
But my concerns were unwarranted. I was in and out of there in three hours.
The background investigation entailed a submission of all my paperwork, carefully stapled and organized to their specifications, in a folder with my name on it, which was handed to a man behind the counter. Then the group of us, around twenty, were taken to a room down the hall where we were spread out, so that no one sat too close to anyone else. We were all given a thick blue packet of 150 questions.
All the questions were “yes/no” questions: Have you ever done drugs? Have you ever committed a hate crime? Have you ever abused an animal? Have you ever stolen from work? The instructions were simple: check the correct box. If you answered “yes” for any of the questions, you had to write a paragraph explaining your response.
I completed my blue packet in record time, since, with my starchy clean background, most of my answers were “no.” The only stickler was if I’d ever been in a car accident (I had to explain about that time when a Filipino lady drove her minivan into my Volvo) and my drug consumption. Since I’d smoked pot, I couldn’t truthfully answer ”no.” I’d been told, however, during my extensive research on the subject, that a handful of pot experiences would not block me from the police department. In fact, one of my sources told me that if I said I’d never done anything, ever, they would naturally assume I was lying (since who hasn’t done pot?), and that would cause more problems for me.
So I wrote a little paragraph explaining that I’d smoked pot a few times (between ten and fifteen, I said), but that I’d never actually purchased it myself, and a little paragraph about the Filipino lady, and then I politely raised my hand to turn my blue packet in.
This was the moment where I got really nervous. Now someone would take me into the next room and interrogate me. I was sure my three years in Berlin would raise questions, if not red flags, and perhaps my unconventional liberal arts background, maybe my novels, maybe just my musical releases. I’d taken down my MySpace page already, so there was no way for them to listen to anything.
I could feel my palms getting sweaty as I waited for my background investigator to summon me. I wondered if I’d have better odds with a woman or a man? With a younger or older investigator? It was out of my hands, so when I got an older black man wearing a comfy looking cardigan, I just followed him into the next room. Interview time.
He liked me. We talked about my life and my background and my years in Germany. I was starting to feel like I was a viable candidate. He seemed impressed with my the different things I had done and the different credentials I had, and I felt pretty optimistic when I left.
The next step in the application process? The lie detector test.