Nick's Blog

Personal opinions. Aggressively stated.

First Test

When I was a teenager, I once was staying on the on the upper East Side of Manhattan in a large apartment building. I went to the laundry room to wash some clothes, and there was a maid there – an old, southern, black lady who smiled at me and then said,

“Ain’t not but one uh them machines is workin’.”

Blink. Blink. Think. Think. A triple negative. (It turned out that, in fact, triple-negative, or, a positive, was what she meant: “Only one of those machines is working.”).

I liked that – I never knew you could do that with sentences. I devoured it in the writing of Joseph Heller in, Catch-22, where phrases like, “And if you think that wasn’t funny, here’s something that isn’t even funnier…” were trumped by the wondrous tale of Major Major’s father, who didn’t grow alfalfa:

Major Major’s father was a sober God-fearing man whose idea of a good joke was to lie about his age…His specialty was alfalfa, and he made a good thing out of not growing any. The government paid him well for every bushel of alfalfa that he did not grow. The more alfalfa he did not grow, the more money the government gave him, and he spent every penny he didn’t earn on new land to increase the amount of alfalfa he did not produce. Major Major’s father worked without rest at not growing alfalfa….He invested in land wisely and soon was not growing more alfalfa than any other man in the county…

But nothing in my experience has prepared me for the exquisite, nay, the sublime quintuple-negative word mangling on a test composed by the state Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education. Nothing – not even a Federal Aviation Administration instrument flight written test – has ever in my experience come so close to frying my brain as this test. Like (and I am making this one up on the spot, but it’s close to the real thing:

The role of police does not include:

a. Protecting the public
b. Promoting the public safety
c. Prevention of crime
d. All these are roles of police

And D is the correct answer. That is, the answer d), “all of the above”, is the correct answer to the question about what policing does not include, even though D said that policing does include a, b and c.

In any event, there was much stress at our test today. Apparently I was not the only one thinking that he was going to slip and fall – the class was noticeably jittery. When the test began (it’s administered on those murderous little ‘fill-in-the-circle’ sheets) we all set to it.

Fifty minutes later I felt done.

We’re standing in the break room and someone brings up a question that I felt sure about: the number of duty rounds of ammunition one must fire annually to maintain “minimum proficiency”: 50. Now, the idea that firing 50 rounds a year can make you proficient at anything other than not shooting yourself in the forehead when you draw your gun makes me dizzy. But there’s Major Trevor, and I say “Number of rounds?”

“Five.”
FIVE?!
“Yes, five rounds of duty ammunition, fifty rounds total.”

Son of a bitch. They do this because duty rounds cost about a dollar each, and practice ammo costs about a quarter (by the way, I totally disagree with this concept. And my personal ammo, which I selected specifically because it is specially designed not to over-penetrate and pass through a person, costs $2 a round, and my agency’s duty ammo costs about $0.50 per round. I shoot about 250 rounds a month to maintain what I would consider to be minimum proficiency). Now I start questioning everything I thought I knew.

There were 100 questions on the test. And 75 is the minimum passing grade.

Dave came in about half an hour later, looking troubled.

“Well, not all of you passed, I can tell you that. I can say that if you failed this first test, you will have a very hard time passing the others here. We’ll do the best we can to get you through, but yeah, you’re gonna have a problem.”

My heart at this point is palpitating. I know that if I fail this test, I can take a make up, but that if I fail any other test I am out. And Dave looks pissed. He gives the paper to Sig Winchester.

“What’d you get?” I whispered to him
“86,” he says, and I smile.

Then I get mine. Dave says my name in a manner that makes me not feel confident. It was as if he was mildly disappointed. I look down.
I got a 92.

Now that I know the test format, I feel I can study more effectively. All the instructors and the last class through told us that tests 1 and 2 were easy and then test 3 is suddenly a killer. Test two is next Monday. I’m working on Quizlet with some of my classmates to make flashcards for the class (and myself) and hopefully by the weekend I will have a system.

Oh one more thing: after the test Monday we elected a class leader – as I predicted, Major Trevor is it, and I’m glad (I voted for him). I’m bucking for squad leader, but unfortunately that puts me up against an actual squad leader, Sig Winchester, who was a Marine Corps sergeant in both Iraq and Afghanistan. One could argue that that is more relevant experience at leading a squad than my personal experience of, you know, leading a squad of analysts as they dissect business plans.

It’s a theory.

Leave a Reply