Tuesday, October 7, 2008

This Dog Helped Me Lie To A Polygraph

Yep, I give you my solemn cowgirl swear that I once got away with lying on a lie detector test.

A while back, I got it into my head that I wanted to be a firefighter. Well, because of the danger involved, Starr Ann wasn't exactly crazy about the idea, but that didn't stop her from getting up every morning to go on training runs with me.

Anyway, passing the written test was easy breezy, but since no woman had ever made it through the physical test before, the city got funding that year for the top 20 qualifying women to go through six months of fitness training up to the test. Somehow, I got real lucky and made it into the program. It was called Project Agile.

Poor Starr Ann. Once that happened, she was awful scared, but she didn't slack off. I'll never forget how that girl ran her heart out for me.

One time, when the runs were getting pretty long, Megan, the fitness trainer who ran Project Agile, told us about this visualization that helps you go on automatic pilot when your body tries to tell you it can't push on any farther. You're supposed to imagine that the trail or sidewalk or whatever surface you're running on is an incredibly long treadmill. Then you think of someone strong, the person you trust most in the world, and picture that person standing back at the beginning of the treadmill pulling it, hand over fist, doing all the work for you, while you effortlessly run in place. You just let the person you trust take care of you.

Megan said the technique worked best if you decide ahead of time that the person you choose will always be the one to keep your imaginary treadmill moving and you never, ever tell another soul who it is. Megan said the visualization gains all kinds of power if you stick to those two points.

So, on the fine Saturday afternoon of the physical test, I passed the obstacle course and still had enough in the tank to run a mile and a half in ten minutes and fifty seconds. Starr Ann tried to be happy.

A couple days later, I got a packet in the mail with a bunch of instructions about what came next. One of the things was a polygraph test. No problem. Among the things they'd be trying to weed out with their polygraph test was homosexuals. Problem.

You never heard language like what came flying out of Starr Ann when she found out. She did one of her fake voices and called up a bunch of city offices, trying to find out why anybody cared about the sexual orientation of the person who came busting into a burning house with the intention of saving people, and it turned out they weren't worried about that part. Their difficulty came from the fact that everybody slept in such close quarters at the firehouse.

Once we figured out there was no way we could get the policy changed, we took a closer look at lie detectin'. Heh. Turns out those things don't have a LIE side and a TRUTH side with wherever the needle points that's what you're telling. It's more subtle than that. They hook you up to the monitor and then ask you a few totally bland questions. That part lets them establish your baseline. Then they start asking the real questions and your physical responses apparently give you away when you lie by going off your baseline in a certain way.

So Starr Ann and I figured if I concentrated on something powerfully emotional while I answered the baseline questions, then kept as much of my mind focused on that during the touchy questions as possible, I might be able to swamp the readout the technician used to decide if I was lying. It was worth a try.

That's where that handsome German Shepard comes into the story. For eleven and a half years, back in our racetrack days, it was always the three of us - Starr Ann, Zooey, and me.

We'd said goodbye to our Zoo Boy only five months earlier, and I could still see him as plain as anything, running to me in the snow, or at the beach, or from way down that path up there in that picture. Anyway, when they hooked me up to the polygraph machine, I all but shut out everything in the room except for the barest awareness of the questions I was answering, and lost myself in thoughts of Zooey.

I guess my line didn't stray far from the base because afterward, the guy looking at the graph was all business and looked real bored. Later on, when the rest of my paperwork came through, Starr Ann and I were pleased to note that the polygraph test had an unceremonious check beside it. Then we decided that once in the department, I'd have to agitate to get that stupid policy changed.

So, the reason all this came up is we've sort of gotten out of the habit of running over the last few months and went out for a little 3-mile jog in today's perfect weather. As we trotted back across a mile-wide bridge, I started feeling a little tired and turned to that visualization Megan taught us. Dang. It still works good as ever.

I guess nobody'd have much trouble guessing who it is I trust to pull me home when the going gets rough. And I'd never ask Starr Ann whose strong hands she puts herself in at those times, but sometimes I wonder.