“Hey Grace, were you serious about volunteering for the wet lab on Monday?!”
I almost fell out of my chair with excitement when I saw this message. Not only was I serious about volunteering… I would have paid cash-money to be included. Finally! I first heard about the “wet lab” years ago as a paramedic and, much like high school prom and the ever elusive “house-party”, I never expected an invitation. I wasn’t cool enough. I was never cool enough
But life was different now and I was AWESOME! Or, at least I felt awesome as I replied to the police lieutenant’s email: FUCK YES I was serious about volunteering, more serious than a felony DUI!
For those of you who don’t know, a “wet-lab” is a law-enforcement training exercise. The cops serve some “volunteers” ridiculous amounts of alcohol and then practice road-side sobriety tests on them. Back when I was a paramedic, I always heard rumors about wet-lab shenanigans and longed for an invitation. The local cops would get all of their favorite paramedics liquored up, run them through the drunk-driving paces and then give them a ride home. But back then, I wasn’t anyone’s favorite anything. As an insignificant satellite character in the paramedic department’s eternal melodrama, the drunk-fairy always passed me by when handing out summons to the wet-lab.
So when Lieutenant Justin Meeker posted the Facebook call for wet-lab victims, it felt like a second chance to finally be one of the popular kids. I was the medical examiner! Everyone loved me (or they pretended to so I wouldn’t enlist their help in moving dead bodies) I replied PICK ME! PICK ME! PICK ME!
And he did!
So, let this be a lesson to all of you- NEVER GIVE UP ON YOUR DREAMS!
Consequently, the following is a blow-by-blow account of my experience as a “wet-lab” participant. Also known as: “I Finally got Invited to the Party“
I have gotten off shift after working the last 48 hours. I have 6 hours before I have to be at the cops’ training center. This is great as I have a shit ton of prep-work to do. I have to plan very carefully because I’m really not a drinker and a solid night of inebriation could derail my next 3 days. I go to the gym and preemptively burn off a few hundred calories that I’ll be re-consuming later. In good/fucked up news, I handled a brutal suicide scene on my shift- so I already feel like drinking. Yay.
I have sent all the emails and done all the cardio. I take a shower and apply all my typical night serums and retinol creams so I can just fall into bed when I get home later. I eat a large lunch of chili and cornbread so I have some staying power and don’t tap out after one cocktail… like I normally do. I also aggressively hydrate then dress in sweats so I don’t feel compelled to remove layers of clothing as the evening progresses and I inevitably decide that my jeans are uncomfortable.
My friend comes to pick me up and take me to the training center. I don’t want to drive because I’d have to leave my car and an Uber would cost at least $50. She drives me to the training center and we discover the police department’s “training center” is a ragged, concrete building in a back alley across the street from a trailer park. It’s surrounded by a rusty chain-link fence and appears abandoned. My friend doesn’t hide her concern as we double-check the address and she insists on waiting in the parking lot until I am safely inside. I think about all of the “defund police” campaigns and wonder if the next “training center” will be a cardboard box in the fire-department’s parking lot.
Once I am inside, I tell the dude at the front desk that I’m there for the wet-lab. “Lucky” he says and escorts me to a small conference room where there will be shenanigans… I just know it.
I have to sign an array of releases, promising I won’t drive home or keep drinking when the exercise is over. I also confirm that I have no medical conditions, nor am I an alcoholic. As I sign this paperwork, I am introduced to Ken. Ken will be intoxicated along with me. A couple of sober people will be mixed into our ranks later on and when the time comes, we will all be presented to the student officers for evaluation and they will have to determine who is drunk enough to be arrested. They’ll do this without the help of a breathalyzer, though the officer pouring our drinks will be intermittently checking our blood-alcohol with a breathalyzer. They want to make sure we’re good and loaded by the time we’re let loose upon the students.
I volunteer to fight the officers and scream insults at them while threatening to sue… in order to make this exercise as realistic as possible
They decline my offer.
They also tell me I’m not allowed to climb anything (or anyone). Furthermore, we were supposed to be seated in chairs without wheels, but someone screwed up and all the chairs have wheels. So please, they say, don’t do anything crazy.
I look at Ken and tell him he doesn’t know this yet, but we’re going to arm wrestle.
Lt. Justin starts us off with doubles. I’m drinking Moscow mules while Ken drinks Cape Codders (vodka & cranberry) We were asked ahead of time what we liked and Justin has provided. He even brought me a copper mug and straw for my mules. I feel important. Then he tells me that I’m not allowed to keep it and his wife made him promise to bring it home. I feel slightly less important, but the alcohol helps.
We flip on the TV in the conference room and begin watching The Hobbit.
I fiddle around on my phone. This is boring. I wonder how I’m going to survive being in this room for another 5 hours.
Justin and Ken talk about cover bands.
Justin checks my progress and says I’m not drinking fast enough. Neither is Ken.
We drink faster.
I’m done with my first double mule. Justin pours me another. I realize that someone has turned off The Hobbit and now we’re watching Southpark. There is a dancing duck named “Jeffy” in this episode. I’m worried about Jeffy’s welfare, given Southpark’s reputation for carnage. Justin and Ken are still talking, but it’s faster than before… in fact, they’re talking super fast. I can’t follow them
Southpark is actually really funny and, much to my completely irrational relief, Jeffy the duck survives the episode, though lots of people die. This prompts me to start telling jokes about suicide. Justin and Ken think I’m hysterical but the sober people in the room look a little worried… and jealous.
Justin says we’re still not drinking fast enough. His voice is really loud.
Justin pours each of us another drink. Ken asks me my opinion of the George Floyd shooting… seeing as how I’m a medical examiner and all. Justin makes a choking sound and yells at us to stop. Then he hands each of us a bag of chips, presumably to distract us from talking about politics. One of the instructors from next-door (The class is going on next door?) pokes his head in and tells us to keep it down, I throw my bag of Doritos at him.
I really like Ken.
I am undeniably drunk. But when Justin gives me the breathalyzer, he informs me that I am “only a .04”, HALF the legal limit. Ken blows a .03. we’re both flabbergasted that we’re nowhere near LEGALLY drunk. Justin pours us more drinks. We toast to our ineptitude at getting wasted and slam our beverages. Then we eat all my husband’s beef jerky that I stowed away in my bag
Ken and I decide we’re going to be BFF’s and this is the most fun we’ve ever had in our lives.
We FaceTime my husband so I can introduce him to my best friend. My husband asks if that’s his beef jerky we’re eating. I say “NO!” and hang up.
I am showing Ken videos of myself in my trapeze class. He’s amazed that he never knew his best friend (me) did trapeze. Justin scolds us to keep drinking. Being a public servant is very demanding.
Ken has to go to the bathroom… I howl “Nooooooooo!!!!!!” and tell him he’ll “break the seal“ and then have to pee every 5 minutes. He goes anyway. Then I realize I have to pee as well. They get an unoccupied officer to walk me to the bathroom so I don’t wander into the street or fall over. He gives me his elbow, all-old-fashioned gentlemanly style, and I crookedly saunter to the restroom. As we walk the hall, I notice we’re walking by the classroom where the student officers are learning about drunk people. They all turn to look at me as I parade by… and I start snorting and hacking as I try to control my uncontrollable laughter. I sound like I’m coughing up a hairball.
I get back to our conference room and Ken and I high-five because we’re awesome.
Ken and I are laughing… I’m not sure at what, but it’s super funny. Justin checks our levels and tells us it’s “go” time. Once again the officer offers me an arm and I undulate to my feet, wobbling like an inflatable dancer at a used-car lot. Ken and I exchange a meaningful farewell glance as I am escorted into the next room and propped up in a chair.
Justin uneasily observes from the doorway. I understand his hesitancy. Although I promised him I wouldn’t intentionally terrorize the recruits, I have a reputation. Where I used to simply force new officers to help me roll dead bodies from their backs to their bellies, I recently stepped up my terrorizing game. My latest death-scene-shenanigans involve telling trainees to determine how long a person has been dead by testing the elasticity of the eye. When they ask me what that means, I instruct them to press their thumb into the dead body’s eye-socket and let me know how long it takes for the globe to spring back. It’s total bullshit. I made it up on the fly one night when a couple of deputies asked me to give some customized hell to a hot-shot trainee whose confidence overreached his capabilities. As expected, the trainee flinched and balked at my directions. Everyone had a pretty good laugh at his expense before I relented and told him he didn’t have to poke any dead people in the eye. Since then, the “eye thing” has been my most requested number. Other popular acts involve commanding “probies” to stick their fingers into the bullet-hole in someone’s head, or insisting that they tell me the dead person’s zodiac sign. And so maybe Justin’s concern isn’t totally unfounded. Still, I promised I would behave. And I meant it when I said it.
But that was a long time ago.
The first trainee comes in. The test preceptor at the door tells him to treat me like any person he’s just pulled over. The trainee looks at me like I’m the final boss of a video game. And I know myself well enough to know that I’m regarding him like something I might batter around a little bit before I eat him. He’s scared of me.
He should be.
He starts reading “the spiel” off a pocket-guide that helps him remember each step of the standard road-side sobriety test. Knees locked like a nervous groom and shifting his weight from foot to foot, he reads the cues in a flat, wooden tone. Despite my earnest desire to be a cooperative subject, I start tittering. He reminds me of a kindergartner reciting the pledge of allegiance in front of his class. I’m so drunk that I feel acutely aware of everything. I notice the design on his t-shirt, the frayed hem of his jeans. I notice his beard stubble and how he laced his shoes. Empirically, I know that intoxication doesn’t heighten your senses. But I can understand how people come to the conclusion that they can drive. Because right now, I feel like Sherlock-fucking-Holmes. When he tells me to imagine a straight line stretching out in front of me that goes on forever, I start laughing and gasp out. “That’s a really long time!”
The testing continues. I am confident in my ability to walk in a straight line and stand on one foot… except for the fact that I keep listing as though I’m wandering along the tilted deck of a sinking ship. After a couple of tries, I get it together and I am capable of executing both of these tasks with no trouble. As an active person, my proprioception and physicality is pretty well honed. My drunkenness is not so apparent in my movements, but it’s definitely obvious in my attitude. I’m a lunatic. As each new officer walks in, I demand to know their name and what agency they work for. They tell me and I narrow my eyes. “I’ll do your test,” I tell them. “But understand I’m going to remember this when you and I are on the scene of a death…” Then I assault them with sarcastic comments throughout the exercise. I inform one officer he looks like a 12-year-old. I inform another that I have a cyanide tablet in my tooth in case I’m taken by “zee Russians”.
I have gathered a crowd of on-lookers at the door. They are snickering as the preceptor asks my latest victim if he would arrest me, had this been an actual road-side test. The cop-ling laughs and says, “Oh yeah, Absolutely.”
“GOOD CHOICE!” I slur as I go to high-five him. He raises his hand to high-five me back, but I miss and end up slapping him in the face. The preceptor tells him to note in his report that, “-subject was unable to execute a high-five.”
In walks my first and only woman trainee. I have a flash of empathy for her. I certainly know what it’s like to be the only woman in a room full of hyper-masculine dude-bros. I’m tempted to go easy on her, but I discard the thought almost as soon as it stumbles through my addled brain. Sooner or later she’ll have to learn that she’s going to take an inordinate amount of shit in this job… probably more than any of these guys. No one is going to give her any breaks because she’s a girl. Quite the opposite.
Like all the men, she introduces herself and reads off her pocket-guide. When she gets to the part that says, “look at the tip of this pen” she holds her pen in front of my face. I’m supposed to follow the pen with my eyes as she moves it from side to side. But instead I just snatch it out of her hand and throw it across the room. She blinks at me for a split second and then smoothly shrugs and says, “Ok, look at the tip of my finger…” I look and see that she has a little smiley face drawn on the tip of her finger. I laugh with delight. Not only was she unruffled by my infantile petulence, she also had an alternative plan ready to go. I proclaim, “The Force is STRONG with this one!” and I don’t give her anymore shit. Her smiley-face-finger-tip has earned my respect.
The sobriety tests are winding down but I am sticking around for an extra duty. One of the Drug Identification Experts needs to re-certify, which is to say, he needs to run me through the test they give someone who is clearly intoxicated, but a breathalyzer indicates an absence of alcohol. In order to do this, I have to be moved to a different, “private” room with the expert and his preceptor. No one trusts me to walk, so instead someone pushes me in my roller chair into the other room, I raise my hands over my head and holler “WHEEEEEEEEEEE!” as I go. I wave happily at Ken as he’s walking a straight line for a trainee. Then I snag a traffic cone off a table as we pass and I state it’s my “emotional support cone” since I’m going to be alone with these two guys and I find law enforcement officers incredibly intimidating.
The drug identification test takes another 30 minutes. The expert-guy has the most calming and cordial demeanor I’ve ever seen. He’s so chill I want him to be my dad. I perform all of his tasks to the best of my ability and at the end, I have no idea how his assessment went, but I really want him to like me. I hope I made him proud. If anyone could teach lessons in de-escalation, it’s this guy.
Our service to our community is over. Ken and I are both starting to sober up but our enthusiasm for this whole production is undiminished. When his elderly father comes to pick him up (we’ve both been required to secure a responsible driver to deliver us home) Ken and I hug goodbye and his father shrugs in confusion. Ken tells Justin that if there is ever another wet-lab he expects for both of us to be invited… because we’re awesome.
I asked a couple of my circus friends to come get me, one of whom is a professional hand-balancer. I announce this to Justin and the few preceptors remaining when my ride arrives. Justin looks like he just wants to go home, but some of the others demand a demonstration. Despite the fact that she’s stone sober, my friend obligingly perform a series of physics-defying poses, while balancing on her hands. They load me up and do a donut in the parking lot before peeling out and zooming off. It’s probably not the most reassuring exit ever, but I think my friend is kind of excited to execute some risky driving moves right in front of police officers.
I don’t remember the ride home.
But a week later, when I send Ken a friend request on Facebook, he accepts.
I knew he would. Ken and I are BFF’s and he wouldn’t do me like that…
…not for all the mules in Moscow