Skinny Dipping, Fear and the Power of a Question
I did something I wasn’t supposed to do yesterday.
After a date, I decided to take the scenic route home along the coast south on Ocean Boulevard.
I hit a road blockage, though, but after turning around I spied an empty lot along the side of the ocean. It was literally a vacant lot, next door to a half-finished construction project. Which means no one was around.
So, I pulled onto the property and parked my car a few feet in from the road. I saw a sign, and wanted to make sure it wasn’t a “no trespassing” sign because I had no intention of breaking the law.
The sign said (approximately) this:
By city ordinance, if you are on this property and an officer asks you to leave and you don’t leave, you will be cited.
I’m no lawyer, but this is how my brain translated it:
WOOHOO! I can stay until I’m asked to leave—if I’m asked at all, that is.
I got out of my car and headed the hundred yards or so to this amazing entry onto the beach. It was like stepping into another world. I got to the beach, ocean in front of me, kicked off my shoes and there wasn’t a soul in sight!
Ok, technically, there was a walker about 400 yards to the north and maybe a couple 600 yards south of me, but for a long stretch of coastline, I had the beach to myself.
I put down my books and journal, and I took everything out of my pockets. Then, I had this idea. I want to go swimming—but I didn’t want to go in my boxers and have a wet nutsack for the next few hours.
So, I did something uncharacteristic for me, in the daylight, on a mostly deserted beach:
I took off all my clothes and made a beeline for the ocean.
Now, the person north of me was far enough away that she probably just saw my bare ass, if she was even paying attention.
The water was cool and beautiful, and it was literally the perfect day. I was overjoyed. I swam around, all alone, for about 5 minutes, naked, before deciding to play it safe and come back onto shore before anybody got too close.
But there was just something so natural about being naked in the ocean.
Back on shore, I put a Moroccan scarf around my lower half, just to cover up. The lone walker passed by a couple minutes later, but we didn’t make eye contact.
I stood up and just dried off naturally in the sun. I was literally gleaming with joy. This mostly deserted beach. This random decision to stop on the vacant lot. This little piece of paradise that wasn’t accessible to most people.
Around that time, I decided to put my boxers back on.
And, literally, it wasn’t more than a minute later when I see them coming: two officers, walking on the little trail that I took to get to the beach.
I knew what was happening. And I was thankful that they hadn’t arrived 10 minutes earlier when I was butt naked in the ocean.
I was about to say, “Yep, I’ll leave now,” when the officer—a female—asked me if that was my car parked over yonder. I said, yes, and I was about to bend over to pick up my stuff and prepare to leave.
That’s when she said, “Can I see your ID?”
This was my moment of decision. I was like Neo in the Matrix, when he was down in the subway and the Agent appeared. He looked at the Agent, then looked at the stairs leading out of the subway (his escape route), but then he turned to face the Agent again–and fight.
I didn’t want to fight, but I did want to ask why they needed to see my ID.
So, I turned and faced the Agent—err, the Officer—and asked the question.
For those of you wondering, I didn’t say it in a mean or defensive way. I was just really curious.
It was literally curiosity that had me ask. But there was something else, too…
Well, she turned to a more veteran looking officer and said, “he doesn’t want to give me his ID.”
Now, this is where things get a little out of hand.
But first off, let’s settle one thing: I didn’t say I wouldn’t give her my ID—I just asked why she wanted it.
The second officer then asked me to show my ID. I said, “I’m just curious. The sign out front said, if you are asked to leave, you need to leave. Why do you need my ID?”
Well, he didn’t like that question. “This is now an open investigation,” he said. I don’t remember everything verbatim, but he said something to the effect of, “It’s ok. You don’t want to give me your ID. No problem. I can cite you for trespassing, impound your car and put you in handcuffs.”
Now, at this point, I was seriously considering showing him my ID, but immediately after he said all that, he turned around and said, “meet me by your car.”
But to be honest there was another part of me that didn’t want to backtrack and plead, No. Police officer. I’m sorry, please take my ID.
They walked off. I put on the rest of my clothes (I was only wearing boxers when they showed up), and I started walking down the path toward the property and my car.
That’s when I started up a live feed on facebook. I just wanted to have something recorded in case shit when down—to protect my ass.
Oh, and I quickly deleted my post on facebook that talked about skinny dipping in the ocean—in case I was actually arrested. Smart thinking, Alex! Destroy all evidence!
So, I’m walking to the car, and I’m nervous. I have never been in this situation before! (Well, that’s not true. When I was 14, the cops showed up at our house because my friends and I were acting like assholes on the golf course, which was in our backyard. They simply told us if we ever were on the golf course doing shenanigans again, we would be arrested. So that put a quick stop to that.)
Immediately the same cop says, “You’re not free to leave.”
A few seconds later: “Are you Alexander?”
Surprising myself, I immediately pipe back, “Can you show me where it says no trespassing?”
He repeated, “Are you Alexander?” (with a little more vigor)
I acquiesced: “Yes.”
He then goes into a lengthy shpiel about the city and this property and how it’s private property and how if I broke my leg walking on it, I’d probably sue.
We then went back and forth—the officer making his case for why I was in the wrong, and me trying to get him to see my perspective that there wasn’t a no trespassing sign, just the warning to leave when asked to leave.
He said, “you seem like a decent guy, and if you would have just given us your ID we would have been done in 30 seconds and even had some laughs probably walking you back to your car.”
I could tell by his tone that he didn’t want to arrest me, and now he was just explaining that I’m not the first person to try this little idea; that the city had written (for some reason) this interestingly languaged sign and that the owners didn’t want anyone on it without their permission.
A third cop was there and he finally answered my question:
“We asked for your ID because had we not, you could come back another time with other cops around, and they’d never know that you had received a warning from us.”
“I totally get that,” I said.
By now, this is wrapping up. It’s hot and the cop is sweating. It’s clear that he feels like I’ve wasted some of his time, but he also wants to prove that he’s not a dick.
“You don’t come across as a dick at all,” I said.
Kidding. I definitely did not say that.
Finally, he shakes my hand, after a third time of saying I looked like a “decent” guy (which honestly made me wonder: what if I hadn’t looked like a decent guy).
It was my sign to leave. I apologized for wasting their time—which I’m a bit upset at myself for doing, honestly, but in the spirit of generosity I did—and went off on my merry way.
Now, some of you are having internal reactions to this piece.
You didn’t have the right to be on the property or park there—end of story.
You should have immediately given the officer (the first one) your ID—end of story.
You should have immediately answered, “Yes,” when asked your name by the officer.
I (mostly) agree with you all.
However, for whatever reason, on this particular day, I felt compelled to ask a question.
And it almost got me arrested.
The power of a question.
Most days I would have just given her my ID knowing I was in the wrong. I was in the wrong. I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to be doing.
Rationality says—and so did the cop—that the person doing the wrong thing should be being easy-going in this situation and do what’s being asked.
And, again, I get that.
However, it also makes me wonder:
Why was this question such a big deal?
Ostensibly, it was because (and he said this) he had better things to do than go back and forth with me about it.
But it felt like there was something more there. His reaction, his perturbedness seemed to say, how dare I have the chutzpah to ask him that.
And perhaps this is why I asked the question—to show myself that I had the courage to ask.
Had the officer answered me with the rationale I was given later about needing to have a name just in case I tried to come back another time, I would have immediately given them my ID.
And, no, they didn’t owe me that response.
Mostly, I just needed to show myself that I could ask—even while afraid to ask.
Especially because I was afraid to ask. And this is something I’ll take away with me for the rest of my life; a new knowledge of myself; that I can speak up to power when necessary.
(Caveat: I’m half Middle Eastern but look white. Had I been black or brown, I probably would never have asked why.)
Anyway, I’ve lived a pretty decent life. The cop saw that I had no prior arrest record, nor had I had any traffic citations in over 5 years. I’m sure this helped when I got to the car.
But I want to share something else that I re-remembered on the drive home after leaving.
I grew up in Ormond Beach, Florida near the Tomoka River. When I say near I mean that our house was probably 200 yards from this majestic river.
And I almost never saw it growing up.
Development. Every house had a lot on the river that was private property.
I think it’s a travesty that people can own the land and deprive the vast majority of people from having access to something that should be accessible—easily—to all of us.
I should have been going to the river, walking to it, sitting alongside the banks, probably day-dreaming or reading every single day growing up.
But the bigger travesty, I believe, is not even challenging this reality.
Why should that stretch of beach, totally vacant, be the exclusive right of one or two families?
There wasn’t even a house there.
And I’m not asking this from a legal standpoint, either.
I understand the legal ramifications.
I’m saying that perhaps, just perhaps, we accept reality far too easily.
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