This is Only a Test
Today I have an interview
at a company that makes calling cards, those plastic cards you can get
when you open a bank account or buy a stereo, that give you five minutes
of free calls. After the five minutes have been used, I guess you throw
the cards away or something. But hey, five minutes of free calls sounds
like a good enough reason to mass produce millions of plastic,
non-biodegradable cards that will stack up in our country's landfill
like so much... sorry, I don't mean to preach. But why not just mail
everyone in the country five bucks? Better yet, why doesn't everyone in
the country mail me five bucks? What the hell is the matter with
you people? Come on, it's five measly bucks! (I am writing this
as if I have a nation-wide distribution instead of just six people. It
makes me feel better, okay?)
The office is a great deal
further away than any of my previous jobs, and not accessible by train,
so I am not too concerned about getting the job. In fact, the
realization that I don't particularly want the job sets me at ease. I'm
usually a bundle of nerves in an interview, dry-mouthed and
sweaty-palmed, and as a result I generally make a poor impression: that
of a shaky, malnutritioned quasi-human with poor verbalization skills
and an odd habit of leaping out the nearest window if the interviewer
turns his or her head. Today, though, I feel better. I don't want the
job, so why should I care? Why should I be nervous? With no desire to
work here and no expectations, I can remain calm, cool and collected,
and easily come across as the extremely talented, almost terrifyingly
smart, and, well, let's face it, drop-dead handsome individual that I
am... which would probably guarantee me the job... which I don't want...
so maybe there's a small flaw there.
But hey! If they offer the
job, I can always turn it down, and if I do it with enough arrogance
they will wonder what they could have done wrong to offend a charming
guy such as myself. I mean, whoever they eventually get to fill the
position would forever be in my shadow, or in the shadow of my legend,
The Perfect Guy For The Job. Yeah. The six of you know what I'm talking
Anyway, the point I am
making is that for the first time in my life, I feel confident
walking into an interview. I arrive in the small office, barely managing
to fit my confidence in the door with me, 'cause it's so huge and
plentiful, and meet one of the women, named Cathy, who I'm supposed to
interview with. She seems nice as I give her my resume and we exchange
greetings. My greeting is, like, ten times more confident than
hers. Maybe fifteen times. No, ten. About ten. Ten to twelve.
"Before we begin the
interview," Cathy says, "you'll need to take a few
Tests? Perfect! The way I
feel right now, I could ace any little pathetic exam with my confidence
tied behind my back (although it would take a vast amount of rope to do
so, given the sheer enormity... well, you get it).
easy," she says. "You'll just have to answer some multiple
I read the directions and
it seems pretty straight forward. The sample question is "How
many days in a week?" The choices are a) five, b) one, c)
Dick Van Patten, d) seven. The paper is kind enough to supply the
answer: "Trick question: the answer is not listed. The correct
answer would be: Terry "Hulk" Hogan ."
This should be a piece of
extremely confident cake. At the bottom of the page, I notice, is
another paragraph. It says: "You will have one minute to answer
as many questions as you can. You will probably not be able to answer
them all, because you are probably really stupid. Do not begin until
your instructor... um, instructs you to."
"So, do you
understand the test?" Cathy asks. "Pretty easy, right?" I
notice that she is brandishing a large and, I must admit, somewhat
menacing stopwatch. Menacing in the way that it is about the size of a
microwave oven, and has far more buttons than a stopwatch should have.
It also has the look of one of those stopwatches that actually alters
time, makes it run faster or slower according to its own selfish and
evil needs. I'm guessing it will be running, um... faster during
this test. But wait, what is this? Nervousness? It can't be! I'm
Confident Boy! I don't care if I get this-
"So here's a
pencil," Cathy says.
My eyelid twitches almost
imperceptibly. My confidence has spotted an interesting leaf in the
parking lot and doesn't seem to be paying attention to what's going on.
Not that it matters. I
don't want this job, so what does it matt-
shrieks, depressing a button on the stopwatch, a button so big it
takes both her hands to move it. The stopwatch, instead of chirping out
one of those harmless if slightly annoying "beeps," emits a
resounding toll of doom, like a clock tower in a Dracula film.
Cathy screeches, or perhaps it is merely her first cry rebounding off
the walls of the office. I am suddenly charged with electricity, not the
good kind of electricity that makes you feel energetic or excited or
ready to take on the world or lift an automobile off a small child (or
perhaps place an automobile on a small child, depending on your
personal views of small children), but the bad kind of electricity that
makes you feel like your genitals have been hooked up to a car battery.
Not that I've ever done that. But I imagine it would feel like this: I
can't move, and if I could move, it would only be to lean forward and
Somehow I manage to lean
forward and, instead, open the booklet, which reveals a single column of
multiple choice questions. It doesn't look too daunting: I imagine it
would take me less than a minute of real time, but at least three and a
half hours of evil stopwatch-speeded-up time. The fact that I can't
quite remember how a pencil works, exactly, isn't helping things
1) How many weeks in a
Weeks in a year, weeks
in a year, how the hell should I know? I
frantically choose: b) New Orleans.
2) What is the second
month before June?
Second month before
June, lets see... January, March, April... wait, forgot February.
January, February, March, October, Thursday, Libra... I- I don't know! I
just don't know! I choose: a)
3) What color is
something that is green?
What am I, frikkin'
Einstein here? Green? What the hell is green? I
make a smudgy mark in the answer box, the equivalent to a written
4) Define Planck’s
quantum principle. The idea
that light (or any other classical waves) can be emitted or absorbed
only in discreet quanta, whose energy is proportional to their
frequency. At least some of them are easy.
5) Look behind you! A
Oh my God, it's a bear!
A bear! Help! I... wait, there's no bear behind me at all! Confound this
The test goes on like
this, only worse, until the stopwatch fires off a cruise missle to
indicate that a minute has elapsed. I sit back in my chair, completely
shaken, my shirt sopping with sweat, my confidence somewhere in Cape
Horn by now. Amazingly, I did manage to answer all but one question. A
line of text at the bottom of the page reads: "I didn't think
"Now the next
test-" Cathy begins.
Another test. I don't
believe this. This one is an exercise in comparing numbers. There will
be two columns of numbers, and I am supposed to look at the numbers in
the first column and determine if they match the numbers in the second
column. If they match, I am supposed to make a check mark. If not, leave
it blank. Again, I am given an example.
96637 (don't check, stupid.)
I tear the booklet open as
the stopwatch sounds another air-raid siren. What I see are pages and
pages of columns. Four minutes for this test. I dive painfully in to the
first set of numbers.
Well, they look the same.
But are they really? It could be a trick. If this test thinks I've
forgotten the bear incident, it's severely underestimated me. I stare at
the first number, then scrutinize the second.
Wait. Wait a second. That
second six is not a six at all! It’s an inverted nine!
Ha ha! Did this test really think I wouldn't notice something so obvious
as that? That's one box I won't be checking!
Time for the second set.
The first column shows a '94', while the second shows a detailed drawing
of a walrus wearing what appears to be mid-1800's style dress. Well...
I'll come back to that one...
The third set of numbers
look like this:
Different! Ha! Easy! Wait!
No! I mean, they're the same numbers. Just in different order.
So, really, they're the same. Right? In my panicked state, I can't
remember what sort of differences I am supposed to be looking for.
Different digits? Different order? Blast! I quickly turn back to the
instructions page, yet the test has some sort of molecular control over
the ink on the first page, and all the writing has merged into a single
blob that spells out S...T...U...
I don't need to read the
rest. Or do I?
Nope, I didn't.
I can feel the seconds
ticking away much faster than your normal, average, non-hellspawned
seconds do. I suddenly realize that in the first question, that first
six might also be an inverted nine, which would mean that they
are the same… but then again, that second six is starting to look like
a real six… Now I've changed my mind a few times, checking and
erasing and checking and erasing until there's just a ragged hole in the
paper, through which I write a check on the desk with my shaking pencil.
What the hell is this? A
third column? Damn this infernal test! Did the directions say
anything about a third column? I flip back to the front page. The ink
has rearranged itself, this time to say: This sucks, doesn't it?
It sucks worse than when you are filling out a job or bank application,
and you get to the address part and you put the city, state, and zip
code in the box marked City before you notice that there are separate
boxes for the State and Zip and then you don't know if you should cross
out the State & Zip and write them in their correct boxes or just
leave them where they are, or don't cross them out but
write them in their correct boxes anyway which is less messy but
still looks really stupid 'cause now you've written them in twice.
I have to agree. This is
much worse than that.
I decide that I need to
take some action, so I start crying in a really pitiful way, but it's
too late: my eardrums squirt blood as the Satan's Stopwatch fires a
sonic boom off to indicate that my four minutes are up.
I didn't get offered the
I don't even remember how
the rest of the interview went.
I was too nervous.