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This is Only a Test

Pencils Down

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 about.

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."

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).

"It's pretty easy," she says. "You'll just have to answer some multiple choice questions."

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-



"GO!!!" she 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.

"GO-GO-GO!!!" 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 vomit.

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 either.

1) How many weeks in a year?

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) Choco-riffic

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 whimper.

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 bear!

Oh my God, it's a bear! A bear! Help! I... wait, there's no bear behind me at all! Confound this test!

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 so. Stupid."

"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.

33    33 (check)

34    34 (check)

35    96637 (don't check, stupid.)

Pretty simple.


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.

6    6

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.

6    6

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:

402    420

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.

Next row.

45    45    45

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 job.

I don't even remember how the rest of the interview went.

I was too nervous.