It was his first break in years, and he wasn’t going to fuck it up. Not this time. With a determined look on his face, he strode into the lobby of Quantum Reality Employment Solutions.
The secretary looked up, smirked and picked up the phone.
Roger found a seat. He wondered if he should sign in, or apprise them that he was there for his appointment. He considered. Then he stood up and, trying to look casual, walked to the front desk.
The secretary smiled. “Yes?”
“I’m here for my interview. Roger Croggins.”
The secretary pulled up a calendar on her computer and squinted at the screen. “Do you have an appointment with us? Are you registered yet?” Without waiting for his response, she slid a clipboard stuffed with forms across the desk. “We at QRES believe in promptitude, a good attitude towards the employer, and following instructions. The forms will help you negotiate the labyrinth.”
She winked. Or at least he took it that way. It might have been a nervous twitch.
She was unusually pretty, with long, glossy black hair and sparkling eyes. Roger picked up the clipboard. “Yes, I do have an appointment. Roger Croggins.” He caught a glimpse of the screen before she blocked it with her body.
The secretary smiled again, an automatic reflex. It must come with the job. “Did you have any questions?”
“Yes,” he said. “I have several questions, actually. But the one uppermost in my mind has to do with the interview. I couldn’t help noticing that my name is at the top of your list, on the screen there. Highlighted in green. Roger Croggins, 1:30 with Personnel.”
“That information is privileged and confidential,” said the secretary. There was something hard behind her eyes. Her smile was slipping, fading.
“Ok, so do I fill out the paperwork now or just go in for the interview? It was Room 22C, I believe.”
“Mr. Scroggbin, I don’t think you’re following me. We need to observe all the rules here, don’t we? First you must complete the paperwork. Part of it is a personality assessment–HumanSquish. Just answer the questions with whatever comes to mind first. There are no right or wrong answers. Failure to meet our quality standards for personality will result in the automatic denial of your right to sign on with QRES.”
“Wait…that doesn’t make sense. You just said there are no right or wrong answers, but if I fail to…”
“Do I stammer, Mr. Munchkin?”
Fucking hell, this was not going according to plan. Croggins fought the urge to bolt out the door, peel off his clothes and smear himself with potato salad in a spontaneous Dada protest.
“And there’s a math test.”
“Oh, right. Well,” he coughed nervously, “I will only be applying for the positions that don’t require math proficiency. I was a Comparative Literature major in college. That means I am comparatively literate, I suppose.” He paused…usually this clever wordplay earned at least a titter. She regarded him with suspicion and checked her watch.
“Ahem…you are willing to take the tests, are you not? The timed personality test just started. Please take a seat and complete the first 12 sets of questions.”
“Yes, I will do that.” Roger took the clipboard back to the chair in the lobby and hunched over the forms. He first glanced at the questions.
1. You always obey orders. (a)Strongly Disagree (b)Disagree (c)Neutral (d)Agree (e)Strongly Agree.
The test was clearly designed by members of the Fourth Reich. He didn’t for a second believe that his first impulse–shredding the test altogether–was of the order of “there are no right or wrong answers.” That would clearly be a wrong answer, despite what the secretary said. Nevertheless, he could not in good conscience do other than Strongly Disagree.
The remainder of the questions followed the same pattern. When he’d finished scanning all twelve pages, he figured he might as well just shrug on a flack jacket, grab a machine gun and go annex Poland, as eager as he was to Strongly Agree with such clearly skewed-toward-corporate-conformity questions as, for example, #15, page 11–“You find yourself falling in line with whatever your supervisor wills, however this may conflict with your basic ethical values.”
But he finished the personality test, and triumphantly brought the clipboard back to the front desk.
The secretary nodded, took the pages and began feeding them through a scanner. Her computer whirred and chirped. Five minutes later, he had his results.
“I’m not supposed to tell you this, but your results look very good.”
“They do?” He had answered every question honestly.
“Yes, the Personnel Director will see you now.”
“But I’m half an hour late for the interview.”
“That was a provisional appointment, contingent on your successful completion of the HumanSquish assessment. Second door to your left. He’s expecting you.”
Roger squared his shoulders, took a deep breath and walked down the hall.
“Hold on,” the secretary called from behind him. “Aren’t we forgetting something?”
He ground his teeth and suppressed the sudden urge to scream. If there was one thing he hated more than loud eating noises, it was the presumption of intimacy implied by the use of the first person plural. A kindergarten teacher’s trick, one which his brief-lived marriage to Sarah (Highland Park Academy) had pushed to the level of a personal horror.
“‘Aren’t we forgetting something?'” Roger echoed. “Who in the fuck is we?”
“I beg your pardon?” The secretary looked genuinely startled.
“We are through, finished, fed up. We are walking out the door. Ok? You can take your timed personality tests and runarounds and general–bullshit–and shove it up your ass, pert and lovely as it is. I’ve had it. I wouldn’t work for QRES if you paid me triple the salary merited by my many years of education, degrees, qualifications and hands-on experience as a writer, editor, teacher, critic and…”
“What? Are you calling a security guard on me?”
“No, no, I meant job security. You’ve got it. You’re exactly what we’re looking for. I’m prepared to offer you a package deal, complete with benefits.”
“I’m sorry if you feel you’ve been harshly dealt with, Mr. Fuckmuffin. But we at QRES are scrupulous in our selection of employees. Only those who show true grit get through the first section of the labyrinth. Many are thawed, but few are frozen, Mr. Frigbutt.”
“It’s…” He sputtered.
“Croggins, I know. Please sit down. As difficult as this is for me to say, especially as I’ve just jacked your expectations through the roof and possibly precipitated a psychotic break, Mr. Dickwad, you are never, ever, ever going to work in this town again. I’ve alerted the authorities, the police, FBI and Homeland Security. From now on, your name is mud.”
“I don’t care,” he said. His hands were trembling. “I don’t believe a single word you say.”
“You are correct. I’m just playing. Welcome aboard!”