Sorry To Inform You That You Got the Job

The orientation was to be done on computer. I’d follow the steps, answer the questions, and in two and a half hours I’d be oriented. This was part of the process of applying for a part-time job at a supermarket near my daytime job. Grocery clerk. I was to stock shelves at night.

I decided that I’d need some ancillary income shortly after I decided that this year, Christmas would be a cash-only affair. The brainlessness of the shelf-stocking job appealed to me. After all, I use my mind all day and this little part-time gig could be a welcome relief. Sort of like therapy except that I don’t pay and I don’t talk.

One of the high-energy young women who manage the store told me that my initial paperwork looked fine (no arrests; passed the drug test) and that all that was needed was for me to report and do additional paperwork and the orientation. Altogether, this would take about four hours and I could stop by any time next week. How about Tuesday?

Well, Tuesday was just dandy right up until the time I actually reported. There was a problem. The computer that I would use to do the orientation was occupied by another applicant.

No problem, said I, ever eager to show that I’ll roll with whatever. I’ll come back the next night. When I returned, I was greeted by yet another high-energy young assistant manager type. This one spoke with an accent that placed her origins somewhere in a former Soviet Republic. Call her Pravda and truth to tell, she informed me of another problem.

There was, again, an applicant on the machine in which the orientation is usually conducted. (“Damn teenagers,” I thought.) However, there was another machine I could use. Fine.

I would answer the questions in each section and then move on to the next phase. Seemed easy. Except, that some parts of the test required that I watch a video and then answer questions based on what I’d seen. Only problem, the video didn’t work. For most of the test, I leaped this hurdle because on the side of the screen were boxes of dialogue text that showed what the people were saying.

I was sailing along until I reached the part about sexual harassment. Again, no video. But this time, no dialogue text boxes either.

“Excuse me, Pravda?” I said. She’d been bounding in and out of the exam room and I’d caught her on one of her in-bounds. I explained the situation.

“I know,” she said. “The same thing happened to him.” She pointed to some vague area and I knew “him” meant the other applicant. “Let me find out how he handled it.”

Turns out the kid handled it by using earphones to hear the dialogue. (Damn teenagers.) Pravda returned with earphones but neither she nor I could figure out where the headset plugged in.

Here’s what I could have done. I could have waited until the less defective machine was unoccupied. (The kid had about an hour to go. Damn … well, you know.) I could have moved on to that machine and started taking the orientation from scratch. (I’d already been at it for an hour.) I could have come back again another night. And the worst choice of all was that I could just continue taking the test and hope that I guessed correctly. I decided to keep going.

The screen would be blank for a minute or so when I was supposed to be seeing the video, and then the question would come: “True or False: This is an example of sexual harassment.” Probably, if I had it to do over again, I would have answered “true” for each one. I would still have flunked the test, but in a good way. Then again, how many companies want to hire someone who files a complaint anytime someone says “good morning” to him?

I guessed. Quite often, I guessed right. But not always. When I guessed wrong, the computer would flash a message of disappointment. “Frank, you’re wrong again. This was an obvious case of sexual harassment.” Or, “Frank, how could not spot the clear instance of harassment that was illustrated in this example?” Or, “Frank, were you raised or did they just find you in a barn?”

Because there was no audio, my imagination affixed a voice to these messages and the voice affixed was that of Hal’s, the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey, a machine that’s helpful and calm in the beginning of the movie but that becomes deranged by the end. I feared that the next message might be “Frank, the police are coming for you now. Frank, do you really think it is wise to try and escape?”

And even though this was a nothing part-time job that I only half-wanted, I began to sweat. My palms itched. Then, another strange occurrence. Pravda needed something in a desk to my left. She leapt out of her chair, bounded across the room, opened the drawer and began rummaging. In doing this, her head brushed against my shoulder and she murmured something. It was either, “Excuse me, I need to get something in here,” or, “Voulez-vous couchez avec moi ce soir?” I don’t know which, but it was certainly a distraction coming, as it did, at a point in the orientation were I feared that my photo would soon be thrown up on some most-wanted list on the Web.

The sexual harassment part wasn’t the only rough patch of the orientation. The same no-video malfunction occurred during the hazardous waste section, which explained what cleaning solutions need extra care in handling — and then tested me on what I’d “seen.” (“Frank, this is clearly not a safe way to dispose of that solvent.”) When I finally got out of there, I scurried across the dark parking lot to my car, hoping that I would not be apprehended by a police swat team.

Some episodes in life are so disastrous that all you can do is shrug and go on. According to the test I’d just taken, I’d spend my hours as a grocery clerk chasing women up and down aisles like Harpo Marx and mixing solvents together so as to blow us all to smithereens.

Oh, and one last thing. I got the job.

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