December 22, 2008

It's Something


A while back, on a Saturday morning, a good five hours before my relay shift, I walked into Bascom Hall to take a test for a better job. Better meaning higher paying, of course. And not second-shift hours neither, and where I stand a better chance of getting a regular writing schedule down. Hell, even this long blog post is a kind of return to form. Feels like I haven't done anything creative in months. Plenty of planning, taking notes, not a lot of narrative ink to paper, you know. Anyway, the job: Unemployment Benefits Specialist 1: Adjudicator.

The job, as I understand, would be to investigate then determine if a person qualifies for unemployment benefits. You know, a growth industry in these economic times. Not a dream job, but would provide contact with precisely the type of people I'd like to write about. Though further complicating the lives non-working people does not appeal to me. However, in my life, I have failed children. I have held grudges against children. Gotta believe I have the potential disposition for such icy shit, especially since it would take us far enough above the poverty line where something like a car repair wouldn't cause as much sweat.

Bascom Hall is an old-tyme college building. High ceilings, frosted glass windows, dark, dark hallways. The type from movies. The type of classroom building you think you'll be spending your time when you sign up for school, then you wind up at small state schools with the personality and sterility of an old folks home. I don't know if taking a test to get a job working at the unemployment office at this at this solemn, dream maker of a place is ironic, but it's something.

The line for the test is 20 people deep when I get there, half hour before it even starts. We in line give that friendly chatter, which is just a little posturing, really, tyring to look smart enough to ace this test, whatever is on it, and intimidate those into thinking that at least one of these jobs is going to you (how many they are hiring, is unknown). Or at least you'll score high enough to advance to round 2 of the process, swimsuits or evening wear, beggar's choice.

One guy in line is real chatty. Apparently, he had previously adjudicated, and in fact loves adjudicating. The score tilts in his favor, 1-0, Chatty Ex-Adjudicator. Since I have no idea what to expect for the job, I gotta assume someone who has done it before must be at least a little desirable for the job, unless of course he was remarkably bad at it. But, as he's talking about his previous experience, someone asks what the job code for this position is so she could fill out her application while waiting in line. It's an arbitrary set of numbers, and I was able to quote her flawlessly. My smarts for useless shit, perfect for government work, shines. (1-1, fucker).

A diminutive woman, permed with a nametag and a nice-enough sweater for her station walks the line, directing people to the other test being taken upstairs and letting people know what they were being tested for in this line. And enough though the other job pays more (though it is not guaranteed full time), I stick it out in this line, along with Chatty Ex-adjudicator.

Once to the room, it's a wonderful lecture hall. Woodbacked seats that reminded me of deck chairs. Desk tops that slide out from the slot in the seat in front of you. An actual green chalkboard at the front of the room. There's even a stage, a good three feet above the rest of the class. People don't realize it enough but the room help makes the teacher, and this thing is a spotlight shy of being a shrine to the educator as king philosophy, built before anyone gave a shit about cooperative learning or discovery learning. Just a person up there, doing his best, responsible for everyone. There is technology in this room though, shoehorned on and ugly, with a video screen projector dangling from the ceiling like hemorrhoid, podium all wired up, sticking out like dental work form person's mouth. Ugly. Like the press box area of Wrigley Field.

So I wait. More people file in, so I remove my New Yorker magazine from my backpack and dig into the Malcolm Gladwell piece. The article concerns itself with the futility of high screening standards for public educators. Turns out, you can't judge a good teacher by making them jump through academic hoops, you need to watching them teach, then measure the performance. All this pre-test stuff is bull. I'm a little more sure that it's ironic that I happen into reading an article about uselessness of testing for performance while waiting to take a test to see how I would perform as an adjudicator. The whole time I keep one eye on Chatty Ex-adjudicator, who sits in the row in front of me. He's nervous, striking up those warm "hi-how-are-you" conversations with whoever will listen to ease his tension. Me? Ice water in these veins, baby. I can read a graphic sex scene aloud to a room of people, and let's not even consider the horrible things I've said in limerick form to bar full of people. No test gonna rattle me. (2-1).

But, I still wait. The room fills. I wait more. The room fills. All told, looking at 100 or so people taking this test for an unknown number of jobs. Those nervous chattery conversations swell up, fill the room where I can't read anymore of my magazine, and turn to the etchings on the desks. Bored students write the damnedest things. I counted 3 different "Save Ferris" scrawls. It's now four hours until work. Let me stress this. I don't know how long this test is. I don't know what this test will be about. All I know for sure, the scantron on my desk has room for 400 questions. Fine, maybe I'm a little nervous. I'd hate to have to bail on this job test for a job I'm mildly interested in doing to a job I'm really not interested in doing...I don't know. Chatty Ex-adjudicator had already told me he's got nothing else going on today. Test will be as long as it needs to be for him. Fine way to spend a Saturday...adjudicating, you understand. Fuck. (2-2).

Finally, the lady with the perm and the nametag takes the stage. She does it no justice I should say. And in her best proctoring voice, one belonging to someone who things she should be getting time and half for her this, but ain't. The test, she says, will take the average person 3 hours and is 120 questions. Being 9:15 when it starts (45 minutes late), I had just enough time assuming I work at average person speed. So, I'm not worried about the hour no more. Yeah. Take that, Chatty. (3-2).

Tests handed out, but there's not enough to everyone. People in the back start getting riled, making noise as they are rightly upset. But those in front, those like me, could start. Permed Nametag is walking the aisles now, shouting, asking for volunteers to rip their tests in half then switch around. There's still plenty of chatter, while I'm trying to focus on this damn test. To do my best. To get this job. Yes, sir.

The first battery was determining whether or not a question was considered open-ended or not. For example, "Did you punch your foreman" is not open ended because it's a yes or no question. Adjudicators don't learn anything like that. But, "Why did you punch your foreman" is open ended because the mope has to talk. You discover more about them, learn what's really going on.

There were about 10 or 20 workplace violence questions on there, which seems like quite a few to me. Unless, of course, Wisconsiners lose their mind regular at their 9 to 5:30s with all this snow and long waits between Packers seasons. My favorite question though came in the reading comprehension section where you had to pick out which detail was the most important from the little narratives told. The story involved a worker who felt wrongly fired for firing an industrial strength staple gun at a bird inside the warehouse he worked. See, he wasn't trying to hurt the bird, just scare it out of the warehouse. I really hope that's a true story.

No questions about steelworkers though. I thought of steelworkers the whole damn time I was taking this test. My dad just learned he's being laid off from his job on account of this economic situation and the car manufacturer's dying. He might get back to work in March, maybe. Until then, it's unemployment. At 57 years old, he's worried about getting a new job if he needs one. He just has a GED, and around 30 years of time at a steel mill. Add that to health problems, he might be hard to get over on an HR rep. This time last year, my mom lost her job to India, I believe. Then, of course, here's me, banking on people losing jobs, getting screwed, like my parents, to provide me with a better job. Is that ironic? Maybe. It's something.

I can't help but feel a little depressed that after all this education, I'm here as part time teacher, full time phone-answerer, with the hopes of being a rule-keeper over the destitute. When I got married, at the reception, my cousin Danny, who would later that night be drunk enough to shit his pants while being locked in his bathroom, had his arm around me saying how I was the best of them. Better than him, and his staying-at-home ass, working at a lead factory. Better that my cousin Steve (who was also laid off) working on the railroad, and better than cousin Gary, selling auto parts. And better than cousin Todd, the janitor. Same holds true for all the knuckleheads on my dad's side of the family. Goddamn.

Maybe it makes me simple that I believed that, always. Even before drunken cousin Danny reminded me of all that. So, being in a position now where I can't help my parents with their jobs worries. I was given every break, shielded from all that Granite City dirt that could have doomed me to being another knucklescraper jockeying a toolbox. All I did was grow up fat, soft and helpless. Winding up here, envying, of all fucking people, cousin Danny, and his lead factory job because at least he could provide like how I want.

I breeze through the test, though I'm not the first one done. Though, I'm well done before Chatty Ex-adjudicator, who looked hung up on the reading comprehension part (4-2, I win). I get done so early, Emily and I swing by the Whole Foods to grab some vegetarian fare for a lunch, that we eat parked out behind a Cold Stone near my job. To celebrate, you understand. Killing time till my shift starts.

Today, I took another test for another job. This one I want. Would be a little closer to my interests. Library Assistant is the official title. I'd be a jack of all trades to whatever librarian needed me. Full time gig, and could be fun. Pays more. Turns this into a regular house of librarians, if it all works out.

The test today was of a smaller scale. In a conference room in a county building, so not quite as majestic. Ergonomic chairs with wheels. Low ceiling. Nice, bright lights.

The room only sits about 10, and we fill it. Chat idly, politely posturing the best we can. Asking questions about what the test will be like while trying to sound confident and sure of myself. All of us look the part of librarian. All the women are bookish. You know, short hair, sweaters, glasses, kind of soft. For a good while, I'm the only guy waiting for the test to start until this other man strolls in. Pony-tail. Beard. Whole thing feels more like the college classes I'm used to taking than a job test cattle call.

My guess is after a week of testing, about 80 people get put through this, for one position. Not too bad of odds really. But, I'm hoping, praying, that none of these people know libraries, and there isn't a ringer in the bunch.

The questions on this one, 80 multiple choice, one essay. Again, the technical shit will bury me, but the general knowledge stuff I handled myself, and I made a good showing with the essay question, so long as I understood the question.

All in all, I won't find out the results of either test until after the new year. Might be a good way to start the year. Or, you know, not. Taking either of these better paying gets means I wouldn't be able to teach next semester, if I get an official offer from my school. No matter how you slice it, I still won't make more than my dipshit cousin Danny getting slowly poisoned at the lead factory, still unable to help my parents. But, hey, at least I'd be better than that Chatty Ex-adjudicator. (5-2).

viva el mustache

ps...i spell checked this post, for once...i didn't spell adjudicator or any variant of that right once throughout this whole damn thing...

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