It was just like I was back in third grade again. I felt unprepared because I did not have a No. 2 pencil.
Mrs. Brecher had been warning us for weeks that we would be taking a mysterious test called the Iowas, a test we couldn’t even study for. It was going to be a lot of reading and math, she told us. But the rumors flew among my classmates that it was really something called a “high Q test” that would determine who was smart and who was a dummy and should be left back or maybe even thrown in second grade with the little kids because they were so stupid.
When the long awaited day finally arrived, wouldn’t you know it, I couldn’t find my damned pencil case. I had to raise my hand, admit to being unprepared in front of the whole class and have Mrs. Brecher disgustedly ask if there was anyone who could lend me a pencil. No one was surprised. I couldn’t keep track of my things and was forever asking to borrow a pencil. Eventually, that enemy graphite writing instrument was passed over to me from somewhere on the other side of the room.
It all came back to me sitting in the training room in the Human Resources Department, getting ready to take a test to determine whether I have sufficient management savoir-faire to merit a job interview or whether I was just another idiot who should be thrown back into second grade with the little kids.
HR guy pointed out the scratch paper on each desk and told us to feel free to use it to take notes, but that it would be discarded at the end of the test and that nothing written on it would be read or considered. That’s when he told us that everyone had a couple of No. 2 pencils sitting next to their computers and that these must be used to bubble in our answers.
Except that there weren’t any on my desk.
I looked around, and sure enough, just as HR guy said, my neighbors each had two long, sharpened yellow pencils at their disposal, some pencil pairs tucked neatly together, some pairs crossed over each other gangplank style, others separated and rolling away from each other. As for my pencils, they were out to lunch. And it was only 8:00 in the morning.
I attempted to catch the eye of HR guy without success as he droned on and on about the number of questions, the time limits, how to fill in our ID numbers in the little circles. Here I was trying to pay attention but all I could think about was the fact that I didn’t have a damned No. 2 pencil! Unprepared, as always.
This is so unfair, I thought. How was I to know that my trusty ball point pen wouldn’t be sufficient? And anyway, wasn’t this test supposed to be on the computer? I don’t think I’ve used a pencil, No. 2 or any other number, since Mrs. Brecher’s third grade class. In fourth grade, we had to practice something called “penmanship,” which, true to its name, required the use of a pen. I would practice all those loops and curls using a stick pen that had a blue tip on one end and a red tip on the other, courtesy of my mother’s health insurance company. The thing would leak all over my hands, but I thought it was cool that it wrote in two colors and was emblazoned with the letters GHI, as if the pen, too, was practicing writing consecutive letters of the alphabet in script. None of us had ever heard of the word “cursive.”
Not knowing what else to do, I raised my hand and interrupted HR guy’s spiel. No need to be timid about this, I thought, it’s just a petty inconvenience that isn’t my fault. Trying to avoid a timid squeak, I spoke up loudly. “I don’t have a pencil.” Except it came out run together, something like “idonthaveapencil.”
My interruption didn’t seem to faze HR guy a bit. He walked to the back of the room, dropping two pencils on my desk on the return trip, and picked up his speech right where he left off. In his job, I’m pretty sure he’s seen it all.
I looked straight ahead, concentrating on HR guy’s instructions and doing my best not to look at what I was sure must be the eye rolls and snickers going on all around me. I had other things to worry about, like filling in my ID number in the little bubbles correctly, now that I had not one, but two pencils at my disposal. And then it was time to turn over the test booklet, and I knew I’d have to give the exam my complete attention if I were to get the 114 questions answered in the allotted time.
After all, I had traveled 450 miles to be here and I certainly didn’t want to be adjudged one of the dummies who get tossed out of Mrs. Brecher’s class to join the second grade babies.