Chapter 2 The interview

One of Ben's eyes cracks open hearing the insistent alarm beeping of the vid, and the strobing of the screen. Slowly sitting up and swinging his feet onto the floor, his toes immediately encountered a mostly drunk pouch of Buzz beer squeezing the balance of its contents onto the floor and soaking his foot. “Crap,” is his first utterance of the day. The remote stops the wake-up sequence on the vid, and a morning news channel appears. A cute, but vicious anchorwoman is berating a cowed politician who is frantically, and not very believably denying an affair with a transsexual hermaphrodite, “Whatever that might exactly be,” pondered Ben.

Ben rereads the help wanted ad again thinking, “What do I have to lose? It's not like my schedule is jammed up today.” Picking out his most sincere suit, he heads outside and waits at the autobus stop. Just as the automated vehicle pulls over he hears his name being faintly called out by a tinny voice and quickly jumps aboard.

Ben stares at the large gray featureless one-story building, with only the street number above a plain metal door. He hesitates for a moment, and mutters under his breath, “What the hell,” and enters into a sparsely furnished lobby painted with a pale vaguely yellowish color. A half-dozen people are sitting on hard metal chairs. A pleasant looking young women wearing a dark suit that almost smacks of a uniform is at the reception desk. Ambling over, he stands politely until she looks up, smiles and says, “Here is your application tablet. Please fill it out, and wait until your name is called.” Ben finds a chair and starts to fill in the blanks when an obviously very agitated middle-aged man hurriedly comes out of a side door and tosses the pad on the receptionist's desk. Making much haste he exits out the front door. The nonplussed receptionist pushes some buttons clearing his pad and primly places it on top of the others. Ben thought to himself, “That was a bit odd,” and hears the receptionist call out another name. She escorts the applicant to the side door where he is met by a young man who was also wearing the same style of clothes as the receptionist. 

About thirty minutes later, as more people showed up, and others left, Ben hears the receptionist call out, “Mr. Thompson, we are ready for you.” Ben stands and heads toward the side door, and the receptionist stays with him until the same young man appears. They both pass through the door, and the young man stops, and says, “My name is Jon, Mr. Thompson, I'm pleased to meet you. I will be escorting you to the interview stations, and the first one is here. I will come to get you when the first interview is completed.” Ben walks into the small room and sees the furniture consists of only a small table, with two metal chairs that are facing each other. He picks one and sits down.

The door opening caught Ben by surprise, but not as much as when he saw the man entering. “Yikes, what the...?” Extremely tall, cadaverous-looking, scowling, and ultra-intimidating was Ben's first thought. Somewhat startled Ben stands awkwardly, sticks out his hand, and says, “Hello, I'm Ben.” The tall man just ignores him, sits down, and stares at him. “What do I do now?” thinks Ben, and on impulse uses his best number four grin and said, “I'd be happy to answer any questions you might have.” The man just sits there with a dour expression and Ben noticed that he doesn't even seem to blink. Ben sat quietly for a minute and tries to engage the man again, “Should I be doing something here?” Ben tentatively said. But again zero reaction from the man. Ben studies him for a minute or two staring back at him. He is bald, wearing a white robe like thing and has a watch with a large digital face on his wrist, He's wearing some sort of pendant on a chain around his neck that looks likes it's more than jewelry. Ben smiled, this time sort of, and tried one more time saying, “What type of sales job is this?” Abruptly the man stands up, and leaves without saying a word, Ben just sat there thinking, “What's going on here? This is the weirdest interview setup I have ever encountered.”

The door swings open, Jon sticks his head in the door, and says, “Are you ready for the next interview?” “I think so” murmured Ben, “Who was that Jon?” Jon chuckles, “That's the boss, Jacob Grimm. I think you did okay. You would really have known if he wasn't happy with you. He's normally a fun guy when he isn't doing interviews.” Ben snorted, “I can't imagine, what's next?” Jon said, “Follow me.” Jon leads Ben down the hall to a much larger room with workstations equipped with a computer and headset. Jon said, “This is a type of open book aptitude test. You can use the computer to ask questions about anything you want to know, but the one thing the system will not do is give you a direct answer to any test question. The test does not end, you just go as far as you can, or think you should go.”

Ben sat down, put on a headset, and looked at the first question. The screen lit up with, “What is the melting temperature of iron?” Ben thought for a second “it's pretty high, maybe about 1500 degrees.” Ben said. “What type of iron?” The computer's pleasant voice responded, “Elemental iron, free of impurities.” “Okay,” said Ben, “Can you show me its physical properties?” Immediately the screen scrolled about ten pages of information. “Ah, there it Is”, he thought, and said, “1538 degrees Celsius.” “Correct”, said the computer, and the screen displays the second question. “Can aluminum be used to make an archery bow?” Ben asked for the history of archery to be displayed and started to scan the info. After thinking for a couple minutes Ben said, “Yes you could, but it is too soft to work well for very long. It's likely to quickly fail from metal fatigue. Some more exotic alloy forms might last longer.” “Accepted”, said the computer, and the screen displayed “How would you do an emergency appendectomy with things you could find in a kitchen?” Ben sighed, and said, “Can you describe the procedure please?” “Yes,” said the computer, and screen filled with text and photos. After three hours and many questions later, Ben thought, “My head is plugged up with things I thought I would never need,” as he pushed himself away from the desk.

Jon came over, and said “Are you done?”, Ben ruefully smiled, and said, “I could keep on going, but I don't see the point.” Jon smiles, and said, “That's fine Ben, please follow me.” Ben got up, followed Jon out, and down the hallway to the first bare room he started in. Jon said, “Just have a seat, someone will be with you shortly.” Ben plunked down in the chair, thinking he maybe should have worked longer on the test, when the door opened and in strode in the cadaverous-looking Mr. Grimm, but smiling now, and not looking anywhere near as intimidating. This time Mr. Grimm extended his hand, and said, “You did well Ben, we would like to offer you a position.” Ben rose with a tentative smile and shook his hand. “During this whole interview thing, nobody ever said what the job really is.” “You're right Ben, a good point. The position we are filling is for a traveling encyclopedia salesman. We think you will be excellent at it.” said Mr. Grimm, “ and please call me Jacob.”