Yeah, but where’s the number 2 pencil factory?

As the TEP Program Assessment Technician at Azusa Pacific University (since my path into the professional world, I’ve come to appreciate titles) I am responsible for knowing and working with a software program known as Cognition. This program is developed by Scantron.

…Yes, that Scantron.

So, in order to become a proficient employee, I was sent to Scantron Headquarters in Irvine, CA, for a training seminar that spans the course of two days, the first of which was today. Here’s how my day went:

6:40am: Alarm goes off, I get out of bed and shower in my surreal, half-asleep state. I’m up early enough to get ready and get on the road, as traffic (so I’m told) will be a bitch.

8:25am: Traffic IS a bitch.

8:55am: I arrive at Scantron Headquarters, a large, plain white building in the middle of nowhere off the 133 in Irvine. I walk into the building where the receptionist gives me a name tag, shows me where the bathroom is, and points me upstairs to where the training will be taking place. I climb the stairs and enter a room that looks just like a classroom in the Duke building, but with far less personality. Two of the walls are covered with blank whiteboards, and one is a wall of windows, all of which have shades pulled (because heaven forbid we get any natural light in there). The back wall has a counter with a sign in sheet, which I fill out, and then grab a training handbook and a free spiral notebook so I can take any notes I want. There’s a basket with breakfast bars, granola bars, and a fridge full of sodas, but I pass on all the above and head for my computer station, nestled in the second row underneath the dim fluorescent lighting. Our training captain is Micheal, who is a woman. Right away I notice that not only do she and I share first names of the masculine ilk, but we also share the same haircut. She’s really not helping herself out there.

9:03am: Introductions start. Including me, there are four students in the room, and I’m fairly confident in saying I’m the most physically attractive person in the room. I’ve never had a huge ego, and I still don’t feel like I do even after saying that, because frankly, in my lifetime, this is the first room I’ve ever been in when I’ve genuinely thought that.

In front of me are two young women who both work for the California Healthy Marriages Coalition. The hair on their arms is darker and thicker than mine. One has her frizzy hair (on her head) pulled back to reveal her watermelon-sized forehead. Nice girls, but I’m guessing that in high school, when most girls were primping and putting on make-up to impress that super-cute football player, these two were spell-checking the minutes from their most recent Campus Republicans Club Meeting.

To my right is Andrew, who is a new hire at Scantron, and makes that point staggeringly clear. He reminds me of a turtle, because he hunches over in his chair and has little to no neck. And if it’s possible for a turtle to have Diabetes, this would be the one, because Andrew’s pounding down a Dr. Pepper at 9:00 in the morning.

9:14am: Enter Carmen, who works for some state water company, and got stuck in terrible traffic. She’s quiet, and not at all homely, but thankfully doesn’t come close to threatening my run for Scantron Cognition Training Prom King.

9:31am: I notice that Andrew has yet to close his mouth, except when swallowing down gulps of Dr. Pepper. People who breathe with their mouth open have always creeped me out, because I always think something’s gonna fly in there and they’ll start choking. I’m hoping Andrew just has a sinus problem or something.

10:12am: We’ve been going strong on the training for an hour now, and it actually doesn’t seem half bad. Time is going by fairly quickly, and the software, if it’s not too nerdy to say, is actually pretty cool. This machine we’re learning about reads human handwriting. So, if you fill out a form, you can scan it into a computer, and it will read exactly what you wrote down. And if it’s ever unsure of what you wrote, it can check the context of the letter or word it doesn’t understand and make a guess at what it is, and nine times out of ten, it’s right. It’s the smartest computer program I’ve ever seen, and it’s got me fairly fascinated.

10:44am: The fascination doesn’t last that long, and is fading quickly, thanks to the fact that I’ve been sitting in the same place for a long time under fluorescent lighting with very little hope of getting up in the near future. Micheal tells us all something that perks me up a bit, though. If you’ve seen the third season of The Office, you probably remember the Pretzel Day episode, where a local pretzel business comes in and gives away free pretzels to all the employees as an advertising gimmick. Well, today at Scantron, it’s not Pretzel Day, but it is Starbucks and massage day, and Micheal promises us that after lunch, we can head down to the building’s lunch room and join in on the fun.

I’ve never had a massage. Ever. Sometimes people will come up behind me and rub my shoulders in a “hey buddy” sort of a way, but when it’s uninvited, it’s really not all that comforting. Plus, no one I know is a professional masseuse, so this is exciting… a FREE massage. And I’m fairly sure I don’t even have to take my pants off or anything.

12:02pm: Lunch. A catering company has provided food for us, which they’ve brought into the room. I eat quickly and escape to my car in the parking lot for a little peace, and for some natural sunlight. I make a few phone calls and head back up to the training room to check my email and my fantasy football team.

1:00pm: Training starts again, and Micheal promises us that if we can get through another hour of training, she’ll take us down to Starbucks and massage day at 2pm. I’m really starting to get psyched about this massage stuff, so much so that I think I can feel my muscles tensing up in preparation for their rub-down. This is gonna be nice.

1:58pm: Micheal says it’s time to go down there. In my anxiousness, I’m the first one to the door, but I quickly decide to be polite and hold the door for the rest of the crew. Carmen, according to my calculations, takes a half an hour to get from her desk to the door.

2:01pm: The first thing you see in the room when you walk in is the coffee cart with a modest line of employees forming next to it. I quickly scan the room, and look to the left, where I see three breathtakingly gorgeous, young, blonde masseuses, each one of them… folding up their massage table and packing them away for the day.

This is the single most disappointing moment in my professional career.

2:07pm: I stood in the coffee line, but I didn’t really want any. I didn’t really want anything except that massage, and I’ve been struck dumb by their untimely departure. I get an iced coffee with a couple pumps of Irish Creme syrup anyway, and drown my sorrows with it. Micheal brings over a hip-looking mid-forties guy to introduce to us trainees. Turns out this guy is the vice president of the entire company, and he personally welcomes each of us and presents us with our very own Scantron pen and calculator. It’s a nice gesture, but it’s no massage.

2:10pm: Micheal decides she’s going to take us on a short tour of the building, including the warehouse, printing presses, and offices. First stop is the printing press, where the first thing you see is a line of pallets, each one of them covered with scantron forms stacked about five feet high. There’s about twenty of these large pallets right in front of us, so we’re looking at easily a million scantron forms. All I can think about is the amount of stressful studying that is represented by all of these silly little forms sitting right in front of me. Scantron produces every single one of its forms right in that very warehouse, so that means any kid taking the SAT, any college student taking a Exo-Deut test, anyone filling out some miscellaneous form at the DMV is using a form that originated in the very room I’m currently standing in. I should be impressed, but I’m not. I’m tense. Still.

2:18pm: The tour has taken us to the office portion of the Scantron building, where Micheal points out the different divisions of the staff. Probably a hundred Scantron employees work in this enormous room divided by cubicles, a handful of which are decorated with Halloween theme decorations for an office contest that’s going on. We walk through as Micheal points out sales, marketing, HR, and tech support.
“This one is my desk,” says Andrew, pointing. He stops talking, but his mouth stays gapingly open.

2:45pm: Back in the training room, I start to get what can only be described as “tappy.” I think the coffee is kicking in. I’ve been sitting all day, and I can feel my leg start to shake involuntarily. Carrie and KatieAnn, the two girls from the California Healthy Marriage Coalition who Micheal calls “The Two K’s” keep asking questions. I daydream about trying to throw my water bottle cap into Andrew’s open mouth.

3:13pm: “Tappy” has slowly progressed to “low-level Parkinson’s.” While chewing on my water bottle cap, I’m pretty sure I swallow a tiny piece of plastic. Micheal, while drawing another example on the whiteboard at the front of the room, uses my name as the “sample” name. Again. She’s been doing this all day. I’ve been creeped out about it since about fifteen minutes before noon.

3:21pm: With my condition worsening, minutes are starting to feel like hours. I’m looking for anything, anything to keep me entertained or distracted. The smallest, tiny things start to catch my attention.

3:29pm: I drop my water bottle cap on the floor. Andrew’s working on Dr. Pepper number four for the day.

3:52pm: Things are winding down. I start to pack all my goodies into my bag. I feel like I’m back in high school, anticipating the bell, ready to jump out of my chair the second I’m released. The antsiness doesn’t help anything, either. Before Micheal finishes saying “see you tomorrow,” I’m out the door to hop in my car and zoom off into… another hour and a half of traffic.

Well, at least the day’s over.

4:51pm: Sitting in my car, my overly sensitive eyes start to water, having seen the actual sun for the first extended period of time all day. Damn those fluorescent lights.


5 Responses to “Yeah, but where’s the number 2 pencil factory?”

  1. 1 mattvaudrey
    October 26, 2007 at 1:47 pm

    I’m going to go on record and say you’re the first person in all the internet to use the phrase, “if it’s possible for a turtle to have Diabetes, this would be the one.” My wife was heavily bored in class, so she read your post and had to bite her hand to dispel the heaves of laughter in an otherwise quiet classroom. Well done.

  2. 2 Mike
    May 4, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    Thanks. Now I’m REALLY looking forward to my cognition training :)

    Great blog. If I could express myself with half as much zeal and humor as you, I might try blogging some time.

    I’m actually searching for cognition help at the moment because Scantron support is not available right now and Cognition is driving me nuts.

    Wanna help? *please*

  3. 3 Mary
    July 2, 2008 at 6:03 am

    I also enjoyed the blog. Found it because I’m searching for Cognition discussion boards on line. So far no luck. Any advice? How do you like the program now that you’ve had some time to work with it? Was the training course worthwhile? – Mary

  4. 4 andygraham
    July 2, 2008 at 7:11 am

    Sorry folks, I’m the wrong person to ask if you’re looking for help.

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