Thursday, July 9, 2009

On Being Tested

I'm changing jobs, as most of you already know. This is only slightly about that.

Part of the process at this level is a mandatory drug test. This is fine with me as I've been clean and periodically tested my whole adult life, starting with the Air Force in the 70's. Most often it has been 'golden flow' , a urine sample, though a couple of times it was nothing more than a snippet of hair.

The form I had been given this time was in code, I couldn't decipher what drugs they were testing for or the methodology that was to be utilized. This was of no real concern as neither method requires the labs to stick something into me. I have plenty of hair and plenty of urine and usually just dispose of the excess when I have more than I need.

Being rather new to this city I had to Google the addresses of the lab locations to find the one most convenient. The pamphlet attached to the form said I could make an appointment online. I tried.

I was okay with 'Preferred Location', but stumped at the specifics of my needs. There was a highlighted choice 'pre-employment drug test.' I tapped it, but instead of saying 'thanks!' it expanded into a list. The list contained several latin-ish words and phrases that meant absolutely nothing to me. I scanned over the form but could not find any semblance of correlation. There were words on the screen but only codes on the form. I picked one, which only made it angry. It evolved into an even longer list of words that had no meaning in the small, non-medical, somewhat encapsulated universe I live in.

I gave up on the web site, I would have to talk to a human to sort this out.

I tore my cell phone out of it's nerdy holster and punched in ( I so wanted to say 'dialed') the number.

Thank you for calling Plaximox Labs, you're call is very. . .” come on, come on, get on with it!

You have reached the Tesson Ferry Road Laboratory of Plaximox Labs, if this location is acceptable please press one”

I did.

Thank you” the friendly but caffeinated male tenor replied, as if I had done him a great favor.

To make an appointment press one”

I did.

Thank you.” followed by a pause reminiscent of the old eight track tape players switching tracks, without the 'ker-thump' but with the obvious change in pitch of the background hiss.

Your call is being forwarded to Plaximox Labs's automated customer service line”

Oh crap.

A short sentence in what I believe was Spanish followed, I recognized only the word 'nueve' (nine) at the end.

I resisted the temptation to make this even more difficult. It paused for a few seconds and finally concluded that I was not interested in pressing 'nueve'

The new voice was generically feminine and confident, probably pretty.

If you would like to make an appointment please say 'make appointment' .

Make appointment”

I'm sorry I didn't understand that, please try again.”

Now I'm getting angry. Cell phones are not Hi-Def audio devices, there''s modern static, that distortion caused by digitizing and un-digitizing audio information, switching delays, and of course the physics of using a gnat-sized microphone to capture the fat low frequencies of the human voice.

Make appointment!” I whisper-shouted.

Thank you, I understand that you wish to make an appointment, if this is correct please say 'yes' or press one.”

I pressed one.

Thank you”


Please enter or say your five digit zip code so we may find the nearest location”

Really?” I asked aloud by mistake.

I'm sorry, I didn't underst. . .”

I tapped in the zip code of the Plaximox Lab location I thought I had just called.

Thank you, please stay on the line while we look up a location.”


We have found twenty five locations near you, please listen as I read the list to you. Press one to skip to the next listing, two to return to the previous listing, three to jump ahead in the list, six to return to the start of the list, seven to return to the main sub-menu. Or just say 'make appointment' if the location I am reading to you is acceptable.”

My god, is THIS the drug test?” I asked aloud, by mistake, again.

I'm sorry I did not understand your response, please listen as I repeat the instructions.”

Fortunately the location I dialed was the first on the list. Fortunate primarily because I could not recall one third of the navigation instructions.

I understand that you wish to make an appointment at the Tesson Ferry Road location for Plaximox Labs. If this is correct please say 'yes' or press one.

Ass” I replied. I understand machinery and technology.

Thank you, the next available appointment is at (change in tone) four (change in tone) twenty (change in tone) five (pause, change in tone) P.M. (change in tone) July ninth, two thousand and nine, (switch back to original tone) If this is acceptable please press one or say 'yes'”


I'm sorry I didn't quite understand your response, please press one or say 'yes' to accept the appointment time”


Thank you” Your appointment has been reserved, now if I may get some information about you to confirm the appointment”


Please state your first and last name, starting with your first name and spelling, followed by your last name and spelling”


I'm sorry I did not understand your response, Please state your first . . “


I'm sorry, I did not understand that spelling.”

D, E, N, N, I, S!

Now please state your first name.”

Dennis, for god's sake!”

I'm sorry but the spelling doesn't seem to match your stated name, please state your name again”

Dennis.” (sheepishly)

This miserable cycle repeated for my last name.

Thank you (change in tone) Dennis (change in tone) Bentley, (change back), your appointment for . . .has been confirmed”

I looked at my watch, four P.M. This stupid fake conversation had tied up twenty minute of my valuable life and left me with just enough time to get there.

Jacked up with a roaring case of phone rage I trotted to the car and sped away at or near the posted speed limits.

I arrived at the lab at four-fifteen. Made it.

According to the directory in the hot, empty and unremarkable lobby, Plaximx Labs was sandwiched between 'for lease' and 'for lease' on the second floor. I located the only elevator and climbed aboard. Limited options 'one' or 'two'. I pressed 'two', feeling as if I were manually gesturing the overtly obvious.

I don't think the elevator took the most direct route. Calculating how long it should take to rise the ten or twelve feet to the second floor I could only imagine that we must have made a couple of detours along the way. That or cruising speed for this 'pride of Otis' was somewhere between one inch per second and backwards.

As the elevator doors opened the Plaximox Lab sign fell right into view.

I entered the busy waiting room, half filled with a dozen or so people, some wheezing, some reading age-faded magazines, and a couple of small children I hated immediately.

Please sign in” begged the sign over the empty reception desk. I did.

I sat down in one of the pink plastic chairs designed for immediate and optimum discomfort. I scanned the room looking for visual entertainment. None, just uncomfortable, restless people. After about five minutes I started to frustrate. No one had been called, no one had even exited the lab area.

I glanced at the reception desk and noticed another sign; “ No drug tests after Four P.M”


I approached the desk and cleared my throat in an angry way.

Did you have a question sir” asked a srubs-clad lady in the general vicinity.

Why yes” I smiled.

She approached obviously wanting to be near me.

When I made my appointment for four twenty five I was not made aware that there were no drug tests after four P.M.” I tried to sound naive and ignorant, which was not difficult at all in this case.

We stop drug testing after four P.M.” She replied.

I didn't know that when I made the appointment, and your charming machine did not mention it.”

You have an appointment?” She replied.

I made an appointment for four twenty five not knowing about your policy, and I was not informed by your charming machine that there was such a policy”

What time was your appointment for? “

What is this, an Abbott and Costello bit? “Four (change in tone) twenty (change in tone) five (change in tone) P.M.”

She looked at the sign-up sheet. (which would tell her nothing more than that I had an appointment at four twenty five)

Oh, well we'll have to take you then, even though we don 't do drug tests after four.”

That would be very nice of you” (don't burn bridges, yet)

I sat and waited for only a couple of minutes, till Amber (name tag, not magic) approached the window and called my name. I approached the window, she had already moved to the door that I had just walked past.

Hi” I said into her immediately gorgeous blue eyes.

We don't do drug tests after four”

So I hear, sorry about that but your machine didn't tell me that”

Come on back.” she stated with a tired sigh of disgust obviously aimed at the gross ignorance and arrogance in front of her. She led me into a large restroom and pointed at a metal box bolted to the wall.

Empty all your pockets and place everything in the lockbox.” She uttered without enthusiasm.

I did, my keys, a Chapstick, a soft and warm cough drop, some change, my billfold, and a small zip lock bag containing three thumbtacks and a paper clip, that suddenly looked terribly suspicious to me.

(I have been sporadically posting ads for my wife's dog training business on public bulletin boards as I come across them.)

Amber didn't seem to be suspicious, probably since she spends her entire day (until four P.M) doing drug tests, not all of them of the pre-employment kind and was probably well aware of the difference between legitimate office supplies and legitimate drug paraphernalia.

She closed the box, once again grumbling about the four P.M policy.

It wasn't my intention to violate your rules ma'am, I simply called and made an appointment, there was no mention of any such policy, I do apologize.”

There should be.”

But there wasn't, I assure you that if there had been mention of it I would have simply made an appointment for a more convenient time”

Here, open this” She handed me a cup-sized plastic cup topped with sealed foil, much like a yogurt cup and sealed as tightly.

I struggled with the foil, I had trimmed my nails earlier in the week and had little sharp edge to work with. “Hey, is this part of the drug test?” I teased.

No” Her blue eyes suddenly appeared less beautiful to me, now they just seemed cold and bitter.

She emptied the cup's contents; a smaller cup, a sealable bag and a couple of labels.

She had me wash my hands (without soap) then handed me the larger cup and pointed to a black ink line near the bottom.

Fill it above this line, and do not flush the toilet when you are done”

No problem”

You have four minutes”

Still not a problem!” I over-smiled into a non receptive abyss.

She closed the door, though I could see her shadow under it.

I looked at the line. It didn't seem like a lot, but I couldn't really judge. I don't keep keep close tabs on how much flow I have, but it really didn't seem like they were asking for very much.

I complied, and when finished, with three minutes or more to spare I can proudly claim, I opened the restroom door. She was right there, facing me.

I handed it to her proudly, she looked at it much the way I might look at a sprig of asparagus, which is to say completely disinterested, and poured about half the contents into the smaller cup. (for a moment I felt the awkwardness of watching a pretty young woman handling my urine so carefully and deliberately.)

This methodical routine was followed by opening the lock box, filling out forms, initialing labels and my swearing to the nation and several important gods that this vial indeed contained my urine and nothing but my urine.

The reason we have the four o'clock cutoff is that if a person can't present enough urine by five thirty we have to start the paperwork all over again the next time they come in.”

Geez,can't she let this go already? Then the new concept unwrapped in my head, a man/woman trying for an hour and a half to work up a tablespoon or two of pee. I could not quite come to grips with that. It had just been minutes since I made my modest but legally sufficient donation, and I was already fully recharged and ready to go again. One of the advantages of middle age and drinking water all day I guess. I'm not ashamed to say I can go pretty much any time, and have learned not to ever wait until the urge is overwhelming. Frequency and moderation is the key to a healthy urinary tract. If I have learned nothing else about my health, and I assure you I have not, I have learned that much.

As you can see that was not a concern with me.” I boasted. She said nothing, displayed no change in that jaded expression. My usually infallible rapier wit and dazzling charm had failed to win her back from the dark side. It was hopeless, she was tired, her routine had been needlessly, foolishly shattered, she was obviously, utterly and irreparably, (do I dare to so blatantly pun?) pissed off.

I bet she never gets tired of that one, eh?

** Names and locations have been deliberately changed to avoid lawsuits. No actual automated customer service systems were harmed during this episode, though they certainly should have been.