32. Testing

'Hey, Big Vee', said Karen to Van.

'You know I've asked you not to call me that!'

'Sorry, I'm just worried because of what Ms LeBeau was saying.'

'It isn't Ms LeBeau', said Van. 'It's just a standardised multiple-choice test. You shouldn't pay too much attention to it. Concentrate on football.'

'Yeah, I don't worry about tests too much. Still, you know what my dad says.'

Van sighed. 'No, Karen, actually I don't know what your dad says.'

'Really? About what?'

Van groaned. 'Karen, you were just telling me!'

'I was? Oh! Right! My dad says there might be a few openings for female footballers at college, but none in the NFL, so I need to think about my future. He says even if I want to go into realty with my mom, I still need to learn how to do a job properly.'

'Sounds to me like you've already got all the advice you need.'

'But coach says I do know how to learn to do a job properly. I'm the QB!'

Van put her hand to her forehead. 'So what are you asking me?'

'I just don't want to end up spending the rest of my life working at a filling station, like Ms LeBeau said.'

'I told you, she was just explaining to you what the test results meant. You know some test can't tell you what you're going to do.'

'That's right!' said Karen. 'I hope …' She still looked doubtful as Kent walked past them, talking to Archie.

'That test didn't ask any questions about anything to do with Junior ROTC', he was saying. He raised his voice as he passed Karen and Van. 'With that experience, I always have enlisting in the military as another career option, so I don't have to worry about some dead-end job.'

Kent kept walking, without looking at Karen, and she didn't look at him either, but Kris, standing by and watching, could see easily that they were deliberately not looking at each other. He could also see that Karen didn't like what Kent was saying, even though she didn't respond to it.

Kris pulled his binder from his pocket and scribbled a quick note, one that might come in handy soon, once he'd handled the question that came from his own career aptitude test result.

'Dad? Mom? I've been thinking. I can't be an athlete forever.'

Dylan pricked up his ears. Kris was telling their parents what they'd want to hear, so if that was the bait, where was the hook?

Their father's first response, however, signalled to Dylan a lack of a similar alertness.

'Well, Kris, I'm glad to hear you're thinking seriously about your future.'

'We had to do a career aptitude test at school, and my results said that I can be a glamour and fashion photographer.'

Dylan frowned at the mention of the career aptitude test, which he didn't want his parents asking him about. Meanwhile his mother jumped into the conversation with Kris. 'That sounds interesting, Hank, don't you think so?'

'Uh … Are you really keen on this, Kris?'

'It's the result I got from the test. Why, is there something wrong with it?'

'It's just that—it's a business I don't know much about.'

Kris cut through his father's hesitations. 'I've been finding out about it. I think it's a career with great potential, and I'd like to get a head start on developing the skills I'll need. The problem is that you need equipment to practise photography, and it's not cheap.'

Dylan recognised the hook. So did his father.

'Kris, as well as thinking about the world of employment, maybe it's time you started getting some practical experience of it, and the extra money from a part-time job could help you to buy your own photographic equipment.'

'What a good idea, Hank! You know, Kris, my catering business makes a lot of use of part-time staff—'

Kris moved swiftly to nip that idea in the bud. 'Thanks, Mom, but won't the experience of my own job search be more useful to me?'

Dylan's father, meanwhile, tried to shift the attention. 'What about you, Dylan? Did you—'

'You can't trust those so-called aptitude tests. This one says Rod's supposed to become an accountant, and he says he's had the same result three years running.' Dylan did not add that this was because Rod always ignored all the questions and marked 'C' as his answer to everything regardless, something Dylan was now wishing he'd done himself.

'Still, Dylan, it is important to—'

'You've met Rod. Do you really think he's suited to accountancy?'

'We're not talking about Rod now, Dylan, we're talking about what you—'

Dylan was desperate not to have to say out loud that his results on the test had referred his future to the funeral industry. 'What, do you think I'm better suited to accountancy?'

'No, Dylan, that's not what I'm—'

'So you don't have faith in my ability to master accountancy?'

Dylan's father pressed his splayed fingertips down hard on the top of the table and compressed his lips before saying, 'Let me speak, Dylan!' He took a sharp breath. 'What I'm saying, Dylan, is that it's important to take an interest in the working world. That's what Kris is doing.'

Dylan's synthetic indignation was augmented by the real thing. He stood up abruptly. 'I'm not Kris, Dad!' he said.

'You've got that right', said his brother.

'Why do you always have to tell me to be more like Kris?'

'That's not what this is about, Dylan! Nobody stays in school forever. Kris looking to the future is doing the same thing your mother did when she planned to create her catering business and that I did when I started to build a career in the law. I'd like to see you show more ambition, not to be like anybody else but for your own sake. We both would, right, Jacquie?'

'Absolutely! You know, Dylan, if Kris doesn't want to work with me, you could—'

Dylan imitated the alacrity with which Kris had headed off that idea. 'All right, Dad, you win. I'll start making plans to search for a job.'

'You?' said Kris. 'Getting a job? Somewhere that people can see you?'

'I think it'll be good for your brother to interact more with people', their father said.

'Dylan? But he's a freak! How can you not see that?'

'And you're obviously going to have develop more of an ability to deal with a wider range of people too, Kris.'

Kris looked intently from Dylan to their father and back again, with a hard expression on his face. 'Okay', he said, 'I think I better get started.'

'Last time I was at the mall', Rod said, 'I saw a bunch of places with "HELP WANTED" signs.'

'But did any of those signs say "JOB"?'

'Not as such, but—'

'I told my Dad I'd start making plans to search for a job. Okay, first step in my plan: look for signs saying "JOB". Or', said Dylan, as he made notes, 'they could say "JOBS" or "A JOB", or something like that. I don't want to be accused of an overly literal and narrow-minded approach.'

'No, it would be bad if you were accused of that.'

'Now', said Dylan, writing further, 'what do you think about this as a second step? Networking: I'll ask my friends if they know of any jobs going.'

'That's why I told you about those "HELP WANTED" signs.'

'But have you asked any of the people who put up those signs about what kind of help they were looking for?'

'N—ot exactly.' Rod pointed a finger at Dylan. 'I think I see your point. I mean, if those people are looking for "help", then I think it's a good bet you're not what they had in mind.'

'So that's step two, ask friends.'

'Well, you've asked a friend.'

'Your point being?'

'You could always expand your networking efforts beyond just your friend', said Rod. 'I mean, apart from me, there are some people who know you that aren't actively hostile to you.'

'There are? That's intriguing as a speculative hypothesis, but when you're making a plan like this I think it's important to pace yourself. Wouldn't want to burn out too early. I can report that I've made progress already, I think that's enough for today.'

'Karen, can I ask your opinion about something?'

'Sure, Kris, go ahead.'

'Thanks! I'm sure your experience will be useful. Tell me, do you think it would be a good idea for me to take a job at the new nut stand in the mall?'

Karen narrowed her eyes, trying to look smart. 'There's a new nut stand in the mall?'

'Yeah, my idea was that if I took a job there I'd get some experience selling things, which could be handy if that was part of my career. Does that make sense to you?'

'Uh … Yeah?'

'Good!' said Kris. 'See, the thing is, as part of the job you have to wear a uniform the whole time you're there. I know you know all about uniforms, from having to wear one as quarterback.'

'That's right! I'm the QB! and uniforms are cool!'

'I'm glad to know you think this is such a good job opportunity. The woman who was hiring at the nut stand said she was hoping to get somebody else to work there as well as me, and I was worried that if I recommended somebody I'd feel bad about it if the job turned out to be no good. But if Karen Johnson says it's a good idea, then I don't have to worry, do I? I can ask anybody to help out.'

'You're looking for somebody to help?' Karen chuckled. 'You know, I was thinking about maybe getting some job experience myself—'

'—and you think the two of us would make a good team, working together? Of course, you know about teamwork.'

Karen nodded enthusiastically. 'That's right! I'm the QB! I know how to wear a uniform!'

'That's great!' said Kris. 'Now, there are a couple of other things you have to know to work at the nut stand. You have to smile at every customer. You'll be great at that, you have a perfect smile. The other thing, there's something you have to say to everybody who comes to the stand. I got her to write it down so I could practise it. You know what, we could practise it together! How about we get together at my place, soon?'

'Dad, I'm already learning a lot. I can see that it's important to approach the task of locating a suitable job in a structured way.'

Dylan's father shook his head. 'I don't think it can be that difficult for you to find something, Dylan.'

'But I need to treat this as a learning experience, don't I? I can learn for myself about all the different ways people find job opportunities: advertising, contacts, networking …'

'Networking? Hmm. Maybe somebody at my office knows about a job for you.'

Before Dylan could respond to this, Kris came into the room.

'Hey, Dad, I found a job for Dylan!'

'You did? That's great, Kris! But weren't you looking for a job for yourself?'

'No problem. They were looking for two people at the new nut stand at the mall and so—'

'You've got me a job working with you?' said Dylan incredulously, rising from his seat.

'Of course not! Why would I want to do that? No, I'll be working there with Karen Johnson, but while I was down there I noticed they were hiring at the pet store, and they're happy to take you on.'

'Oh, you want to put me in with all the other animals, is that it?'

'I didn't say that. Look, have you got a better idea? Is there some other job you'd rather have?'

Words choked Dylan and he fell silent, still frowning at Kris. Their father spoke.

'This is great! Well done, Kris, thank you! Dylan, I'm sure you'll be a great success at the pet store, and Kris, I hope you like working with Karen at this new nut stand—what's it called?'

'Ah—"It's A Nutty World", or something like that. I got it written down. There's some stuff we're supposed to say to every customer. Karen's coming round here so we can learn it together.'

'Kris, I'm really impressed by all the initiative you're showing. Good job!'

Dylan had a different evaluation of all the initiative Kris was showing. But he kept it to himself.

'You are going to have to admit', Kris said to the manager, 'that Karen's smile is the kind the customers are just going to love! and I'll keep practising the trademark slogan with her.'

'If I leave you in charge of the counter', she replied, 'you can't go back into the stock room with your girlfriend to make out.'

'Oh', said Karen, 'I'm not his girlfriend.'

The manager studied her for a moment, then turned back to Kris. 'You can't go back into the stock room to make out with her. There has to be somebody at the counter at all times.'

'Don't worry!' said Kris. 'Teamwork's what it's all about. We both know that, Karen and me—I'm on the swim team and she's on the football team, but here we're on the team that smiles and sells you nuts!' He put on his team member's hat.

'You look funny in that chipmunk hat', said Karen.

'We have to wear them', said Kris. 'It's for the team.'

The pet store manager had one ear bandaged.

'Ms Mayhew, can I ask you a question about health and safety?' Dylan said, 'I assume while I'm working here I'll be covered by your insurance?'


Dylan gave the injured ear a blatant stare. 'In case of misadventure', he said. 'If I'm injured while handling your—stock.'

Ms Mayhew raised one hand towards her ear. 'Oh, uh … You shouldn't worry about that. Everything will be fine so long as you treat the animals properly, with care and respect. I'm sure you'll be able to do that. You just need to get to know them. I'll introduce you.'

Dylan concealed his reactions as best he could when Ms Mayhew's ideas about introductions included not only care instructions but the names of each individual pet for sale: the boa constrictor, the iguanas, the canaries—even the goldfish.

Before the manager left them to get started, she reminded Kris and Karen that they couldn't let anybody else behind the counter, and that they had to smile or else the customers got the nuts for free. Karen didn't understand properly, and started helping herself to 'free nuts'.

'Uh, Karen …' said Kris, 'We aren't supposed to be eating the nuts.'

'She just said they were free!'

'Not for us—see, we've got to deliver the nuts to the customers. They're like—the end zone! If we don't get the nuts to the customers, we don't score. If we eat the nuts, it's like the ball goes dead in our end zone, and you know what that means.'

'It's a safety, and we lose two points', said Karen, with feeling, but Kris had just realised that his attention had been distracted from a customer who'd come up to the nut stand. For a middle-aged woman she didn't look too bad. He gave her his best smile and worked hard to remember the thing he was supposed to say.

'Uh … Welcome to "It's A Nutty, Nutty, Nutty World"—uh …'

The woman smiled back at him. 'Thanks! I'd like some pistachios, please. Just one bag, if that's okay.'

'No problem!' Kris scooped some pistachios into a paper bag, took the woman's money and put it in the register, and then gave her another smile as he handed the bag of nuts to her.

Karen had stopped eating nuts. As the customer walked away, she said, 'That was great, the way you did that!'

Kris gave a little shrug. 'I bet you'll do a great job too. Too bad that thing we're supposed to say to the customers is so hard to remember. I think I'm gonna take that paper I wrote it down on and stick it to the counter next to the register.'

Another customer came up to the counter. Kris looked up from his piece of paper and said, 'Welcome to "It's A Nutty, Nutty, Nutty World". We're, uh—' He looked down at the paper again.

'Yeah, welcome!' said Karen. 'Uh, we're, uh, nutty, uh—'

'Okay, thanks, just give me two pounds of almonds, please?' said the man.

Kris nodded. 'Almonds, right, I'll get those for you.'

Karen was looking at Kris's piece of paper. She looked up again and said, 'Right, we're just nuts about nuts!' She gave the customer a wide smile and then looked back down at the piece of paper.

'That's great, but I'll just take the almonds, if you don't mind.'

Kris handed the customer his nuts and took the money to put in the register. As the customer walked away, he turned to Karen and said, 'See what a great team we make?'

'Uh-huh, great teamwork.' Karen started studying the words of the slogan again. 'So, it's welcome to it's a, uh …'

Feeding the canaries was on Dylan's schedule. He scooped a handful of birdseed from the bucket and eyed the cage and its inmates cautiously. If he were a bird locked up in there and a hand came in through the door, why would he not peck it, birdseed or no birdseed? He remembered Ms Mayhew telling him everything would be fine. He remembered the bandage on her ear. He braced himself away from the cage, then with great deliberation brought both hands close to the door. Then he quickly opened the door with one hand, dumped the birdseed inside with the other, and slammed the door closed without pausing. He breathed a sigh of relief.

Ms Mayhew came running. 'What was that noise? Are the canaries okay?' She peered into the cage. 'Travis? Did something upset you?'

'I was just feeding them', said Dylan. 'If something has happened to the canaries, do I get fired?' he added hopefully.

'You've only just started! I need somebody here to keep an eye on the animals at all times!'

For the third customer, Karen had half-managed to get half of the stupid nut stand slogan half-right, but it didn't really matter: none of the customers wanted to hear the whole thing anyway. She did have a fabulous smile she'd been giving to the customers, among her other assets. Meanwhile Kris was having no trouble finding the right nuts to serve the customers and getting the money into the register, and he had no complaints about working closely with Karen, as closely as he could manage, and, in the small space behind the counter, that meant close.

Kris recognised the voice of Kent approaching before he saw him.

'… just think it's so sad when a girl ends up being passed around from hand to hand like that, don't you, Roberta?' Kent stopped in front of the nut stand and, with his arm still around Roberta, turned to look at Karen and Kris, pretending to be surprised. 'Oh, sorry, I didn't see you there. I heard about this new nut stand. It's not the kind of place I'd like to see a girl working, if I cared about her.'

'Hi, Kent', said Karen cheerfully. 'We've sold three bags of nuts!'

Kent paid no attention to what Karen said. 'Say, Karen, I heard that when the school dance was on you were at Simon Griffith's place. I guess he's dumped you, huh? Too bad.'

'Karen's doing okay', said Kris. 'We're working here as a top nut-selling team. Are you buying any?'

'Oh, we don't need any nuts, do we, Roberta?'

Roberta seemed to be having problems with this idea, and Kris ignored her. 'Well, we've got a customer coming, don't we, Karen? So perhaps you can just move out of our way.'

'Come, Roberta', said Kent. 'We've wasted enough time here.'

As Kent and Roberta walked away, the customer came to the counter and asked for four pounds of walnuts. Karen gave him her smile and fumbled around with the slogan again while Kris took care of serving him.

'That's funny', said Dylan's mother, sniffing. 'I didn't use any peanut sauce when I was making dinner. Or did I?' She sniffed again.

Dylan sniffed too. 'I'm definitely picking up a smell of nuts of some kind. It seems to be coming from Kris.'

'What?' Kris joined in the sniffing. 'Oh, I probably picked that up at work. You know, the nut stand. Gotta expect that sort of thing. It's no big deal. I like the smell of nuts.'

Dylan and Kris's father joined them at the table. 'So the job's working out well?' he said to Kris.

'It sure is.'

'Kris, what are those red blotches on your hands?'

Kris looked down at his hands. 'I didn't even notice them. Now that you mention it, they do feel a little funny, but nothing to worry about.'

Dylan leaned forward, peering at his brother's hands. 'Maybe it is. Maybe you've got an allergy to some kind of nut. Those can be very serious.'

'A serious allergy?!' said their mother. 'Kris, are you all right? You can't keep working somewhere that your health is endangered! Hank, we have to do something about this!'

'Please, Mom! What do you think I am, some sort of crybaby? It's just a little rash. I can just use some of that ointment stuff Dylan had for his rash that time. It cleared up all right.' Kris looked to his father for support.

'I think we can try that to begin with and then if it doesn't work we might consider seeing a doctor.' Dylan's father gave a judicious nod and then turned from one son to the other. 'And how's your job working out, Dylan?'

Dylan shrugged. 'I don't think animals like me much, but why should they be any different?'

'There's a boa constrictor?' said Rod. 'Do you get to feed it?'

'Those things only eat once a month', said Dylan.

'Still.' Rod grinned. 'A boa constrictor. I have to see it.'

'Okay, I suppose. But don't say anything to anybody else about it. While I have to work there I don't want the place flooded with rubberneckers.'

Because Karen was still having trouble figuring out how to work the register without getting something caught in it, Kris had been the one ringing up the sales, and so the manager wanted to make him salesperson of the day.

'Me? Oh, we work as a team. I couldn't have done it without Karen, isn't that right?'

'That's right! uh—teamwork!'

'Well', said the manager, 'maybe we'll be able to recognise Karen next time.'

Tierney and Jeri gave Rod a ride to the mall, but he knew Dylan wouldn't want them showing up at the pet store. Luckily there was a promotion at the guitar store, giving away free strings, to divert their attention, and they were talking about getting some tacos later. Rod waved them away and went to find Dylan at work.

When he got to 'Our Furry And Scaly Friends', Dylan was lifting puppies out of a display case one at a time for the benefit of a grade-school girl and her father. 'They're all supposed to have different names', he was saying to them, 'but I don't see why.' He looked at Rod. 'Do you wanna give me a hand here?' he said. 'Apparently their paws are too delicate to be allowed to touch the floor. How they're supposed to cope if somebody buys them and takes them home I don't know.'

The little girl pointed at the puppy Dylan was now holding up and said, 'Can I hold this one?'

Dylan handed it to her. 'See? "This one" works just fine. Who needs names for them?'

'I'm going to call him "Lucky".'

'Yes, very original and imaginative.'

The girl's father didn't seem to care about dog's names either. He pulled out his wallet and said, 'We'll take him.'

When he and his daughter had left the shop with their new acquisition, Rod asked Dylan about the boa constrictor.

'Over there. It's still not due for its feeding time, but it's time to give the iguanas their scheduled teaspoons of water if you want to help me with that.'

'Ooh—do you think I'll be able to stand it? Better not risk it. Too much excitement can be bad for you.'

Dylan pulled a face. 'You're telling me?'

'Welcome to "It's A—" '

Simon interrupted to ask for a bag of peanuts and then he said, 'How's it going anyway, working here?''

'Pretty good', said Kris. 'The two of us make a great team.'

'Really? I would have thought it was a boring way to pass the time. Karen, wouldn't you rather be at my place, watching the Pigskin Channel?'

'Remember what you said, Karen? About wanting to get more job experience?'

'We can have sloppy joes', said Simon, 'and chocolate layer cake.'

'You know, if you leave work without permission you could get fired.'

Karen looked from Simon to Kris and back again. She whimpered.

'Glamour and fashion photography?' Stevie said to Kris.

'It's the best job. You work with all these glamour and fashion models! Plus, you're paying attention all the time to how they look but it's not creepy at all because it's professional.'

'That is so smart.'

'Once I manage to buy some equipment I'll start asking girls at school if they'll model for me so I can get some practice.'

'Professional', said Tim.

'What we should do', said Simon, who had just joined them from the locker-room showers, 'is form a photography club to do glamour and fashion photography.'

'All of us?' said Kris, with less enthusiasm.

'You don't think there's any reason why we can't all take photographs, do you?'

'No, Simon, of course I don't mean that.'

'Good. As it was my idea, and I have seniority here, obviously I'll be President of the Club, and Kris can be Vice-President.'

Stevie said, 'Your idea? But I thought—'

'Who was the first one to mention the idea of a club, Stevie?'

'You were, Simon.'

'Seniority', said Tim.

'Then that's settled. The Lawndale High Photography Club—brackets, Glamour and Fashion—is going to be the biggest deal at this school for a long time.'

'Now every dopey girl at the school wants to model for this club of theirs', said Rod, 'as if your brother and his friends didn't make life in Lawndale insufferable enough already.'

'It looks like Kris will put together enough money to buy his starting equipment', said Dylan, 'even if he does end up having to leave his nut stand job because of the rash.'

'We need something to cheer us up. How about I arrange a breakout of the animals from the pet shop and get you fired for it?'

'No, leave them in their cages.'

Rod looked at Dylan curiously. 'Don't tell me you're getting attached to them?'

'No, but why should they live free when I can't?'