Friday, December 9, 2011

"What Shape is the World?"

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m going back to college.  So many questions, and so many cautions.  It’s a foreign system to me, a maze of rules.  And I am learning the rhythm of its walls and mirrors as quickly as I can.

I started out online at their website.  I sort of flailed about randomly at first, trying to get the hang of the philosophy behind the site’s organization.  After a while, I started being able to find things all right.

There were a few stumbles, there always are.  For example, I misread the order of operations for Student Registration, and instead of completing the registration form and then immediately moving on to the next step, I waited for the registration process to complete.  And it looks like there may be a delay in Financial Aid because of when everything is going down.

Ideally, I would sit down and talk with a councilor and get a better feel for the situation, have a palaver and gain direct advice.  Alas, I can’t do that, or enroll in classes, until I complete my assessment tests.  And I found out tonight that I am not allowed to take them in the usual way.

I arrived early in the evening, feeling chipper.  Which was good, since they’ve changed the layout of the place significantly since I was on-campus last.  I entered from College Blvd, followed the signs, and got spit right back out onto College again.  Fortunately, I was able to find a member of the local constabulary and ask about the Student Centre’s location. 

People complain that there’s never a cop around when you need one, but I’ve never had any trouble finding them.  I think it’s just my natural charm that attracts them.

In any event, he was kind enough to walk me to the building I was after.  He asked me what I was seeking, and I told him “Physical Therapy Assistant.”  Then, seeing his puzzled look I re-assessed the context of his question as being situational rather than environmental.  I apologized, and told him I sought the testing facility in the Student Centre.  Oh, well.  We talked a bit as we walked along the grounds, and he revealed that he’d been working there for a good thirty-five years.  Turns out since I’d been there last the building count went from around eight to around eighteen.

Yowza.  He was kind enough to drop me off at the centre, explain four or five times how to find my way back (which was appreciated, believe me), and so I bellied my way up to the service desk. 

Sasparilla, my good man, I thought.  The lovely lady at the desk gave me a card for my number (I have a new number, a student number, huzzah), and a half-page form to fill out.  I thought to my self:

 Self, I thought, this seems pretty painless. 

I waited, relaxed and unconcerned.  The testing area was sparsely populated, and the people were friendly, courteous and knowledgeable.  The woman helping me explained that I would have to yield my hat and phone to the lockers outside (another new development), and even as I was removing my magnificent chapeaux to comply with the rules of the house, she finished, saying:

“. . . and you’ll have to take off your sunglasses.  Just leave them in the locker with the rest.”

Ah, nutbunnies.

“I can’t do that,” I explained.  “They’re for medical reasons.”

Right about now is traditionally when the beaurocrat starts going a little nuts.  And I am not too proud to admit that I tensed a little, in anticipation.  However, she just blinked and said she’d talk to her supervisor and see about getting me an okay.  She smiled, I smiled.  Life was good.

Her boss finished her call and then called me over.  I have problems with authority and I know it, so I monitored my reactions carefully.  She called me over, and she told me about their strict policy regarding no sunglasses in the testing area.  

My eyes are, for those of you who do not know, incredibly light sensitive.  Which means that what for most people is normal light, for me is blinding and painful.  You can imagine why I value polite police so much, with their Mag-Lights of Doom.  And you can imagine the static I’ve gotten from a fair cross-section of xenophilic pencil-pushers in my time.  I’ve had some harsh encounters over my eyes in the past, and lost at least one job.  Bloody hell, was it going to start all over again?

I must confess, I did the worst thing I could do at that moment: in response to what I felt was her preparing to Lay Down the Law, I got tense.  I was braced for her to get weird about my glasses, I was uncomfortable because I’d just removed my hat in fluorescent overhead lighting, and I got tense.  And I suspect, though I cannot truly know, that she was braced for me to throw a fit about my shades.  Working customer service sucks, and I can only imagine what kind of attitude she gets from some of the students throughout the day.  We had a magnificent positive feedback loop of stress burn between us for the briefest of moments.

“I need them for medical reasons,” I said again.  I was ready for her to get indignant, which was usual.  Outright hostility was not out of the question.  This is one of the reasons I usually avoid places with rules and regulations, as well as one reason why I was and still am nervous about returning to school.

Instead, she took the moment in her hands, and broke it.  Smashed it like candy glass.  She blinked, and became genuinely concerned.

“Oh,” she said, “In that case, you’ll need to talk to . . .” and here she gave me the name of the testing service I need to contact, a name, and a phone number. 

It turns out that I need to arrange for a proctored test in a private room.  Which sets me back a little more, granted, but it doesn’t grind me to a halt.  She also made it abundantly clear that there was no offense meant about my vision – though her demeanor had already confirmed that nicely – and we shook on the matter and parted ways. 

As I took my leave, my only concern was if I was to shake her hand or offer her reverance.  The angle at which she gave her hand implied the latter, but this is the 21st century, and neither of us was in period garb.  I compromised, bowing slightly while gently gripping her hand.  It does not do to offend a lovely lady who is helping you.

That glass-like tinkling sound you hear is the tension in the room.  I was careful not to step on any of the pieces on my way out.

So, I will call on the morrow, and see what I will see.  I have my councilor appointment this coming week, two days before enrollment deadline.  I still need to get a few ducks in a row, including my financial aid.  But I think I’m getting the hang of this place, its dance, its tempo, its rhythm and pulse. 

And it is a lovely thing to be treated politely.


PS: I have not put in entries of all the little delays and trip-ups I have encountered in my travels, not wanting to bore anyone.  I have no intention of starting now.  But I will, in closing, reproduce here the email I sent earlier today (the day following the post above) to the Access testing service.  If my schedule had permitted I would have just gone in person.  Sensitive data is of course omitted . . .

"Good people,

Greetings.  My name is Coyote Kishpaugh, and my student number is XXXXX.

I am sending you this missive in the hopes that you can help me take the assessment tests needed for me to see my councilor and enroll in classes before it is too late.  It has been a quiet misadventure.

The latest chapter unfurled Thursday evening, when I arrived at the testing centre and was informed that I would not be permitted to  take the tests while wearing dark glasses.  The ladies there were very polite and understanding, but apparently there are rules about such things.  My eyes are quite light-sensitive, however, and unfortunately I cannot effectively take the test without my glasses. 

I understand that I should take the tests proctored and in a private room, and will need your assistance with this.  I was therefore given a phone number to call, and told to ask for (NAME).  The phone number was XXX-XXXX.  Alas, this number seems to be disconnected.

Checking the college web site, I retrieved a different phone number for your office: XXX-XXXX.  Here, too, I got a message that the number was disconnected.

If you would be so kind as to contact me at your earliest convenience, I would appreciate it. 

Thank you for your consideration,

And so the struggle continues gamely forward.  Thank the gods of silicon for the Internet; I used to have to chase from department to department all day on foot.  XD


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