What Was the Question?

“A sudden, bold, and unexpected question doth many times surprise a man and lay him open.” Francis Bacon

I’ve been researching the ‘healthy aging’ thing for some time now, So when I saw the announcement in the paper searching for people to become participants in a healthy aging study…how could I say no? I mean, who would pass up the chance to be a lab rat, as my husband now refers to me.

When I called the contact number to find out more about this opportunity of a lifetime, a nice gentleman named Jared explained that it was a University study being done by the psychology department to learn about stress and memory in people over the age of 65. I told him I was interested in getting more information. He asked me if I would be willing to answer a 20 minute questionnaire on the phone and then he could tell me if I qualified for the study. I said yes. Jared then informed me that I could not use a paper or pencil, or any other outside resource, to answer the questions.

Suddenly I felt my heart beating faster as I realized this questionnaire was going to be kind of like a quiz…one I had not studied for. I knew I was screwed when Jared asked me this sudden, bold and unexpected question: “Karen, can you tell me what the date is today?”

There is nothing like this kind of brainless question to surprise a man or woman and lay him open as Francis Bacon wrote. Doesn’t Jared know that retired folks don’t know what the date today is? …..Oh wait a minute….I do know what the date is; I wrote it in my journal this morning. This quiz was going to be a piece of cake…bring it on!

Next question: “Karen, can you tell me who the President and the Vice President of the United States are? Now that question felt like a wind tunnel sucking me back to my 8th grade history class with Mr. Gay. Mr. G would call out a student’s name in class and tell us to stand up so the other students could see how smart we were when we correctly answered his history question for the day. He would then ask us questions like: Who is the Secretary of State? What country is the Nile River in? What is the capital of New York? Can you name one of the amendments to the constitution? Every time Mr. Gay called my name I felt my blood rush through my body and leak out my pores before it got to my brain. I never could get a breath out, much less an answer to his question. One day I heard Mr. Gay calling my name out. I already felt humiliation knocking at my door. I suspected that Mr. Gay was trying to give me a break because I had been such an idiot all the other times he asked me questions. ”Miss Steves,” he reminded me, “please stand up.” I stood up slowly. “Can you tell the class who the president of the United States is?” I just stared at my 31 classmates…mouth agape, shaking from head to toe. After what must have been 20 minutes (maybe more like 30 seconds) Mr. G cut sharply through the silence with disgust in his tone. “Miss. Steves, sit down and close your mouth; you are attracting flies!”

…Jared’s voice was calling me back to the present. “What was the question again?”  I asked. I reminded myself I was no longer in 8th grade. So, I wiped the sweat away and boldly and proudly answered: “Donald Trump and Mike Pence.” (If only my 8th grade class could see me now!)

The questions became progressively harder. Like this one…What’s the season? What’s the opposite of greedy? How about the opposite of forgetfulness, frantic…(maybe that wasn’t one of the words…maybe that’s just how I was feeling). Jared was unrelenting. “Now I am going to say 10 words, one after another and when I’m done; repeat back to me as many of the words as you can remember.” Holy Cow! At that moment, I could barely remember my children’s names. I was sure I could hear Jared grinning on the other end of the line. “Now some math questions, Karen, and once again, don’t use a pencil or paper . What is 100 minus 13? What is 96 minus 9, 45 minus 8?” and on and on.

What the heck had I gotten myself into?

“Karen”, Jared said, after I completed the questions on his ‘cute little quiz; “I am happy to inform you, that you have qualified for our healthy aging study.”

I am not sure if I qualified as a participant because I passed his quiz, or because I flunked it.

“Now for the next step,” Jared continued, “You will need to set up a time to come to the campus for a three hour interview at the University psychology lab.”

Do you know those people were intending to attach wires to my skull so they could measure my brain waves…or lack thereof! I told Jared that I might need to rethink the time commitment to participate in his study. I said I needed to look at my travel calendar and get back with him…or not.

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