by Leroy Morganti
If you have ever been subjected to a polygraph (lie detector) test, you know it can be an unsettling experience, even when you think you have nothing to hide.
There you sit, hooked up to an intimidating machine noisily scratching lines on a graph that is supposed to register the level of stress your body exhibits while you answer pointed questions. One errant scratch and you fear the machine will set off an alarm and begin flashing "Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire," or something equally embarrassing and incriminating. Just being subjected to such a procedure is enough to send most folks' nerves off the chart.
I had my first and hopefully only encounter with a polygraph many years ago while interviewing for a marketing position in the national headquarters of a large private security firm in a major southern city. Names will be omitted because, quite frankly, I'm still a bit leery of those people.
I can't remember why I applied for the job, probably the pay, but I had barely begun the interview process when I concluded my playful and occasionally irreverent personality would have difficulty adjusting to the rigid role-playing that ran rampant there. The whole building and all its occupants reeked of the clandestine -- locked office doors and clone-like people in dress-code black suits who whispered to one another -- an ambience you might anticipate when visiting the CIA but one that appeared a mite overblown for a rent-a-cop operation. Smartly, I kept such observations to myself.
When she finally acknowledged my presence, I identified myself and my purpose. She eyed me coldly, said nothing, and pushed a button that sent a signal somewhere deep within the inner sanctum. She silently motioned me to a seat next to a heavy glass wall that separated the entrance foyer from the bowels of the building. I fought off an inclination to say, "Keep smiling, Sweetie."
Shortly afterward, an armed guard escorted a guy in a black suit in my direction from the other side of the glass, and I heard a "click" as the door was electronically unlocked, probably from some hidden command post connected to dozens of surveillance cameras.
The guy in the suit turned out to be the Human Resources Director and I was escorted through a series of interviews with other executives, all of whom dressed in black and spoke in whispered tones. Surprisingly, I caught myself whispering back.
After more than two hours of interviews, I was told my next session would be with the owner and founder of the firm, who had been described in such reverential terms by all the black suits that I fully expected to meet God himself. Turned out, he was just like the rest, or I should say the rest were just like him as he was indisputably the "Clone Daddy." I was informed by Mr. Founder-President that I would be invited back for a second round of interviewing that would include a battery of tests and a psychological evaluation. He made it sound like a high honor, just getting that far.
Next came the lie detector test, administered by a stern-looking guy in a black suit I was convinced had trained for the job at water-boarding school. He had a way of looking right into your soul through piercing eyes.
Polygraph administrators start out with dummy questions like, "What's your name?" They know you are not likely to lie about something that simple and use your response readings for a base line to compare to the real questions lurking around the corner.
I was feeling pretty good about my performance until he asked if I had ever stolen anything. That's when my mind began reeling with questions like "Do paper clips, cheap ballpoint pens or second base count?" I answered in the negative and he lifted his eyes from the machine to peer at me suspiciously, just as he had done moments earlier when I swore I had never been convicted of a crime. I grew especially antsy later on when he repeated both those questions in a very deliberate manner as if he were giving me one last chance to come clean. That guy would make Mother Teresa squirm.
To wrap up the story, I must have passed because God himself offered the job at a tempting salary. I pretended to agonize over the decision for a couple of days before declining. I don't look good in black; it's just not in my color wheel.
Leroy Morganti is a native of Rosedale, Mississippi. He spent the early years of his professional life as a reporter for various Mississippi newspapers and The Associated Press. He joined Delta State University in 1971 as Director of Public Information and retired in 2002 as Vice President for Executive Affairs. He resides at the Benoit Outing Club.
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