Friday, May 21, 2010

Johnny Census Kicks It in the Head

Quitting my temporary job as a Census Bureau enumerator was a great deal more complicated than I’d expected. I’d imagined I’d just meet with my crew leader at the Main Street coffeehouse that she’d made her unofficial headquarters, hand over my badge, gun, bulletproof vest, walkie-talkie, and forms, manfully mumble, “We’ll meet again, kid…somewhere, some day,” and disappear into the sunset to the accompaniment of poignant soundtrack music.

I kicked it in the head (as the Brits, who have much more colorful ways of putting things, describe quitting (listen for it in "All the Young Dudes")) because I was told it simply wasn’t good enough to make three in-person visits to a particular address at which no one ever seemed to be home and then write it off as non-responsive. We needed to get a neighbor or other “proxy” to tell us how many people lived at the address in question, and, if possible, what their dates of birth were, and to what races they belonged. But what do you do when you encounter the like of [number withheld] [street withheld], where you’re supposed to get information from Apt. 2, but there’s no door marked No. 2, and none of the three doorbells seems to work, and there isn’t a soul around, and the nearest neighbor’s 50 yards away, and thinks, when asked about No. 2, that he’s being asked to grass (Britspeak again) out a neighbor.

My crew leader was in tears. I hadn’t dared imagine we’d established that much of a bond, but apparently her feelings for me had escalated in the weeks since we completed training. Then I had to meet with her boss, in Poughkeepsie, a gruff guy with a lot of tattoos, a shaved head, a major nicotine jones, and an intimidating manner. He kept accidentally on purpose blowing smoke in my face and saying, “Suppose you tell us why you’re really quitting.”

And then came the polygraph boys. When I told them the sole reason I was jumping ship was that the Census Bureau wasn’t paying me enough to be so bored and frustrated, the leader of the team smirked at me malevolently, revealing several gold incisors, and said, “I wonder if that’s really the case,” in a faint German accent. I was reminded of the dental torture scene in the Dustin Hoffman vehicle Marathon Man, though no one suggested I open my mouth except to speak.

It was a genuine thrill receiving a personal call after my polygraph test from Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who said he wanted to thank me personally for my efforts on behalf of the Census. I’d expected that would be it, given how busy he probably is, but he graciously stayed on the phone with me for several minutes, just talking about this and that. He told me that if I’m ever in Colorado, he’d take me to a Mexican place he promised will make me forget all about Burrito King in LA, where I used to so enjoy stopping for a chile relleno to smuggle into Dodger Stadium. I wonder if the rest of President Obama’s cabinet are so nice.

Now I will devote myself to writing unusually literate pornography, and self-publishing it on Amazon. For the first few years, I don’t picture it being as lucrative as census enumerating, but it won’t involve anyone thinking I’m trying to get them to inform on their neighbors, and such quality-of-life considerations aren’t to be pooh-pooed.

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