I can’t stand when Americans are negative and cynical toward their government. They say the government can’t do anything right and always point to the post office and DMV as examples. Now that I’m a member of a crackerjack crew of census workers, I take this kind of criticism personally.
This is my second tour of duty with the Bureau and I dare you to find a more dedicated group of workers. My old boss was so demanding, we became obsessed with leaving no Forest Parker uncounted. We solved all but a handful of hard cases.
This time around, I applied to be a boss – pointing to my enumerator experience and private detective background. I scored 97 on the entrance exam, which is higher than I ever scored on any test, including the driving one. But I was still relegated to the rank and file.
Undergoing four days of classroom training was kind of tedious. Mercifully, I’ve developed a coping mechanism to get through endless lectures and dry sermons. I write the speaker’s first word down and connect it with their second word across, thus constructing a crossword puzzle. This technique makes me hang on every word, hoping for a long one.
During my census training, I filled page after page with puzzles containing words like “address” “occupant” and “vacant.” From this blur of words, I absorbed several concepts. The information we gather is confidential, we can’t wear jeans and we must use a No. 2 pencil on all forms.
I already knew that census taking is not for the faint of heart. In 2000, I used every investigative tool in the box to figure out who the heck lived in houses and apartments on Marengo and Elgin. This year, I’m assigned to Cicero.
On my first day of fieldwork, I was wearing censu-ble shoes, asking censu-tive questions about age and ethnicity and asking other questions that didn’t make a lot of cense. Like inquiring whether a person with a handlebar moustache was male or female. So far, the people I’ve met have laughed at questions like that, while they goodheartedly help me complete the questionnaire.
Many of these residents recognize the value of the census. They know that an honest count can bring them much needed facilities and services, like new schools. Pounding the sidewalks of Cicero not only improved my comprehension of Spanish, I was promoted to assistant boss.
Being a census worker, though, isn’t about power, money or ego. It’s a patriotic mission to make sure neighborhoods receive the resources they need. So, if a non-denim wearing person with a Census ID takes out a No. 2 pencil to ask you a few questions, don’t give him a hard time. And don’t lie and say you already sent it in. Believe me, we’ve heard that one.