Why I quit the census

You may have heard that the unwieldy behemoth known as the U.S. Census has been running into some logistical problems lately.  Their numbers are

 That would be my fault. 

Despite the fact that I have to think hard to figure out which way to go at the end of my driveway  (and I mean when I’m at the end near my house, not the road end) — and I once mistook the border between NH and VT for a shortcut — and I experience the frequent, inexplicable, and irresistable urge, when the map, my husband, and good sense all tell me to turn right, to turn left — despite all of this, I say, I thought that I could work for the census.

I thought that maybe, if I try really, really hard, I wouldn’t get lost constantly.  After all, it was a temporary job, paid well, and I have finally, after many decades of argument with myself, reached the conclusion that I am not a moron.   I’ve met people who work for the government before, and I felt that I could easily slip into that crowd without fear of being dominated too fiercely by the intellects that dwell therein.  How hard could it be?

Well.  It wasn’t that it was hard.  It was that every aspect of the job was either crammed to the gills with details that were utterly inane, or else they were never explained at all.  These latter points, the unexplained ones, always seemed to be fairly important.  Our job description, for instance.  For some reason, what it was that we were actually going to DO was never reavealed until we had already slogged through at least 26 hours of synapse-frying training.  Our trainer used a kind of radical version of the Socratic method:  rather than asking questions that guided us toward the truth, he would allow us to ask the questions.  He would then stare at us blankly, gaze down at his manual, gaze at us again, and then continue reading aloud as if nothing had happened.

 One of my happiest memories was when we finally got the actual materials we would be using, rather than the training materials, and it turned out that the things that the trainer had been referring to as “binders” turned out to be actual three-ring binders.  I felt the relief you feel when you suddenly realize that there’s not actually a tiger coming up out of the mud under your porch; that was just a dream.  The census was such a back-assward operation, I assumed they were calling them binders just because they weren’t

 It turned out we were to be something called “Dependent Quality Control Enumerators,” which meant that we were to look at the maps drawn up by the first round of enumerators, compare them with the lists of addresses and their descriptions, and then compare that to what we actually see on the ground. If we discovered a too-high percentage of certain types of mistakes within a randomly-chosen sample of one area, then the whole area would have to be recanvassed.

So I’m driving down the road, and I see a house.  It’s not on the map.  I add it to the map.  I assign it a map spot number, and add it to the address add page.  I transfer numbers from one book to another, I line through certain things and erase others, according to protocol, and I address a questionaire to be filled out by the previously-undiscovered residents.  By the time the sheaf of paperwork is filled out pertaining to the house, I have utterly forgotten the purpose of my presence in this godforsaken backwater town, and completely forget to leave the questionaire with them.  They weren’t home anyway, and I couldn’t get to the house because of all the angry dogs.  Nevertheless, I feel fulfilled.  I feel like a proper government employee.  I can play their little game and fill out their forms



Simcha Fisher is a cradle Hebrew Catholic, freelance writer, and mother of eight young kids. She received her BA in literature from Thomas More College in New Hampshire. She contributes to Crisis Magazine and Faith & Family Live!, and blogs at I Have to Sit Down. She is sort of writing a book.

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