Knock out?

Mostly, all those preconceived notions of danger and nastiness behind the doors I knock on have not materialized. People are at least civil. Often warm. Surprisingly kind.

As I’ve said before, I love this job.

But (ah, the bu) I’m starting think, from a couple of recent encounters that maybe the honeymoon is over.


The first sour note was on Sunday, down at the end of a quiet street with filled with late-afternoon sun. A dog on a tether,  with a toy in his mouth, watched me park and put my Official Census Bureau Business sign on the dash.  He trotted toward me, prepared for fetch, and slowly, the young, very ripped man in the lawn chair came toward me, too. He was as friendly as the dog, until I asked if he could  take 10 minutes of his time to answer the survey.  His sky blue eyes instantaneously went icy; I could  almost hear the snap!   Time?   he repeated. I’d triggered something, I knew as he began to tell me his real-world problems. They were immediate. They were big. 

The census — and the enumerator — were small, an affront. He was done with me. He moved away, his body language and his eyes clearly dismissive, and  putting on alert. I tried  to say some kind of basic human thing, not to convince him to fill out the questionnaire or maybe even smack me. But something that showed I got him, I felt for him. (We cross paths for a reason.)

He wasn’t listening.

I retreated to my car, wrote in the space for notes that I wouldn’t go back, and gave the dog a sad wave as I back out. He still had a toy in his  mouth.

Yesterday, I went to a house with inhospitable signs out front — No Trespassing for one (by law we aren’t trespassing, as I learned during my training).

I half-cringed my way down the driveway to the house, waiting for a shot to ring out. But obviously none was forthcoming. I approached the house meekly, rang the  NEST doorbell and made myself visible through its camera, my official badge prominent.  A voice eventually answered – it sounded like a teenage girl but only till she got to the actual responses: First a refusal, then a veiled threat that I was trespassing, then an outright  statement  to get off the property immediately.

Now today I‘ve gotten my first case actually marked with an exclamation point in a triangle. “Approach with caution.” It’s one step “safer” than the DANGEROUS ADDRESS indication —  which we actively avoid.  Anyway, this scary address is among the list of cases  in an area I know pretty well, an area I’ve driven by over the years and watched slowly deteriorate. An area where I can’t imagine people even living now. An area where an 80-year-old man man – the property owner, was shot and killed a while back.

I joke with my supervisor that I will stay far enough away to outrun a bullet. Today I will think carefully about which pair of sneakers will enable me to run faster and jump higher.

I suck at thumb-typing

I‘m a little nervous about dog bites and/or being shot in the eye.

But what really worries me is using this iPhone. And now, my whole career as an enumerator is counting on me using it.

I’ve never become inextricably attached to my phones; I can’t toss off texts on the fly, book a hotel room while food shopping, etc etc.

I understand they’re convenient, even deus-ex-machina-esque  in an untenable situation. That’s if the battery’s charged;  if you can see the screen in the sun, if you’ve got a signal, if it didn’t just fall out of your back pocket into the toilet.

Plus, I’ve always had an Android, first because long ago, as a travel writer whose job depended on keeping in touch, it was the only phone with GSM – a system used almost everywhere else in the world.

Plus, at a time when the big thing about handhelds was how small and light they were, I was able to go big with a Samsung. I may have gotten eye-rolls, but I was realistic: the Samsung Note was harder to lose, easier to read and also to type on. 

That last point being my main problem with smartphones. I loathe typing on them.  I don’t think in text-sized sentences. “Yes.” “See u then.” Like that.

And the abbreviations make me nervous: LOL, IMHO…  I say WTF? Are the senders really laughing out loud? Do they actually opine humbly? I fear we are all descending into talking in trite-ese — worse, in trite abbreviation-ese.  Really? When I learned what “TY” meant, I was a little horrified. If someone really wanted to say Thank You, couldn’t they take the time to spell it out? TY just seems a little, well, ungratefully terse.

Anyway, on Day 1 of my official census taker status, the boxes were hand out and the official US Census Bureau iPhones were unveiled. Electricity filled the room as the other new enumerators took in their new equipment.   My stomach began to churn.

Without a moment’s hesitation, thumbs were flying over the shiny glass — like ducks to water. I was motionless, squinting at the little app icons.

I suck when it comes to my thumbs. I have no idea why two-thumb typing has become the standard, or why it’s so fast, or why everyone can do it. I find it awkward and unbalanced, the phone usually on the verge of falling out of my hand. 

I one-finger type on my Samsung – what amounts to giving my truly smart phone enough clues to figure out the word I meant so it will either suggest or correct what I’ve attempted.

But this iPhone has another type of typing entirely. The most obvious difference/hurtle is that the keyboard is tinier. Then, as I slowly typed, I noticed no spelling suggestions were forthcoming.  Then I hunted in vain for punctuation marks – nope, not even a period. And forget numbers. For those, unlike my Samsung, I had to switch to another keyboard.  Tell me again why we love iPhones?

As I typed, my fingers, usually pretty small, got bigger, unwieldier, and finally bearlike.

So who knew what I had actually typed into password stone? Not me.  When I tried to log back into my phone, it literally shook as it scolded “wrong password.”

This became a real problem when I had to change my temporary password to a permanent one, one I’d remember. Which we were told to do halfway through our first-day initiation. I typed, and, OK, sure, you can see each letter you hit, for a nanosecond, but it’s all ****’s after that. I was too nervous to multitask in the moment.

Bad. Very very bad.

I got locked out for 1 minute. Then 4. Then 15. I think they would have come with handcuffs for  any ensuing failed attempt. My trainer tried to contact The IT Department, but was put on hold hell.

Everyone waited. I sweated. If I picked up my swag and ran for the door would they be mad? No, probably relieved.

Yet I stayed. I knew  had to adapt, and fast. I wanted to do this job, and the job depended entirely on this little phone. All the questions I have to read, verbatim, to the interviewees are in there, in what I think is 6-point type. All their responses — last names, streets, etc., and notes to my fellow workers, including warnings about dangerous conditions, I need to type in there. No typos.  What if I typed “man came to door with gum” instead of “gun” (a la Woody Allen)? The next poor enumerator knocks expecting Bubblicious, and instead gets a barrel in the chest.

Part of me wants a clipboard with a piece of paper on it – a form with boxes I can tick and lines for writing in answers with a mini-golf pencil.

But I realize handwriting is so last-century.
So I’ll stop whining. Embrace the technology.

Imagine me, bi-platform.

Luddite, schmuddite.

So wish me luck, and if you‘ve got any good thumb exercises, please share.

Counting: it’s complicated

Lest you think my induction into censushood would be a walk in the park – or neighborhood —  let me say it ain’t so.

bureauenumGo knock on some doors, check a few boxes, accomplish something and get a paycheck? Nah, nothing  (I hate to even say this) is easy, or, well, simple.

Especially when it comes to 1. The government and 2. Being my age.

The complexities start at square one.

I am not, for instance,  a Census-Taker. I am an … ENUMERATOR.

Here’s another word thrown around profligately during my induction appointment:

Decennial – as in “Call the Decennial Service Center right away if you lose your official census smartphone” or “get in touch with the Decennial Service Center immediately if you have an accident.”

What? I wasn’t even sure what they were saying  — desinial? dessinale?  (we were talking with cloth over our mouths, after all) —  till I got home and read more.  What I’m involved in here is the decennial – the once-every-10-years count that was mandated in the constitution and has been conducted every year ending in a zero since 1790.

There are other censuses (censi?) but this is the biggest one. I wish they’d just call it the census; I keep wanting to call it the decentennial census. Just like I want to call myself a census-taker instead of an enumerator.

Anyway, before I could even say “Decennial Service Center” it had morphed into “The DSC.”

Going in, I hadn’t remembered the government’s penchant for  acronyms, but very soon I was drowning in an alphabet soup of USCB,  CB, FIMSA, and PII (no, not a gynecological problem but Personally  Identifiable Information, the stuff of which “enumerators” are “stewards”).   

PII came up a few times, but the big acronym of the day was NRFU.

NRFU (pronounced Nerfoo, obviously)  stands for the Nonresponse Follow-up operation, as well as the types of cases we are assigned. 

As an ENUMERATOR, this is my main raison d’etre (RDE). Last census (er, decennial) almost 75 percent of America responded on their own. Not sure what it is this year — wait, I’m looking it up:  As of July 14, it’s about 62.1 percent or 91.8 million.  It’s really a beyond-huge operation to get the unresponsive counted; the bureau has hired 500,000 or so temp workers like me to track down those  NRFUs, knocck by knock. 

Sounds a little like I’m going after visitors from outer space, right?

I knew this would be an adventure!

#census2020 #humor #funny #alphabetsoup #employment #Covid-19

What’s behind the knock? Fun facts

I was really looking forward to the training for this job. I had high hopes – perhaps unrealistic expectations – for how enlightened I would be once trained. I can only imagine what the collective insight is from census takers, who have been knocking on doors since ]this started in 1790. They must have seen everything.

After a 12.5 hour curriculum, thankfully on land technology (i.e., my laptop), I did get some of that. I also got the history of the census I got a lot of information on laws against discrimination – and lots of examples of what discrimination was – er, is.

Anyway, here is some of what I learned (and if you want to know more about what goes into the making of an enumerator, just ask).


There were 5,474 injuries to enumerators during the last decennial, in 2010, The hit parade, so to speak:

“No bad dogs,” she said, while keeping out of biting range.
  • Falling while walking, 39% (and back then we weren’t eye-glued to cell phones)
  • Motor vehicle accidents, 34%
  • Animal (mostly dog) bites, 27%.


— People can be mean, certainly. But I was delighted to learn that attacking a census worker is a federal offense. I doubt the guy with the baseball bat knows that, however. I hope I have time enough to inform him before he swings. 

— The census was established in the Constitution. So it legally has to be conducted every 10 years (every year ending in a “0”).

It also means census takers are on a sort of mission from, well, the Constitution, and we have a legal right to knock on doors. “No Soliciting” signs do not apply, nor do “No Trespassing” or “Private Property” or even “Stay the F**k Out” signs (though the latter might make me pause, Constitutional coverage or no….). There have been lawsuits about this issue, as recent as a month ago, but it seems — like scissors cut paper — the census wins.


“Are you male or female?” (There’s no “other” — maybe next decennial). I’m a little worried about asking this question while standing in front of the person. Then again, someone called me “little boy,” when I was 19 years old.

And I do suppose there are a lot of those SNL-esque “Pat” situations.


We learned interview skills and how to get someone to talk.  The Bureau has this “A+ advice for interaction” system I’ll share — maybe you can use it too.

  • Acknowledge (people’s concerns like privacy);
  • Answer (tell them the facts, like everything’s confidential) an
  • Ask for help. The latter – “so, okay could you help me out here and let’s answer this questionnaire together” – sounded a little contrived to me (why should they care about my job?)   but research shows that appealing to their magnanimity/knowledge/possession of desirable data works.


There are soft refusals and hard ones. The soft, you may be able to flip with some good things about the census, and assurances of privacy.  Then there are the hard no’s, like the baseball bat, or the door in the face, or the verbal threat. One training slide showed a guy with his hand on a pistol. Yeah, then you leave; the “Thank you anyway” nicety optional.

After my online training, I did some role-playing on the phone with my supervisor. He said I did fine, but I was pacing and sweating.

Still, I got my training certificate. I will be unleashed tomorrow. Supposedly ready for whatever comes next.

Actually that became a mantra during my career as a travel writer. The unknown is what I’m good at.

In my own ‘hood, the unknown should be pretty easy, then…


#census2020 #dogs #safety #funny #Constitution #census-taker

Sworn to secrecy

bureauswagWhen last we spoke (typed/read), I was heading out to a regional center to become an official census taker. This is a journey of sorts, and I have learned a few things about journeys during my career as a travel writer:

  1. You shouldn’t have expectations
  2. You may imagine what you will encounter, but in general you cannot imagine what reality has waiting for you.
  3. If you go into sponge mode and soak in whatever comes your way, you will never be bored and usually be delighted,

All of which were born out during today’s  appointment. Centro de Amigos community center, I was first greeted with a goody  bag, my first rite of passage and one that addressed the elephant in every room (can you spell PANDEMIC?).

It wasn’t a full-on goody bag — it was  white plastic, tied with a twist-tie, not ribbon with a branded flash drive dangling from the end. Within, there wasn’t swag, exactly — I mean, no candy or mints. But there were  two white cotton masks (no official bureau logo – a design decision that probably keeps them from  being flipped on eBay) and a bottle of New View Oklahoma  hand sanitizer, in conjunction with Prairie Wolf Distillery.

I was ushered to a seat at a table with a thick plastic barrier down the middle, and decorated in a beach theme, with jars of colored sand and rainbow flip-flops.

After filling out some boiler plate (like that?  it’s so bureau) employment paperwork and signing for the official work smartphone (more about that later), I stood along with three other new hires, and began the process of becoming really and truly inducted into the ranks of the census bureau — the taking of the oath of office. 

With our  right hands held up from a cactus-arm pose (as we like to say in yoga), fingers pressed together and palms facing out in  promise-gesture,  we  followed the  census-staffer’s lead and repeated phrases after him.bureauoverview

For, like, 10 minutes.  There were several times I actually flashed on the idea  that after all this oathing I might be moving into the White House.

It seemed an  alarmingly long time.  And now, really, I have to say I can’t remember all that I swore to.  But a couple of points did stand out:

I swore to God (really, I don’t mind, but I thought after all the lawsuits, freedom of religion acts, etc. this was kind of presumptuous, not to mention passé?)

I swore never to go on strike.

 But the biggest deal was that I swore to protect data. Protect it with my life.

Protect it now,  even after my job ended, forever.  Even if  thumbscrews, nail-pullers or waterboards (wait, not sure that’s an actual gadget) were introduced.  I could go to prison. Be fined I think like $250,000. And put a black mark on the  pristine reputation of the whole census operation.

bureaupamphletThis was one of my first big lessons: the census bureau takes confidentiality very, very seriously. In fact, the first handout I encountered when I came through the door today was a brochure, “Data Stewardship,” which I initially figured was for the new IT employees.

Nope. It’s me, on the front lines.  Steward.

Like the staff member on the  cruise ship — I’ll take care of you, and your data. Unlike the cruise steward,  I will  not  unpack your belongings.  We don’t want your personal baggage.

This is good. Reassuring.  This I will tell people upon whose doors I knock.

The government just wants statistics. Statistics they’ll use to calculate funds for social services, for your community’s fair share of representation in Congress, etc. Nothing nefarious. It’s my job to convince the people behind the doors  that the census is a good thing and that they should stand up and be counted.

Hopefully I will learn how to do this during my at-home training. bureaujillbadge2

#census2020 #employment #Covid-19 #humor #facemasks

I’m counting on you

knockingToday I will become a census-taker.

I got hired  for the job just as COVID was revving up in New York. The census operation was suspended — like most everything everywhere — for months. When last  I reported in on the job status, I’d been called in to Office Depot — mask and gloves at the ready — to get photographed and fingerprinted.

That was two months ago.

Now it’s a case of wait and hurry up, apparently. The bureau (sounds mysterious, right?) called a couple of days ago and said we need you out there knocking on doors ASAP.

So I have an appointment today to get my badge, my forms signed, my introductions made – in other words, to get official.

I’ll be a government worker.


They said I wouldn’t get paid mileage going to the regional office to get this stuff done. But once sworn in and official, I’d get 57 cents a mile for the ride home. Plus the $$$ for the time in training.

So soon I’ll feel employed!

I have no idea what to expect today. The first thing – the first image – that comes to mind when I think “census-taker” is me knocking on a door wearing my face mask so I already look like some sort of nefarious character, and the person on the other side peering out, then slamming the door in my obfuscated face. And this is a best-case scenario.

It’ll be an adventure, for sure.

And though the job does have a nerve-wracking component, mostly I’m looking forward to it because it’ll be good to have some structure in my life again.

Because over all these months, my day has gotten pretty… amorphous.

I’ve always needed deadlines, endpoints. Yeah, a hate-love thing.

I don’t like to just pass time, kill time, even “span time” (my favorite “Buffalo 66” quote.) But especially in these COVID times, the time has become abundant, and letting it just pass is a real source of … angst.

But just getting the call about starting the census job made me start to organize. Write down all my future doctor’s appointments, put together all the stuff I need to return to Amazon. Figure out what days I can take Belle for laser therapy for her aching back.

It reminded me of those good old days (decades) as a travel writer. When, on the days leading up to a trip, I would start making lists, getting organized, getting things done. Sure, I was still throwing things in my suitcase as my husband drove me to the airport, but hey, I was going. There would be liftoff.

A new adventure.

Like today.

Another day, another chance to remember to make every moment count.
I’ll let you know how it goes…

#Covid19 #census2020 #newjob #buffalo66