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

A roadside mural for times like these

I love walls.  I look at them close-up – the bits of paper   left from long-ago flyers and posters. The layers of battered paint and wood, making inadvertently perfect backdrops for passersby.

And the messages – the writing on the walls. (Hey, the expression came from somewhere.)

You never know where a wall with a message will turn up, and in what form, and how your thoughts might be changed — detoured —  by what you see.

The first message on the trailer. Not bad, and definitely memorable. (Photos by Jill Schensul)

Like here, in the middle of nowhere, near my home in the Hudson Valley, atop a hill sloping up from a two-lane road.

I first saw it more than a year ago. A semi-trailer turned wall. Framed by big pines and green folds of grass and wildflowers and that big blue puffy-clouded sky.

First time I saw it, I had to do a U’y and  return to sit in front of it. think about it, wonder about it (the message for sure, but also, well, who spelled/wrote like this).

But mainly, yeah, I did “rember.” Actually, at this stage of my life, I’ve been trying hard to keep remembering that time…

Anyway, for the ensuing months, whenever I passed  by that semi-wall it always made me smile – and remember.

Until last month.  When it was in the process of being eclipsed by  a much more eloquent, artistic and germane message for these times.

The mural as work in progress. (Photo by Jill Schensul)
The mural as work in progress; a poem by the artist’s brother Joseph Olsen would fill the white square. Below, Olsen worked on it for four months.        (Photos by Jill Schensul)

Peter Olsen was standing on the top step of a blue ladder in the heat of a June afternoon, carefully painting the finishing flourishes on the folds of a face mask being worn by a sad girl.P1000223

He’d been working on “20/20 Pandemic” for four months, he said, dipping white from a can on the ladder’s ledge. It was almost done now, he said. The last element, which would fill the empty white swath of semi on the left , was a contribution from his brother Joseph, who’d written a poem for the piece.

“I wanted to send an uplifting message to people passing by,” Olsen said, as he swigged water and squinted in the late-afternoon sun. He saw the potential for a canvas – a wall, rather – in the semi parked atop the hill along Route 94 in Salisbury Mills.

Poem by Joseph Olsen.    (Photos courtesy of the artist)

After first tracking down the owner of the property and the semi, then getting permission to use the trailer for a mural, he got the go-ahead.  And went about painting the 8-by-47-foot mural. 

teddybearmural - Copymuralpeacefist - CopyThis isn’t the most traveled road in the area,  but traffic did pass by. And, like me, people stopped to take in the art, and its message.

More and more of them, in fact.

One day recently I drove by to check out the poem on the finished mural, only to find it was …  gone.


Turned out it was a little too popular for its own good.

Well, for that particular location, in any case.

The property owner began to worry about traffic safety and having people traipsing on private property. and decided the wall, the semi, had to go.

Not go, of course, just not be shown in its original location.

Since then, Olsen has been looking for a new home for his mural. He said recently that he was close to finding one, in Newburgh.

So keep your eyes peeled.

You can follow the whereabouts of the mural and see more of Olsen’s artwork on Instagram, @Peter_G_Olsen_Artworks.

Oh, and if you’ve got a few spare acres and wouldn’t mind becoming an ersatz art gallery, or at least the site of an uplifting message in times like these, by all means get in touch.

#Covid_19 #love #masks #art #mural @Peter_G_Olsen_Artworks




Fireworks: Don’t let furry friends freak out

dreamstime_xxl_106224814 (1)Bet it’s already started in your neighborhood.

The BOOM of freedom. Or at least of the traditional day of permission to MAKE LOUD SOUNDS and to PLAY WITH FIRE AND EXPLOSIVES.

Apparently this is a blockbuster — or -boomer — year for fireworks. With COVID nixing so many public  fireworks displays, more private citizens have been taking  up the cause; sales of fireworks have hit record highs.

It’s July 4th, and coming up on the darkness, and the time of fireworks displays. Which — not “by the way” — your companion animals pretty much hate. Not only does it physically hurt their ears, but it’s a nonsequitor, a complete out-of-the-blue occurrence for them.

Our animals — you know, the ones we have grown to love and appreciate even more in these times of isolation and quarantine — pretty much hate  our Fourth of July celebration sounds.  If ever they6 were going to do their own canine, feline — maybe even avian or reptilian or piscine — form of WTF, it would be during 4th of July fireworks.

Simply put: a lot of them freak.

They may just hide under the bed. My dog Benji, a chihuahua and  — okay, a sort of crazy-fierce 4-pound spectacular creature who often tried to bite me — would actually jump in my lap, tongue unfurling like Dead Sea scrolls, Ren and Stimpy-esque —  in reaction to the noise.  Verlaine and Hilbert, my companions in Tucson, jumped right through  our bay windows, dragging the curtains out onto the lawn, among the shards of glass, just to  try to get away from the sound.

Belle, my current pup, is now nearly stone deaf, and this is the one time  of year I can say thank goodness for that.

As we hopefully know, better than ever, from COVID, we owe our buddies our respect and concern.

Here are some steps you need to take for your critters to be safe tonight, tomorrow — throughout this holiday weekend and beyond:

  •  Think sonic distancing. Keep them somewhere in your houses far from the real world BOOM-ing. Note that it’s not a good idea to  lock them up, either, in an unfamiliar room. Distance them further from the noise by turning on a TV  or radio to soften the scary noises from outside. 
  •  Even if your companion animal  is usually kept outside — an outdoor cat, say — bring them in tonight and maybe for the duration (this weekend?), according to advice from the Humane Society of the United States.
  •  If you are going out and have to bring your buddy with you, leash him or her. You know your pet’s proclivity for darting. …
  • In case of worst-case-scenario — make sure your companion animal is wearing her or his collar with ID tag.Remember, you can’t have a happy holiday if your best friend is miserable.  Remember to keep them safe — and enjoy!



#COVID, #Covid19 #animals #July4th #Fourth of July #pets #safety



Lock-free at last

P1000378Today felt a lot like Christmas. Except  Santa came bearing scissors and hair color.

Yes, today  I got to see Kristen, at Color Me Krazy.  Today I got  a haircut.

More precisely, I guess, I got my hair de-COVID’ed.

The angst began building since shortly after  lockdown (um, pun intended, if just realized). I began worrying about it in a post way back then.

First it was the trashy reddish  cast  — an alarmingly Trump-esque mix of brown, orange and gray. Then came the split ends. And the Betty Rubble-like flips at the bangs and bottom.

Every morning brought a new look, a new permutation of the evolving variables. Some days it didn’t look bad. Other days were just plain frightening.

My hair was the harbinger of things to come, and it wasn’t pretty.

I was turning feral. Devolving into some wild creature,  with not just this mane of matted orange hair, but ragged clawlike nails, jagged teeth, wrinkled and buttonless clothing,  no social skills and eventually thoughts expressed only through barks and yips.

The good news was there was plenty of company in this misery. In fact, your mind may have gone down a similar path.

Just about any interaction with another woman included a cry for help re: hair or nails.  So, I knew that when – if ever – we got out of quarantine, stylists and other personal grooming professionals would be inundated.

So I knew getting an appointment would be like getting tickets for Foo Fighters or the Pope and put in my request – my plea – in for a spot with Kristen as soon as I saw a glimmer of Phase-whatever  on the horizon.

When Kristen finally called three weeks ago,  when I saw the number on my caller ID, I began to hear the first strains of “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like —“ well,, you know.   Could I come on the 23rd? Yes I said immediately.   I could come any day, any time, even if I had tickets for the Pope.

Today was the day. But  as we all know now, even when businesses can open, it’s hardly business as usual. I’d been wondering what to expect. You may be, too. It’s unusual. An adventure. My experience went like this:

First, the standard-by-now sign outside the establishment, saying to stay away until we were beckoned in.

20200623_100637Once past the door, Kristen  turned to face me      (well, face-mask me).  Her eyes were smiling but she was wielding this thing – it looked like some sort of spray can –    aiming the spray part right at me.  My heart jumped a little as she closed in, heading straight for my  own masked face,   explaining  that she was taking my temperature.

The thing never actually touched my forehead – I figured it was because I’d begun radiating heat in fear. No, it was just a fancier version of the thermometer  every salon is required to use if they wanted to reopen.

The COVID-proofing continued.

First there was the questionnaire, asking if I had any of the by-now all-too-familiar  litany of symptoms indicative of COVID.   It also listed the many practices Kristen et al had implemented to keep everyone  safe — including the big bottle of  sanitizer available  for hands after they touched the writing implement.

P1000374The main room of the salon itself had the social-distancing blue-tape X’s on the floor, and work stations have been pared down to two. Only one customer per stylist at a time.

The salon products were all corralled into one section, protected from germy hands by a sandwich sign advising clients to ask a stylist for help.

While I sat letting the hair color do its de-Trumpification, Kristen got me coffee. I drank it in furtive sips through a barely-lifted face mask when nobody was within six feet.  I read the signs around her mirror.P1000385

She washed the dye out of my hair.

She said the color looked good. I don’t know how she can tell – well, that’s why she’s the poohbah. To me, it just looks wet-color.

Meanwhile, back at the chair…

“You did need a haircut,” Kristen said nodding at the jagged ends between her fingers.  Snip!Snip!Snip! they fell like heads on guillotine day.

“It feels like Christmas,” I observed.

“Yeah, I had someone else say that to me,” Kristen said, smiling – at least I’m pretty sure she was — beneath the mask.

“OK, Miss Jill, you’re done.” The scissoring stopped.

I looked at my wet hair.  ”I am?”

I knew she couldn’t blow dry it. There was a rule.  So I got out of the chair and paid her and left so the next person could come in and have her audience with Santa.

I felt a bit of the denouement that comes right after the big event.  Maybe a little remorseful about my ruthlessness. It was, after all, still my hair, doing the best it could. Actually not looking so bad, at times, during isolation. I mean, it could have all just fallen out, right?

And really,  it had taught me a few things

  • to remember there was a time before stylists existed
  • that human beings can get used to just about anything
  • and what was so bad about going feral, anyway?

I also reminded myself there were always new surprises and watershed events ahead — especially these days.

For one thing, the upcoming  hair saga sequel, “The Blow-Dry,” when I got home.

And then, God, I can’t believe I’m even writing this: my dentist appointment – a mere month and a half away.

Looking forward to the dentist?

Ah, well, such is life in the land of COVID…


#COVID19 #humanconnection #stayingpositive #haircut #lifestyle #beauty #staysafe