Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Census Worker's Day

I'm currently working as a US "Census Enumerator", so basically I have to go to the houses of people who for whatever reason haven't filled out their census forms. Typically this is because they just don't look at their mail, don't read English very well or are a little paranoid. I haven't had any real trouble yet in the two weeks that I've been walking the beat, until today.
I needed to fill out forms for three apartments in this one building with no doorbells. I'm learning that there's something of an epidemic of multi-family dwellings in South Philadelphia with no doorbells. I've got to work almost the entire block, so I'm hanging around and by pure chance I spot a girl coming out of the building. I ask her very nicely if she lives there, and I get the snub. She finally acknowledges me when I repeat my credentials and show her my ID card. She just says "no" and zips off. I still have tons of forms to complete on this block, so I'm still there a few days later and I see her again. She still won't even admit that she lives there, but now she tells me that she won't answer because she "doesn't believe in the census". Now I'm not the do-gooder sort. I'm not here collecting pennies for orphans here or trying to sell tickets to the Policeman's Ball. I'm certainly not asking for letters to Santa, or anything else that might actually involve some sort of belief structure. I'm working at the best job that I can get right now, and as a big bonus, I can take pride in the fact that it actually does matter and help my community. She won't hear any of that. She tells me that it isn't in the constitution and she doesn't believe in it. This is an annoying and ignorant point of view, but I can live with that. I ask her, still very politely, if she could tell me her unit number, so I can at least put her down as a "refusal" and pass on her paperwork. "NO!" she laughs over her shoulder as she darts off on her bike. That makes me feel great. I have no idea which unit she was in so I still have three Questionnaires that I'll never get rid of.
About ten minutes later, as I'm stuffing a "Sorry I missed you" form into another door, I see a twenty-something guy come out of the same building. I dart over and see that he's heavily tattooed on his upper arms, has his left wrist encased in a cast and is walking a big pit bull. Again with all due respect, I ask him if he lives there, and in return he allows his dog to lunge at me before yanking it back. I keep my cool and keep talking as he throws me a look that might be a little to harsh for what his mutt was leaving on the sidewalk. I explain myself, and the young man mutters "Census, does that shit really matter?"
"Only if you care about Democracy, sir." I'm a little taken aback by just how Civics class that sounds coming out of my mouth, but I honestly can't think of a better answer. Hell, I like Democracy. Blank, angry stare. This one won't tell me his unit number either. Back inside he goes. "Nice to know the dog is getting enough exercise", I think.
Years of retail have taught me to report problem customers right away to a supervisor, so I crossed the street to the shade of a nearby grade school and did just that. I told my little story and added the information that I would be filling out the "Unsafe to Enumerate" form and not going back. Just as I was wrapping up, who should come back out of his building but Broken Wrist McNastyface shouting like a nutcase into his cell phone. Apparently, my visit was so out of line that he just had to get on the phone right away to express his moral outrage to his bestest best friend. As he catches site of me across the street, I hear him clearly say in his conversational scream, "That asshole's still out here!"
I wave. "No chance I could get that unit number then? One? Two? Three?"
"You're wasting your breath man! You're wasting your breath!"
Obviously, I'm not. I gave an unstable lunatic the greatest gift of all- a totally irrational thing to become completely enraged over.
Did I mention that I'm working right in my own neighborhood?

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