The Perspective of a US Census Taker

usa flag waving on white metal pole
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Last fall I filled out an application to be a U.S Census taker. I was newly retired and had the time. But mainly, I felt it was my civic duty. In prior decades, I had been a Vietnam protester, a women’s lib advocate, an outspoken New Yorker born in the shadow of Columbia University and fully identifying with the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) of the 1970s.

Now I saw a country more divided than ever, with racial tensions heightening, and unemployment surging. Could I actually make a difference  for those whom the Census affected – the underrepresented, the marginalized, the uncounted? My 1970s self applauded!

But I soon discovered that becoming a Census taker was more than hopping in my car with a clipboard in hand and patriotic zeal in my heart. 

I had to attend a training class followed by a comprehensive nine-hour module on how to be an exemplary “enumerator”. This is the first time that technology has been used in the Census. The interview process would be prompted by questions on a government issued phone with software prompting you from one screen to the next based on answers to questions. You are capturing data that will be submitted for analysis by our government. And with over 170,000 Covid related deaths, the demographic changes in our country have been profound and dollars need to be allocated in the best way possible – for senior centers, hospitals, and schools.

After completing the module and taking a quiz covering the basic material, I was deemed ready to hit the road and be in the field. And my particular field turned out to be mostly just that. I was assigned the rural countryside of Columbia County in upstate New York.

My first case on my first day showed exactly how rural my territory was. My GPS led me to a corn field where it announced with great satisfaction that I had arrived. I stared at the wide open space, my patriotic zeal a bit dampened. I soon discovered that addresses were often incorrect, that many houses had no numbers, and that there were residents of trailer parks and RVs who wanted to remain off the grid.

But I also learned that whether rural or urban, people are more alike than they are different. And everyone has a story. I am a definitive type A personality, and I relished the opportunity to learn these stories – people’s names, their ages and origin, who they live with, and how many were under the same roof. It was like being an investigator without having the background for it.

Some of the kindest, sweetest people I met were missing teeth and eating cheese doodles for dinner. In this socially distanced, Covid world, most people seemed to want to connect, to interact with another human being. I saw how many lonely people there were out there, pandemic or no pandemic.

One woman I met was just pulling  into her dusty, dirt driveway. After I identified myself, she asked if I could wait a moment while she checked on her three kids and her mom. I discovered she was in her 40s, single, and had just moved back into her childhood home. At the end of the interview, I thought she would have asked me to stay for dinner if not for Covid.  We were probably on complete opposite sides politically, but we had connected – and all while filling out Census forms!

Then there have been times when I realized I was enumerating an actual celebrity. Once I spoke to a famous movie director/producer and did not let on that I knew who he was. It was an experience I will treasure and it never would have happened had I not been wearing my U.S Census badge!

I have also encountered those who did not take kindly to a stranger approaching their home, regardless of the clearly visible credentials. Once a hostile property owner appeared out of nowhere at a multi unit complex, telling me I was soliciting and that he was going to call the police. I calmly told him I was with the U.S Census Bureau, doing my job, and to please go ahead and call them. I stood my ground. I then heard him mutter under his breath, “f ing bitch” followed by a louder pronouncement that I had three minutes to leave the property. (I took my sweet time!)

As a 2020 Census Taker, I never know what to expect when I get into my car. But that’s the joy of it!  Everyone has a story and the hours fly by. Before I know it, I have gone through 25-30 cases and completed my required interviews. I have driven past corn fields and have heard cases that would break your heart. But I have also witnessed our nation’s diversity and resiliency, as well as our need to connect, and yes, even unite.

This is my small part in being an American and, whatever good comes from getting this Census right, I know I have contributed.

Ode to Olivia

Last week the world became a little less colorful as my first cousin, Olivia, slipped away and entered a permanent place in heaven.

She was not supposed to die at her age, not quite 64, oh so young by today’s standards. She was unwell, and dealt with the side effects from chemotherapy for many years as she battled cancer. She had neuropathy, heart issues, depression, anxiety, and a host of other ailments, in addition to just pain and discomfort. She suffered from conditions more common in later years.

I reconnected with Olivia about ten years ago through the effort of her step sister, my cousin, Fran Lisa. She very thoughtfully initiated a reunion, which brought Olivia and me back together, women now well past middle aged. I had had a hiatus of 20 years where we hadn’t communicated. No reason, just the usual drifting of family, particularly when one is an East coaster and one a West coaster. I owe a debt of gratitude to Fran Lisa for this special rekindling.

Olivia had lived quite a life as a true love child, leaving home at 18 never to return again. She followed her heart and her passion for music and art. She wrote poems and designed greeting cards expressing a oneness with nature. She even had praying mantises as pets, in addition to dogs and cats.

She was a real groupie, following Bob Dylan around the country, writing to him, composing poetry, and painting him. She once waited for him in front of the men’s room so she could personally hand him a piece of her art. He told her to stick to her poetry!

Olivia was also a weed distributor way before Mary Louise Parker ever smelled pot! Based out of tony Marin County, she had a client list of writers and Hollywood folk (maybe B or C list, but nevertheless!!) who counted on her for her quality product. She knew everything there was to know about cannibis before I ever smoked a joint.

I was a goody two shoes who always did what was expected. As little girls, she brought the mischief out in me. I looked upon Olivia as a sister since we were very close in age. We shared secrets. She complained to me about her family, asked for advice, bounced ideas off me. It was a special bond.

Olivia wore a hibiscus in her hair, bright stenciled designs like butterflies on her red polished nails, and had Sharon Osbourne hair. You couldn’t miss her if you tried! She leaves two grown daughters, a grand child, and a husband who loved her for the unique character she was. They were partners for 20 years before marrying only seven years ago. Better late than never.

So, Olivia, as you are laid to rest today, Sunday, the day that would have been your birthday, know that you left your mark. You touched people’s lives, made many people smile. You, who lost your mother at the tender age of two, will be reunited with her, alongside your dad, and grand parents.

May Bob Dylan be singing Blowin’ In The Wind to you as a serenade and flowers come to life everywhere.

Rest in peace.

Love forever from Cousin Joy.

Takeaways

-My cousin. is the first close family member I have lost and it hit me as a little too close to home. I am fortunate to have not lost any dear friends to disease or accidents. I know that this will be the first of many more to come as I age and those around me as well.

-We need to reach out to family and friends that we may have disconnected from.

Egg Roll for One

Eating Chinese food alone in front of the tv is acceptable. It’s okay. It’s when isolation is thrust upon you and it becomes a day in and day out occurrence, that the effects become very real.

After almost five months of social distancing, quarantining, and separation from loved ones far away (or worse in nursing homes or assisted living facilities), we are at the end of our proverbial ropes! Life is not normal. Who knows when it will be? For me, I am fortunate to have my EPS (Ever Present Spouse)! But others are not so lucky and isolation has become their new normal.

We, as humans, are social by nature. Sure, it’s good to have space, to have “me” time, but many of us crave some type of social interaction. Studies show that most people would rather experience electric shock treatment than be in isolation! (I kid you not! Heard it on the radio the other day.) “Human beings are an ultra-social species and our nervous systems expect to have others around us,” says Emiliana Simon-Thomas of The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

No other time has this been more painfully clear than now. I have a daughter who is living in Europe, whom I can’t see. I miss her terribly. Absence does not make this heart grow fonder. It makes it ache!

So during this time of aching, let’s not forget about those who are truly alone and may even now be sitting in front of the TV with their take-out egg roll. How are they dealing with this forced social isolation? This is a time for us to reach out to one another. To make a call. Send a text. Let someone know we care.

Barbra Streisand said it best in the 1964’s classic film, Funny Girl, “People, people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”

xox

Barclay and Joy

The Power of a Dust Rag

(Joy here.) In addition to the many things we have learned and adjusted to living in a Covid world, one of them is — your house or apartment still gets dirty! And you are there to witness it in real time!

Cleaning… it’s a thankless job, my mother used to say. When my mother started a part time job, the first thing she treated herself to was a maid! Who doesn’t love the pleasant smell of a clean house when it is spic and span, but how many of us really enjoy actually doing the work that needs to be done to get it to that place?! With people not wanting to go into someone’s home for socializing, the likelihood of getting your cleaning person to come, is slim. The conundrum is… do you live in filth or get down on those hands and knees and do it yourself?

The funny thing is that I actually enjoy physical labor. I like weeding gardens, though it is frustrating as hell that the damn things keep coming back! I like getting down on all fours to give the bathroom floor a thorough wash. Call me crazy, but I refuse to use that beloved Swiffer floor mop (though easier on the back and knees) because it just doesn’t give me that same sense of physicality. A little sweat never hurt anyone and the results are ones that quickly illustrate what a good job you’ve done!

Studies show that cleaning is actually therapeutic. An article on the website Organicauthority.com points out five suggestions for turning housecleaning into a mood enhancer:

  1. As you clean the kitchen sink, you can practice deep breathing and meditation.
  2. Cleaning a drawer can give you a feeling of being in control.
  3. Scrubbing has been shown to release stress levels.
  4. Count your blessings while dusting -after all, you are one of the lucky ones to have a house to clean!
  5. Cleaning can purge more than just dog hair. As you dispose of dust and grime, visualize your negative emotions being tossed out as well.

Covid is not going away anytime soon, so you might as well bite the bullet, pick up the dust rag, and sing show tunes while you clean! Your home will reward you as a place to be proud of and continue to social distance in!

Today’s Takeaways

-Feeling isolated? Sad? Overwhelmed? Cleaning SOMEthing could just make you feel better. Start small. Try for drawer a day.

-Okay, who could possibly get excited about cleaning a toilet?! Run, don’t walk, to Target or Amazon ASAP and order this product! It’s amazing! Your toilet will smile back at you!! ToiletWand

Enjoy the ride!

xox

Barclay and Joy