Realm of the Census

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Realm of the Census

They gave me a badge, the first one on a lanier I've ever had to flash at security guards sitting behind a desk. They gave me a black bag labeled USCENSUS BUREAU like a corporate logo. They made me swear allegiance to the Constitution, which thrilled me, although appending the word "God" seemed to invalidate the oath. They fingerprinted me and made me move my finger over a sensor to ensure my exclusive access to a clunky hand-held computer produced under the previous administration I hope doesn't get lost or stolen.

During five days of training in an airless room with a dozen other adults eager to make $22 an hour, temporarily, sans health benefits, they read to me aloud from a telephone book-size manual mind-bogglingly badly written and bloated I was told to weigh myself down with out in the field. When I removed the useful pages, they were thinner than Newsweek.

I got the job by taking my first multiple-choice test in years. It took me back to my early school days, when I loved taking tests that seemed to serve no practical purpose but were highly dramatic and suspenseful. All of a sudden everyone'd get super serious: you couldn't talk, you had to use a special pencil, all possibilities narrowed to only: A, B, C or None of the above. I especially loved None of the above: it was so nihilistic.

The trouble with hiring an intellectual on the basis of an intelligence test is, tests are easy, reality is hard. Getting it through my head I'm looking for housing units within structures is a no-brainer, but being out in the sun all day walking up and down exterior staircases making courtesy contacts, passing out confidentiality notices at single family units up and down a pretty residential hillside while mapping the results on a hand-held piece of junk with a skittish GPS takes it out of a girl.

The hardest part is restricting my focus to posted house numbers and number of mailboxes or doorbells while ignoring the Gnome Sweet Gnome doormat, resisting making eyes at the cat trying to hypnotize me through the window, and stifling curiosity about the lifestyles at the addresses I'm canvassing.

Match the following authors to the following questions you won't find on the 2010 census.

1. Samuel Beckett

2. Emily Dickinson

3. Joan Didion

4. Søren Kierkegaard

5. Edgar Allan Poe

6. Gertrude Stein

A. Surrounded by family members and roommates, are you any less alone, forgotten by God?

B. How do you bear the unbearable loss of that thing most dear you killed in a fit of madness, the memory of which fills you with unspeakable dread causing you to mutilate the corpse of your beloved?

C. List your most humiliating bodily functions.

D. Do you love birds?

E. Write a short statement explaining why you think you may or may not count.

F. When you are truly you what are you, you alone being you being who you are being and what you are being being true being being truly you?

The Three Stooges in No Census, No Feeling (1940).

Comments [11]

Donny Pauling's picture

It was nice meeting you

It was nice meeting you yesterday, Erin. May you find fewer, less steep, stairs as you continue your Census work. Smile

cameo's picture

The game show host always

The game show host always appears to be more intelligent than the contestants. Thus, I have a challenge for our host, Ms. Blackwell:

Match each of the seven poems with the poets listed below:

1. "I come to ferry you hence across the tide to endless night, fierce fires and shramming cold."

2. "By our own spirits are we deified: We poets in our youth begin in gladness; But thereof come in the end despondency and madness."

3. “We do not know our own souls, let alone the souls of others. Human beings do not go hand in hand the whole stretch of the way.”

4. “And so it is throughout human life – the goal we have attained is no longer a goal, and we yearn, and strive, and aim ever higher and higher, until the eyes close in death, and the storm-tossed body and soul lie slumbering in the grave.”

5. “The natural inheritance of everyone who is capable of spiritual life is an unsubdued forest where the wolf howls and the obscene bird of night chatters."

6. “If thou regret’st thy Youth, why live? The land of honourable Death is here: up to the field, and give away thy breath.”

7. “I collect bones from charnel-houses and disturbed, with profane fingers, the tremendous secrets of the human frame.”


1. Lord Byron
2. Mary Shelley
3. Henry James, Sr.
4. William Wordsworth
5. Virginia Woolf
6. Gustave Dore
7. Robert Schumann

lmz's picture



... google versus culture

cameo's picture


VERY IMPRESSIVE! Thanks for your response and your honesty! Google wins again, darn it!!! But alas, neither Google nor you is our intelligently absent host. As our host knows, the silent one always appears to be more intelligent than the spoken ones. Concision is a virtue of which I am short.

Each of the great poets whose work fills the page above was bipolar. These quotes were actually used as examples in the book Touched by Fire (about the high tendency of bipolar people to be artistic/creative) by Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, the bipolar dean of the school of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University. Sometimes crazy people excel, and though I maybe crazy to say it, and make no mistake I am crazy, we would live in a taupe world without the crazy fire of bipolar people as demonstrated above.

Erin Blackwell's picture

the absent one is EXHAUSTED

the absent one is EXHAUSTED from pounding pavement 8 hours a day.

"bipolar" is merely the scientist's view, from a retracting culture.

cameo, be on the lookout for my next blog. i couldn't have written it without you.

cameo's picture

Thank you for your response.

Thank you for your response. I'm looking forward to your next blog...

census by foot seems so archaic. Can't you do the census by covered wagon, train, telegraph, telephone, automobile, jet, blackberry, internet, email, satellite???? Better yet they could just microchip everybody then you could just swipe the decoder across the person but then how would you get to the person you? Damn we're back to "on foot" again. Technology is an illusion. Cave people win out in the end.

cameo's picture

I forgot to add my

I forgot to add my valediction:
Love always, cameo, the crazy one.

motherofollie's picture

1. C. 2. D. 3. E. 4. A. 5.

1. C.
2. D.
3. E.
4. A.
5. B.
6. F.

The Didion was the challenge.

lmz's picture

ok i try again 2- D 5- B 4-

ok i try again

2- D
5- B
4- A
1- C
3- E
6- F

Erin Blackwell's picture

Grace removed all the

Grace removed all the comments because she scored low on the test.

mysticsmb's picture