Revisited: Bringing the neighborhood to account

While in Dunkin Donuts the other day, I encountered an official U.S. census worker. She had the complementary tote bag and everything. I didn’t realize commercial establishments like Dunkin were included in the once-a-decade tally of the American populace, but I guess it does make sense. It’s the only way to guarantee that crullers and long johns and reduced-fat blueberry muffins get their proper representation in Congress.

I’d probably make a good census worker. I’m really good at counting stuff. When I was a kid back in the 1960s, it was one of my major hobbies, right up there with being lonely and having pimples. I’d count oncoming cars during the annual vacation drive from Florida to Pennsylvania. I’d spend entire afternoons rolling dice with alternate hands, tabulating which one could come up with the highest cumulative numbers (one memorable match from August of 1966 saw the right hand edge the left by a score of 3,468 to 3,462 in a legendary contest the old-timers still recall today).

I guess it’s too late now to make myself available to the federal government, as I understand the census will be complete within a few weeks. Maybe, however, I could make some kind of free-lance contribution. Everyone’s bitching these days about the budget deficit and out-of-control spending, and people are rightly asking whatever happened to volunteerism. I don’t need remuneration for my enumeration; I’m curious about the private lives of my neighbors anyway, and if I don’t take any federal funding, I can ask whatever questions I want.

I imagine there’s probably some copyright infringement reason that I can’t call myself a “census worker.” Actually, I’m more interested in the subjective aspects of people’s lives anyway. While counting is admittedly a thrill, there’s not much room for variation from the standard whole numbers unless the home you’re visiting contains residents with sizeable fractions of their bodies amputated. I want to know more about what people think, how they feel, how they view and interpret their world.

I’ve got it! I’ll call myself a “senses worker” and quiz the folks on my block with unconventional questions. Most of them aren’t good at spelling anyway, if the person who recently held a “garaje sale” is any indication.

First I visit the elderly retired couple next door. The husband, a former anthropology professor, answers the door, and it’s obvious from his stooped posture and confused expression that he’s had more lucid days. I tell him I’m here to check his senses.

“I’ve only got a couple left,” he says slowly. “I can hear a little, and I can see enough of your outline to recognize you as a primate. My taste went years ago. Nowadays, it’s all like bread to me. What else is there?”

“Can you feel?” I ask. “Can you smell?”

“Remember that old song from the Who? ‘See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me’ was it?” he asks. “That was a good song.”

“Right,” I say, trying to get the interview back on track. “Can I get you to feel these new slacks I bought? The label said they’re only 55% polyester but they feel pretty stiff. I washed them once hoping it was just the sizing and they’d soften up a little. They’re just not as comfortable as I’d like.”

The old man reaches down to stroke my hip. (See — this is something you could never get away with if this were official government business).

“I’d give ‘em another wash or two,” he says at last. “You should be fine.”

“Thanks,” I say brightly, and head off to the next house. It’s the home of a young family with two or three children. Even though they’re right across the cul-du-sac from my house, all I know is that they had a dog that barked a lot so they let it run away, and their last name starts with a “B”. It’s the wife/mom who answers the door.

“What did you hear about that teenager down the street they called the police on?” I ask her. “You know, the other night.”

“Wasn’t that just awful?” she whispers. “I heard he was smoking marijuana by the streetlight.”

“What is this neighborhood coming to?” I ask, lifting my clipboard. “Would you say ‘A – Kids today,’ ‘B – He got caught up in the wrong crowd,’ ‘C – You just never know,’ or ‘D – What’re you gonna do?’”

“I think I’ll go with ‘D’,” she says.

“Thanks for your time, and keep that ear to the ground,” I say, turning toward the next residence on the street. It’s the home of a guy about my age, maybe a mailman or a UPS driver, or maybe just a pressed shorts enthusiast. In case he’s a “fed,” I’m careful how I present myself, lest he think I’m on the same gravy train he is and invites me to spend the afternoon sipping tea on his deck.

“Just wonder if I could ask you a quick question or two,” I begin. “Have you seen those hawks circling the neighborhood? What kind do you think they are?”

“Hawks?” he asks, a bit hesitant to answer. He’s definitely with the government.

“Yeah, I think that’s what they are. Have you seen ‘em? I’m trying to tell what kind they are. I went online to allaboutbirds.com. They had a sound clip of how they chirped and I played it, but it just freaked out my cat. You should’ve seen him, it was so funny — Tom was pawing at the speaker on my laptop, trying to get at the bird.”

“I’ve seen no hawks,” came the curt reply. “Are you selling something?”

“Nothing but that idea that an average citizen can give Washington a little help in its time of need,” I say. “Thanks for your time.”

Next up is a twenty-something guy I’m guessing is house-sitting for friends of his parents.

“Did you notice that dead squirrel at the end of your driveway?” I ask. “The smell is getting pretty bad. You know, it’s your responsibility to dispose of that kind of thing if it’s in front of your house.”

“What?” he asks, obviously unfamiliar with Brookshadow Hills’ carcass covenant.

“Tell you what I’ll do. I’ll deputize you right here to be authorized to scoop up that poor bastard and take him to the dump.”

“What?” he asks again, but I’m already off to my final stop of the day.

My enthusiasm is waning a bit as I approach the home of someone I actually know, a friend of my wife’s from college. She invites me in, something you’re not supposed to do, by the way, with an actual census worker because they might have a second job as a sex offender. Being as inoffensive as I am, she offers me a cup of coffee and a seat in the foyer.

“This tastes great,” I say. “It feels good to take a load off.”

We chat a bit: her daughter is doing great in college, her son is still looking for a job, do I know anyone who’s hiring? The weather’s been nice, we hope someone fixes the sign at the subdivision entrance, her son is starting to get on her nerves, am I sure I don’t know anyone who is hiring? Finally, it’s down to business.

“I’m so sorry we forgot to send in that form,” she says. “So aren’t you going to count me?”

“Oh, OK,” I answer. “One. There.”

Having done my part to maintain our great democracy the way our founding fathers envisioned over two centuries ago (I added the part about dead squirrels myself; hope that doesn’t hurt my cred as a strict constructionist), I’m headed out the door as Sue has one final question for me.

“Can I get you something to eat?” she asks. ”I’ve got some fresh donuts.”

“Count me in,” I say. “Can I have a cruller?”

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One Response to “Revisited: Bringing the neighborhood to account”

  1. Paul Dixon Says:

    Davis, I know you. ALL of this is made up.

    Happy Mother’s Day to your wife!

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