Guest Editor – Miriam Hertz

It was the summer of 2010, and I was wearing my official badge ad the special shoulder bag, each displaying the elaborate insignia of the U.S. Census Bureau. My shoulder bag held a clipboard, some record keeping odds and ends, and the heavy and very orange census takers’ handbook that was often, I believed, better left back in the car.

Now out of my car, I straightened my badge and shoulder bag, so they sat firm, and I could stand tall. Full of purpose, the coveted U.S. Census insignia upon my breast pocket, I stride toward the front door of a little wooden house set in a patch of western Montana grasses surrounded by pines. Proud of my federally-sanctioned “no monkey business” at this home, I knock firmly on the door – once, twice, thrice. Finally, a man slightly opens and peers out the door. Frowning, toting a shotgun, he spits “Yea?”  All my new federally-instilled pride drawing, I begin my introduction, “2010 census….counting people who lived here on April 1st…No census form was received through the mail from this housing unit….” But it doesn’t come out of my mouth the same way as from other census takers. Per my usual, I stutter it out, and the man’s eyes grow wide. His scowl turns into a puzzled look of confusion. “What’s THIS now,” he says to himself. He slowly opens the door wide and quizzically looks me up and down, loosening his grip on the shotgun.

“Someone from the government who can’t talk right? And a little lady, too?” “Hmm…Beth, come over here. This lady out here’s from the federal government, but she’s not uppity. Maybe you two could talk things over things.”

Beth, presumably, arrives at the door. “We don’t usually talk to people from the government, but you don’t seem prideful like the last one. That must have been the census ten years ago, in 2000. As long as you’re here now, I have a couple things to talk to you about.” Beth steps aside from the doorway, and I go in the house. This would be the first time, but nowhere near the last, that I shared a cup of tea and information about government social programs before I took a household census. Not to be concerned, since I’m anti-corruption, I always took myself off the time clock until I returned to the Official Business of The Census.

~ Miriam Hertz

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