Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Back In The Census Saddle

Back in the Census saddle, after three days of deafening silence last week—no work—amid my PT/temp adventure. Monday was a federal holiday, so all remained quiet, but now things are thankfully picking up again.

Meanwhile, I read a biting AP article Tuesday that seemed to be hand-fed to the reporter by a biased Republican looking to get his name in print, claiming that the Census Bureau has wasted “millions of dollars, including thousands of temporary employees who picked up $300 checks without performing work and others that over-billed for travel costs.”

I’m no expert—and certainly far from a rabble-rousing bureaucrat—but let’s talk truth. The “$300 checks” were specified much further down in the story as paid training for staffers that never showed up for the role they qualified for. This is the fed’s fault? The travel accusation, again, was buried, specifying eight specific cities… among thousands of locales. Can I tell you how many times it was drummed in during training: no overtime, no extra expenses, since our work is designated within our own residential zip code? In Brooklyn, certainly, travel pretty much entails two feet. And they're not paying for new shoes.

• Okay, onto the fun stuff… I arrived Tuesday morning to discover that behind the scenes, there was a tug of war between my field supervisor O and the head of recruiting D. D told O that if there’s not enough field work to keep me busy, she wants me in her department to help recruit staffers in the BK. Yeah, man! So I worked several hours in the office, and that evening, accompanied D to a monthly public Brooklyn District meeting, where community issues are bandied, police officers are awarded for squelching crime and other citizen concerns are aired. D was invited to talk to the 40 or so present (it snowed all day, mind you), encouraging them to pass along word that the community is in need of some 2,600 Census workers—then I worked the room and handed out cards, sharing that it was a great way to “earn extra money—or get your kids or parents out of the house for a few hours every day.” Good time!

• That said, perhaps one of the variables I most appreciate about this experience is that it’s sucked me out of my vacuum: sitting home, working on freelance projects, staring out the living room window or, admittedly, at times, sulking that the world hasn’t invited my return to glory to music journalism. Months-long unemployment eventually, inevitably fucks with one’s head, in terms of motivation and self worth. Getting the hell out of the house and working—the fundamental value of earning a living, no matter the pay, is rewarding. I cannot tell you how much more positive I feel in short order.

• And interacting with folks that I likely never would have otherwise met, from all professions, ages, class levels—all of whom, like me, were displaced and ended up where I am—has introduced me to a fascinating lot. I spent 20 minutes today talking to one supervisor about balance in the media, the music biz, cross-ownership between newspapers/radio/TV/Internet. He knows I came from music journalism in some fashion, but my history was less important than the value of a stimulating exchange.

• In the fall of 2008, I made a grand effort to explore Brooklyn, and the glory of the borough that I ignored for too long. I’ve lived here for nine years, but focused on Manhattan in the nearly 15 years since I arrived. I am learning much about this grand, progressive, culture-packed city—which is not only enormous, but feels more like the original New York I treasured when I arrived than what many nabes evolved into: Bloomberg-endorsed strip malls. Every day, I walk a slightly different route to and from the office, and each time, I discover local businesses that wallop the likes of the Astor Place K-Mart that I frequented for years, simply out of habit.

• As slight as it may sound, imagine working from home every day. How often do you wear outfits that make you feel smart and fashionable? Your good shirts, that belt that hangs in the back of the closet, those shoes you loved, but haven’t had occasion to wear for a while? Getting dressed for work is a pleasure—laying out clothes the evening before is fun. I don’t think it’s a gay thing. It’s a simple check-off of pride.

• Got my first paycheck today from the Census. It came out to be about the same I earned from unemployment—but with taxes accounted for. It's real money! I earned it! And with unemployment at its tale end, I'm thankful there is cash coming in. Who knows, I might even be able to buy a new shirt or pair of britches to wear to the Census office. And that would feel mighty fine.