Thursday, March 25, 2010

Census Report: Call Me Teach

I have never had any desire to teach. If anything, the idea of standing in front of a class to share my alleged smarts is terrifying. But on Wednesday, fellow Crew Leader T and I were thrust into the role for our class of two dozen new U.S. Census Bureau hires, at a church fellowship hall associated with Holy Name of Jesus Church in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

I was up at 6 a.m., swilling coffee by 6:30 and out the door at 7. From the R subway to the F train, and 45 minutes later we were setting up the room, wondering what the hell this all-new experience had in store. In the end, it was a total rush. Yet another adventure from this Census gig.

Over the next eight hours, we read from manuals (500,000 federal guidelines and mandates: “You will not work overtime, you will not work overtime”). We filled out forms. Lots of forms, from tax and direct deposit to a federal affidavit and payroll. We warned about how to react to vicious dogs. Confidentiality. We performed a swearing in.

And we took fingerprints from all 24 peeps—well, almost. One of the potential “enumerator” hires, P, refused to have his prints taken, insisting it violated his civil rights. “Oh, okay. Well, then I’m afraid you can’t be a federal employee,” I responded. “I need to ask you to leave. Now.” Just as well. This dude looked higher than a hot-air balloon… In all, we recorded two sets of fingerprints from 23 folks. That’s 46 hands times 10 digits: 920 fingers. Do you have any idea how absurd fingerprints look after two hours? I swear, I saw Jesus in a couple.

Last night I got home, fixed dinner and started watching “The Blind Side.” Sandra Bullock in the role of her career. Two hours later I woke up on the sofa. It was 10 p.m. I prepared my clothes for Thursday, made lunch and sigh, was in bed well before midnight.

Today was a repeat performance. Up at 6—a call to wish my mama Happy 84th Birthday at 7—then out and back in front of our minions at 8:30. More training, 5,000 questions (remarkably, T and I actually knew the answers to a good 4,850 of them) and then a stop by the Census office to hand in forms. Damn, I feel accomplished.

Amazing that in short order, one is able to pick out the dimwits from the sharp shooters with frightening accuracy, based on body language, posture, challenging them to read out loud, the framework of questions they ask, in general the way they carry themselves. I’m hoping that I’m proven wrong, that there are some diamonds in the rough that can be nurtured into finding potential they didn’t realize they had. I’m eager to work with the weakest, while leaning on the capable to balance out the lot. I recognize that I’ve been given an opportunity, if only for a month or two, to help some of the younger, less experienced hires to discover abilities that could possibly serve them for the long term—if only a boost in confidence.

And speaking of discovering abilities, this “teaching” position has allowed me to recognize long-dormant skills/talents that I haven’t utilized in years. In high school and college, I was active in competitive forensics, the public speaking team. My university degree concentrations were in journalism and speech. Working as a country radio DJ in high school and hosting the Billboard Radio Countdown in the 1990s are coming in handy as I muster a cold reading of hundreds of pages of very dry material. It’s a performance to try and hold the hires’ attention. I’m kind of loving it.

On Friday, we complete training and Monday, at last, we begin the first official Census count. T and I will each have a dozen enumerators working under us, whom we will meet with on a daily basis, assigning Group Quarters for them to survey, addressing any challenges, checking paperwork and funneling it into the system, where it will then be logged as part of the official 2010 Census. Kind of cool.

Hopefully tonight I can stay awake long enough to have dinner and finish my movie. In any case, I’ll head to bed and give myself a light pat on the head, whispering, "Nicely done, Chucko. Who knew you had it in you?"