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Senseless Census

One citizen decides to get nosy right back with Uncle Sam

By Ed Wank

LIKE ALL RESIDENTS of this great nation, I received my census form in the mail recently. Being a professional smartypants, I called the toll-free hotline on the form--the number you're directed to dial if you have trouble answering questions, like "What's your name?"

The form instructed me to call after 8am. I tried at 7:30am to see if the Census Bureau had an answering machine. It didn't.

I waited awhile, then called the Census Bureau's "Office of the Director." The Director is someone named Kenneth Prewitt. I wanted to find out if Kenneth Prewitt was Spanish/Hispanic/Latino or not. I wanted to ask Kenneth Prewitt if he owned his house, apartment or mobile home or if he was occupying without payment of cash rent. It was about 11am East Coast time when I called Kenneth Prewitt's office in suburban Washington, but no one answered. Kenneth Prewitt must be entirely too busy counting people to talk to them.

Filling out government forms can be fun, though. A friend noted that the census envelope simply states: Your response is required by law. Notice they don't say what kind of response. The word "accurate," for example, isn't mentioned at all, and the word "response" is vague. Here are some sample responses.

"Thank you for your inquiry. That information has been deemed classified by this family."

Or how about:

"We're sorry. All persons residing at this address are currently busy. Please hold for the next available respondent."

The form asks respondents to number everybody in the house, starting with Person One. We've had quite a discussion about who should be Person One at my place. My wife waters the plants, which could be a good qualification for Person Onehood. On the other hand, I do a lot of the cooking. It's a tough call. Maybe I should send the government my born-again response. (I use the born-again response whenever I encounter someone I don't want to talk to.) A born-again response directed at the Feds would have to be a long, rambling discourse on Who should be Person One in their HEARTS. Of course, AMERICA will only be saved when JESUS is PERSON ONE in EVERY HOUSEHOLD. You get the picture.

Now that I think about it, though, my son should really be Person One. Anyone who has a child under 10 will tell you that the time/cash investment required to raise a child in America automatically qualifies the spoiled little monster for Person One status.

Maybe I'll name my dog Person One. That ought to give the system a little something to chew on. Or maybe I'll fill out all the information on Person One by referring to myself in the third person. Maybe I'll answer all the really important questions with passages from Waiting for Godot: (Your address: A country road. A tree. Evening.)

Maybe I'll construct my own mixed-race category and call myself "Afrispanicnamese." Maybe I'll fill the form out with a crayon.

Maybe I'll copy the entire form onto a used fast-food burger wrapper and demand that the government fund a study to find the cause of obesity in America.

Here's the big problem with government forms: they're written by government officials using government language. How 'bout something a little friendlier? Maybe a census form written in the style of Dr. Seuss?


Person One or Person Two? Person Red or Person Blue?
Do you live all by yourself? Do you live with someone else?
Do you own the place where this was sent?
Or just a poor slob paying rent?
How old are you on April first? Just when is your date of birth?
Are you a boy or girl right now? Would your doctor write that down?
Are you Vietnamese or Korean?
Chinese? Cuban? Puerto Rican?
Japanese or Filipino? Two thirds white or half Latino?
Samoan aunt? Hawaiian dad? An uncle who's from Trinidad?
African or black? Which is it?
Indo-Euro Asian midget?
Answer all and send it out
So we can get a proper count.
Results arrive 2010--the date we do it all again!

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From the May 25-31, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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