I got my census form in the mail the other day. I filled it out and mailed it back the very next morning, like a good citizen. I did this for two reasons. I heard a news report on the radio that said the government could save something on the order of 1.5 billion dollars if everyone who received the form filled it out and mailed it back promptly. I’m all for saving 1.5 billion, so I got right on it. You should too. That’s your own money you’re saving, after all.
The other, probably more important reason that I promptly returned my form was a previous, scarring experience I had with the census. I can’t say I recall the 2000 census. It was probably about as boring for me as this one was—fill out the form, send it back. The 1990 census, however, is one that will haunt me forever.
At that time I was living in Currier Hall at the University of Iowa with my friends Hunter* and Goldie*. I remember when the census forms all got delivered to our mailboxes there. Being a bit of a fussy lad at the time (I’ve gotten over it, I think), I was put off, to say the least, by the demand that we fill out the census form and return it within 48 hours or suffer the consequences. If I’d known then the consequences I would suffer, I would have complied. At the time however, I thought the demand was simply disrespectful. I was a very busy student, or at least had I applied myself I would have been. The point is they didn’t know that I wasn’t under tremendous pressure to finish some big student-y project, report, or what have you. I could have been swamped. Give me a week or something to turn that thing around, not two days. Sheesh.
Having thus been insulted by the government, I chose the path of civil disobedience. No, I didn’t organize a march on the Pentacrest. That would have required effort. I chose instead to, well, just keep on doing what I did, which generally included sleeping late and having the time of my life.
Big mistake. A couple of days later, having savored my victory over an oppressive government, I was brutally reminded that there is no stopping the federal bureaucracy.
At the ridiculously early hour of like 10:30AM (this is college, for God’s sake, not boot camp), there was a pounding at the door. “Census!” came the call of a female voice. I rolled over to see Goldie across the room sitting bolt upright in bed, looking somewhat like Punxsutawney Phil just ripped from his hibernation hole. In the other bunk, Hunter just glared at me, knowing this slumberus interruptus was entirely my fault.
The pounding on the door continued. “Census! And I’m not going away!” One of us, I can’t remember who now, cleverly yelled “I’m naked!” at the door, hoping that might scare her away. “I’m a grandmother,” came the retort, “I’ve seen it all before!”
From there, it’s all a bit of a haze, not unlike much of my college experience. I opened the door, answered the nice grandmotherly lady’s questions (she wasn’t as nice as my grandmother, but let’s not quibble), and if I know myself, probably went back to bed. The lesson here (I did learn stuff at college, despite majoring in sleeping) is that when the government demands action from you, it’s best to just suck it up and do whatever they want, or you’re going to get woken up. Bear this in mind during this census season, and don’t say I didn’t warn you.
*Not actually their birth names.