Willing to listen

It was hard to work for the census because at times I knew I was causing others pain with the questions I was asking.

I had to deal with loss rather frequently. I can’t tell you how many times I spoke to people who lost someone close to them. I felt callous and impersonal about it sometimes. I know you told me that your dad died, but did he die before or after the census date.

I spoke to a man who lost his wife this year. He was out in the yard with his children when I pulled up. When did your wife die? Was it before or after the census date? I always felt a bit awful about it.

As I was getting ready to leave, he told me that I could turn my car around in the driveway and drive out instead of backing out. His driveway was on a hill. He said his wife left the house to go to work one icy morning and slid into a tree. He told me not to worry, she did not die in the driveway. She died after a long battle with leukemia.

I felt sad for his loss. I felt bad for his children. So I took a few extra minutes to listen. I told him I was sorry for his loss. I could tell it meant a lot to him. Sometimes people just need someone who is willing to listen.

The house of broken dreams

I was working late one Friday evening just about ready to wrap things up for the night. I didn’t prefer to work late on a Friday night because…well Wisconsin…drunks…

I pulled up to a house with a for sale sign in the front yard. I rang the bell and a man answered…drunk, slushy, and slurring. He said he never filled out the census because he had nothing to live for and didn’t care.

He said back on the census day he had the life he wanted, but that life disappeared. His wife connected with an old boyfriend on Facebook and then she was gone taking their baby with her. I could tell it was really painful for the man to fill out the census questionnaire as if they were still together.

The man was very emotional during the interview almost teetering on the verge of suicidal. He said he was moving out the next day. He said he had nothing left to live for. His dreams were gone.

I wondered what I should do. I tried to say comforting things. But only time, not alcohol, could take away the raw sting of his pain.

Thankfully at the end of our conversation the man said he had a friend staying with him that evening to help him move the following day. When he opened the door to go back inside of his house I saw his friend inside. I knew at least for that night, he would be okay.

When you don’t have power

Twice I went to the same prefab home in a bad neighborhood. There were already a couple census notices cluttering the rundown stairway outside the front door. There was also a notice stating the gas and electricity was going to be shut off a week earlier.

Both days I visited, it was piping hot outside. All the windows were closed tight and the shades were drawn with the exception of a set of venetian blinds that slanted cockeyed. I knew it must’ve been hot inside without power to run a simple fan.

I knocked but no one ever answered. Inside in some back room a dog barked and barked. I updated the case notes and walked away. It troubled me. What happened to the owner of the house? Were they inside dead or did they just walk away from it all? Maybe they were at work. It wouldn’t have been as disturbing if I didn’t hear the dog inside. Was the dog going to be okay?

Sometimes the hardest part of being a census worker was the what if scenarios that ran through my mind. I know I have a tendency to worry. I mean, maybe everything was fine but it didn’t seem that way. What could I do about it anyway? Call the police. Bust the windows. Break down the doors. I had to assume everything was fine unless I knew for sure it wasn’t.

I went to one other house that had service disconnect notices on the door. It was nice looking but neglected. The lawn wasn’t mowed. In all ways it seemed vacant.

On a stormy day I visited another property in the middle of nowhere that had a sign on the door stating it was an abandoned property. The silence seemed louder than the thunder that boomed in the distance. I found it to be disconcerting and creepy. Again things weren’t taken care of. There were branches cluttering the long windy driveway. Weeds, the grass unmown and dead in patches. Were there wild animals living inside?

With the exception of the rundown prefab home, the other two houses seemed pretty nice. They weren’t that old. They just needed a little TLC. When I think of abandoned or service disconnect houses, this is not what I had in mind.

I had to wonder…what happened to the people that were living inside? I wish the walls could whisper back to me their stories…as my imagination wanders…

The Dobermans

As part of the census training, we learned about the greatest threats to us as census employees.

The greatest threat of harm was actually slipping and falling. It is very easy to get distracted especially when you are finishing up cases on your census phone while walking. Whoops! Guilty. Thankfully I didn’t fall but I did almost get into someone else’s car. I’ve also been on enough rickety staircases to last me a lifetime.

The third greatest risk of injury was due to car accidents. I could easily understand how that could happen especially when you have to find an address that is poorly marked at dusk.

Today I want to talk about the second greatest threat of injury, animals. I was more likely to be attacked by an animal than a person. I did worry at times of being assaulted or murdered although the percentage of injuries or deaths were rather small from those threats.

My supervisor told me about an employee who was swarmed by bees after knocking on an unused front door. I did come across nests rather frequently but lucked out in that regard.

I was more wary of dogs. I carried treats in my car. It was always a judgment call. How threatening does this dog appear? How old is the dog? How big is the dog? Are there signs that a dog lives there? Did the beware of dog sign hold any merit?

One day I had to make a house call in the middle of nowhere. The front door appeared to be a sliding door. When I knocked on it two Dobermans answered. They hurled their massive bodies against the sliding door and snarled at me. Next to the sliding door was an open window. It wouldn’t have taken much for the dogs to crash through the screen and maul me to death.

It shook me up a little. What if the dogs were outside when I got there and we didn’t notice each other right away?

I was wary of scary looking dogs. Thankfully most of the time the big scary looking dogs had owners nearby.

The hoarders

I went to several hoarding houses. It was always a struggle to get to the front door. I had to touch iffy things so I wouldn’t fall as I squeezed through tight passages of old toys, garbage, and practically a timeline of their whole life. I often felt like I violated them in some way. They were showing me parts of themselves I would never want a stranger to see.

What always struck me was the smell even with my mask on of rot and decay. The yard a graveyard of old cars filled with you guessed it, more junk. One place had chicken bones in front of the door the second time I visited. It creeped me out like they were doing some sort of voodoo hex to get rid of me.

As I was leaving one of the houses a woman came home. I felt uncomfortable and embarrassed like I got caught snooping inside of her house. She told me she was remodeling her kitchen. Uh huh, yeah right.

The worst of the hoarding was located underneath a huge tree which had a bug infestation of some sort. The bugs crawled on me some odd mix of a gnat and flea. The woman said the DNR had been out because of the bugs and it was caused by something other than her remodeling.

I felt dirty there. The bugs made me feel creepy and crawly. I wanted to wash my clothes and jump in the shower but again I had more stops to make. Why would anyone want to live that way?

The hoarding caused great sadness in me. My parents are what I consider to be hoarders. They mainly collect paper item clutter such as long paid bills and receipts that they keep in stacks on the floors, counters, tables, and couches. They kept phone books from the 70’s from a different city.

My mom is a big collector of food. Although there are two people living in her house she shops for 10. She has multiple refrigerators and freezers full of rotting food. It causes my mother great emotional distress to get rid of things. It causes us distress that she keeps things.

At times I have to fight off an OCD tendency for cleanliness. For example, last week I washed my windows. While I saw all the imperfections, smudges, and dirt I left behind multiple birds kept flying into the windows. Maybe I have been filled so much with dirt that nothing will ever be clean enough for me. Maybe my perception is off too. Sometimes I have to tell myself that my best is good enough and I have to let the rest go.

My mom is embarrassed to have people over. People feel uncomfortable in a hoarding house especially if they are not used to it. My brother’s sister-in-law stayed there once and said it was so disgusting she was never going back.

My dad rarely showers. You have to be careful where you sit. You have to be careful what to eat. It’s best just not to go there. I mourn that. I want it to be warm, happy, and cozy like Christmas morning but we never celebrate there.

I remember what it was like living there. When the old power lines were taken down in our neighborhood, we went with our mom to collect probably a hundred of the insulators. We had to collect items like the tabs off of soda cans. We never got rid of broken items or outdated technology. My mom still has clothes in her closet from the 1980’s. I could keep going…

They never said no to anything. At one time my parents even accepted a huge unusable old rusty satellite dish. There are rooms in their house that are unusable too. Thankfully they were not much for outdoor displays of hoarding. If a shed is full, it’s time to build another shed.

It’s really hard to understand how hoarding can be satisfying especially for items viewed as junk. Hoarding suffocates me in feelings of despair. Going home is not pleasant. I wish it was. I could write for hours what it feels like to be a clean freak daughter of hoarders…

But as a census worker this was an uncomfortable situation I was already prepared for.

Gratitude week 41

  1. I updated my address and am ready to vote. I also helped my son register as a first time voter.
  2. We met with a new doctor for Arabella and we really like him. I think he is going to be able to help her.
  3. I have been struggling with my daughter’s depression and decided to take a drive by myself to clear my head. I headed up north and discovered unexpectedly that my dad was up there alone as well. I said some things I needed to say to him. He did say he was sorry for hurting me and also said he loved me. I think God guided me there and it is crucial for my healing process. I have been fluctuating between rage and forgiveness far too long to be healthy.
  4. I am done working for the census now. It’s been an expected yet not easy adjustment. I’m grateful to have extra time to get some of the back burner tasks done like washing windows and changing light bulbs.
  5. Yesterday I got out my winter clothes. I got rid of a bunch of clothes I don’t wear anymore. It felt good to get rid of things I don’t need and to get ready for winter.
  6. I’m grateful that although I live in a COVID hotbed, so far all of my family and close friends have been safe.
  7. I’m grateful our president recovered from COVID. There is so much chaos and craziness in our country right now that I couldn’t even imagine more…
  8. I’m grateful to finally be able to talk to my best friend. For some reason she didn’t receive ANY of the texts I sent to her this month. I was really starting to worry.
  9. It is absolutely gorgeous outside right now with the fall colors. I really need to try to enjoy each season because I think I am going to be stuck here for quite a while. I think I’m going to have to challenge myself with gratitude in this area especially when things get dreary, cold, and dark.
  10. Arabella’s senior pictures turned out really cute.

Come on in for a burger and beer

It was like I stepped back in time the moment my feet touched the ground.

They invited me into their living room in the garage. It was furnished with a couch set featuring tan upholstery with flowers accented with a wood frame reminiscent of the 1980’s. They had an ancient box TV that played an old John Wayne rerun.

I felt like I walked into my grandparent’s house although this couple was probably in their late 50’s. Their 20 something year old son was visiting sitting on the recliner. The man was grilling burgers outside and offered me one along with a beer.

It was a calm and relaxing atmosphere but I had important government work to do. As I was working with the woman on the census questionnaire, her husband popped in and I thought I heard him say something about not to forget Lori. Earlier they mentioned an elderly parent who lived with them.

I started to fill out Lori’s name when the woman stated that I misheard because no one by the name of Lori lived there. I laughed saying that I couldn’t fill out the census on ghosts. The woman stated that Lori was the name of her sister who died two years ago. I was mortified and started apologizing profusely. The woman said maybe it was a sign that Lori was still with them.

This year we had to collect the census data 4 to 6 months after the census date. I am surprised that I didn’t run into anyone who reported a family member that was alive during but passed away after the census date. Maybe someone did and they just didn’t tell me, I don’t know. For the census date we had to collect the info that was valid on April 1st. Yeah, April Fool’s Day and Census Day were on the same day in 2020. No joke.

These people were some pretty decent folks. I almost wished I could have deleted their info and come back another night at the end of my shift for a burger and beer. We could sit and watch old movies. We could talk, laugh, and pretend it was 1985.

They asked if I was sure I didn’t want something on the way out, water perhaps. I said I wanted everyone to be as nice as them. I smiled as I waved good-bye wishing I could have stayed for the burger and beer. But it was time to move on to the next house.

Who answers when I knock?

Looking back it kind of went by in a blur of faces. The only thing that really sticks out are the terribly bad mingled in with a couple good.

I don’t remember the first person that answered the door for me. I remember being very nervous the first day. I brushed off inexperience with a nervous laugh saying that I was new to the census.

I think it was the second day that I got the first door slammed in my face. A lady came to the door earlier in the day, looking hungover wearing a bathrobe at 11 AM. She told me to come back later because her husband would like to talk to me as she was much too busy doing nothing apparently.

Gladly I came back later (going out of my way) just to have a door slammed in my face. I learned later that making an appointment with the respondent to come back later in the day never worked out for me once.

It was the first day in the rough part of town that someone came out of their house belligerent with me. It was very hot that day and I saw a woman sitting on the grass in her front yard that I needed to speak to. She didn’t speak a lick of English and I had no idea what language she spoke as I’ve never heard it before.

Thankfully this woman had a 10 year old son who spoke perfect English. I tried to communicate with him what the census was about and why I was at their house but it was very difficult to explain. They had a very large family and when I was about halfway through the boy ran into the house to ask his father something.

The man followed his son outside the house and gestured angrily at me while yelling. I had no idea what he was saying but I’m sure it wasn’t a friendly greeting. The boy told me that his father was very angry. He told me I needed to delete all the information I had on them. Please leave my dad is getting very upset and I’m not sure what he will do.

I left frightened for the family’s safety more than my own. I wondered if the boy and his mother would get in trouble for talking to me. I could almost understand the dad’s anger though. Imagine if someone ‘official’ looking showed up to your door and started asking personal questions if you do not speak the language nor have any idea what the census is. I was a threat. He was only trying to protect his family which I can respect.

But I have no respect for someone who treats a census employee (or any worker) like garbage just for their enjoyment. It’s like they deliberately didn’t fill out their census so they could harass anyone who comes to their door.

Mean people just suck and you never knew what you were going to get when you knocked on the door.

Reaching the end

I resigned from my census job today and turned in all my census equipment. I was expecting it to end, but I wasn’t expecting it to end quite as abruptly as it did.

In some ways I feel relieved, but mainly I feel sad. Strangely I feel stir crazy. I feel like I have cabin fever and man is it a long way from March. I have literally nothing on my calendar. If it was a normal year I’d almost have next summer planned already.

Work was the only place I went, the only thing I did. There are a handful of friends that I haven’t even seen since this whole pandemic began. When this whole thing is over will we start back up again where we left off? I miss being too busy, every weekend planned not a second left for spontaneity.

My daughter’s high school just went back to virtual learning. Apparently Wisconsin is a virtual COVID hotbed right now. Everywhere I go, everywhere I look people are fighting about the masks we are required to wear. I went to the store today and saw a guy wearing a Halloween mask. I’m just sick of it. I don’t even care anymore. I hate what we have become and there is no escape from it, from ourselves.

Once again everything is changing almost as fast as the changing of the seasons. I feel kind of blah about it. I don’t want to just accept it willingly. But the good news is that I should have time now to write about my adventures as a census worker and I plan on spending the next couple of weeks doing that. And I just sent out an email inquiring about another job.

Gratitude week 38

  1. It’s been one of those weeks and I’m glad it is over. Nothing major, but sometimes it’s the little things. My son got his exhaust fixed on his car and a few days later the exhaust is loud again and a headlight burnt out. But I’m thankful that all my kids have vehicles that for the most part work so I don’t have to take them to work or school.
  2. Honestly, I’m grateful that the census job is almost over. It’s been stressful lately. I’ve been going to rough neighborhoods that I have been having difficulty closing cases in. Yesterday as I was walking through a neighborhood a man yelled at me to leave. I’ve been feeling quite anxious lately and I think an overall sense of not being safe is adding to that. It bothers me to see the living conditions of the children. Filthy apartment complexes with signs on the doors saying its recently been sprayed for roaches. Garbage littering, broken beer bottles shattered, and a haze of stale cigarette and pot smoke lingering in worn apartment hallways. Today as I was working several young unattended children came up to me and asked me if I had any quarters for them. It’s really quite heartbreaking. I also saw a woman walking around on a busy street in a bathrobe. Oh, all the stories I will write about the things I saw that will change my life.
  3. I’m grateful though for all the wonderful people I met through the census job. It gives me hope that humanity is not totally screwed despite people having to live through tough circumstances.
  4. I’m grateful that despite windy conditions Paul and I were able to take my cousin and her husband sailing. We haven’t seen each other in about 5 years at the family Christmas party. Even then we really didn’t have the chance to catch up and visit. Plus she works in the editing field and wants me to reach out when I am ready to publish my book.
  5. My daughter is moving home at the end of the week!
  6. Paul’s birthday is this week and it is the 25th anniversary of the day we met. I am renting a really nice hotel room where my daughter lives to celebrate then the next day we are moving her home.
  7. We are supposed to get some warm weather within the next couple of days. It’s been so chilly here that I’ve heard some people put on their heat. Not me! But I did break down and briefly wore my winter jacket outside.
  8. I am feeling a lot better. I had a couple of bad days of stomach cramps and nausea. I was worried that I might end up really sick with colitis again. I felt pretty miserable. Miserable enough to ask God to just let me die. Please Lord take my life because I can’t take it anymore. I still managed to somehow stumble to work. As I was getting ready for work, Paul came in to tell me he was having chest pains that radiated down his arm. What a sad lot we are! He figured out he wasn’t having the big one but just pulled a muscle. When I asked God to take away my life I didn’t mean Paul. In that moment I felt really grateful for Paul because who really knows how much time we have left. That’s the scary part about getting older. Someday all of this is going to end. We are starting to get reminders of that.
  9. I’m grateful I managed to find the time to finish the book I was reading. It was probably one of the most depressing pieces of fictional family drama that I ever read. Everything fell apart but in the end everyone and everything miraculously came back together. All broken relationships were mended. I found the book to be rather triggering. It made me think of the book I’m writing. There are plenty of messes that don’t seem to be resolving themselves. It was so sad reading it that I wondered what people would think reading my book. Too bad I couldn’t just write it with a happy ending. I want the feel good book of the year. I want people to feel good about what I write. But is that real life? Does it give hope when things magically come together? Or does it give more hope that we can handle things when they don’t?
  10. I got some good test results back this past week and I am meeting with the wellness nurse this week. Despite a couple days of setback, I am hoping that my path forward will include better health.