What You Are Worth

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July 13, 2010 by David Gillaspie

A Painful Examination Of Reality


Like most Americans not in the Witness Protection Program, or cooking meth, DG’s B&B got a census form and sent it in.  Again, like most Americans not living in a cave or a Walmart parking lot, I filled it out and mailed it.  Okay, my staff filled it out. 

Fine, my wife did it. 

She said she did it; now I’m not so sure.  The uncertainty came with a knock on the front door, timed to the traditional ‘shave and a haircut’ and leaving off the ‘two bits.’

A census taker, a stranger, an enumerator carrying a black shoulder sling bag with a white front and the words U.S. Census Bureau done twice, one over the other, with the lower one in random highlighted letters that seemed to spell out Tom Cruise’s daughter’s name. 

Under that came ‘Helping You Make Informed Decisions.’

The enumerator was a handsome enough character in a Gerard Butler sort of way, rugged and chiseled with a kind face.

“Hello, sir, my name’s Elvis.  Do you have a moment for a Census interview?  Is this your place?” he said, waving an arm.

“That’s right.  How’s it going?”

“It’s getting to be a long day, sir.  This some kind of hotel here?”

“It’s a B&B.”

“A BB?”

“A bed and breakfast.”

“You serve breakfast in bed?  Sir, I’m here with the census, not to discus your culinary habits.”

Elvis gave me a big curled lip smile, like he’d been practicing a version of that sentence all day.

“What do we discuss, then?” I asked.

“Let’s get to it.  Did you live here on April 1, 2010?”

“I do live here, but I was away on April 1.”

“Sir, do you need to check your calandar?”

“I know where I was, and it wasn’t here, at least not on April 1.  April 2, I was here.  Will that work?”

“No sir, only April 1.”

“I do know we had guests on April 1.”


“This is a B&B.  Did we cover that?”

“Yes, sir.”

He folded and unfolded a blue form with three creases.

“We had two people staying here on April 1.”

“Not permanent though.”

“That’s right.”

“Let’s try the third question.  Does someone usually live here or is this a vacation home?” he asked.

“People who stay here are on vacation, but I live here all the time unless I’m on vacation, like April 1.”

“Uh huh.  I’m getting the picture.  You live here, but you weren’t here April 1.  When you do live here, do you live alone.  How many others live here with you?”

“No one really.  Different family members do weekly shifts when the wife and I go away.”

“So your wife lives here?”

“Here and there, like me.  I’m here now, but on April 1 I was there.”



“While you were away, did you fill out a census form?”


“How about your wife?”

“I know, how about her.  You haven’t even met her and she’s got you saying ‘how about that.”

“Sir, that’s not what I said.”

“Oh, I heard you, and you are correct.  She’s a dish.”

“Right.  And you live here with your wife.”

“You could say that.”

“And she’s female?”

“Did I mention I have a wife?”

“Yes, sir.  And you’re male.”

“Is that a question or a statement.”

“Just working the form, sir.”

“Are you of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish orgins?”

“I was born in North Bend, over on the coast.”

“Yes, sir.  I’ll show you a list of racial choices; you can choose one or more.”

“Like Heinz 57 at the dog pound?”

“Or fewer.  Sir, if it would be easier to complete this on the telephone, we have that option.”

“Do you have my number?  It’s a dual line.  You don’t want to get the wrong one.  Goes right into the fax squawk.”

“When is a good time to call?”

“You can call me right now, or wait until you get in your car.  Or call me tomorrow, though I may not be right here if that matters.”

“Tomorrow then.”

“Has anyone said you look like Gerard Butler?”

“Now and then.”

“What happens at the end.  What is the census for?”

“Each person enumerated represents $1400 a year coming back to the community.  Over ten years, that’s $14,000.”

“Do I get a check?”

“Not exactly.  It’s federal money returned for community needs like schools and roads.”

“That sounds like a good idea.”

“It’s been a good idea for a while.  Would you like to finish the interview?”


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