I shopped this little piece last summer and it never sold. Now, it's dated to the point where it'll never sell, so why not share it here with the kind
of folks who might appreciate a true story about how insane it can get when you combine the federal government with temporary workers. This story is
100% true, and I wrote it on that Monday morning after getting sacked by the Census during my training for the third assignment of the spring. Of
course, I changed the names, but I wasn't sure I would at first. I offered it to Cincinnati's City Beat paper and if they'd taken it, the names
would've stayed put.
FIRED FROM THE CENSUS
I think I got fired from my job at the Census last Thursday. It’s Monday morning, and no one’s called me. The area director, Ms. Hughes,
suggested that I give her a chance to find out what happened, and that she’d call me when she figured out if I’d been fired from the whole Census
or just from my job as an enumerator. After all, this was – I think – my third assignment within the Census (as a whole) since March, when I got
hired for the big overnight effort to count the homeless people in Butler County, Ohio, so it’s not like determining my overall status is all that
cut and dried. In fact, Butler County may be wondering where the hell I wandered off to, once Hamilton County reached out and finally claimed me for
their own effort. Living on the border between the two has made this whole adventure a little confusing at times.
My wife has a much different take on Ms. Hughes’ assurance that she’ll get to the bottom of all of this.
“She won’t call,” she says. “I shield our HR rep all the time. They’re trained to tell you that they’ll find out what you want to know and
get back to you.”
“No, she specifically said that she wasn’t sure about…”
“She’s trained to say that if you actually get her on the phone. Whatever it takes to keep you from hosing down the front office with an assault
“Are you kidding?” she says. I can see that she’s not kidding. “It’s happening all over the country.”
“What’s happening all over the country?”
She leans across the table, lifting her corporate ID badge just above her cereal and lowering her voice, as if there are others that she needs to keep
this information from. “People coming back after getting fired and taking out the front office. It’s epidemic.”
I have no idea where to go from here. I have to admit that she got me on that one. I can’t even imagine a proper response to my own wife suggesting
that I might come across as someone who’d sanitize a workplace before turning the gun on myself as CNN crews hover just beyond the SWAT
“I told you that haircut wasn’t a good idea,” she adds, as if nailing down the entire bewildering issue before taking her bowl to the
“Now wait a minute,” I say. “You were the one who told me the long hair was hurting my employment chances.”
“I didn’t say you should buzz it all off. Short hair is fine, but a prison cut?”
“I didn’t want to have to screw with it.”
“It makes you look wanted.”
“I look wanted?”
“Wanted by the authorities,” she says. “Not by any HR department I’ve ever run into.”
I have to take her word on it, since she deals with HR people all day long. Them, and the wretched dregs that they hide from, as those corporate
crossing guards do what they do to keep America’s professional world safe from whatever it is that it needs to be kept safe from. Administrative
assistant, is what her job title states, but she sees herself as the first line of defense between her company and the rest of the savage world that
roams a little too free just beyond the door to the front lobby.
“Ms Hughes has to assume that you’re going to lose it and come after her. In today’s job market, if the firing supervisor doesn’t assume that,
it can mean her life.”
I can see that my wife is not being facetious. Not at all.
“But, it wasn’t Ms. Hughes who fired me. It was that kid, I think his last name was Allen. He fired me. At least I think he fired me.”
“Wasn’t he just the instructor? How could he fire you?”
“That’s the question. I don’t know if he knew that he could or couldn’t. That’s why I called Ms. Hughes.”
“So what did she say?”
“I told you. She said she’s going to find out.”
“Is she his boss?”
“Yeah. She’s the boss over all the NRFU (pronounced nar’ foo) crews in this county. She’s only been with the Census since January, and
isn’t from this area, so she’s still trying to make sense of what’s going on.”
“That instructor,” she asks, “he’s not from here either, right? Didn’t you tell me that?”
“Yeah, but I don’t know if he’s from California or from Northern Virginia. He said both places at different times during that first day in
class. No one knows. He just started with the Census too. That was the problem I ran into. He hadn’t even been trained as an enumerator himself yet.
He was teaching the class straight from a book, and it was getting pretty confusing.”
“So, why were you in that class? You’ve been enumerating since the end of March.”
“I don’t know why,” I say. “No one’s been able to explain that for me. I was supposed to help him out with the fingerprinting on the first
day, because I volunteered for fingerprint training. But when I got there, he told me that I had to turn in my Census badge and get rehired. I told
him that I wasn’t sure that he was right, and it went downhill from there.”
“You’re always challenging people.” She’s shaking her head like she always does when explaining why it is that I have such a hard time working
and playing with others. “That prison cut isn’t helping when you get belligerent like that, either. It just makes you seem threatening.”
“Me? Threatening? I never raised my voice. I was wearing a Navy Blue blazer, with medium charcoal slacks. How threatening could I have seemed?”
“It’s your eyes.” She suddenly stops her heading-off-to-work preparations, and looks directly at those offending eyes of mine. “I think it’s
how the left eye bends in a little. Makes you look predatory. I see that same thing in your granddaughter. Same bending in of the one eye. It can be
“Eliza is four years old! How threatening can a four year old be?”
She looks at me as if to say ‘Don’t give me that crap. You know what I mean.’
Although, to be honest, I don’t know what she means.
“I was not trying to challenge the guy. I just wanted to make sure he knew what I was supposed to actually do. I didn’t even expect to be in his
class until the second day of training, if at all. The fingerprint class instructor told us that we’d be in Butler County classrooms on the first
day to help in-process new hires, but then no one ever called me to give me an assignment. Then Ms. Hughes called me on Saturday as if it was the call
to go to orientation as a new hire in Hamilton County. I don’t think it registered with her when I told her that I’d already been working with the
Cincinnati Suburban office for a month.”
“You people need to get your stuff together.”
“It’s not me,” I say. “I was all set. They’re the ones who don’t know what happening from one minute to the next.”
“I told you after that overnight fiasco,” she laughs. “That job’s going to get weird. I remember saying that.”
She’s right, that overnight assignment was a fiasco. We were sent out on March 31st to count homeless people, and I remember the crew leader telling
all of us “You’ll see things you never though possible, so gird your loins (whatever that actually means) and just get through the night as best
you can.” We were expecting the worst. My team was assigned to count the homeless in Middletown, a rust-belt casualty north of the I-275 Cincinnati
beltway and just south of Dayton, and I recall him looking at us with special sympathy, as if we were going to witness infants being rotated on
campfire spits, and be forever scarred by human debauchery of epic proportions by the time we staggered back to base camp the next morning.
As it was, we never saw a single homeless person. Not even one hanging out in a park or enjoying the relatively warm night along the river. They told
us to stay away from the boarded up factory husks that litter the industrial sector, but as we drove by you could hear the parties going on inside
those abandoned monoliths. “You don’t want to be caught inside any structures tonight,” he said. “In the interest of safety, we’re not going
to allow any of you to enter any areas where you can become cornered or have your immediate egress restricted in any way.”
It became clear that we knew exactly where all the homeless folks in Middletown were that night, and if we could have stopped in for a drink, we
could’ve knocked the entire effort out in twenty minutes. The net effect of the ban on entering was that we spent four hours looking for people who
weren’t home for the night, and the parties were still raging when we found ourselves back at the Meijers 24 hr supermarket at 4:00 AM, and filling
out our time sheets. As far as the US government is concerned, Middletown has solved its homeless crisis as of April 1, 2010. Not a single person was
counted that night. Then again, no one told them specifically how to be available for the count, so whose fault was that?
“Okay, so that night was pretty badly handled.” I can’t deny it. The results speak for themselves.
She looks up as she’s gathering her leather bags and folders. “I would not call that woman. What’s her name again?”
“Ms. Hughes. She’s the FOS.” I see her raised eyebrow and add “Field Operations Supervisor.”
“Yeah, definitely do not call her. We don’t need you with a restraining order taken out on you. You’re already battling a lot in this economy,
what with having crossed the 50 yr mark.”
“I really was just trying to help the instructor fix the mess he was making of his class. Those people are dead meat when they get sent out on the
street this week. Not one of them has any idea what they’re doing.”
“That should not have been your concern,” she says.
“That’s what Ms. Hughes told me before I got fired. If I got fired.”
My wife stopped and looked into my eyes. “She’s right, and yes, you got fired. Believe me. You got fired.”
As she drove off to battle the maniacs who writhe in joblessness and fiddle with their tiny shreds of sanity after being tossed out into this roiling
caldron of professional obsolescence, I come back here to my laptop and try to make some kind of sense of the last month and a half. I’m not exactly
sure what happened, although I do have the check stubs that prove that I did work for the Census Bureau. I did attend two very different training
classes that were supposed to teach me how to do the exact same thing – count Americans – even though there was very little that stood out as
being similar between the two courses. I was trained in taking fingerprints, though, ironically – and I may be wrong in this belief – it was my
offering to assist in fingerprinting that actually sealed my fate as a Census employee for the entire employment run.
After all, it was that training, and the reason for that training, that suggested – to me, at least – that I was there on that first day to work
with the instructor, and to be his right hand man in his effort to process those new hires quickly and efficiently. It was that incorrect assumption
that put me in a frame of mind to be perceived as (maybe) a threat, especially with that one crazy eyeball that I (and my poor granddaughter) possess.
And especially to that flummoxed temporary Census worker they’d tossed into a crew leader’s position at (most likely) the last possible moment.
Maybe mere hours before I showed up, all enthusiastic and announcing that I was there to help.
So far – and it’s getting ready to shift from morning to afternoon here on Monday, the second full working day after my getting fired, or whatever
it was – the phone has yet to ring, and I have strict instructions that I am not to call the Census field office to check into whether my name is
still on their employee rolls.
I can’t help thinking about our visit to my wife’s parents this weekend, and how my mother-in-law was looking a lot better since we saw her on
Easter. The swelling and discoloration of her lower legs had improved significantly, and she was getting around really well.
“I finally switched doctors," she'd said, "and this one gave me a shot that’s finally doing something. I lost 12 pounds of fluid in just a couple
Now, she’d been seeing the one doctor for four years as her leg condition had progressively gotten worse, and it’d finally gotten to the point
where the acceptable “don’t make waves” wasn’t working for her anymore. This new doctor (the kind of wave she really didn’t want to make) is
well on his way to clearing up what the first one hadn’t been interested enough in to properly address. Somewhere in her situation, I see an analogy
beginning to form.
I know I’m not supposed to actually follow up on what the hell happened to my Census job, and I know that if I do, someone could somehow perceive me
as a crazy disgruntled termination that refuses to “move on with my life”. But then, my mother-in-law’s ex-doctor probably sees her as a
troublesome hypochondriac for dumping him after being so difficult for so many years over her little leg issue, so what’s anyone supposed to believe
anymore about what’s right and what’s wrong when it comes to asking questions and demanding answers?
Today, my enumeration crew is hitting the streets, and I can picture at least five of them walking off on the whole thing after their first difficult
interview. One guy will be charging on-the-clock-rates for the hour or so that it’ll take him to even get in the neighborhood for the pre-deployment
team meeting – Cincinnati’s public transportation is good until you get a mile outside of the downtown area. I really was looking forward to this
whole NRFU adventure, but I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. Or maybe it was? That is, maybe it’s still meant to be. After all, it’s still
Monday and Ms. Hughes might still call with an enumeration crew that needs another motivated, experienced headcounter. And if she does, then I’ll be
But then my wife’s years of jaded experience shoulders in on my optimism “She not going to call. She’s been trained to keep you waiting for
that call until your rage cools.”
For some reason, I have a hard time envisioning a deadly rampage and fatal stand-off with police over the loss
of a temporary job, but there’s a lot that doesn’t make immediate sense to me in the world as it is today.
The sun is shining, though, and the air is beginning to take the sun’s advice and warm up enough for shorts and sandals if I decide to take a lap
around the lake in the park next door. Maybe I will after I take a short nap. And if Ms. Hughes does call, she can leave a message on the voicemail. I
suppose I could wait by the phone, but it’ll probably be best if I don’t appear too eager.
edit on 2/4/2011 by NorEaster because: the
formatting software on this board sucks