Every Wednesday evening before Otis arrives with his garbage truck, I wheel the trash cart out to the mailbox and clean out all the junk mail that has accumulated there during the week.
It used to be a simple task but the direct marketing industry has evolved in ways that would please Charles Darwin.
Like bugs disguising themselves as twigs or viruses camouflaged by a layer of protein, junk mail frequently cloaks itself as something that appears vital – like a utility bill or a government document; a favorite being the refund check. At least they get you to open it.
I thought I’d seen it all, until sifting through last week’s mail when I came across an official looking envelop, with big uppercase letters that boldly declared:
YOUR RESPONSE IS REQUIRED BY LAW.
Holy Moly! What could it be?
I know the warranty on our Mr Coffee was about to expire, so could this be an extension offer?
Nope. The return address read US Department of Commerce.
So as required by law, I opened the envelop and found a questionnaire titled The American Community Survey. It’s a booklet printed on cheap stock with a long list of nosy questions.
Having a pen on me, I used the mailbox as a desk and began filling it out.
The very first question threw me for a loop.
It wanted to know both my AGE and DATE OF BIRTH – which raised a few questions of my own. Was the Census incapable of doing simple arithmetic or was this a test to determine if I was an idiot? In the case of the later, I hoped not to disappoint.
The next question inquired as to my GENDER but it only presented the traditional binary choice, so to protest, I checked both boxes.
The question of RACE was a tad more progressive. Respondents were encouraged to check as many boxes as applicable. Black, White, Asian, Inuit. Elizabeth Warren, knock yourself out. So again, I checked them all.
All bases under HOUSING were covered. They even had a little green box to check if you were living in a van down by the river but you have to wonder how many people living like that have access to a mailbox.
Next the survey required us to count our stoves and refrigerators.
For that I needed help.
“Hon,” I yelled from the driveway, “how many stoves and fridges do we own?”
“Inside or out?” she yelled back.
Good question, I hadn’t thought of that. Counting the ones on the porch, we have at least five of each.
The same went for automobiles, so I added up the yard-cars.
“Why do you want to know?” she shouted.
“I’m filling out a survey.”
“It’s a census form.”
“DON’T YOU DARE…” she shouted as she raced across the lawn.
“We have to fill it out,” I told her, “it’s required by law.”
“Then I’ll do it,” she said, snatching it away from me. Then she muttered, “otherwise people will think we’re a bunch of rednecks…”
“I wouldn’t worry about that,” I told her as I pulled yet another glossy Lexus flyer out of the mailbox and tossed it into the trash.