My Survey

Every Wednesday before the garbage truck arrives, I wheel the trash cart out to the mailbox and clean out the junk mail that has accumulated there during the week.

It is a task whose simplicity betrays its difficulty because figuring out what is junk mail is not easy.

I thought I’d seen it all until I came across an official looking envelop, with big uppercase letters that boldly declared:


What could this be?

I know the warranty on our Mr Coffee was about to expire, so could this be an extension offer?


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 was a booklet 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.

Was the Census incapable of doing simple math 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.

Author: Almost Iowa

55 thoughts on “My Survey”

  1. I’d forgotten about that survey. I think I got one, and trashed it. One of the advantages of living in an apartment complex is that you always can plead the “it must have gotten put in the wrong box” excuse. For one thing, that happens more often than it ought, with more important things, like tax returns, and the favorite aunt’s handwritten recipe for mac and cheese. Life is hard.

    1. “it must have gotten put in the wrong box”

      My old bank (Wells Fargo before I dumped them) used to send me credit card come-ons in the form of checks printed with my name and account number on there (spend me!). I disposed the practice but shudder to think of them landing in the wrong mailbox.

      Hey….. hope you are out Harvey’s path. Stay safe.

      1. I’m in Harvey’s path, expecting about 30″ of rain and plenty wind — but I still have power, and I have plenty of Talenti blackberry gelato. If the power goes, I’ll grab a spoon and cope.

  2. I got that survey last winter. I delayed in filling it out for a long time – because I had an issue with the addressee. They sent it to ‘Current Occupant.’

    Sorry – but anything with that wording gets automatically trashed. If it’s such an official document, they can look up my damn name.

    Soooo – I ended up getting a couple of visits from an actual living, breathing, thinking human being from the Census bureau, wondering why I hadn’t filled out their extremely intrusive and invasive questionnaire.

    It did get filled out eventually…I got sick of hearing them pound on my door.

  3. You can be an official redneck, even if you are originally from the city. Heck, when I lived in the city we had all sorts of neighbors who were rednecks. And I’m sure they thought the same thing about us…
    As for the census, I would have thought for sure that was a fake and tossed it!

    1. I’ve given up on the twin fifties, not enough range and not nearly loud enough. Instead, I opted for a PND, otherwise known as Personal Nuclear Device. You can find them on

      1. I have to add this if you are contemplating going the Personal Nuclear Device (PND) route, you need to harden your front porch. We neglected to do that and are still arguing with our insurance company.

  4. Required by law (if you live in Iran). The mail that is designed to deceive people really bothers me, because it works on so many people. All of the above would be my choice. Then into the trash.

    1. It really was from The Department of Commerce and filling it out is actually required by law, law which is backed by fines and yes, jail. This essay was based on an event a couple of years ago and I kept throwing the survey away…until they sent a person out to our house to sit down with me and fill it out.

      We had a great time.

      From Wikipedia: American Community Survey

      Those who decline to complete the survey may receive visits to their homes from Census Bureau personnel. Because it is a mandatory survey, it is governed by federal laws that could impose a fine of as much as $5,000 for refusing to participate.

      To date, no person has been prosecuted for refusing to answer the ACS. [33] Former Director of the Census Bureau Kenneth Prewitt remarked that the Department of Commerce is “not an enforcement agency” and that “the Department of Justice would have to do the prosecution, and we don’t recommend that

  5. Out here, junk mail has flowed to a trickle, which is worthy of great celebration. Almost all of our bills are paid online, so we don’t even get bills. Of course junk E-mail and rob-calls make up the difference. Laughed out loud about your wife grabbing the ‘census’ form. –Curt

    1. Only very rarely does a piece of junk mail bear my name because I never give my name out or my email address. My wife on the other hand, signs up for everything.

    1. I used to mess with them, now I hang up. I used to be polite too… I realized that the person on the other end of the phone is simply doing their job and everyone needs an income but Minnesota Nice only goes so far. Now I just hang up and block the caller.

  6. Go for it! Mess up the survey count.
    It seems like every day I dig through piles of ads, requests for donations, buy a repair contract for this or that appliance, just to find the phone bill.

  7. Those junk-mailers are getting clever, all right. I like how they’ll plaster “FINAL NOTICE” on something, a phrase guaranteed to alarm almost anyone. Good post!

    1. “FINAL NOTICE” That is a relief, so they are not going to bug me anymore…. Fat chance, it’s like the furniture store that has been going out of business for twenty years.

  8. Similar to your ‘Toro’ moment, we were looking at mattresses in the local furniture store a while ago, and later that day my wife was bombarded with mattress ads on her phone. And she laughs when I tell her they’re watching us from the satellites…

  9. “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.”

    No worries there…the US Census will send someone out and find that van by the river.

    Seriously, as someone who regularly used that Census data in her professional life, I hope most people fill it out “correctly.” Policy, district lines, and funding depend on it! Okay, PSA over.

    1. I can see the value of the census – but compelling a citizen to count their appliances under the threat of fine or jail is tad bit of overkill. 🙂 My wife is not cranky as I am, she filled it out right.

  10. Junk mail is the worst. Because of it, I almost threw out something that was actually important! (I think it was a statement from my health insurance– oops!)

  11. The American Community Survey is a result of the 2000 Census, when people (such as myself) looked at the nosy questions contained therein and said, “screw this, I’ll fill out the first page and send the rest of it back.” They decided to separate the nosy questions from the census and send them out separately with an ominous threat. I think they want to check what they already know about you against what you say.

  12. Ha ha. Great answers. We had a major appliance melt down not too long ago and had them all sitting on the deck waiting for pick up. My daughter brought over a new beau and we got a such a laugh at her horrified face. 🙂

    1. And did he feel right at home? I would say that a guy who feels at home both at Starbucks and the skeet range – is a keeper. Put simpler, those who can bridge the cultural divides can usually handle anything that life throws at them.

    1. What? What? You don’t have outside appliances? Just where do you keep your old stoves and micro-waves? That is what God made porches for.

    1. Whenever I start acting like a redneck, my wife reminds me that I am nothing more than a city-boy redneck wannabe. But I have to ask, isn’t there such a thing as an urban redneck?

      1. Hysterically funny, thanks!

        And now I set you a challenge to answer your own question, “…isn’t there such a thing as an urban redneck?” in a future post.

    1. I bought a lawn mower yesterday. A big one because I have a big lawn, six acres of lawn to be exact. I know, I know, it’s ridiculous – but to see kids run and play on that lawn makes it all worthwhile…. Anyways, I spent some time researching lawn mowers online – and last week, I got a flyer from Toro in the mail. It had my name and address on the flyer.

      Think about that.

      I clicked on a site and from that click they got my full name and address and knew just what I was in the market for.

      1. We have a lot of toll roads up here. So, you have a choice to pay on line for an E-ZPass that automatically deducts the toll from your account or pay cash. There are tons of folks who still line up to pay cash because they don’t want the government knowing they are going through the tolls. It cracks me up. I guess they haven’t given any thought to the fact that they photograph every plate. 🙂

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