census or self analysis?

This morning a gentleman from the census bureau knocked on my door.  I refer to him as a gentleman because his grey hair was combed back nicely with just the right amount of gel.  He wore khakis with just enough pockets to make them questionably cargo pants, and his name badge hung over his blue, zip up fleece top.  The apparel was pretty standard “comfy-casual” for this neck of the woods.  But like I said, the hair made him a gentleman.

After he grabbed his laptop with its giant U.S. Census sticker on it I invited him in.  I didn’t offer him coffee as that seemed too friendly an invitation for someone I wasn’t quite yet positive wouldn’t be murdering me in the next 5 minutes.  He asked me the standard census questions, but as this was my first home visit I wasn’t quite yet sure what to expect.  I fumbled on my husband’s birth date, first correcting myself on the day (“seventh, not seventeen”) and then letting it slide when I realized I also gave him the wrong year (“my husband was born in 1988?!”).  I also over estimated my yearly income, choking as I secretly vowed to brush up on my mental math skills.  I imagined myself sitting before a jury some time from now being questioned as to why I gave so many wrong answers.  I also thought about how ashamed I would be the next time I read some sort of national population statistic, knowing that my answers were slightly off.  “Accurate to the best of my knowledge” hopefully applies to my poor memory for birth dates and horrid math skills.

Even more concerning was the fact that this man was possibly judging me as he sat in my two room home (“if I sleep in the attic does that count as a second room, and does it count as a bedroom?” was my answer to his 8th question).  The upside down patio chair laying next to the couch, the dirty floors, the long, white cat hairs strewn everywhere like confetti.  I watched him type in between questions wondering if he was taking observational notes.  “Fidgets as she answers questions regarding numbers,” “Says she has husband but incredible amount of cat hair appears to prove otherwise,” “Bird seed on kitchen counter – she possibly eats birdseed???”  In my mind I see these notes being sold to retailers, ad agencies, and local mayors, maybe even Russia who would use them to calculate the stupidity of their frenemy.

I am an annoyingly clean person, or at least my husband thinks so.  To have someone come into my house while even just one item is out of place causes a self evaluation of the highest scrutiny.  I don’t spend countless hours every evening after work dusting cat hair, organizing my desk, and sweeping each square inch of my small home so that someone can stop by unannounced and find my home in a mediocre state.  As I sat across from the gentleman in his barely cargo khakis I wondered what it would be like to have his job and see so many homes.  I also wondered if his office was hiring.

Oh the excitement of stopping by other people’s homes unannounced and seeing what items may be out of place or what other people did while home on a Wednesday at 9am.  Maybe my barking lap dog was a breeze to a man who probably stopped by a lot of homes filled with small children and blaring day time talk shows.  The perspective one must gain by showing up at strangers houses unannounced!

As he left, the gentleman (who never once tried to murder me by the way) called back at me from his black Buick “you have a great place here!” and I thanked him, knowing he must be referring to the sunshine and tweeting birds flying over his head.  And as he drove away I thanked myself for cleaning the dog poop from the yard this morning.

census or self analysis?

page three

Let’s start this story in the middle.  That’s where the cats like it.  Where it’s warm and inviting, where the sun casts a glow on the crease between weathered pages and new crisp ones.  If this were a children’s story we would be starting somewhere around page three; the part of the story that is climatic for the child, the part of the story where the adult is getting tired of doing the characters’ voices, the part of the story where the adult loses interest and just wants to get it over with.  It is that part in your own life where you think, “Six years ago I was going to do this. Six years ago.”  You begin to feel old, and you wonder how many climatic experiences you can have before somebody wants to stop reading, before somebody wants to close the book, before the cats jump off of the kitchen table and go hide under the bed.

You still are a little uncomfortable with the sound of your own voice which means you’re not as old and as loopy as you had previously thought.  Yet you still like to imagine that someday, after you have passed away, they will find 250 paintings of yours stashed away in a backyard shed.  “Two hundred and fifty paintings, that’s all she did,” they will say as they stand gazing at your works of art hung on the large, boring, white wall of a museum.  At least that is how you imagine it.  This is how you know you are in the middle of the story.  Roughly page three.  It is somewhere between settled and content and imaginative and fearless.  You are too mature to be naive, but to healthy to feel like you need a retirement fund.  Your parents would like to see you have babies and buy a fancy washing machine and dryer.  Your boss would like to see you striving.  But instead, all they really get is a restless look in your eyes.  A look that says, “I haven’t figured it out yet.”

In one week two family members died of cancer.  One in their late seventies, and one in their mid forties.  You are at that age where you hesitate to buy canned peaches to go with your cottage cheese.  You hesitate because a recent news story reported that the BPA in the cans may cause cancer.  Not only have you stopped smoking, but now nothing seems safe to eat.  You haven’t made enough money yet to buy organic fruits and vegetables.  But the thought of death is there.  This is page three.  If this were a children’s story everyone would learn their lesson.  The characters would be sharing.  The characters would be eating cookies.  The characters would be happy; they wouldn’t be thinking about cancer, canned peaches, or what their boss expects of them.  But this isn’t a children’s story.  This is page three of your life.  This is where death and life and money and health and the ups and downs all get a little jumbled.  And yet it is all starting to finally make a little more sense.  Or so you think, as the cats slowly crawl out from underneath the bed.

page three