The census is coming down to the last 10 days, and the cases are getting harder. The way it works is: Most people respond to the form that went out in the spring. The ones who don’t get a home visit from someone like me, who, if they don’t answer the door, leaves behind a notice with a code where they can go online or call a toll-free number and do it there.
And if they still don’t respond, they become “proxy eligible,” i.e., we enumerators are obliged to knock on their neighbors’ doors, asking nosy questions about who lives next door, etc.
You can imagine how well this goes over in Detroit, especially when the questions are posed by a Karen like me.
Almost everything I had today was a proxy-eligible case. Rarely they’re easy; mostly they’re not. But the job is taking me onto some blocks where you can really see how fragile a neighborhood really is. Blight is a metastasizing cancer. I once shadowed a neighborhood manager in Detroit for a day, and he theorized that if you don’t get there early — if you don’t tear stuff down when there are maybe two rotten teeth in a row of houses — you risk being too late. Two bad houses can be cleared, and it’s a block with a couple of vacant lots, which in a still-stable neighborhood will be mowed and cared for and maybe turned into garden plots by the people who live adjacent. But if all the houses go bad, quickly, all you’re left with are those little-house-on-the prairie blocks.
Which can be very pleasant, I hasten to add. The people who stick it out often find themselves quite content, listening to pheasants and watching other natural scenes out their windows. The other day I was pulling out of a condo complex near Lafayette Park and a red fox trotted right across my path. I know they can become quite comfortable in urban environments, like their coyote cousins, but it is still startling to see.
Anyway, today I had one of those blocks. A weird one, too — one whole side of the street was 90 percent boarded, the other was maintaining. One address was easy, a godsend even, as it was being restored and the owner was there. The other was partially boarded, but not entirely. No answer to the knock, of course. A neighbor, a proxy, said he “saw people going in and out,” but only sometimes, and probably they were squatters. I stared at the app on the phone. I figured something out, but not sure what it was.
On the other hand, there were delights, the best being a 12-year-old boy, alone in the house, one year too young to be officially interviewed, who stunned me by saying, “Oh yeah, the census. We only got until the end of the month, right?” I asked how he knew that.
“I read everything,” he said. “I play video games and I read.”
“So what did you learn today?” I asked.
“The Chinese are test-driving a flying car,” he answered, instantly. You don’t say.
Ten more days of this.
I’m grateful to be busy. Friday night’s news, combined with one slice too many of pepperoni pizza, had me staring at the ceiling until past 2 a.m. If eyeballs could shoot death rays, I’d have burned a hole in the roof. I stopped reading about it by Saturday morning; I just can’t stand it anymore.
And now the week yawns before us. God, let it be not-too-terrible. I can’t take another like this one.