Confessions of a Census Taker

For the last few weeks I've been driving the back roads of our area, working for the US Census. My job was checking on vacant residences and buildings that aren't actually used as residences. Often I had to use my GPS to find buildings on roads like "Sawdust Trail," "Bobcat Ridge," "Warden Ridge," and "Ax Handle Road." All of these roads are some combination of dirt and gravel, they often don't have signs identifying them, and some of them are "seasonal," meaning they disappear or become impassable in the winter and reemerge each spring. These roads tend to migrate away from low patches - if there's a puddle in the existing road that looks too deep and muddy to drive through the locals will just drive around it, forging a new curve and slowly moving the road toward higher, drier ground.

I will miss this job. I got to set my own hours, I had minimal oversight so long as I produced, and they paid me fairly for my time, and generously for mileage. I drove through some of the most beautiful country that Albany county has to offer, and met some genuinely nice people along the way. Out in the fields around these roads I saw deer, antelope, prairie dogs, and hawks with relative frequency, fox and coyote less often, and people less still. I walked around homesteads that were established before Wyoming was a state, marked by crumpled and broken fence lines and houses that were as spooky as anything in a horror movie. I also saw how brush and the elements are slowly taking those places back.

I tend to bitch about Wyoming a lot, but mostly it's the cold that makes it miserable for me. Now that my allergies have subsided (mostly) I can admit, grudgingly, that it's kind of pretty around here. This time of year it's well worth getting off the paved roads for a bit and doing some exploring. Be careful, however - I have encountered some unsavory things out in the county as well.

The mosquitoes and other biting bugs are quite savage out there, especially near standing water. Although I never saw one, my nose told me that there were skunks around, and I'm sure there are rattlesnakes in this area, too. Up near Centennial, I nearly got run over by a deer that was sleeping under the porch of a cabin. I startled her as I walked up to knock on the door and she suddenly burst from the bushes when I was about 4 feet away. Good thing I have a strong heart.

As usual, the worst things that happened to me were caused by humans. The guy on that private quarry road was no fun at all, informing me that I was trespassing as he glared menacingly down at me from his huge rock hauler. There was also the family with the Tea Party signs in the windows of their mobile home who refused to answer the census questions because they "distrust the government, just like the founding fathers intended when they wrote the Bill of Rights." (I tried to explain to them that the Census is actually mandated by the Constitution, but they weren't interested in a history lesson just then...)

I also saw abject poverty that made parts of the county feel like a third world nation. I saw families living in housing so dilapidated that it was barely adequate for summer in Wyoming, much less the cold winds to come. I took census data from several women who were far too young to have that many children already, and I met more than one elderly person whose eagerness to chat spoke clearly about the loneliness of old age. One old ranch wife insisted on inviting me into her spotless kitchen to fill out the census form, and during that seven-minute interview I had to decline three offers of food and drink. She told me that my laugh reminded her of one of her boys, back when he was still working the ranch. I hated to leave.

If such a job existed, I could happily drive about EVERY day, looking for vaguely defined spots on a map. To really excel at it, I would need a better GPS device, a vehicle with higher clearance, and cell phone service with better coverage. I would also need a big bottle of insect repellant, and some binoculars would be good, too. If you hear of such a job, let me know; it's hard to go back to cubicle life when you've had the dashboard as your desk for a while.

Filthy Lucre

Blessed employment. I have achieved it again. (And no, it is not a result of the job interview I mentioned a few posts ago; I am relatively certain they wrote me off as a drooling idiot as soon as I left the room.)

I begin this new job on the 27th. I'll give more details on it once I get the lay of the land a bit, but for now it is sufficient to say that I am returning to the exciting world of Student Financial Aid. I am also returning to the exciting world of having money again, which is good, since real poverty was just around the corner.

I have to spend my first few paychecks getting my accounts built back up to comfortable levels, establishing a savings plan, and replacing all of the furniture and accouterment that is disappearing when my roommates move out. Once they all leave, the living room will be empty, save for a lonely little PS3 sitting in the corner with no TV to play it on...

After that, however, I will eventually have a tiny bit of disposable income, and I have plans. Vain, frivolous plans, like having the Popemobile detailed, buying new cassocks, and getting my back waxed - a pontiff has to treat himself once in a while.


Today someone said to me, "you're a gentleman and a scholar."

It was said lightly, in passing. Naturally, I took it to heart and got all angsty over the possible meanings of it.

"Scholar" I will accept, as I am nothing if not a researcher. It was the "gentleman" part that gave me pause. I really wish I was a more gentle man. Back in my SCA days, a friend once described my fighting style as "subtle, like a chainsaw." Unfortunately, that is true of me in other ways, especially verbally. I mentioned this a couple posts back, and it has been on my mind ever since. I was given a t-shirt, custom printed just for me, by a friend years ago that sums up the issue quite well. It reads, "I love all humanity - it's people I can't stand."

Various schools of Buddhism use different techniques to instill gentleness, or "loving kindness" in their adherents. I should have been using one of them as my primary practice for years now. At the very least, I should have been doing something to knock the rough edges off.

Of course, age has a way of doing that for you; I'm actually not nearly so blunt as I used to be. I wish I could say it's the result of accumulated wisdom, but there is also the possibility that I'm just getting tired. Living a full court press all the time is exhausting. Regardless of the cause, at this rate, I will be truly gentle in another 60 or 70 years...


So... I had a job interview today, which I completely borked.

I ordinarily interview quite well, but today I looked like a moron. They began the interview by asking if I knew what they did. Rather than launching into what I had learned of their operation from their website and from seeing the results of their work crossing my desk in Financial Aid I said, "well, I've heard a lot of your spots on public radio..."

Slick, no? As they rehash the applicants later, I am sure to be remembered for that powerful opener, but not in the good way. I am so tired of being unemployed, but I'm even more tired of trying to sell myself to potential employers.

Perhaps it's time to return to my previous occupation. I'm sure some warehouse somewhere needs a forklift driver. And who wouldn't want a forklift driver with three humanities degrees?

I'm going to go drink over the draft of my thesis now.

Plant Sex Afterglow

Four things to report...

1) The annual plant orgy that makes it impossible for me to go outside appears to abating. I like to imagine them (the plants to which I am allergic) all kicking back smoking cigarettes and trying to decide if they should stay for breakfast or get out while the getting is good.

2) Last night, I was able to breathe well enough to go out for my first run in two weeks. Well, actually I am still unable to breathe through my nose, but my chest is clear enough. Thankfully, I don't seem to have lost much endurance - I was able to do the 25 minute workout without a break, and without residual soreness today. The barefoot/Vibram running style is making it possible for me to put in longer runs, more often. I easily could have run again today, but I didn't want to push it too quickly as I'm coming back from a layoff. I am torn between being glad that I discovered this running method, and wanting to firebomb Nike headquarters for convincing us all that we need thick-soled motion control shoes.

The good news is, I am no longer struggling with shinsplints and knee pain. The bad news is, this limits my running season even more. Without the protection of a thick sole, the ground will be WAY too cold to run on pretty early in the Fall. My guess is that by the middle of October it will be too cold to run outside, and it will stay that way until about April. My best hope is that I get one of the jobs at the university for which I have applied so that I'll have access to the indoor track, or I will have to buy a treadmill.

3) Vibram recently introduced a new shoe designed specifically for running - the Bikila. The line is named after the famous Ethiopian runner, Abebe Bikila, who won the 1960 Olympic Marathon, barefoot. He not only won it, but he set a world record of 2:16:20 on the cobblestones of Rome. During my childhood, the pictures of him winning that race were iconic. They were later replaced with Frank Shorter and Joan Benoit, but those color photos never seemed to have the same impact as the grainy black and whites of Bikila leading all of the shod runners in the final miles at Rome.

I hope Vibram has the permission of Bikila's estate to name this shoe after him (Bikila died tragically in 1973 at the age of 41, from injuries sustained in a car accident 4 years earlier). I wonder if his four children are profiting from the sales of this $100 shoe...

The jury is still out on their durability, comfort, etc., but everyone agrees that the color combo for women (pictured) is truly hideous. Rumor has it that a red/white/grey and a blue/white/grey are available or soon will be. If they receive positive reviews, I might consider a pair when my current Vibrams (KSOs) wear out. I hope they have them in black by then...

4) I'm a huge, tactless jackass. Not news, I know, but I was reminded of it recently when a friend said to me, "I feel ok talking to you about this because I know you won't sugarcoat it."

If folks only come to me for tough love, I guess I'm ok with that, but here I was, thinking that I had made strides toward being more sensitive to others in conversation. Apparently, the sword that is my tongue is just as sharp as ever.

Bedtime Cocktail

Due to circumstances beyond my control - a wet spring, a head cold, and an outdoor campaign event - I have been quite ill for the last week. So ill that I haven't been running or lifting. This makes me cranky.

I don't generally accept illness. You see, I grew up in a house where the motto was "better living through chemistry." My mother is a nurse anesthetist turned academic, but her true calling in life is pharmacology, so she firmly believes there is a pill for most everything, and the rest requires a syringe. I was taught that one should not acknowledge one's symptoms - just medicate them away and go about your business. Your immune system likes to work behind the scenes - it's best when you don't micromanage it. Mom was also a master of drug interactions - she was an expert at concocting exactly the cocktail to suit all your symptoms at once, with no ill effects. On one Sunday afternoon in the '80s she successfully treated me for back spasms, a hangover, depression, and swimmer's ear, solely with the pills in her purse. That was a hell of a weekend, by the way...

Now that I no longer live near enough to my mother to request a concoction for every little sniffle, I have become my own mixologist. We here at the Hayfever Lounge take our nightcaps seriously, so I've put a lot of research into this. As a big man with Irish tolerances and epic allergies, I need something that can knock out my cough, stop the itchy nose and runny eyes, clear the congestion enough so I can lie down without feeling like I'm drowning, and overcome my daily caffeine intake (two 20oz diet Mt. Dews) so I can sleep. A tall order, I know, but the current "house special" is getting the job done. Here's the recipe...

NielMed Sinus Rinse
NyQuil Liquicaps
Afrin Nasal Spray
Theraflu Warming Relief formula
Ricola Cherry Honey Cough Drops
paper umbrella (optional)

First, rinse sinuses with neti pot and NeilMed Sinus Rinse. Spray two shots of Afrin in each newly cleared nostril. (Gagging slightly at this point is normal.) Throw back two Nyquil Liquicaps and a Claritin with a shot of Theraflu. (I find the "cherry lighter fluid" flavor mixes with and destroys the taste of the Afrin better than the "orange paint thinner" flavor.) Chase with a Ricola cough drop to stop the heaves.

Not quite what mom used to make, but we can never get those recipes right anyway, can we? The missing ingredient is always love...

After this, I recommend brushing your teeth and going straight to bed, as the onset can be quite sudden. Last night, I had one of these and sat down to play BioShock 2. About 10 minutes later I drooling on my chest and Big Daddy was stuck head-first in a corner, getting humped by splicers.

Remember kids, don't do drugs, and don't drink (cold meds) and drive. Stay in school.