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Author: Louis Carufel

Neighborhood: University City

Age: 60

Occupation: Salesman

Work at the Census Bureau all but came to a halt on the last Friday of July, and most of us clerks were, in official parlance, “terminated for lack of work.” The counting was completed, and there was little left to do. We had known for weeks it was coming, so there wasn’t much ceremony to the layoff. A flood of unemployed workers was released into the job market, and in a way, a family was dispersed.

We had a potluck lunch that Friday: Hawaiian pork, lumpia, pho, gyoza, fried chicken, potato salad, pasta salad, bean salad, taco salad, and tables of desserts. The chief officer, who addressed us enthusiastically at every potluck, made a farewell speech. He said the 2010 census had benefited from San Diego’s high unemployment rate because so many intelligent, likable people had been available. He had enjoyed working with all of us, we were hard workers, and…. His voice wavered, overcome by the portent of this, his final speech. After a pause, he cleared his throat and looked toward the dessert tables. “I’m going to have one last piece of that,” he said, pointing to a frosted cake. The room followed him to the tables, and I had no opportunity to give my farewell speech.

At 5 o’clock, personal possessions were gathered from desks, phone numbers and email addresses hurriedly scribbled, hugs and handshakes exchanged, and a horde of newly unemployed headed for the door. It was a slow exodus, like good friends leaving a funeral. Talking loudly but apprehensively about what we would do with our new freedom, we crowded into the elevator like puppies in a litter, and at the ground floor we burst onto the street, waving and shouting good-byes. I slowly ambled up India Street to my car, in no particular hurry, and drove home to my music and books and Padres on the radio. That’s when I remembered my speech.

Unemployed for months, I had responded to a “Census Bureau Now Hiring” notice on a light post and was hired in early April. Each morning from then on I showered and shaved and brushed my teeth, made my sack lunch, donned the prescribed uniform — no T-shirts, jeans, shorts, or sandals — and left home full of ambition and anticipation, a man with a purpose. I drove to Little Italy, found a parking spot near the water, and strode past the white, gallant sails of the Star of India and over the lawn of the County Administration Building to India Street, past restaurant workers washing sidewalks, past the lines in front of the Mexican consulate, past the white people on benches drinking coffee. At the corner of Ash and India, I entered a three-story building, took the elevator to the second floor, slipped on my Census-employee badge, and keyed the door code into the expansive, carpeted, low-ceilinged room to begin my day as an administrative clerk. My workmates arrived about the same time. There was usually five minutes of greetings before the banter picked up where it had left off the day before. Like a family, we had our differences and complaints about each other, we had our shared humor and laughter, and we delighted in the camaraderie.

In my farewell speech, I was going to address the whole office and orate eloquently of our shared experience. I had planned to stand in the middle of the room, arms wide, voice resonant, and sum up the important work we had done together. I would mention the ethnic hodgepodge of us all, the amicable mix of slackers and worker bees, the successful partnership of nerds and extroverts, and the invigorating balance of youth and age. I would speak of the mission thrust upon us and how we had come together as an army of citizens to accomplish the task of counting everyone in San Diego.

Then I would motion to the flotilla of desks where I worked — the “Admin Boat,” we called it — and in general thank everyone with whom I had spent the last four months. And I would single out four people for special mention.

I would begin with a coworker, who during a hiring frenzy in early April had been assigned a list of candidates to interview over the phone for clerical jobs. When my phone rang, I’m sure I came across as somewhat arrogant about the lowly $12.50 an hour and the mundane tasks of a clerk’s position. I wanted the job of a field enumerator, I said, earning $16.50 an hour. I was a college graduate, after all, with managerial skills. I would make a good leader.

My interviewer, and future workmate, answered patiently that although clerks are paid less, their jobs last weeks longer than the field positions. But I remained unconvinced and said I’d have to “check my busy schedule.” Would she please call back in ten minutes? Fortunately, she did, and by then I had come to my senses. I accepted the position of clerk. When I got off the phone, now an employed man, I was grateful that my arrogance had been out-reasoned by her common sense. In my speech I would thank her for that.

Then I would thank a man 30 years my junior who taught me “the business” during our long night shifts together, so that I soon caught on to the admin clerk’s arcane duties: entering new hire data in the computer, merging applicant folders with WPPF folders, QA-ing D-308s, combining E-verifies with I-9s. He also kept me informed of basketball scores (it was Boston vs. L.A. at the time), his rowdy weekends, his “whatever” attitude toward work, and his the-world-is-my-oyster career plans. In my speech I would thank him for letting me see the world, once again, through the eyes of a young person.

Next I would thank someone who had become my mentor. She had been at the Census Bureau weeks before me and knew the ropes. Each morning I went to her first to be briefed, and she always had a project she was willing to share — especially when work was slow — so I kept busy. Months later, after I had trained a new worker and found projects for her when she arrived for work, that new worker came to me and hugged me for making her feel welcomed at the bureau. I had been her mentor, she told me. Now, in my farewell speech, I wanted to publicly thank my mentor.

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Comments

MsGrant Aug. 10, 2010 @ 6:55 p.m.

Skip, what a lovely, sweet, sad, wonderful story.

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David Dodd Aug. 10, 2010 @ 7:30 p.m.

I agree with Grant, I dug this a lot. Good job, Skip.

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skipcarufel Aug. 10, 2010 @ 9:46 p.m.

Thank you and thank you. BTW, how do you guys read these entries so quickly, like less than an hour after posting? I ask in both gratitude and admiration.

Skip

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David Dodd Aug. 10, 2010 @ 11:01 p.m.

Can't speak for MsGrant, Skip, but after I cook dinner I generally come back into my office and sit back into my chair, check my email, and then poke around on a number of my favorite sites, this being one. Likely in this case, the prompt respone from me was simply luck. I've completely missed other blog entries at times only to happily discover them at a later date.

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MsGrant Aug. 11, 2010 @ 7:20 a.m.

Skip, like RFG I keep a few sites open on my laptop and check them for updates and new stories. Sometimes I will just glance at something and get back to it later, but your story caught my eye and I read it through. When I see something that is really good, I will comment on it in the hopes that others will read it as well, because this was too good to miss.

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Founder Aug. 11, 2010 @ 8:58 a.m.

  • Don't Skip Out -

A Haiku For You

please Don't Skip Out continue

we need more from you

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nan shartel Aug. 11, 2010 @ 9:24 a.m.

aaaaaaaaaahhhhhh...u guys and gals work so hard...thx Skip ...for a job well done

yeah and do write here at the Reader again...u have a poignant quality many of us love and look for here

and i came following Ms Grants...RFG's and Founder's breadcrumbs...they always gather at the best places

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nan shartel Aug. 11, 2010 @ 9:26 a.m.

oh no i forgot Auntie G...she's the one who often sprinkles the crumbs...hi Auntie...

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skipcarufel Aug. 12, 2010 @ 8:28 p.m.

Thanks, RFG and MsGrant (comments #4 and #6) for clarification. Sounds like your coming on the piece was only happenstance, when I thought maybe you had little pings on your computers that alerted you to new stuff.

And thank you Anti-gee-kess for the compliment and the smiling face, and poet Founder for the haiku. We know it's our due, but when asked to continue, we gladly thank you.

And nan. I will admit that sometimes the hardest clerk work at the Census Bureau was finding work. And I do seem to be stuck on the poignancy wheel, when someday I really want to write something hilarious. Lastly, I also will admit that RFG's bread crumbs often lead me to the best fruit, too.

有難うございます。

Skip

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nan shartel Aug. 13, 2010 @ 11:25 a.m.

i'm ready and available for laughing ;-)

bring it on Skip!!!

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Donald Sept. 19, 2010 @ 11:11 a.m.

What a great story. I've often wondered what census work was like, and you provided me with same great insights. And congrats on the win.

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Founder Sept. 24, 2010 @ 7:55 a.m.

Reply #40

I believe we are now seeing the next wave of Anti-Reader Bloggers, now that the Online Reader has become THE source for what is happening in San Diego!

A $pin Company could hire a few Bloggers and disrupt all discussion they did not want to become Public knowledge. We all have seen some of this already on various topics and it's time to nip this "Anti-Freedom of Speech" practice in the BUD...

The Online Reader web team should get proactive ASAP, because if folks see that a few can affect entire threads then the Blogs as we know it, are doomed.

One suggestion is to allow the writer of the blog to zap replies that are way off base themselves, and this would also reduce the Web Teams work load.

Remember that saying from the 60's, " You can't deal rationally, with irrational people"

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