Every few days, the Commerce Department threatens to send armed thugs to my apartment to torture me, unless I give in to their demands for my most intimate secrets.
Okay, they didn’t say “armed thugs” exactly, but you know how those jackbooted government agents get, um, overly enthusiastic in their missions. It will all start out nice and friendly, but then I’ll hesitate just a bit too long when they ask about my outhouse and…bam.
In the latest installment of our charmed lives, the Census Bureau selected Jill and me to take part in the American Community Survey, a seriously intrusive census given only to the elitest of the elite. Technically, it is our apartment that is the real honoree and we are just “the resident of,” but why quibble when the fickle finger beckons you to determine the future of the nation?
While the decennial census gets all the hype, the people who fill out the ACS are the real power brokers in the US of A. The regular census next year will ask a few basic questions, but the ACS does all the heavy lifting, including:
The questions kept coming for more than a dozen pages, although my confidence in the entire process took a nosedive at question four, where they asked me for both my date of birth and my age. If they cannot figure out my age from my birth date, the Census Bureau needs a more powerful computer, or a pocket calculator.
Still, we trudged on, describing our condo fees and our internet service and whether we had gotten married or divorced, or both, in the past twelve months. As we worked our way through the labrynthe, though, the reasoning behind the questions got curiouser and curiouser.
Why do they bother to ask if we have indoor plumbing when they already know that 99.5% of households are so equipped? Why do they ask if we can both make and receive a phone call in our apartment? Perhaps there are phones that only receive calls but cannot make them, or vice versa. Why do they ask about babies born to women aged 15-50, but ignore births to females outside that range?
By the time we finished this hours-long exercise, I couldn’t help but think there’s a better way to collect this information. Perhaps, for example, they might buy all of it (and more!!!!) from Facebook or Google—if only they could convince those companies to make our private info available to outsiders.
Worse, I can’t believe these are the most meaningful questions for identifying status and trends across the nation. Many questions seemed to be continuations of past inquiries, but newer shifts appear to be unaddressed.
For example, the survey includes a ton of questions about commuting, including the time people leave for work, how many people are in the vehicle and how long the commute takes, but they don’t ask about ride-share usage or Divvy bikes or whether people have changed jobs or moved in order to reduce their commuting time.
Similarly, we’re bombarded by various stories about the growth and size of the gig economy, but the ACS doesn’t delve into that topic. I didn’t find, for example, a question about whether I have more than one job.
Ditto for the kind of business where I work. While we live in a service economy, the boxes for “type of business” include manufacturing, wholesale trade, retail trade and “other.” I can’t help but wonder if 70% of us aren’t in the “other” box.
Jill and I trudged through the pages, but I became increasingly convinced that the project included too many vague questions and too much guesswork to be definitive. As I struggled to recall whether I worked for money last month or the month before, a visit from those armed thugs started looking better and better.
Still, we persevered and completed the assignment, because that’s what true patriotic Americans do. And, on the upside, this whole process made our income tax forms look much simpler than they did before.
Even better, my self-esteem grew dramatically as I realized I could come up with a more relevant series of questions than all the people at the Census Bureau. Stay tuned for a preview in next week’s post.
All of America is on tenterhooks, wondering “What Would Dadwrites Ask?” if we were running the Census Bureau. Be sure to receive your update, along with all our incredibly wise and beneficent screeds, by subscribing to dadwrites.com. Just click HERE (No, not here. Back there.)
Okay, so maybe I missed the boat just a little bit on this one.
When the girls were young, they loved the weeks after Thanksgiving when the Sunday papers were filled with “toy mazagines.”
They scoured the circulars like they were researchers at the Library of Congress, and the item they circled most often was Nintendo. Neither girl was big on Barbie or all that girly stuff like Little Miss Make-up and Junior Nail Salon, which saved me from joining in the fun for all ages and the blackmail-worthy photos that would follow.
What they did want, though, was a Nintendo console. Wanted, wanted, wanted, needed, needed, hadtohaveitbecauseitwasthemostimportantandbestestgameever. And I knew they would play it, because they loved to play Super Mario—or maybe they were just Mario Brothers then—at other kids' homes. You could take Stephanie to her cousins’ house, plop her down in front of the Nintendo and watch her get to level 847 within minutes. She wouldn’t get around to learning to read for another year or two, but learning Nintendo was worth the effort.
Dad, on the other hand, viewed video games as a waste of time and a missed opportunity for learning. Educational games, smart games, games like chess and that thing where you flipped the cards and had to remember where the matches were—those were the games for my girls.
So I decided to let the other kids rot out their minds while I gave my children the gift of a refined intellect, superior analytical skills and only a remote risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.
I bought them (imagine a drum rolllllllllllll….) Socrates, the “educational video system” that “stimulates children’s minds” and “helps them become better students.” And all of it was true! Through Socrates, the girls learned some incredible lessons that have stayed with them and influenced their thinking to this day. Lessons like:
Ah, the lessons that last a lifetime.
Also, Socrates provided a lifetime of opportunities for the girls to remind their father that they were, um, disappointed by his choice. They capitalized on that opportunity relentlessly, telling strangers everywhere that they were cheated out of a normal childhood, condemned to solitary confinement with a Socrates console.
"Look, Lin-Manuel Miranda just won his 9,000th Tony Award. He must have had Socrates when he was a kid. Isn’t that right, dad?"
"Yes, Mr. cabdriver, I'm 27 years old and I can sing the entire ABC song because my dad got me Socrates. Aren't you so proud of me, dad?"
"I’m glad your surgery was a success, but getting new kidneys isn’t nearly as great a gift as when my dad bought me Socrates. Hey, dad, remember that year?"
I get it, kids. You’re being just a bit sarcastic, aren’t you?
I can’t say I regret the choice, though, because Socrates has been a running gag and a family story for a long time. Many years of therapy have relieved the girls of some of the post-traumatic disorders they developed without Nintendo. And my daughters are now so much more sensitive to the needs of others, mostly because I destroyed their dreams and hopes when they were tots.
A couple of years ago, the girls bought me a Socrates console they found on e-Bay or Craig’s List or somewhere. We couldn't play with it, of course, because it doesn't have a USB port or an HDMI cable any other connector that would work with a video screen today.
But connectivity isn't the real reason I haven't played with Socrates yet. Truth be told, I’m waiting for them to get me a Nintendo.
Thanksgiving’s coming up this month and a lot of guys are starting to stress out about their big moment in the spotlight.
Hah, only kidding. Guys don’t think about stuff in advance, unless it has brackets, a tee time, or a swimsuit issue. We like to think we thrive under pressure, so the last minute is plenty o' time. Most guys reading this will stop right here and make a mental note to revisit this post at 3:30 p.m. on the 22nd, except for Canadians, who are already too late. Moving on...
For manly men across America, the biggest moment to shine each year involves the super-macho expertise that everyone assumes we have and nobody ever teaches: carving the turkey. Yeah, I know, there are a million videos on YouTube, but real men don’t read instruction manuals and we certainly don’t need to watch some dude in a toque telling us how to use a knife. The last person to cut up our meat for us (Insert Lorena Bobbitt joke here.) was mommy, and we were two at the time.
Carving the turkey is a guy thing, as it has been since we were Neanderthals (Insert ‘You still are Neanderthals’ joke here.) living in caves. No matter how much time mom spends tying and basting and seasoning and schlepping the bird around the kitchen, dad gets the final shot at doing a Rambo on the finished product.
For some reason, people think it’s natural that men will carve the turkey. We’re the hunters in a world of hunters and gatherers. All the great knife people were men, like Jim Bowie and old MacHeath, babe, and Mr. Swiss Army…so women assume there must be something in our DNA that makes us great turkey carvers.
Except, of course, that we don’t really have a clue, and by “we,” I mean “I.” I never learned to whittle and I don’t even watch Top Chef for gawdsakes. If someone told me to go pack my knives, I’d need to stop at Williams Sonoma to buy some first.
Still, if you’re the oldest guy at Thanksgiving dinner and your parole allows you to handle sharp objects, someone is going to urge you to carve the turkey. When that happens, it’s important to approach the ritual with the aura of expertise and confidence that dads have been faking since the dawn of time.
So, guys, get yourselves some Botox injections to keep a straight face and follow these simple steps:
After everyone tells you that it’s certain to be fine and you really know how to carve a turkey, mumble some thanks and start passing the platter. And never, ever, ever bring up the subject again.
Having perfected the process of pretending to know what I’m doing—a true dadskill—I’ve succeeded in carving turkeys without any deaths* for over forty years. More recently, being a really generous guy, I’ve graciously allowed a son-in-law or nephew to do the honors. They’ve never really attained my level of expertise yet, but that’s probably because I haven’t sent them this post.
*By "deaths," I am referring to instances in which I was actually charged and convicted, so I am not counting the grease slide of 1997 or the 2003 wishbone impalement in my official record.
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It seemed like a twofer.
The girls wanted their ears pierced. I wanted somebody to play chess with me. In the convoluted maelstrom that is my imagination, I saw a great opportunity.
Learn to play chess, I said. If you can beat me, you can get your ears pierced.
Pure genius. The girls would learn to love the game, I’d gain chess buddies for life, they would have the opportunity to earn a privilege, I would show a willingness to accede to their barbaric fetish of self-mutilation, and we’d all have a fun story to tell our friends and family. Win-win-win-win-win, or so I thought.
So each girl, at her appropriate age, took up the challenge of beating dad at chess. And each girl required far less time than I anticipated to win one game. “Checkmate, dad. Let’s go to the mall.”
Neither ever won a second game against me. That’s the sorta good news. The bad news is that neither ever played with me again. The whole plan turned into more of a win-win for them and a lose-lose for me.
Each of them explained it the same way. I made chess into a chore, a labor, a burden they were required to bear in order to achieve their goal. They didn’t learn to enjoy the game; rather, they learned to endure it. They dug in and focused and kept their eyes on the prize and they succeeded. Hooray for them.
Along the way, maybe, they developed some added discipline and commitment to achievement. Or, more likely, they already had that discipline, which they applied in overrunning my defenses. What they didn’t have, and still don’t have, is an enjoyment of the game.
And so, another lesson learned. Kids like fun. If you want them to like something, make it fun. And if you make it the opposite of fun, don’t expect them to like it. Add this to the list of items that are so obvious they shouldn’t require a learning curve.
I might have a chance at redemption, though. My oldest grandchild, who is four, wants to learn how to play chess. Even better, she isn’t looking to get her ears pierced. Yet.
Who says there are no do-overs in life?
Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.