Thursday, July 01, 2010

Phone Call from The Census

The US Census office in New York has had to fire workers due to fraud. The new folks there must still be learning the ropes. This actual telephone call to my friend Erik Gordon was transcribed immediately upon hanging up, so it's practically verbatim...

Ring. Ring.

ERIK: "Hello?"

CHARLOTTE: "Hello.  This is Charlotte calling from the 2010 United States Census.  We've left you a couple of messages over the past few weeks but you haven't returned our calls.  I'm calling to ask you some additional questions about the census form that you recently completed.  This should take only a few minutes."

ERIK: "Okay."

CHARLOTTE: "Can I start by verifying your address?"

ERIK: "Yes, it's the one you have on the form -- 68 East 78th Street in New York."

CHARLOTTE: "And is this the Gordon household?"

ERIK: "Yes."

CHARLOTTE: "And who completed the census form on behalf of the household?"

ERIK: "I did. I'm the only one who lives here."

CHARLOTTE: "And what is your name?"

ERIK: "Erik Gordon. Don't you have that on the form I filled out?"


ERIK: "So why are you asking me again?"

CHARLOTTE (reading): "We need to make sure that the 2010 US Census is an accurate count of every person in the United States and that no person is double counted.  This should take only a few minutes."

ERIK: "Okay."

CHARLOTTE: "So Erik Gordon filled out the census form on behalf of your household?"

ERIK: "Yes, I did."

CHARLOTTE: "And am I speaking to Erik Gordon?"

ERIK: "Um, yes.  But I think we've covered this, no?"

CHARLOTTE: "Yes, but I need to ask the questions in the order they appear on my screen."

ERIK: "Okay."

CHARLOTTE: "Mr. Gordon, how many people were living at your address on April 1, 2010?"

ERIK: "Just me.  I'm the only one who lives here."

CHARLOTTE: "So should I put 'One?'"

ERIK: "Probably."

CHARLOTTE: "Mr. Gordon, do you have children, babies or foster children living with you?"

ERIK (louder): "I'm the only one here."

CHARLOTTE: "It's a yes or no question, Mr. Gordon."

ERIK: "If I'm the only one here, then the answer is 'No,' right?"

CHARLOTTE: "Okay, I'm going to put 'No.'"

ERIK: "Good idea."

CHARLOTTE: "Mr. Gordon, do you have any other relatives living with you?"

ERIK: "I'm the only one here."

CHARLOTTE: "I can't put that."

ERIK: "I don't care."

CHARLOTTE: "Mr. Gordon, we need to make sure that the 2010 US Census is an accurate count of every person in the United States and that no person is double counted.  This should take only a few minutes."

ERIK: "But all of this is on the form I filled out."

CHARLOTTE: "I know.  I have it here."

ERIK: "So why are you asking me the same questions?"

CHARLOTTE: "Mr. Gordon, this should take only a few minutes."

ERIK: "This should take no minutes."

CHARLOTTE: "Mr. Gordon, are you refusing to answer the questions?  Because if you're refusing to answer the questions, I'm going to have to call you back."

ERIK: "I'm not refusing to answer the questions, Charlotte.  I already answered them."


ERIK: "On the form you have in front of you."


ERIK: "Yes."

CHARLOTTE: "Mr. Gordon, this should only take a few minutes.  Can I ask if you have any nonrelatives, such as roommates or babysitters living with you?"

ERIK: "I'm the only one here."

CHARLOTTE: "Mr. Gordon, you know I can't put that."

ERIK: "No, Charlotte, no. I don't have anyone else living here!"

CHARLOTTE: "No roomates or babysitters?"

ERIK: "No!"

CHARLOTTE: "I'm going to put 'No.'  Mr. Gordon, do you have anyone living with you temporarily?"

ERIK: "Charlotte, you know what I'm going to say, right?"

CHARLOTTE: "Mr. Gordon, it's a yes or no question."

ERIK: "Charlotte, you've already asked me about relatives and nonrelatives.  Who else could be living with me?"

CHARLOTTE: "Anyone living with you temporarily, such as any illegal aliens."

ERIK: "Yes, Charlotte.  I forgot.  I do have illegal aliens living with me."

CHARLOTTE: "How many?"

ERIK: "I live with approximately twelve thousand illegal Mexican immigrants.  But please don't put that down, I don't want to get in trouble."

CHARLOTTE: "Mr. Gordon, I have to put it down."

ERIK: "Please don't put it down.  They're nice people.  They’ve traveled far."

CHARLOTTE: "I'm sorry, Mr. Gordon.  I have to put it down."

ERIK: "Okay, put it down."


ERIK: "Charlotte, did you really just put down that I live with 12,000 illegal Mexican immigrants?"

CHARLOTTE: "No.  I just put twelve."

ERIK: "Why?"

CHARLOTTE: "I don't have enough room."

ERIK: "Okay."

CHARLOTTE: "Mr. Gordon, were you away from this address anytime in March or April of 2010?"

ERIK: "What do you mean?"

CHARLOTTE: "What do *you* mean?"

ERIK: "Are you asking me if I left my apartment anytime in March or April?"


ERIK: "Then 'Yes.'"

CHARLOTTE: "Mr. Gordon, where did you go?"

ERIK: "Charlotte, I went a lot of places."

CHARLOTTE: "I only have one line."

ERIK: "That's too bad, Charlotte, because I went *a lot* of places."

CHARLOTTE: "But I only have one line."

ERIK: "So what do you want me to tell you?"

CHARLOTTE: "I don't know.  Do you want me to ask my supervisor?"

ERIK: "Actually, I think you should ask your supervisor."

CHARLOTTE (returning to the phone after putting me on hold for two or three minutes): "I think we should just put 'Don't Know.'"

ERIK: "Fine."

CHARLOTTE: "Mr. Gordon, in March and April of 2010 where did you spend most of your time: at your address in New York or in Don't Know?"

ERIK: "New York.  Don't Know isn't a real place."

CHARLOTTE: "Okay.  New York.  Is there any other place you spent most of your time?"

ERIK: "Charlotte, what does that mean?"

CHARLOTTE: "You said you spent most of your time in New York.  Is there any other place where you spent most of your time?"

ERIK: "Charlotte, how can I spend most of my time in more than one place?"

CHARLOTTE (after thinking it over): "I think we should put 'Don't Know.'"

ERIK: "Okay.  Let's put that."


ERIK: "Okay."

CHARLOTTE: "Mr. Gordon, other than New York and Don't Know, did you spend any time anywhere else?"

ERIK: "Pardon?"

CHARLOTTE: "Other than New York and Don't Know, did you spend any time anywhere else?"

ERIK: "Other than New York and Don't Know?"


ERIK: "No.  I spent all of my time in New York and Don't Know."

CHARLOTTE: "How about prison?"

ERIK: "How about prison?"

CHARLOTTE: "Did you spend any time in prison in March or April of 2010?"

ERIK: "No, I was only in New York and Don't Know."


ERIK: "Okay."

CHARLOTTE: "Okay.  Mr. Gordon, did you spend any time in the military?"

ERIK: "No."

CHARLOTTE: "Mr. Gordon, did you spend any time in a nursing home?"

ERIK: "Charlotte, can we just put 'Don't Know' for the rest of the questions so we can both get on with our lives?"

CHARLOTTE: "No, I can't do that.  You need to answer every question.  This should take only a few minutes."

ERIK: "It’s already been more than a few minutes."

CHARLOTTE: "Mr. Gordon, are you refusing to answer the questions? Because if you're refusing to answer the questions--"

ERIK: "I don't want you to call me back Charlotte.  I did not spend any time in a nursing home in March or April of 2010.  I was too busy in Don't Know."


ERIK: "No.  No time in a nursing home."

CHARLOTTE: "Mr. Gordon, that was the last question.  On behalf of the 2010 United States Census, thank you and have a good evening."


  1. Gloria1:43 PM

    I had the pleasure of receiving that exact same phone call. My blood pressure got so high, I thought I would have a stroke. My census caller was just as brain dead, and repeatedly asked me the same questions even though the answer was on the form I mailed back in and was not ambiguous at all. What a waste of my time!

  2. Anonymous3:50 PM

    Don't know if it is something to do with Feedburner, but it takes almost 30 seconds for this site to load, which is almost intolerable. Just thought you'd want to know.

  3. Oy, I just cleaned up my blogger template. Please let me know if that helped.

  4. Anonymous5:56 PM

    Mostly I feel bad for the people having to make these calls. I'm sure they are instructed to ask *exactly* what's on screen and told they are only allowed to record responses that correspond *exactly* to one of the provided options. No wonder people got fired for falsifying information - who would want to do that?

  5. my very first job when i was in high school was to call people and perform this sort of survey. I made minimum wage and was completely miserable. They are strictly watched and instructed on this survey. Often supervisors are listening in and they get in trouble if they don't read it word for word. I know it's annoying but these poor kids are just doing their jobs.

  6. Anonymous9:56 AM

    It's good to know we're helping keep useful people like this alive by paying them to do this useless census. It's called statistics, people. Let a small group of smart people do the census based on computations and stats and they will probably get it closer to the truth than this bloated mess that is the census.

  7. thanks for posting this. i had to stop several times to collect myself before i could finish.
    It reminds me of Shelly Berman's hotel bar soap routine:

  8. Malcolm8:23 PM

    Really enjoyed this. Was cracking up. (Wife thinks I'm nuts.)

  9. Saul,

    Here's another example of an idiotic exchange from a phone call I transcribed years ago:


  10. OMG, I can't believe he didn't just hang up the phone. I'm definitely going to tweet this.

  11. Anonymous9:02 AM

    It's funny if you had just shut your mouth and answered the questions it would have been over a lot sooner. You created the long wait by being a typical American Asshole.

  12. duckfarts8:15 PM

    The typical American Asshole also likes to tell other people what they should do about matters that aren't their business, which is why I think you should go punch a shoe.

    According to your responses, you spent a lot of time in Baltimore.

  13. My wife laughs at me because I cannot stand being stuck on the phone with someone who can't leave the script for more than 3 seconds without losing all sense and ability.

    Here's a chat I had with Microsoft tech support a while back. If you're wondering, it was regarding Microsoft Office 2007.

  14. Anonymous1:53 PM

    <fail>Tax Dollar</fail>

  15. I had a very similar call, but with 6 kids - 3 who qualify as hispanic descent, one African-American and 2 white, you can imagine my call was much much longer.

  16. Dennis5:12 PM

    Fill out a simple form they say ,thats it they say, its the law they say.
    Filled out said form had 3 people come by pounding on my door all looking for my neighbors 1 waking up my 6 month old baby. Still easy ?
    Part 2 endless phone calls demanding that I take a survey, first one was after 8PM , yup you guessed it waking up the baby .
    Am so tired of the cenus people , it seams never ending. Am ready to turn off my phone till they are done , hmmm wonder if I can block there number?

  17. BaldOldWhiteGuy10:33 AM

    Thanks! That was funny as hell. Glad to see that others are sharing my pain.

    By the way, the anonymous Nazi poster at 9:02 scares the heck out of me.

  18. You should try to have a little more empathy for the people who have to make these phone calls all day.

  19. Anonymous3:01 PM

    Hilarious. Thanks for posting...I needed a good laugh today.

  20. That's hilarious. I had a person come to my door to verify everything and she was much more reasonable.

  21. Anonymous8:03 PM

    This is actually called the Coverage Follow Up survey. It runs through Mid-August of this year. I just finished my contract with them in a call center out of Kentucky. For the most part it is fairly simple and we were instructed to read everything VERBATIM on the screen. I understand it seems really redundant and for the most part it is. However, I cannot begin to tell you how many Americans could not even fill out their Census form right. Without our phone calls then, millions of households would not be counted correctly. Americans want to complain about their tax money going towards a survey that has given THOUSANDS of Americans jobs, but they have NO problem buying homes they cannot afford in the first place and no MY generation is going to have to figure out how to pay all this off, and SOMEHOW hold a future. Shame on you all who give a Census worker a hard time when all it takes is a little time. Yes it may be annoying and I know the questions are repetitive, but at least they gave Americans jobs and didn't go towards buying another bank out. It just shows me how spoiled America really is.

  22. Anonymous,

    Sorry, but creating an inefficient job is no different than a bailout to General Motors. It does NOT make our economy stronger to shuffle money among ourselves in a non-productive way.

    You are being quite defensive about this. If in fact you were directed to ask these questions verbatim regardless of the intermediate answers, then it is someone else whom we're mocking, okay?

  23. Anonymous7:55 AM

    after reading this, i have mixed feelings, i was one of those "useless people" doing a "useless job" and using the government tax money, which seems to you to be worse than a bailout. but i can tell you that i am a college graduate who was laid off last year and could not find any other job. do i feel it was unnecessary to make so many calls with forms that were correct from the start? yes. do i hate the fact that i had to read everything from the screen VERBATIM for fear of losing my job? absolutely. did i get 'in trouble' for talking gently to a 98 year old man who was in WW2? but am i happy i didn't have to move into my vehicle over the summer? absolutely.

    so everyone who responded to this, yes it is annoying. but it's every DECADE, and it's for the betterment of your community. so get over it.

  24. I know I am a few days late on this...mainly due to technical difficulties, but this is hilarious when you see it in this format too:

  25. oh! i needed this laugh today.

  26. Anonymous8:42 AM

    I smell something fishy going on...I can feel it in the back of my neck...I had a similar experience. I filled the census form, with all detailing, and making sure I wrote the names, and information carefully...I put it in the mail...a few weeks later a man was in the front door...demanding that I fill in the form...I said, "I already filled this form, it took me about three days to fill it in, to make sure I answer every question correct and clearly. I sent it in the U.S. mail. You MUST have receive it!" The man admited that they had receive it, and that they just neede it to him fill it again to verify the answers. I spend about 45 minutes with the man standing on the door, and CHOCKINGLY, he was scribiling my answers, he was not being careful about how he was spelling our names. OMG! I about killed him. After reading this...I feel something..that I can not put my finger is definetly GOING ON!

  27. Anonymous2:23 PM

    Wow. An identity thief's dream come true.

  28. Anonymous11:26 AM

    In 2000 I wrote down just an answer to the first question, and sent it in. I got a phone call a few weeks later which I kept to under a minute, explaining further questions weren't authorized by the Constitution.

    In 2010 I wrote my answer to the first question, and then wrote, "Resident asserts constitutional grounds against further interrogation. Please do not call or visit." I sent it in like that. I have heard nothing back.

  29. Awesome writing. I found your site from this tweet and so far every post I've read has been brilliantly entertaining.

    Thank you!

  30. Hahahaha! I would NOT have made it through that phone call!

  31. It was really sad that the US Census office in New York has had to fire workers due to fraud. I think everyone should also learn from this one.

  32. ha ha ha! Charlotte? What's wrong with you girl? I need a big laugh...I mean it a loud one...

  33. Anonymous3:58 PM

    This is simply none of their business and they should stay out of peoples lives!

  34. David, this was a very entertaining post..If fairness, this Charlotte is very persistent in getting those infos.. its good to know that you still "hold" your composure despite being pissed by her reading the survey questions again and again..sad to say that's their job and we have to be cooperative to avoid fraud information.

  35. Anonymous2:17 AM

    People want to be civic-minded, but our government really makes it hard when they ask intrusive questions seeking sensitive information.

    Take your privacy seriously people!

    It really is true that the US Census Bureau provided data right down to the level of name, address and listed racial ancestry to the Secret Service, which passed it on to military and Commerce Dept. officials to use in finding and interning Japanese-Americans during WW2.

    The Census Bureau denied having done this (claiming they only gave the US Army block-level information with no personal information) until they were outed in 2007 by researchers ( )

    Of course, the worst thing about the attitude of the CB is that they thought they were actually covering their butts by saying they'd only given out block-level information! These paper pushers really don't "get" privacy and protection from government abuse, my friends!

    That was then, though, and this is now. Our more politically correct governments would never use census data against us today, would they?

    Think again. The Census Bureau has cheerfully given data to various cities and counties who have subsequently used it crack down on supposed violations of zoning laws. It has especially been used to try to scale back development of apartments in houses that cities would like to keep as "single family homes," whether they are legally empowered to do so or not. And do you suspect that some municipalities are using census data to target ethnic neighborhoods for illegal immigrant sweeps? Yup. Hmmm . . . Oh well, that's the Hispanic part of town, they'd never target our lily-white WASP part of town, or our funky black neighborhood, would they? . . . Would they?

    The IRS has been trying for years to figure out how to use cross-matching of census data to put people on their audit radar . . .

    The Wall Street Journal put it aptly way back in 1989 when they said "Honesty may not be your best census policy" ( )