I am a stickler for cleanliness in food preparation. I actively think about cross-contamination, heating temperatures and holding temperatures, the timing of separate dishes, and the kinds of food that go well in one’s stomach and not just with one’s taste buds. I dedicate myself to these tiny causes as if I were wielding a neon green small plastic fork, usually only suitable for battles with tasteless green olives before they are drowned in a sea of gin and tonic. My persistence comes not because I was scared into it by countless local news broadcasts, but because I have intersected salmonella before, and have vowed to avoid it from here on out if at all possible. And I certainly, most definitely, to the nth degree do not want to unleash that kind of hell onto anyone else.
Especially my wife.
To say I was upset that she was ill would be an understatement, but whatever it was, her emotions regarding her sudden lack of stomach control were probably more intense.
We presumed something had gone off the rails with regard to the chicken I’d made Friday night. I was just fine and she was the keeling over canary in the mine. Perhaps the bacteria party had only made a scene on one chicken breast and not the other.
Saturday and Sunday she struggled through, mostly sleeping, and me mostly writing downstairs, venturing out to the supermarket a couple of times for electrolyte-rich liquids. By Sunday evening she was mostly repaired.
I was excited to start my Census training the next day, on Monday. Well, excited might be a bit of an overstatement. I was happy to get back to work, and interested in knowing where they’d send me and what my door-knocking experience would be like. I had a little stack of items the recruiter had said I’d need, a little bundle of my personal identifying information or PII as the government calls it. The government has never met an acronym it didn’t like. TGHNMAAIDL. Well, maybe that one.
Monday morning, I felt oddly sluggish, and not entirely myself. Having no direct recall of being anyone else, I couldn’t name who else I felt like, so I just took the 70 percent that was me and sat up. This turned out to be a bad idea. I bolted to the bathroom and threw up the little that was in my stomach after 8 hours of sleep. While this might seem fortunate—generally, people don’t like the experience of vomiting, after all—what it really meant was that the material that had moved on past my stomach was just looking for the next nearest exit, which as anyone who’s ever flown a plane knows, may be behind you.
I was supposed to report to my swearing in at 9:00. It was 7:50. This was not good.
I showered briefly, cursing my alimentary canal for the Judas it was, and I crept back into bed for I don’t know what reason. Susanne pet my head.
And then she acknowledged that perhaps I hadn’t made her sick. I groaned in response.
I figured if I didn’t eat anything and didn’t drink anything, I could make it through the so-called “administration day.” I’d have to swear to protect the Constitution, which I’ve done before and having seen a good number of inaugurations, am pretty sure how it goes. I’d get fingerprinted, and fill out lots of paperwork.
Question: How long could that take?
Answer: Long enough to have to run to the men’s room and heave a few times.
The Census staff were nice enough, but the problem was that these trainings—even for the rote paperwork chicken scratching—are designed for inattentive or otherwise unfocused people. Every direction is read three times, using slightly different words. One would think this would be a helpful device, but it’s not, because those inattentive and otherwise unfocused people, or IOUPs, as they’re known in this blog, get all caught up on those differences.
“Wait a minute,” said one young fellow looking at the tax withholding form, “how do I know if I’m exempt from taxes?”
“Well, let me read you the definition,” said the crew chief. Because most people are exempt due to the fact that they’re retired and on Social Security, the chief knew this guy didn’t fit the criteria already, but he read it anyway.
And still, my young friend did not understand. Now he was getting confused between excluded from taxpaying and withholding allowances, like for head of household or the Duggans’ 20 dependents.
Five minutes later the crew chief was back on track and I had forged ahead with my paperwork, my hands neatly folded in front of me.
I held myself back from taking hold of any of the bottles of water in the room. Oh, water, I thought. I love you so much. You are a part of me. I am sorry for our recent misfortune. I don’t want to be like those leaky-from-the-mouth water people on that recent episode of Doctor Who. I just want to drink you. I am Alice in wonderland, okay?
I made it through the fingerprinting and had finished all but one of my forms and saw, to my horror, that I had been there for two and a half hours. I asked the assistant crew chief how much longer we’d be today.
“Oh, we’ll go to 4 or 4:30,” she said cheerily.
I stabbed my eyes out with my pencil. At least, I thought hard about doing that but realized it wouldn’t actual help me with anything. I really just wanted to drink some water. In my mind I saw water fountains, bursting faucets, twirling bottles of Evian. My stomach lurched and I felt unsteady and shaky. I hadn’t eaten or drunk in 16 hours.
“I’m sorry, I have to go,” I told the crew chief, who seemed to recognize that I was a cesspool of virus strands. I was Patient Zero.
He looked to see what else I had to complete and told me if I could bring it back in later today, I could come back for the start of training tomorrow. I nodded and thanked him.
The rest of my day was a feverish blur. I froze under a thick woolen blanket on the couch and slept, and Susanne sweetly delivered my signed papers to him. But Tuesday morning I was no better, the thermometer reading 100.6. I was now holding down liquid, but I’d lost 8 pounds, I guessed all in water.
I blew my opportunity to work for Census, although they’d said I could do another training in May. Given that we’re heading out of town at the end of May, it doesn’t seem worth it to me or my friend the government. Susanne summed it up for me in a way that made me laugh out loud in one duck honk:
“I feel like your blog is all about the stuff you’re about to do but that doesn’t somehow work out for you.”
Touche, darling. Touche.