homepage logo


By Staff | May 20, 2011

The recorded message on our answering machine was a bit garbled, as if the person on the other end were trying to speak and gargle at the same time.

One might expect better from the federal government.

At least that’s who the caller purported to represent. The guy said he was from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and that he was conducting a survey of consumer spending and would I please call him back at the following toll-free number.

Being a patriotic American, I did what any average Joe would do: I totally ignored the message, figuring it was some sort of scam.

But what if it wasn’t? What if the government really did want to know about our spending habits? To what length would they go to obtain this information?

In my mind’s eye I could envision a pair of black helicopters silently swooping down from out of the blue. A team of heavily armed, camouflaged commandos rappelling to the ground, chasing me down, tackling me and shouting “How much did you spend for that new flat-screen TV?! Tell us! NOW!!”

There are those who believe that the government already knows everything about us and that these so-called “surveys” are nothing but a test to see if we’re telling the truth. I think not.

Remember when there was that huge brouhaha some years ago regarding the Pentagon paying something like $1,000 for a toilet seat and $500 for a hammer?

I really have my doubts about the government being able to track the spending habits at our humble household when it doesn’t seem capable of taking advantage of the weekly specials at Ace Hardware.

A few days after the mysterious voice message, I happened to be home when the phone rang. The caller ID said Census Bureau, which either meant it was legit or the phone scammers have gotten pretty darn sophisticated.

The guy on the other end of the line explained, with steel-plated government politeness, that he was conducting a consumer spending survey and that my name had been picked at random from among those who participated in the 2010 census.

I only dimly recalled receiving the census form in the mail last year. It was promptly flopped onto our coffee table where it quickly migrated to the bottom of the pile and became irrevocably lost.

Our lack of response elicited a visit from a census worker, a very pleasant middle-aged lady who was extremely fluent in Governmentese.

As we stood on my lawn and chatted, I tried to mentally calculate what this personal visit from the federal government was costing us taxpayers. It was probably something along the lines of the price of a hammer, although it could be as much as a toilet seat.

I felt good about it, though. Our nation was struggling to pull itself out of a deep recession, so giving this census-taker something to do was actually a patriotic shot in the arm for our economy.

It’s disturbing that they have chosen me for this survey. It’s not that I mind the intrusion; it’s more that I’m a poor example of “average.” A better description would be “a bit touched in the head.”

For instance, when my wife and I go grocery hunting, I might buttonhole a supermarket employee to complain that their croutons are stale. Or, I might push the cart down the cookie aisle and chant “Oreo! We need more!” in an imitation of the Winkie guards from The Wizard of Oz.

At such times my wife will shake her head and mutter, “I can’t take him anywhere!” She says that a lot.

The government phone caller wanted to know about some of our recent consumer expenditures. Had we purchased sugar or artificial sweeteners in the past few weeks? Preserves, jams or jellies? Newspapers or magazines? Had we spent any money on health clubs? What has been our costs for pancake syrup?

Sadly, he failed to ask questions that I might genuinely be able to answer, such as: During the past 12 months, have you purchased pistons and rings for a John Deere “A”?

How about a gasket set for said tractor? Did you buy all these items from your dealer or did any come from an online source?

I had only the most indistinct notions regarding how to answer the consumer spending queries posed by the government surveyor. Which just proves my point that the government really isn’t all-seeing and all-knowing.

Because if they were, they wouldn’t have talked to the Head Of The Household. They would have instead insisted on speaking with the Person Who Actually Knows What’s Going On.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

Please Enter Your Facebook App ID. Required for FB Comments. Click here for FB Comments Settings page