MAD DOG: Will the Last Person Counted Turn Out the Lights?

The census is coming. This is the once a decade head count which is the adult equivalent of sitting in class yelling "Here!" when the teacher calls your name. Unlike school, though, they won't send a note home to your parents if you don't answer the questions. Instead they'll come to your house and be more persistent than a minivan full of Jehovah's Witnesses, especially if you scratched out your name and penciled in "Dick Hertz." Trust me, they've seen it before. They're very serious about their census, and for a good reason. They don't do it, as many people believe, so they can update the signs on the road that tell you how many people live in Speedbump, Iowa, or so they can supply us with fascinating statistics such as -- True Fact Alert! -- there are more hogs in North Carolina than people. No, it's about money: How best to divvy up what we hand over to the government so the cities and states can waste it. Right, like we couldn't waste it just fine on our own if given half a chance.(TECHNICAL NOTE: They also use the census to determine congressional apportionment, but since we're all too busy trying to snag those figures of poker-playing dogs on eBay to vote, who cares?)Before they can figure out how to throw away -- I mean, split up -- our tax dollars they have to know how many people are in the country and where they live. This should be an easy task. If on April 1st, which is Census Day, the first person in the far upper right hand corner of Maine said "One", the person next to him or her said "Two", and this continued across the country, by the time it reached the far upper left hand corner of Washington state it would be like a great big game of telephone and we could all have a big laugh when the last person announced, "Today is a senseless day" and then go back to pulling April Fool's pranks like telling people George W. Bush has dropped out of the Republican primary to join the Backstreet Boys.The problem with this idea is: What happens when that twit in the double-wide in Enid, Oklahoma loses track of his number and we have to start over? That's why they mail census forms to us. You may have already received yours. No, it's not the one with Ed McMahon's face on it. That's the letter from the lawyers who filed the class action suit against him and Dick writing to ask if you'd like a piece of the settlement ("You may finally be a winner!"). The census form is easy to spot -- it's the one without postage.Most people will get the short form, though one in six will get a long one. Don't feel bad if you get a short one. As women are fond of saying right before asking if you have any fresh batteries: It's not the length that counts. The short form includes questions like "How many people live in your household?", "Are you sure?", and "Haven't you ever heard of birth control?" The long form goes into much more detail, asking how you heat your house, how you get to work, how much money you make, and whether you agree that all this is none of their business. Once they get all the forms back they'll spend nine months collating the data. This is a technical term for "Wanna play another hand of Go Fish while the computer does all the work?" Years ago they sorted the data by city and county. Then they came up with the concept of Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is a clever way of inflating the population -- and increasing their share of the pot -- by including the surrounding area. Think of it as urban breast enhancement. Thus, northern New Jersey, southern Connecticut, and northeast Nebraska all became part of the New York City Metropolitan Profit Center. I mean, Statistical Area.But this being the 2000 census they decided to slick things up and boost their census takers' self-image. After all, they do spend nine out of every ten years on unemployment. That's why the Metropolitan Area Standards Committee (motto: Sub is too a standard!) has recommended that they dump the old term and replace it with three Statistical Areas of the New Millennium"!: micropolitan, macropolitan, and megapolitan. I'm not kidding about this, though I wish I was.If they get their way -- and if they have a chairman worth his political connections they will -- these new terms will be rolling off your tongue before you know it. According to their proposed definition, a megapolitan area has a core city with more than a million people, a macropolitan has 50,000 to 999,999, and a micropolitan has a stoplight. This will be a good change since it means we'll finally be able to forget all those confusing terms we've been using like city, town, township, and speed trap. They'll all be replaced. Well, except the speed trap, which will live on forever, especially in Georgia. Will the census be successful? Of course it will. After all, they've been carefully planning it for the past nine years, using great big paper bags stuffed full of money someone forgot to hand to the Future Megalopolitans of America to ensure that the census goes as planned. Okay, so the first 115 million letters they sent out were misaddressed and had an extra digit added to the street address, who's counting? Oh, that's right, the Census Bureau is.

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