“Where were you in ‘62?”
That’s what movie posters for the 1973 classic American Graffiti asked back in the day. Easy answer for me: wasn’t around yet, but love the film!
Here we are in 2020 (because we have to be…) and, as our Constitution requires every ten years, we in the US are getting that query from the Census Bureau. After responding with my current stats, I got curious to see if I could figure out where I was and what I was doing for each of the past Census years in which I’ve been counted!
Because this is the sort of thing I presently do for fun…
Simple questions – and I thought it would be simple for me to call the answers to mind. But it turned out to be quite the little challenge! (For an idea of how my brain works, find the Father Ted tv show clip “Sister Assumpta!!” I’ll wait.)
Much like the trunk of my car, some recollections have become jumbled and hard to sort through anymore. Thankfully though, my habit of keeping a ridiculous clutter of old papers finally paid off! Yup – by scouring documents, calendars and journals for clues, I was able to figure my whereabouts and doings at the start of each decade!
Even so, they didn’t tell my whole story.
My first appearance in a Census was back in 1970. Also known as:
(Hard to own to that. Not gonna lie…)
I was part of a Bay Area household that was Dad, Mummy, my two older brothers and me. No occupation yet – just going to school. And it required math to figure out the actual grade (always dicey for me…) but I’m pretty sure in the fall of 1970, I’d have been sitting in Miss Johnson’s first grade class – not concentrating on math but marking the time until recess on one of those institutional clocks where the hand clicked agonizingly backward before moving ahead.
Forty years ago in 1980 (nope – not getting easier), I might well have been doing the same thing – only as a high school junior! My big brothers were establishing their own households by then while I was living in the same home with m’ dear Mum and Dad and working summers at a day camp. (With movie ticket prices already approaching $4, I must have known I’d need plenty of cash to hit Raiders of the Lost Ark the following summer – many, many times!)
1990 would show me still in the same house! What it wouldn’t show is that during the ‘80’s, I’d gone away to college – well, 3 1/2 miles away to Berkeley – where I lived two years in the dorms and two off campus.
It also doesn’t show that at the beginning of Census Year 1990, I was on my second grown-up job and living in an apartment with two friends. Nope – just shows that by the fall, while still working full-time, I was back living full-time at home and slumbering in the bedroom of my childhood. Some of the big dreams I had there might have been starting to fade – but the pink walls and purple trim were as vivid as ever!
On to the Millennium! The year 2000 was another example of my starting and ending the year in different places. I was in LA by then, working as a tv network paralegal (where, despite the worry, our computers didn’t melt as a result of the Y2K bug). I thought I was living in the Santa Monica condo I rented for several years with two friends, but after consulting an old rental application, this is what I found –
I was in Santa Monica the year before until one of the two friends moved out because she wanted to live where they’d allow her to have a dog. So another friend moved in but then the condo owner decided to sell. (Riveting, right?) Which meant at the beginning of 2000, I was actually living with these two friends in another three bedroom. Then one friend moved back east, so I got another apartment with the remaining friend – which is where I was at the end of 2000, and where I’d stay until the friend moved to another country.
All of which led up to my working as a paralegal at the same place and living on my own during the next Census go-round in 2010. And I should clarify that I wasn’t on my own, you know, because I’d run out of friends or anything. I mean, yes I was technically traded in for a dog at one point there – but I’m choosing not to read a lot into that.
Might as well set the Census record straight too as to why I didn’t say I was still at the same job. That’s because over a period of years, the company had laid me off twice after corporate mergers, so 2000 was actually my second “tour of duty” there and 2010 my third – with lots of temporary jobs and unemployment angst in between. Which means I was either so good at my job that I kept getting rehired – or that (as I’ve probably said before) I seriously could not take a hint.
This is the thing! Beyond the basic stats for these years, there’s a lot of backstory that I can’t help filling in!
Like 1990 (forgive me but I’m on a roll). When I left my first grown-up job two years before, I remember trying on the idea of really changing things up, following my heart and moving south to pursue a more creative career. Except, well – I didn’t. There’s no Census check box to identify crossroads – or roads not taken at the time – but I know that was one.
Finally, (downer alert…), at this exact time ten years ago, although the Census places me “still” in my paralegal’s office and living in my own apartment, neither stat is entirely true. I was in the midst of spending several months in Oregon at my ailing dad’s bedside where I was when he passed away.
Which makes for a sadly smooth transition to the current Census entry – for the dumpster fire that is 2020. Mum and I are the only remaining representatives of that original household and, like a decade ago, these are not the brightest days…
We still find ways to make the best of things though. And I try to remember that just recalling certain spaces of time can be like judging an amusement park only by that one picture they take of you on the scariest part of a ride. As with most of us I expect, each decade of my life has been a kind of rollercoaster – yes, with ups and downs – but filled with so much more excitement, laughs and joys than a look-in at a single point in time might reveal.
“Where were you in 2020?”
When we respond to the Census for this year (as we should!), basic facts probably won’t hint much at the turbulent and tragic times in which we’re living. For me, this kinda sums it up:
Even so – it won’t tell our whole story.
Stay safe, everyone! And here’s a toast to better days!