after a quick bowl of oatmeal for lunch, i met up with bruce to go down to porter square. he's back in town for the week, and needed to visit the hardware store to exchange the proprietary CO2 cartridge he uses for his bottled seltzer maker. it was unusually warm once again, and felt more summery than spring (or even the end of winter).

there was a US census job fair at the somerville holiday inn. i figured i could make some money doing some easy federal work while waiting for my next project. the flyer didn't say anything about skill requirements, but i printed out a few resumes anyway (it was a job fair after all; i spent the morning updating my work history and formatting everything so it'd fit on one page). i got dressed in some presentable clothes and was ready to bicycle down to the hotel. that's when i ran into my retired neighbor renee. i told her where i was going and she said she wanted to check it out as well. she ended up giving me a ride in her car.

we followed signs posted on hallways until we got to a series of conference rooms. renee bumped into a friend about to leave. she told us there was a test involved and some of the questions were hard. we signed in and went to another table to pick up various census 2010 tchotchkes: pins, fridge magnets, canvas tote bags, pens, and plastic drink bottles. i felt a little weird taking all this swag until i realized i probably paid for some of it through my tax dollars.

the people there were mixed and i couldn't really see any patterns. it's like the kind of crowd you'd see at the registry, except a few more well-dressed people (folks who thought like me and thought this was going to be a formal job fair). i think i was the only asian person i saw there. when were signing in i looked on the sign-up sheet and there were people coming in from all areas of greater boston, so it wasn't just exclusive to somerville-cambridge. in fact, we were told on more than one occasion that they don't seem to have enough census workers in cambridge.

we were handed our test time (2:00, written on index cards with color-coded stickers) and led into a room to fill out some personal information forms. besides the usual contact info questions and "when can you work?," there were also questions like, "have you been fired by a federal agency within the past 5 years?" and "do you have a criminal record?" answering yes to any of those questions required further explanation in a fill-in box. the hiring manager giving us instructions noticed that i written down chinese speaking skills. turns out her husband is chinese and she had a graduate degree in the language. we were running a bit late so our test time was changed to 2:30. somebody came by to check our identification document (both renee and i had our passports) and to look over our forms to make sure we filled everything out correctly.

after handing our forms to a group of people by the exit for a final round of verification, we went into an adjoining room to take the test (called "a basic skills assessment" in governmentspeak). i spoke to a census employee who told me the place was so crowded this morning that they didn't have enough seats in the testing rooms and there was a line of people all the way down the hall. now in the afternoon however, things seemed to have calmed down and i even overheard several census workers leaving for their lunch break.

the testing room was already pretty full so renee and i sat all the way in the front row. she was complaining she didn't bring the right glasses. the test was multiple choice, the classic fill-in-the-oval-style with a pencil. there were several different versions of the test so people sitting next to each other wouldn't be able to cheat. there was a 30 minute time limit to answer 28 questions.

when the test began i felt this nostalgic rush. the last time i took a test like this was probably in high school, taking some prerequisite exam for college. i don't want to brag, but i didn't get to my station in life without being a pretty good test taker. and multiple choice too, how much easier can it get? my confidence was soon grounded when i actually started. some questions were short, but others were long, with diagrams and charts to figure out. there were math questions (adding and multiplying decimal numbers), sorting questions (alphabetize a list of names), matching questions (differentiating from a list of similar looking names), direction questions (to points on a map, what's the shortest and most direct root), vocabulary questions ("controversial", "imminent"), supervisory questions (theoretical management scenarios and picking the best solution), and finally some census related questions (reading a census questionnaire form, ordering the members of a household, deciding which house is vacant).

i finished with a few minutes to spare so i went back to check my work. i actually changed some of my answers, mostly in the math section (i mean, don't they have calculators for this sort of work?).

normally if the groups were small they'd let you know the score immediately, but with so many people, we couldn't find out our scores until tomorrow (by calling a 1-800 number). a passing score is 10 and above. you're allowed to retake the test as many times as you want, and the census will only take your highest score. a passing score makes you eligible for census employment, but people with the highest scores get first pick. actual door-to-door census taking begins next month, and those that are selected to become agents will undergo paid training in woburn for 4 days before they're ready to deploy. as for the pay, it around $22/hour and you can only work a maximum of 40 hours a week (although scheduling is pretty flexible).

i left feeling pretty good. the test seemed pretty easy despite some math stumbles. renee didn't finish but i think she still probably scored a passing grade. i looked for my sister, whom i told over the weekend about this job fair, but i didn't see her (i later found out she was here earlier in the day, but with her checkered past, she doesn't think she has a very good chance to land a part-time government job).

i went to belmont in the late afternoon for a home-cooked meal. it was warm enough that i just biked in my clean white shirt and dress slacks. i like the image of the business casual cyclist. i didn't stay too long after dinner and left before 8:00 so i could get back home and watch life unexpected.