With the warmer weather, What's-Her Name is happy to be outside again, to sit on top of the car in the bright sun, to startle us by appearing suddenly in the window box, inches from the breakfast table. All the cats but Santana join her in re-exploring the garden: after the winter months inside, the house lacks mystery, and they have longed for new frontiers.
The people, too, are ready for something new. The 2010 census is on its way, a short form that anyone can use.
So there are three of you and six of us, What's-Her-Name says, for a total of nine.
Well, they don't actually count animals in the census, I tell her, so it'll just be the three.
Wait a minute. Are you saying they don't count cats?
I'm pretty sure they don't.
Well, that's the dumbest thing I ever heard in my life. No wonder this country's such a mess. The people running it don't even know how many cats they have.
She has a point. The other day, in fact, Q and I didn't even know this important fact about ourselves: a seventh cat appeared in the upstairs hallway, a calico neither of us had ever seen before. And who might you be? Q asked. But the cat didn't answer, so he scooped it up and took it back outside.
The census counts taken in the opening years of the American republic counted a Negro as three-fifths of a white man. The Romans were conducting a census when Jesus was born. Domesday Book was a census of sorts in Anglo-Saxon England just after William the Conqueror arrived; reading between its lines yields a modern researcher some grasp of what daily and civic life were like then. The Nazis were famously meticulous in recording the numbers of human lives taken during the Holocaust. For good and for ill, for reasons of politics, profit or perversity, people have always counted each other.
Some of us are so cynical about government that we won't return the census form. Some of us are too scared to fill it out: afraid they'll find out we're undocumented, or that we're living in an illegal sublet or have too many children for the number of bedrooms we have. Some of us are paranoid.
But most of us will complete it and mail it back. And we'll look forward to the figures when they come out, curious to see how our corner of the country has changed in ten years. How the whole country has changed. See what we look like now. And maybe see what we need. Or at least some of what we need. Because, of course, most of what we need in life can't be counted.
Find out more about the census and what it's for, today in Ways of the World, the Geranium Farm's economics corner, in which Carol Stone explains it all. www.geraniumfarm.org