By Michael Kaufman
One day last week I was at my desk writing a medical news article on a tight deadline when the phone rang and I heard the non-human, monotonous voice that says who is calling announce, “Call from Gallup Poll.” I tried to ignore it but when I heard it repeated I couldn’t resist. Was it really the Gallup Poll calling to ask for my opinions? How could I pass up the chance to tell them how I feel about drones, Afghanistan, cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid? Guantanamo? I’d say “Close it!” Immigration reform? “Yes and without punitive restrictions.” Minimum wage? ”Raise it.” Health care? “Single payer.” Obama? “Disappointing.”
So I picked up the phone and a woman who said her name was Samantha said she was calling from the Gallup Poll and may she please speak to the nearest person in the household over 18. “Wait,” I said. “Do you mean the person over 18 nearest in age to 18, or anyone in the house over 18?” Once we’d established it was the latter I said I would be glad to speak with her but I don’t have a lot of time because of my deadline. She said it would only take about 15 minutes. I said okay. And for the next half hour or so it went something like this:
SAMANTHA: What is your religion?
ME: That’s a tough one. I kind of doubt the existence of God so I’m inclined to say I’m agnostic. Is that an option?
SAMANTHA: Yes. So do you want to say agnostic?
ME: I don’t know. I’m agnostic but I’m Jewish even though I’m skeptical about God. I respect the ancestors. I’m observant in my own way.
SAMANTHA: Okay, so do you want to say Jewish?
SAMANTHA: Where you live do you feel safe when you walk alone at night?
ME: Well, we live in the country and when I walk the dog at night I worry about coyotes, rabid racoons and even black bears. One time there was a big one standing on its hind legs and pawing at our garbage can right when I went out with the dog. And also I’m from the city originally so a lot of the noises at night seem a little scary. But I think that question is really about feeling safe with regard to other people….so I’ll say yes.
SAMANTHA: Do you think conditions in the town or area you live are changing for the better or for the worse?
ME: Worse….because there’s too much development and a lot more traffic now than when we first moved up here.
SAMANTHA: Are you planning to move to a different location within the next few years?
ME: No. We love it here.
SAMANTHA: In the past 7 days, how many times have you exercised for at least 45 minutes?
ME: Geez, I don’t know.
SAMANTHA: Do you want to just take a guess?
ME: Okay, four times. I walk the dog a lot but I was out of town last week so I…..wait a minute! I did a lot of walking there around the convention center and the streets in Chicago. Put five times.
SAMANTHA: How many times in the past 7 days did you eat at least four servings of fresh fruits and vegetables?
ME: Man, I don’t know! Just say three.
And so it went, with questions about my personal health and whether I have health insurance coverage, and whether I worry about finances (I wanted to answer that one with a question of my own: “Is the Pope Catholic?”) She never asked my opinion about Guantanamo or the drones or any of the other things I wanted to talk about.
But it is the one question I asked her at the start that made me stay on the phone: “Do you earn more money if someone takes the survey when you call?” She said she doesn’t think she is supposed to answer that question. So even though I never got to give my opinions and I almost blew my deadline I was glad to help Samantha earn a few extra bucks at her job.
Michael can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.