Of native U. S. civilians there were but two of us. Of whom Barter, speaking only his nasal New Jersey, must perforce be assigned to the “gold” quarters, leaving me the native town of Empire. At which we were both satisfied, Barter because he did not like to sully himself by contact with foreigners, I because one need not travel clear to the Canal Zone to study the ways of Americans. As for the other seven, each was assigned his strip of land something over a mile wide and five long running back to the western boundary of the Zone. That region of wilderness known as “Beyond the Canal” was to be left for special treatment later. The Zone had been divided for census purposes into four sections, with headquarters and supervisor in Ancon, Empire, Gorgona, and Cristobal respectively. Our district, stretching from the trestleless bridge over the canal to a great tree near Bas Obispo, was easily the fat of the land, the most populous, most cosmopolitan, and embracing within its limits the greatest task on the Zone.
Meanwhile we had fallen to studying the “Instructions to Enumerators,” the very first article of which was such as to give pause and reflection;
“When you have once signed on as an enumerator you cannot cease to exercise your functions as such without justifiable cause under penalty of $500 fine.” Which warning was quickly followed by the hair-raising announcement:
“If you set down the name of a fictitious person”—what can have given the good census department the notion of such a possibility?—“you will be fined $2,000 or sentenced to five years’ imprisonment, or both.”
From there on the injunctions grew less nerve-racking: “You must use a medium soft black pencil (which will be furnished)”—law-breaking under such conditions would be absurdity—“use no ditto marks and”—here I could not but shudder as there passed before my eyes memories of college lecture rooms and all the strange marks that have come to mean something to me alone—” take pains to write legibly!”
Then we arose and swarmed upstairs to an empty court-room, where Judge G—–, throwing away his cigarette and removing his Iowa feet from the bar of justice, caused us each to raise a right hand and swear an oath as solemn as ever president on March fourth. An oath, I repeat, not merely to uphold and defend the constitution against all enemies, armed or armless, but furthermore “not to share with any one any of the information you gather as an enumerator, or show a census card, or keep a copy of same.” Yet, I trust I can spin this simple yarn of my Canal Zone days without offense to Uncle Sam against the day when mayhap I shall have occasion to apply to him again for occupation. For that reason I shall take abundant care to give no information whatsoever in the following pages.