Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bills and Bicycles

As I have no credit card to pay my bills with, I hopped on my bike and headed down Franklin Ave, to The Money Exchange, one of those tiny bomb-shelter, bullet-proof glass boxes. My sister called while I was inside paying Xcel Energy $350 to keep my electricity on; all I could hear was my words repeated back to me. I teased the ladies behind the glass because they work in a cash box but they needed a calculator to make change, $47.75 ($2.25 electronic exchange fee), for the four Franklin's I gave them.

I biked ten more blocks east on Franklin, to the Unbank, another bomb shelter but with only one lady (with a great voice) working in it, to pay $300 to CenterPoint Energy to have my gas turned back on. From there I traveled north, downtown, to the Hennepin County Government Center, to renew my drivers license (I didn't plan well. I look like a total dork in the picture.) I had lunch in the basement cafeteria with about 200 bureaucrats, which, both cafeterias and bureaucracism, I am fond of critiquing. These bureaucrats were, of course, regular people, like most others: eating, talking business and gossiping.

Judging by the size of the building, much of Hennepin County works for Hennepin County.

Then I was off to the Minneapolis Utility Billing office, where I made my first $350 payment for the right to use municipal water in 2010-11. I inquired with the staff about whether or not I was being charged twice, whether or not I had been reimbursed for the "Estimated Use" charges which were proven false by the frozen water meter. The staff consulted the "Adjuster", who denied my claim to have these charges refunded, on the grounds that, because the water meter was frozen she can't be sure whether I was using that water or not. The "Estimated Use" charges started in late May 2010.

As the Adjuster would not speak with me, I inquired as to whether or not the Adjuster actually lives in Minnesota. I wondered, without saying, if perhaps this Adjuster lives all day, every day, in a windowless, climate controlled office, for at least as long as it has taken her to forget that water meters do not freeze and explode in late spring/early summer, at this latitude. At least not this past May.

I told the staff that the water department should reconsider its policy, as it doesn't make any sense. I considered telling them that this sort of obtuse, insensibility is the exact sort of thing that makes citizens despise Government; but I didn't. Each of the staff members encouraged me to write a complaint about all my grievances. They seemed to find some joy in the idea of me, explaining my situation before a magistrate. As do I, the more I think about it.

I rode my bike back to Monster Halloween, picked up my computer, and started in the direction of my house. I had arranged for an appointment to have my gas turned back on. CenterPoint Energy would give me no time frame other than, "between now and 8pm." Sure enough, the guy called: he was ten minutes out, I was at least 30 minutes out. I tried to get him to wait but it took me 34 minutes to get there, there being snow on the path and an abundance of traffic. He's got a schedule to keep, and he doesn't get paid more for waiting. I would have dropped a twenty-spot, but I didn't mention it when he called and he didn't call before he left my house.

A neighbor I haven't talked to in many months was scraping ice on his sidewalk. He seemed a bit unhinged. A drywall specialist, he hasn't worked much the past three years. He's paying the bills with his retirement money. He borrowed $4600 to one of his six brothers, eighteen months ago, so that brother wouldn't lose the house on Lake Waconia. The brother hasn't payed a dollar back, but regularly loads pictures on Facebook of times with the family at the cabin up north. I suggested people will do just about anything to maintain whatever standard of living they have grown accustomed to, and offered that he should engage his other four brothers, gang tackle the guy and pull his underwear out of his pants. I don't expect he will, but I did get him to smile.

Dug my carrots. An heirloom, St Valery, a fat stumpy carrot not much good for chewing on raw but good for cooking, as in soup. The ground wasn't frozen yet, in part because the snow acted as an insulator. I was reminded what good soil I have, not having any difficulty pulling them out. Gathered the last of the kohl rabi and cabbage, a few fat storage beans that might not keep for getting damp.

I expect to eat a lot of soup this winter. Hole up in my house with my soup, bread from the church down the street, my books, notebooks and pens, tools and music. I'm anxious to get started. The heat's back on. After waiting at the coffee shop awhile, I got a cal from another CenterPoint Energy tech. After opening the lines and clearing out the air the furnace started and the hot water heater too. Hot water? The house is coming alive; it's time I start healing it.

The drain is plugged, someplace beyond the foundation. Which means I can't put anything down any drain, least of all the water I'm paying $350 a month for. Not looking joyward to that project. But there's no avoiding it, or putting it off.

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