I took the train downtown again Friday. I was looking for Tom, who had appeared on a local tv news piece on my situation that aired the previous night. I went to a 4th floor office of the City Utilities building, where I entered a door into a cramped, unattended lobby no bigger than a walk-in closet, with restricted access to the offices beyond. One, and then another inquired if I needed help, and both went looking for Tom. A third asked if I was being helped, and I told her jokingly that she could be the third to go in search, though she declined, laughing. Everyone was pleasant to me.
Then, as on cue, a young blonde woman appeared. She said, "No one from the city will be coming into your house any time next week."
"Does that mean that my house is not going to be condemned?" She didn't know, and I explained to her patiently that I was under the impression that my house would be condemned that day, and I couldn't leave until someone could tell me whether or not that was true. She looked stymied, as if there was nothing she could do. I reiterated. She stood there, shrugging helplessly, growing increasingly uncomfortable, as I grew increasingly perplexed.
That's when an older woman swept in through the door behind me, from the hall. Her energy was astonishingly defensive and hostile. She said in fact that my house would be condemned that day. Flustered by her aggressiveness, I asked about the codes I had broken. "You have access to the Internet, don't you?" As if this was not regulatory services and I were an idiot to think that they might actually have copies of their codes, or could make some. "Have you looked into energy assistance programs with CenterPoint," she asked, accusingly, with an energy like she was addressing some kind of illiterate grifter. "People like you," she started, "need to ask for assistance from CenterPoint to pay your bills", as I started laughing, parroting her sadly, appalled: "People like me?" She floundered helplessly, before she recovered by telling me "I'll give you until Monday midnight. After that, were coming in with the police."
What the fuck? From there I went to the office of Police Chief Tim Dolan. I asked the elder woman behind the counter, who had the polar opposite energy of the elder in Regulatory Services, if I could file a police report.
"What do you want to file a report about?" she asked.
"Well, the city is threatening to condemn my house and remove me from it with the police, because I don't have natural gas service hooked up."
She looked at me inquisitively, somewhat confused. "You want to file a report for an action that hasn't happened yet?"
"I guess. Mostly I just want to let the police know what the city will be asking of them," and I winked at her and smiled. She smiled, and gave me a list of precincts, and a phone number to call and a website address to visit, apologizing that I couldn't file the report with her.
From there I went to Sheriff Richard Stanek's office, because I wasn't sure, when Regulatory Services says they're coming in with the police, whether that means Minneapolis Police Officers or Sheriff Deputies. The elder woman behind the bullet proof glass told me in her firm, conservative tone that I needed to go to processing, in room 30.
In room 30, I talked with a deputy. He didn't know the answer to my question. "It's complicated," he said, and after a roundabout description he ended with, "civil process is different from criminal," pausing and shrugging his shoulders uncomfortably, when I looked at him like, "what?" He told me I needed to go to Regulatory Services.
"I've been there, and they haven't been very nice to me."
"I'm not surprised," he said, and replied, "I'm not sure I want to know," when I asked if he wanted to know why the city was condemning my house and threatening to remove me from it. I told him anyway. He shook his head and said he didn't know what to tell me. On the verge of shouting, I said I felt like going to the City Attorney. He said I should.
At the City Attorney's office, a kindly man behind the glass went in search of someone to help me, and Bert appeared. There was kindness in his eyes, and concern. I was half-hysterical by that point, like the whole idea of the Constitution was a farce and in my great naivete' I was just coming to recognize it. I babbled on about my situation, mindlessly trying to find where I put the damn Intent to Condemn order, until I fairly shouted, "search and seizure, what!"
It had taken an Englishman, responding to this blog, to remind this American, that what Regulatory Services was planning to do was a clear violation of the spirit of the Fourth Amendment, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated..." Bert disappeared for awhile behind the restricted access door, and returned with a guarantee that nothing would be done about the Condemnation order at least for the next week, and he gave me a number to call Monday morning, to arrange a meeting, he said, with the top three officials at Regulatory Services. I left, reminded as I always am, when I get carried away by frustration with any institution anywhere, that there are good people everywhere.
I called the number this morning and left a voicemail, in a state not at all certain, as if at any moment Harold the inspector might appear at my door with a troop of police. Laying in bed a long while after, in my room now heated by natural gas generated electricity, I thought about fossil fuels. Here the city is threatening to condemn my house, and remove me from it with the police, for not having natural gas service, while all over America and the world, we are hydro-fracturing, pumping water and sand and toxic chemicals and known carcinogens at high pressure into the Earth and aquifers, in an effort not to have the conversation in America about life after fossil fuels. We would likely be seeing the same inflation in natural gas prices as we are with oil, if we were not using this incredibly destructive technique (no matter how much we want to blame parasitic speculators, or corrupt government officials, or greedy oil executives). As the writer John Michael Greer has pointed out in a very prescient series of posts*, we might have chosen an eco-technic future in the 70's, but we chose global hegemony and conspicuous consumption instead. And now we're involved in at least four foreign wars, the great financial empire we have created is showing signs of utter dissolution, and a world of scarce resources approaches closer by the day.
A low pressure weather system has parked itself over Minnesota the past week; my vegetable starts are back inside, many taking a serious hit the last three days from the cold. It is cold in most of my house, except my bedroom. I'm almost out of money, again. I have talked with the neighbors about building a pergola over their back patio. But to do that, we will likely have to pull a permit, and have to deal with the same Regulatory Services that has lately taken the attitude toward me, that either I play by the rules however illogical, or I will be destroyed, and I worry that that job which I hoped would pay this months bills will be denied me. I received a letter Friday from the city, that I have until June 11 to repair my driveway, part of which I tore up for what I hope will be my orchard, telling me I'm only allowed to place asphalt, concrete or pavers.**
I stomped around the house awhile, unable to find the letter, raging at myself for being so unorganized, for being such an idiot to lose such an important piece of information.
I biked to the coffee shop, noticing that gas at the local station is $3.99 and 9/10ths, arriving only to find that I had forgotten the computer power cord (it's a five year old battery and holds maybe an hour's charge). I biked home, packed the power cord in my backpack, and looked for the letter again, as if it would suddenly appear by magic. Biking back to the coffee shop, I reminded myself of the importance of mindfulness, that the greatest enemy of my peace of mind is not government, or rogue agents, or amoral corporations, or angry, insulting people, but myself. All that is coming at me now is just that which I need to fulfill my purpose. I am not a victim of anything unless I make myself so. Which I do, repeatedly, until I realize again that this is all just a test, that it is all just what must be, as I have chosen to act not out of the expectations of culture, or even family or friends, but out of what I know to be true to myself, at the core of my being.
I called the number at Regulatory Services again. The woman who answered, who is the very same woman who treated me so badly on Friday, told me in a calm, open voice without defensiveness, that the city had issued an extension, that I would be receiving a letter, and that the order would not need to be addressed again until October 15. I asked her if that meant the city would not be condemning my house. She said it did.