Monday, December 06, 2010


Well, my plan failed.

Despite packing up all of my belongings and -- in the quiet undercover of midday -- stealthily moving all of my possessions to a secret undisclosed location some seven blocks away, the bill collectors still found me. I was kinda hoping that with a new house and all, they'd simply forget to charge me for utilities and services and assorted payments due. No such luck.

I went home for lunch today. This was a bad move, as my mailbox and its Cavalcade o' Invoices just took my abnormally good Monday mood for a quick stroll through the mud. Urgh. Why do things have to cost money? Don't these companies realize that I am a beloved and cherished area writer of some importance? The power company, for instance, should know that without power, my laptop computer would not function; hence this very column, here to entertain you all, would not be written. As a public service to newspaper readers everywhere, they should be giving me EXTRA power, doggone it.

But, as it turns out, I have little power over my power. Nobody does. Why? Because power only makes sense to the power company. My bill might as well be written in German and I'd still just thoughtlessly provide them with the "AMOUNT DUE" (or, auf Deutsch, "ZU ZAHLENDER BETRAG.") This is why I opt for automatic bill pay.

Auto bill pay is a great thing for me, as I tend to have the responsibility level of your average beanstalk. I forget to pay bills all the time, but with auto pay, I can just go about my business safe in the knowledge that my bank account will be routinely bled dry without any of that bothersome signing-my-name-and-mailing-a-check business. The downside of auto pay, though, is that I NEVER pay attention to what's coming or going out of my account. The power company could be charging me extra to scrape squirrels out of transformers and I'd be none the wiser. Back in the apartment days, this was a fine way to waddle through life. But now that I'm a homeowner, these withdrawals are a tad bit larger than what I'm used to, and maybe I should pay a little bit more attention.

That's why I just opened my power bill. Again, not a good move when you're trying to have a happy day. It turns out that the average power bill at my house is about 3 times as much as my old apartment. "Well, duh," you say, "you're now paying to heat and cool an entire HOUSE." But see, here's the thing:

My apartment was on the middle of 3 stories, and my downstairs neighbor enjoyed keeping his apartment at heat levels juuuust below the melting point of human skin. His 90+ degree atmosphere routinely turned my apartment into a human crock pot, forcing me to run my window air conditioner, often entirely against its audible wishes, year-round. I kid you not that in mid-January, I was running my air non-stop. Meanwhile, all around me, computers hummed, televisions illuminated, and stereos blared.

In my new house, I don't have to run my air 24-7. When it cools down, it shuts off. And my computer and stereo are still in boxes waiting to be unpacked. As far as this unapologetic power-waster's concerned, I've been living like a pioneer of yore (albeit a pioneer with central air and heat.) Yet still, my bills have been outlandish. Good, then, of the power company to break it down in an easy-to-understand format.

Let's see: Basic Service Charge, Energy Charge (800x0.07450), Electricity Excise Tax, Municipal Tax, Meter Class 1 Charge, Distribution Charge (16x0.10556), Gas Supply Charge (16x0.47697), Illinois CC Assessment, and State Utility Tax. Oh, well gee, that explains it. At least they have a handy guide to break it down: 16 ccf x 0.995 pressure x 1.009 BTU factor = 16 therms. I'm starting to think that the power company doesn't even understand their own bills.

What's a "therm"? I finally found out in fine print: "Your natural gas consumption is measured by volume. One ccf is equivalent to 100 cubic feet. The ccds you use during a billing period are converted to therms for billing. A therm is a standardized billing unit that represents the heating value of the gas sold to you."

In other words, they made it up. "Therms" are created by a consortium of power companies as a convenient way to make our bills even more illogical. Frankly, I didn't know it was that easy. If I want money from someone, clearly I just have to invent a new unit of standardized billing and simply start invoicing people. I'm starting with the power company. I just invoiced them for 13.2 pumpernicks and a note in small print that says, "Pumpernicks are a standardized billing unit that represents the estimated cost value of the pain and suffering felt while trying to decipher your inane bills."

But the sad truth is that the power company is but penny candy compared to the OTHER bills that showed up in my mailbox today. Remember last month when I selflessly conducted my in-depth scientific research to determine once and for all whether or not human feet actually require ligaments? (As it turns out, they DO.) Well, the doctor bills are starting to roll in.

Amidst the invoices for x-rays and doctor visits was one bit of good news, though. For the past five weeks, I've been forced to wear one of those orthopedic walking boots while my foot heals. What I DIDN'T know, though, is that MY boot appears to be a limited edition collector's version. At least, that's the only rational explanation I can think of as to why the boot cost me $300. Silly me, all this time I was under the impression that it was an unsightly piece of metal covered in cheap velcro. But for $300? The metal must be platinum and the velcro hide freshly shaven from the elusive and endangered South American Velcrobbit.

I can't really complain, though -- I have friends with medical problems right now without insurance who are a LOT worse off. And I'd better hush about the $300 boot, because the second that teenagers realize orthopedic walking gear costs more than their Air Jordans, kids around the world will be tearing their ligaments with glee just to have the most expensive footwear possible. So I guess I'll keep paying my bills. I just hope the doctor accepts pumpernicks.

1 comment:

Kaiser Villaviciencio said...

This is a really good column, Shane. Talk about bills, huh? Bills can really suck your good mood. I agree with you about the "therms". You know, I have been wondering about my power bills and telephone bills, too. I wanted to ask the company about the payment breakdown I can't even understand, but lucky for 'em, I don't have time.

That pumpernicks sounds interesting. Maybe I can save that for my next medical bill. LOL!

Thanks for the laugh, man.