Under My Own Power
In an effort to reduce paper waste and maximize efficiency I signed up for paperless billing on all my bills. Then I created a separate email account for all the bill-paying reminders to go to, so my regular email account would not be tainted with such unpleasantness as bill-paying. I also use this account for Netflix and Amazon and anything I suspect might send too many emails not filled with salient details from the lives of my friends and family. As a result, this special “all-business” email account is so boring that I never check it unless I happen to actually remember that I ordered something online and want to know where it is. (I do most of my online shopping drunk late at night and therefore am often completely and pleasantly surprised when the packages arrive seven to ten business days later.) “Paperless billing” has become, for me, “bill-less billing.” Bill-less billing has been a fantastic solution to the annoying problem of bills arriving in the mailbox and the ensuing financial challenge of paying them.
As a result of my new bill-less billing system I did not pay my Con Edison bill for six months. Though I had been paying the bills online and having the reminders sent to my special boring email address, the account was still in my former roommate’s name. When they started sending notices about the imminent shutting off of my power it was forwarded to her new address and she alerted me to the matter of the unpaid Con Edison bill. When I finally read the three shut-off notices she had collected I noticed that Con Edison is willing to negotiate. They put you on a payment plan and provide a phone number to call if you just “need more time” to pay the bill. It says, “Call this number if you just need more time!” I was really touched by their understanding but had no desire to draw this out. I had a boyfriend who let his power get shut off with twenty pounds of Omaha steak in his freezer. I have seen a world before Edison, Thomas of yore and Con of late. Though my freezer contains only Hendrick’s gin and ice cubes, once you see (and smell) what it means to run afoul of the power company it’s hard to get the experience out of your mind. Not to mention the fact that I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I only owed $134.45 for six months of electricity. To me that seemed quite reasonable. I had charged my laptop and iPhone, used the blender, kept the ice cubes solid, blasted music and read by electric lamplight each night all for less than $25 a month. A bottle of Hendrick’s doesn’t last that long and costs $30, and it doesn’t light the bulbs or charge the laptop. Though to be fair, Hendrick’s does other things for humanity, even if it’s no electric sun.
In order to pay the electric bill, I had to call Con Ed. After my nineteen-minute hold time due to larger-than-average call volume, I spoke with a fairly knowledgeable and pleasant customer service representative who offered me several extra services I politely declined.
“Do you or anyone in your home use life-support machines?” asked the customer service representative. “If you do, Con Edison will provide you with special services in the event of a storm or power outtage.”
“No,” I told the customer service representative. “I’m still running under my own power.”
I have a tendency to over-disclose to anonymous customer service representatives once we are embroiled in the intimacy of our transaction, especially if the hold time was long and the arrival of the live voice on the line was long-awaited and for some time disbelieved. I continued. “I mean, I will be thirty in the fall, but so far I’m still breathing on my own. If the power goes out, I will go on. I do not require any special services of Con Edison to stay alive at this juncture.”
And I felt really good about this! It’s been a rough road of late for all the usual reasons–broken heart, financial ruin, artistic despair, existential nausea, feeling alienated from my wardrobe, etc., etc., etc–all in the last fiscal quarter. But tonight, telling the Con Edison customer service representative that I am still operating under my own power, I felt a sense of hope and self-sufficiency. If the power goes out I will go on. I will not rot like steak, for my meat lives. Let Con Ed shut off the power! I will still have impulses! I will still have charge! Let them charge me all they want, for I charge myself! I plug in nowhere! I have power everywhere! I am my own backup generator!
“You know,” I told the Con Edison service representative, “I haven’t been feeling too good about things lately. But you really put it in perspective for me. I may dwell in darkness, but I have not yet lost power. I’m really glad we talked. I can’t thank you enough.”
“All right ma’am,” she said. “You have a very nice day.”