It was with great trepidation that I ventured back to the Tombigbee Electric Power Ass. Alas, it was necessary. Last month, April of 1998, after having not received an electric bill and being told that I no longer existed when I tried to pay it, I was assured that someone would be sent out to read my electric meter and I would receive a bill. Likely story. Not only didn’t I receive a bill for last month, but I didn’t receive one for this month either. So back to the Power Ass. I went, armed this time with my Tombigbee Electric Power Ass. Official Certificate of Membership. This document states in no uncertain terms that I, Eric Fritzius, am a member of the Power Ass. and have paid the $70 security deposit as of February 24, 1997. Note the date, cause it comes into play later on.
“Can I help you?” the jolly woman at the counter asked. She was a different jolly woman than the one who helped me last month.
“I’d like to attempt to pay my electric bill again,” I said. “I tried to pay it last month, but it didn’t take.”
“Oh, well then,” she said. “What name?”
So once again I go through the typical rigmarole that people named FRITZIUS have to go through to explain the proper pronunciation and spelling of their surname to public servants, or indeed to most anyone. (For the record, it’s pronounced kinda like “Frichuze,” with a short “i” sound.) The jolly woman typed it into her computer. She blinked at the screen a few times and looked suddenly less jolly. Then she called one of the other workers over to stare at the screen with her in the hope that one of them could shed light on whatever horror lay there. After several more seconds of this they gave up and told me to take it up with the service dept. in back. To me this sounded more like a lateral move along the power structure of the Power Ass. After all, this was the same service dept. that had all but confirmed my non-existence in the eyes of the office workers last time.
I went back to the service dept. clutching my Official Certificate of Power Ass. Membership and tried to vocalize for the guy at the service desk just what my gig was. Desk boy got the part about me not receiving a bill for two months and did notice my Membership Certificate but he completely ignored the part of my story about my not being in his computer and looked anyway. I’m not real sure what he saw on his screen, but it must have been mighty perplexing, from the expression on his face. I thought he was probably seeing the same lack of an account that I’d assumed the lady at the front desk had seen. He repeated my address to me and asked if I lived there.
“And you didn’t receive a bill this month?”
“Nor last month.”
“Well you need to take this up with the post office cause that’s the address we’ve been sending them to.”
I smiled evilly to myself and then proceeded to point out that, though I have been suspect of the post-office in the past, I was pretty sure that they weren’t at fault this time around. It just seemed like too big of a coincidence that my electric bills stopped arriving around the same time that my account COMPLETELY VANISHED from the Power Ass. computer.
Desk boy looked at me for a moment, then looked back at his screen. “Well, we’ve been sending the bills to that address since your power was turned on February 28. It’s been on for two months now, so you should’ve got a bill.”
“Um. Check the date on the certificate.”
Desk boy looked at the certificate. “Yeah, February.”
“No. The year.”
He looked at the certificate again and blinked a few times. I expected him to look for a calendar to make sure it was still 1998, but he didn’t. Instead he said, “Oh. Did you just move recently?”
“No. I’ve been in the apartment since February of 1997, just like the certificate says and I have not moved.”
“Well the computer says you just got the power turned on this February.”
I was about to point out, again, that this was the same devil-machine that said I didn’t even exist last month so how could it be trusted to accurately report my status this month. However, my attempt was interrupted by a gray-haired lady, who seemed to be desk-boy’s superior. She came over and looked at his computer screen while desk boy tried to explain what was going on. He showed her my certificate and pointed to its discrepancy with their computer and eventually threw up his hands saying “This beats the heck outta me.” They moved toward the back of the office and began speaking in hushed tones. In my head I could imagine them trying to figure out what sort of stunt I was trying to pull off. I imagined that they probably suspected I was trying to horn in on the apartment of a friend and was somehow trying to get out of paying the deposit by impersonating him. In actuality, though, the gray-haired woman began leafing through computer print-outs while desk boy went to dig in the large chest of tiny card-file drawers, presumably to find some sort of paper record of my existence. They came back and conferred with one another for a bit and then the gray-haired woman came over to the service desk.
“Did you just move recently?” she asked.
“No,” I said slowly, trying to remain calm. “I’ve been living there in Apartment #3 for an entire year now. I’ve done no moving whatsoever. The only moving being done there is from my new neighbors who moved into apartments #1 and #4 in late Febr….” D’Oah! If it had been a snake it would have bit me! If it had been Kenny G., well he would have bit me too, but not before pausing to record a crappy saxophone version of an already crappy over-played song. The neighbors! This was all somehow their fault!
The gray-haired lady seemed to sense where I was going with this and she quickly went back and checked her print-outs and typed some more on her computer. When she came back to the counter, she was accompanied by a thick haze of apology. She seemed afraid that I was going to verbally take her head off. Desk boy too seemed a bit shaky. Little did they know that I secretly found the whole situation pretty funny and was not actually angry at them. But since she didn’t know this, she cautiously explained that when my neighbors moved in, the Power Ass. had managed to switch the wrong settings in their devil-computer, thus causing my account to disappear. And since they’d already sent out their bills for this month, I’d once again have to wait a month before receiving one astronomically high triple-ply bill for three months.
I smiled at them and assured them that this would be fine with me. After all, I hadn’t spent the money ear-marked for power yet. No worries there. Needless to say, though, I’m skeptical about the likelihood that the problem with the devil-computer has actually been fixed. I suspect my dealings with the Power Ass. are far from over.