I am not in a place of grace right now.
This week, a new struggle with a corporation arrived. Central Hudson, provider of our gas and electric service, lobbed a $1400 bill over our virtual transom. No, we didn’t consume $1400 of gas and electric in one month. We have solar panels that provide about 90% of our electrical power during the summer. And we only use gas for our stovetop to cook, our oven is electric. So no, there is no way we could have used that much gas and electric in one month. Or even several months.
The situation might be that we are finally being charged for electric and gas over many months. I don’t know. I have dutifully checked my account every month and when there was a bill, I paid it. There has been, for the past few months, a credit showing on our account. It seemed a little strange, but we are level billing customers. Twice a year, there is a recalculation of the average monthly usage, and a leveling up of the difference between projected and actual usage. In the past, this has meant we wound up with a credit that could cover a few months of payments. So, it didn’t seem that strange, given it was about time for the new calculations to be made and differences settled.
I am not the only customer having this sort of experience. There have been big problems with Central Hudson’s billing practices. There is a Facebook page dedicated to it. There is a class action lawsuit in progress. The phrase, “I’ve been Central Hudson-ed,” has become a thing.
Utility company bills have always been opaque. Central Hudson bills are particularly bad in this regard. It feels like you need an advanced degree in accounting to be able to sort them out. They admit that an attempt to improve their billing system has been a disaster, leading to all kinds of wild billing errors. Word on the street is that they still like to insist that the big bill is the bill. But really, which bills am I to believe? Those that showed a credit, or this seemingly outrageous and impossible bill? I suppose perspective is everything.
This weekend I will be devoting myself to researching our billing for the past year to see if I can develop a theory of where we stand. Then I will begin the process of getting things straightened out. Or at least to a place where I am pretty sure of what I do, or do not, owe.
You will recall that just a couple of weeks ago, I got embroiled in a fios-by-Verizon debacle. That has turned out reasonably well as I was able to find my way to a case manager, Wilson, who got it straightened out. It still required more time and energy than I wanted to give it, but at least I had a competent case manager who made sure I didn’t get lost in the wasteland of their bureaucracy.
I wonder if humanity made a mistake when people turned, or were forced to turn, away from a direct connection to the earth for their sustenance. When we began to allow bureaucracies, public, corporate, etc., to manage us and determine how we spent our time. Evilly conceived, ill-conceived and/or incompetently conceived bureaucracies suck up so much of our time with soul-deadening work and labyrinthian challenges to sort our consumer lives out.
I rather like this description of labor…
Representing an economy in which most people worked directly on the land or water to pull wheat into wagons and fish into barrels, Lincoln believed that “labor is prior to, and independent of, capital; that, in fact, capital is the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed—that labor can exist without capital, but that capital could never have existed without labor. Hence, they hold that labor is the superior—greatly the superior of capital.”12
And this observation about corporations is all the more true in present times:
“The gulf between employers and the employed is constantly widening, and classes are rapidly forming, one comprising the very rich and powerful, while in another are found the toiling poor…. Corporations, which should be the carefully restrained creatures of the law and the servants of the people, are fast becoming the people’s masters.”3
They are not only the masters of our time and effort, they are the chief wasters of our time too. I resent that. At 68, my time is more precious than ever.
The idea of a tiny cabin in the woods, completely off the grid, is starting to appeal. Do you think my wife would go for it?
Yesterday, I logged on to my Central Hudson account to begin the process of sorting out what was going on. The $1400 owed had become $109. There were a bunch of credits, negating most of what I had owed just three days earlier. I paid that bill. I am going to have to keep a close eye on things. I resent that too.
Here, the interesting concept of holons is echoed. The idea of a hierarchical system of organization in which each successive level of the hierarchy is dependent on all the levels below it, a fact which humanity, driven by capitalism, steadfastly ignores in all kinds of ways. Ken Wilbur describes holonic organization in Sex, Ecology and Spirituality. ↩︎