Monday, March 19, 2012

The Ides of March

We lost power at the house last week. How did that happen, you ask?

  • Did the over-burdened power grid of Monterrey finally fail?
  • Did you blow a fuse and not know how to fix a Mexican fuse box?
  • Did the power company need to do some work on the lines?

None of the above.  We didn't pay our electricity bill.  

Before I get into my very grand list of excuses regarding why this didn't happen, let me assure you that after years of having a job description which included "holding students accountable for their own actions on a daily basis," I understand that actions have consequences.  I was just not aware they would be so swift, severe, and (in my opinion) disproportionate to the "crime."

We get an electric bill, to the best of our knowledge, once avery two months here.  To be honest, we're not really sure.  And when we started living here, we never really thought to keep track.  Some things are paid monthly, some bi-monthly, and others more or less frequent than that.  We very quickly adopted a system of "get a bill, pay a bill."  It seemed to be working well.

Unless the bill never crosses your path.  Then you might not pay the bill.  Let's just stop there.  I hate excuses, really truly.  We didn't see the bill, we didn't pay it.  That's the best I can give you.

So last Thursday the doorbell rang.  I went to answer it and was met by a man with a clipboard.  He asked for our landlord (because all the bills are in our landlord's name) and I explained that we live here but that's our "dueƱo's" name, and was there some message I could pass along to him.

The man with the clipboard said... some things.  I didn't catch all of them, but the end one was that I, for some reason, owed him a couple thousand pesos.

Friends, Romans, Countrymen; I have been having a hard time with Spanish lately.  Namely that I am at this spot where I constantly betray myself within conversations.  I understand enough to get basic gists, but never enough to get the important details within.  I can say enough with proper inflection and accent to sound like I am fluent, but I am quite simply, not.  And when people think you're fluent and you've understood them, it's really hard to go back and try to convince them they need to slow down or think harder about their word choices.

So I heard the pesos comment, and I resorted to Tactic B.  Tactic B is something my landlord and I have established where, if I have no idea what's going on and I think it might be really important regarding the house, I am to give the other party his cell phone number, they can call him, and then if anything needs to get back to me he'll dumb it down for me.  Otherwise he'll just take care of it for us.  As much as the landlord and I have some differences, this is a really helpful thing he does for us, and I am really thankful for his understanding when communicating with us.

Hence, I sheepishly smiled, and handed the man with a clip board our landlord's cell phone number and said "This is our landlord's number.  If he owes you money you should call him please."

I was promptly informed that he wasn't going to call anyone.  I was getting a vibe from him that he was really annoyed with me, and I was suddenly glad that there was an iron gate between us.  He rambled off a lot more very fast Spanish, again including that I owed him so much money, and this time I caught that he was talking about lights.  So I tried to focus on that.  Lights?  What about the lights?

"I'm going to cut them."  He was getting louder now and waving his arms at what I later found out was the power supply to the house.  I was really flustered, so I tried Tactic B one more time:

Having had some time to analyze this situation, it is the opinion of myself, Fiance, our landlord and our Mexican friends here that instead of taking my words at face value, the man with the clipboard - aka electric company employee - interpreted my statement thusly:

And thus he shouted something over his shoulder at the other man who was with him, and told me good bye.  

I shrugged and turned to go back upstairs to the house and shoot our landlord an e-mail asking him to help us figure out who owed who money.  I was pretty sure it had to do with electricity.   

I was more sure when, three feet inside the house, I was suddenly standing in the darkness, and I heard the man with the clipboard and his lackie drive away.

Here's a fun moment of panic:  How do you solve this problem if you are by yourself in a house that has no power?  You're not going to be e-mailing anyone, that's for sure.  And you're not calling anyone either, because the house phone is a cordless landline - the base has to be plugged in.  You could try your cell phone, but there are no pre-pay credits on it (Mexico doesn't do contracts - you get a phone and then you stop at a 7-11 each month and put a few pesos worth of texts and calls on it).  And you can't leave to PUT credits on your phone because the electric garage door is trapping in Dora.  After about a half hour running through my available options I finally busted out Fiance's emergency only phone: the cell phone from the states that will cost metric butt-tons of money to place a call on, but the only functional phone left in the house that I was now literally trapped in.  (And yes I've learned my lesson - that stupid pre-pay Mexican cell will never run out of credits again.)

Fiance calmed me down and his company was lovely in helping sort everything out.  They went to the electric company directly and got our bill paid no more than an hour after the power was cut, they hounded the company for updates about when our power would be back on, and they even helped me figure out how to manually open the garage (though you could only do it from the inside, so if I left I'd have to leave the garage wide open.  I only left to put credits on the cell at the 7-11 less than a block away).  Through said Mexican friends, a few interesting factoids came out:
  1. Our bill was two days overdue.  TWO.  Not only did they just about double what we owed through late fee penalties, but they cut our power after a measley two day grace period?  Where in the states does this happen?  (see above regarding our theory that the man with the clipboard thought I was punking him) ((see also: I'M PRETTY SURE NOWHERE IN THE STATES DOES THAT HAPPEN.))
  2. All of the Mexican people who helped us with this had one initial question: Why didn't I give him a couple of pesos and tell him to go away?  Because I didn't have the couple thousand pesos on me that he said I owed, was my response (also I didn't really know what was going on).  Apparently if you owe a bill here and someone comes to collect, you can pay them off to go away with just a few pesos and buy yourself time to figure out a plan.  Good to know, though I'm not planning on skipping any more bills.
  3. Someone at that electric company holds a grudge over this situation.  We were without power at the house from Thursday morning until Saturday afternoon.  So much for the cheese in the fridge and pretty much everything in the freezer.
  4. The security system for the house runs on a backup battery (thank GOD).  But when that battery starts to get low, the system will let you know by beeping.  Constantly, loudly, and shrill-ly.  An unfortunate thing to happen when it's raining outside so you can't escape the sound.  Mac had a rough couple of hours before that sorted itself out.  I had a rough couple of hours listening to both the alarm and Mac.

Ugh.  Long story short - YOU WIN electric company.  

I spent two days bored out of my wits.  But more than that I spent two days wildly swinging between being really upset with/ down on myself for missing the bill, and rabidly seething at the man with the clipboard for being such a gigantic bag of dog crap.  There may be sketches in my sketchbook depicting a series of horrible demises for him.  They may involve him actually being an anthropomorphized bag of dog crap and being lit on fire on the electric company's porch.  

But if those sketches did exist I'm not about to share them here and prod the wrath of the electric company any further, because if I learned anything from this, it's how unbelievably necessary electricity is for me to sanely live my life here.  

There are bigger problems in the grand scheme of things, I know.  But that was last week's small personal tradgedy, so there you go.

Have you ever had a "you don't know what you got 'til it's gone?" moment?  What was it and how did it happen?  What was the first thing you did when you got said thing back?

...I may have danced with the dog while shouting "We have POWER!"

1.    We're going to Cancun this week!  Thursday to be specific, so  there will be no Friday blog and Monday's will probably not happen until Tuesday.  Sorry about that, but I am really excited to install myself at the swim-up bar at the resort for four days straight.

2.  Dreaded 29 Update:  Holy hell I've made it to -10, only 19 more to go!  Woo-sah!

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