Sunday, November 19, 2006


The other day I had the means to pay our water bill. This is a good thing. And the fact that I had the money before the bill was due is even better.

I always go downtown to pay this bill at the water department. It gives me a good excuse to go downtown and possibly run into old friends. And I’m too cheap to use a stamp if I can pay in person.

Our water bill has been paid like this for almost three years now. I think the ladies behind the cashier's desk are starting to recognize me. And I’d guess they’d refer to me as that guy who pays his bill early. They smile at me every time. I take it that someone paying a water bill early is a rare occasion for them.

Often times there will be other people there paying a bill at the same time as myself. And usually the bill they are holding has bright red on it. I think a red bill means their water bill is not only late, but it’s really, really late.

Once, I remember being at the water department and running into an old coworker of mine from the music store I use to work at. Elwood was a legendary blues keyboardist in the fair mother city. He was also a legendary alcoholic. I hadn’t seen Elwood in months and he looked worse than most of my homeless friends. Elwood had one of those red bills in his hand along with a bunch of wadded up cash and the cashiers had that “look” on their face. That emotionless, I don’t give a crap about you or anything look.

Elwood’s liver finally got the best of him and I saw him a month later in a casket at a funeral home.

When I went to pay my bill the other day there was a skinny, crippled poor-looking woman in front of me with one of those medical canes. The kind that’s metal with a grey hand grip and four little legs at the bottom. All I heard her say to the cashier was “My water just got turned off and I’m a little short this month”.

The crippled lady was directed to the customer service desks. She hobbled over to these desks and stood there for about a minute before being acknowledged by the service worker who could obviously hear the conversation and knew she was coming.

The customer service worker stared blankly at a computer screen with “the look” in her face. “...can I help you...?

The whole room could hear the crippled woman’s words again. “My water just got turned off and I’m a little short this month”.

I wanted to pay for the woman’s bill. But I didn’t have any more money after my own bill was paid.

I wanted to ask the customer service gal if being calloused was a prerequisite for her job or just a survival tactic.

All utility cashiers are calloused. It must be a chapter in their employee handbook: Look like you don’t care, don’t have a heart, leave your humanity at home.

I remember being the customer service person.

People came into the old izzy group ministry by the bus load asking for help with various utility bills. At first, I was compassionate. But after a while I couldn’t escape callousness and judgementalism.

Why couldn’t they pay their bills THIS time? What did they spend their money on now?

But now I know what that crippled woman goes through. Regardless of her story or excuse.

More and more each day I become closer to slipping into her shoes.


Miller said...

you're a great story teller b!

and its good for my heart to read your stories.


JesusFreak said...

no one who hasn't been poor for over a year doesn't know what it's really like. the looks full of disdain you get from people who you already feel so ashamed to ask for help. i think it should be a rule that everyone should have to spend a year first being poor and having to depend on others then a year having to serve others. it's a real eye opener! (and heart opener)