The Franz Kafka Utility Company

Mail these days is rarely, if ever, fun. Since most of us use the instant gratification of email instead of the delayed gratification of the USPS, mailboxes now rarely contain love letters or cards or just plain letters. Sometimes you get a birthday card, and sometimes a postcard from a friend whose life is far more interesting than yours, but my mail mostly consists of items meant for the former occupants (who apparently don’t know that their friends at the post office would forward their mail if only they had been asked) and bills.

Last week, I got two horrifying bills in two horrifying days. One was for gas and electricity, and they wanted $127 from me. The other was from the Franz Kafka Utility Company, and they wanted $107. Apparently odd numbers are oddly popular among the odd. I was mystified by both bills, since I turn the heat off whenever I leave the house, turn it down to 57 when I go to bed, and rarely keep it above 65 or 66 ever. I also only light the room I’m actually in. I tried those eco lights in the bedroom, but it made it look like a dentist’s office or the dressing room of a cheap and cruel department store, so I had to go back to the warm glow of real light bulbs. I do have the ugly eco lights on the porch and in the laundry room, where atmosphere and appearance are less important, but every time I drive up to the house and porch light is on, I think, God, that light is ugly.

It’s not pretty being green.

Anyway, I was pretty much resigned to the gas & electric bill, but there were so many inexplicable line items on the FKUC bill that I called them and asked them what the FKUC. The person on the phone was very nice, and nearly the first thing she asked me was if this was my first Oakland water bill. She wasn’t surprised to hear it was – apparently my reaction to the bill is pretty much universal. The good news: the $15 new account charge is a one time thing – unless I move elsewhere in beautiful Oakland, in which case I will get to see it and pay it again.

The bad and the surreal news:

  • The “water service charge” isn’t for the water usage. It’s for the meter, long since paid for, that the FKUC uses to read the water usage. The actual water charge is listed under “water flow charge”, and is considerably less expensive than the charge for the long paid off meter. Does this make sense to anyone?
  • The sewage charge was nearly $40, and that’s apparently the least it will ever be. I asked what the most could be, and was glad I was sitting down when she informed me it could go as high as $110. As soon as she said “it can go up and down”, I knew I was in trouble. Has anyone ever known a charge such as this or, say, an adjustable mortgage, to actually go down? Didn’t think so.
  • Since I don’t have a dishwasher or water the lawn (the Almighty, as my father used to say, has been doing an almighty good job of that lately) and turn the water off when I brush my teeth, etc., I couldn’t understand why the bill was so high. Here’s fun news: it isn’t. According to my utility company, I am a good citizen who uses half the water that the average Oakland resident does.

I’d hate to see their bills. But then, I hate to see (and pay) mine, too.

Speaking of paying bills: remember that ticket for not pausing enough at the stop sign? Yeah, well, it was worse than either utility bill: $159 (again with the odd numbers). And they charged me a “convenience fee” for paying it on line. I wonder whose convenience that was?

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