Tuesday, July 06, 2004


Great start to the week as the guy from the electric company -- not my pal Lutz, whom I wrote about earlier, unfortunately, but another guy with such a thick Berlinisch accent I could barely understand him, and a rough no-bullshit demeanor -- showed up first thing yesterday morning and presented me with a demand for €368.26, which includes a fee of €42.55 for his visit. This all has to be paid before 8am on Thursday or they'll shut off my power. I know they'll do this because no sooner had I sat down with my morning coffee and started trying to puzzle this out than the doorbell rang again and the guy was back. "This has nothing to do with you," he said, "but do you know Mosig on the third floor? Is he ever around?" I'm not sure whether Mosig is the hawk-faced looking guy with the really bad toupee or the gangly 40-ish surfer dude. But one of the first rules of Berlin is never tell the bastards anything, so I said I had no idea. "Do you have a key to the cellar? I have to shut him off if he's not going to answer his door." I told the guy I didn't -- a lie -- and referred him to the Hausmeister across the way. Another lucky thing: I can't pronounce the odd Slavic name our Hausmeister has, nor do I know his first name (although we're on first-name terms).

Now, as I sat last night, reading by an electric light-bulb, I realized that if the power goes, so does my ability to cook, wash, read, and use the computer. Clearly, I cannot do without electricity. But the guy had just picked a bad time to come see me: It was still 4th of July weekend in America, and although I've got more than enough on the way to pay the electric bill (as well as to hack away a bit at my 10-months-overdue rent), I won't be able to reach anyone in the States for another couple of hours, and today is almost gone. This leaves me with Wednesday, tomorrow, to get all of this done: maybe find a little money somewhere, negotiate with the power company (which involves a long, long hike, but at least, unlike the phone company, you can negotiate with them), and -- oh, yes -- I have a couple of articles due.

What I find really amusing is the reaction of some of the people I know in the States. They simply can't believe that I'm losing my electricity. I've had a couple of e-mail exchanges with one friend who blithely ignores it in his suggestions for things I can do. Others just dismiss it with a brusque "Oh, you're not going to lose your electricity!" Well...tell that to this guy who was at my door this morning. What they mean is, I can't believe a guy who I hear on NPR and who writes for all these magazines (although I can't remember which ones, exactly) and who I've been reading for years isn't able to pay his bills. But the NPR work is, like all my work, not steady. I provide what I provide on demand, and sometimes the demand slows down.

And sometimes it's just bad luck: I did a piece of work in May for a local magazine here. They've finally gotten to the billing process, and it's a couple of hundred Euros. But...they want a tax number. I don't have a tax number because I'm not eligible for one. Oh, but there's some new ruling, and the woman has to talk to this one guy (and he'll confirm what I said), but he's been sick at home for the past ten days and they don't know when he's coming back in.

And there's another thing: you Americans! You continue to deal with these paper checks! You actually put them in the mail! I'm looking, right now, at a check that would go a long ways towards solving the most immediate problems I have, except for two things: it's in dollars, and my bank won't accept paper checks. So I don't know whether to frame this or try to cook it, because that's the other thing that's going on: as of tonight's rather meager dinner, I'm going to be completely out of food, too.

There's money coming in. If I can only hold on for another 48 hours, get this snafu with the power company straightened out, and maybe bum ten bucks off someone, this'll turn out okay.

But constantly having to deal with this stuff just takes energy away from what I'd rather be doing. Which is writing my way out of this city.

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