Today I forgot to pay my water bill. I mean, I had forgotten to pay my water bill. And so they shut my water off.
It is not as bad as it sounds. This sort of thing actually happens a lot now that I am working on my book on Leonard Pennario.
Plus my water bill delinquency led to a story I will be laughing about for the rest of my life.
The deal was, I had to go downtown to Exchange Street to pay. As soon as you are in serious trouble with the water department they make it as tough as possible to pay your bill. I had to go and Mapquest my way to their office and then go there in a snowstorm.
The scene at the water office was not pretty. At first I breeze up to this teller thinking I can pay my bill and be out of there. Oh no. Oh, no! Not so fast! I had to take a number and go see the person in the office.
They point me to this numbers machine exactly as you would see if you were at a deli. My number was 68. I took the number and sat down obediently because I am German and I follow orders.
There is only one desk open for customer service and this one woman is parked at this desk. Ten, 15 minutes pass. The woman keeps talking. I can hear the conversation. She owns a bunch of slum properties and she is trying to straighten out all her water accounts. I hear: "That house on Bailey was torn down. I just want to make sure that's off the list."
I have nothing to do. They had a sign forbidding cell phones and I was afraid if I took out my cell phone it might be taken away from me. Let us pause to contemplate the idiocy of this situation. Here these people are supposed to be working for us. And instead they are bossing us.
Meanwhile a few more people join me in the little waiting room. This Chatty Cathy comes and sits down next to me. She starts this conversation about these cuffs I am wearing, that my sister Katie knitted for me. Being a Buffalonian I am always ready to talk so, OK, I answer her questions. The conversation quickly gets boring with this woman doing all the talking. She is talking this nonstop talk about all these cats she has. My eyes keep straying toward the room where the slumlord is still talking. I was so desperate I began praying. Please, God, please, get this slumlord out of here so I can pay my water bill and go home.
The cat woman keeps talking. The minutes keep passing.
Ten more minutes pass. They feel like 10 hours.
Finally .... finally .... the slumlord gets up. She stops and chats for a few minutes with the clerk. Apparently they know each other. Fine, just chat on my dime, you know? I'm not in any hurry or anything.
At last she leaves. The clerk says, "Next."
Not: "Number 68."
And in that split second, Cat Woman gets up and sprints into the office and shuts the door.
And I am sitting there in shock. Thinking: I was here first.... or was I? Yes, I was. I was here first. There was no one here when I took my number and sat down and after that was when this woman sat down.
Then I saw what had happened. This woman had been this kind of con artist. That was why she had been chatting me up. She was clearly familiar with this place, which I was not, and she knew that if she talked and established this friendly atmosphere she could cut in front of me and the odds would be less that I would make a stink. No, I would hesitate. I would be nice. Which is what I had done. It had all gone according to her plan.
As Howard said later it was like being mugged.
So here I am still sitting there. Now the door is shut so I cannot even hear what is going on. Five minutes pass.
Holy cow ...
... I thought.
I could be in here all day!
And I started getting mad. My bill was not that much. A few hundred dollars. As Howard said it is almost impossible to have your water shut off. This has never happened to me in my life. I have heard of stories about delinquent water bills but they are always in the tens of thousands of dollars. Here I am, small potatoes, and now this woman has cut in front of me and my whole day must be sacrificed.
Finally I got up. I went over to the teller. And I began to complain.
"I have to get back to work," I said. "That woman in front of me cut in line. I'm worried about how long this is going to take. I was here first and she dashed into the office in front of me."
The teller gave me the usual bureaucratic runaround. "I am just the teller." Etc.
"But that clerk in there mishandled the situation," I complained. "I took the number as you told me to and the clerk did not call the number. She said, 'Next, please.' That paved the way for that woman to cut in line. It isn't fair."
After a minute or two the teller told me to wait a minute please. And she vanished. She seemed to be heading for the clerk's office.
Where she went, exactly, I do not know nor do I care. All I know is, in a few seconds the door burst open, the door to the clerk's office. And Cat Woman, the woman who had cut in line, was ejected.
Just like that!
As if she were kicked in the pants!
And I was ushered in.
I could not believe it. I kept looking over my shoulder with my mouth open. After I paid my water bill I was still looking over my shoulder wondering if this woman would be out there waiting to cut me. Luckily she was not. Where she went, exactly, I do not know nor do I care.
... was turned on in a few hours. The crisis was over.
But this memory is different.
It will stay with me forever!