Introducing a new series called "Poorror Stories," in which we tell tragicomic stories from times when we were really poor.
I'm gonna kick off the series with this one. It should be noted that I wasn't the serious sort of on-the-street poor that many people in this country are. If it came right down to it, I could have asked friends/family for a couch or something. Still, not much money is not much money, and I thought this was pretty tragicomic anyway.
It's some weeknight in 2005, and I'm poor. I'm also 22, which means I'm fiscally irresponsible. And anyone who has ever been simultaneously poor and fiscally irresponsible will tell you this: when The Man shuts off your utilities, he always makes sure they're shut off at the same time.
I get home from work and find that they've shut off the Internet in my apartment. Welp, no tooling around on the P-Boi forums tonight. I can at least call some friends and see what they're doing. So I pick up my phone, and I get a pre-recorded message telling me that my cell phone service is disconnected until I pay the full past due amount.
I have to wait for my next paycheck before paying either of these things, so I grab some book and sit on the couch. God, this shit is funny in retrospect: I'm on the couch for, I don't know, about 30 seconds. Then the power goes out.
I spring up and look out the front window of my apartment. Have you ever had your electricity disconnected because you didn't pay your bill? If so, you're probably familiar with the sight of the guy who shuts it off. The second he cuts that shit off, he speed-walks directly to his unmarked truck and drives off. I bet that somewhere, there's one of these guys who wears spiked shoulder pads and rolls up looking like Road Warrior Hawk, bellowing "YOU'S TO SLEEP IN DARKNESS TONIGHT AH HA HA HA HA" as he strolls over to the side of the building, flips the switch, and re-fastens a tag that reads "PROPERTY OF THE ELECTRIC LORD." But every one of these contractors I've ever seen wants absolutely no trouble from anyone. He does the deed and fuckin' bails.
Meanwhile, I'm in financial survival mode, trying to figure whether I have any possible outs. My next paycheck is still a few days away. I can't just spend the rest of the week working, then going home and sitting in darkness. No good. Over the next few minutes I concoct a scheme in which I pay my electric bill with money in my account that could be claimed any minute by a rent check my landlord hasn't cashed.
And then I stop for a second: wait, if I pay my bill, and then tomorrow my landlord happens to get around to cashing the check and the money isn't there, the check bounces, right? What happens if the check bounces? Isn't that a misdemeanor or something? ... Fuck it. Fuck it! Gotta take the risk. I'm gonna call them and get power back on.
You know how when your power goes out, you still walk into a room and flip on the light switch out of habit? Like, over and over again? That was me. I also did that with my phone before remembering it was out. So I try to remember where the nearest pay phone is, and get in my car.
The car doesn't start. This is normal. My car's electrical system is screwy, and it usually takes a minute to start. I turn the ignition over and over, for five minutes, and it still doesn't start. Now I remember that there's a pay phone a few blocks away, so I walk.
I'm standing at the phone, and I'm on hold for about 10 minutes before it starts raining. Hard. I have no protection from the elements and no real choice but to stand there and get soaked.
Ten minutes later it's still raining hard and I'm finally taken off hold. I explain that I want to pay my bill, and the lady says I have to call a separate number, then call her number back. "Am I going to have to wait on hold again?" I ask. "Yes," she says. She gives me the number to call, and I realize I have no way to write it down, so I just memorize it.
I call the payment number and go through the automated system, which tells me, "You will need to write down this number in order to restore service." Shit. "Eight. Eight. Seven." It keeps going. "Three. Four. Seven. Nine." Still not done. "Two. Nine. One. Three."
Well, shit. I press 2 to repeat the number, figuring I can probably memorize it if I hear it five times or so. After the second time it says, "Goodbye," and hangs up on me.
AWWWW SHIT. Miraculously, I had managed to nail down the number in two tries, but was terrified of forgetting it. Again, no way to write it down. I look around. On the ground nearby are a couple of twigs. So I desperately keep repeating the numbers aloud to myself, snapping these twigs into little pieces, and eventually arranging a pattern of them to signify the numbers. It's still soaking wet, but I find a little nook under the pay phone in which I can arrange everything.
I wait another 15 minutes on hold, and give my confirmation number. "Does that check out?" I asked, worried that I had messed it up. "It sure does!" she says. For about 1.5 seconds, I felt a tremendous sense of relief and accomplishment. "Our people are backed up. It looks like it will be Friday before your service is restored."
I committed a potential act of banking fraud, stood in the rain for a half-hour, and stressed myself out to the point of madness ... only to ensure that I'd get my power back when I was going to anyway.
I walk back to my apartment, shut the door, and apathetically just lie down on the living room floor, clothes still soaked. It's pitch black inside by this point, and I'm staring into what ought to be the ceiling and thinking about 22 years of growing, of sitting in school, of going and accomplishing things, and having big ideas for this or that. And how it's all worked to produce this moment of me, broke, soaking, and lying on the ground. Seriously. Just a man who is lying down.
And then I just start laughing my fuckin' ass off.
(Feel free to share your own Pooror Stories below.)