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Monday, February 21, 2011

Guest Post: Lenny Power Out , by Christopher Young

Electricity Pylon, crossing lines
Christopher Young

Lenny Power Out
March 2007

Sheeple. We all have a couple of them in our lives.
One family I know, just don't have the survival
mentality. They live on welfare, and the occasional
day of unreported labor. Their life revolves around
cable TV, internet, and who said what. If you want
to start a day long discussion, go in and mention
that you heard someone say something bad about some
one else. They will spend the rest of the day
arguing if someone said it, or not. Who really
cares? I don't give a hoot if someone is calling
me a "loser" or not. But it keeps these folks

OK, so it's the First of the Month. Please notice
that I Capitalized That. Why? Well, it's a twelve
times a year banner day for welfare people. That's
when the electronic benefits are depositied in the
fraud proof EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer)
account. Why is it fraud proof? Well, you need the
card to swipe through a machine, and a PIN (Personal
Identification Number) to do anything. So, what
do folks do when there is to much month and not
enough money? Well, the Pakistani guy down at the
corner store will be happy to advance you some
money. Just leave your card, and tell him your
PIN. And then you get your hundred bucks or so of
cash advance. Naturally, you realize that in a
couple days it will be the First of the Month
(capitalized, of course) and he will electronically
take two hundred dollars into his store account off
your card. But, it's worth it when you're dying for
smokes and some hot coffee. You know.

Well, now, everything is fine. The world is good
on the First day of the Month, when you have money
in your account. It's time to go pay the important
bills. The rent, the telephone, the cable TV and
internet. The house is warm, and it's time to go
buy groceries.  You  find a friend with a car, and
get a ride to the grocery store. Time to buy
cigarettes, coffee, and there may be some money
left over for food and dish soap, shampoo, light
bulbs, and so on. Get your shopping basket out of
the back yard, and walk the ten blocks or so to
the meat market, and buy meat to put in the freezer.

Only one thing that makes the day less than the
usual perfection. The electric company guy shows
up and black tags the meter. Shuts off the power.
Say, what? Several phone calls later, and we find
out that the welfare worker didn't fax over the
voucher to the power company. Two homes on the
street got cut off, the other one was the man and
woman (Sarah) living together with their one year
old daughter, and she's pregnant with #2. And now
it's getting annoying. Sarah also used the phone
a couple times, to try to get a hold of her case

Fun idea: Design a telephone, where the microphone
is active for about 60 seconds after you hang up.
Sarah is all manners and sweet on the telephone with
her case worker. But the instant the phone is on the
cradle, she's back to sounding like a drunken sailor
at a cathouse. A drunken sailor complaining about
his Captain.

The cable TV is off. The cordless phone doesn't
work. And the house is starting to get cold. The
microwave won't hum, the electric range won't cook
food. The living room is dark cause the lights are
out, and blankets are stapled over the windows that
leak cold air. And we can't get the welfare worker
on the phone. Cold people leaving voice mail, after
voice mail. There is no way to cook food. The coffee
in the Mr. Coffee is getting cold, and there is no
electric to make more coffee.

OK, folks, this is a red alert. Time to move into
action. It's an emergency. We've got to do something!

So, she catches a ride with a friend, and goes to
the welfare office, to talk to the welfare worker.
Meanwhile, he's on the corded phone, leaving multiple
messages for the welfare worker on his voice mail.
Got to get a hold of the welfare worker.

Finally. A sigh of relief. The welfare worker
returns the phone call. Here's the plan. Got to
get to the electric company and get them to print
out a "breakdown". And have it in my office first
thing tomorrow morning. Then the welfare worker
will have her sign some papers, and fax over a
voucher to the electric company, and they should
have the power turned back on in a day or two.

The house is dark. It's approaching sun down. The
radio says freezing rain turning to rain and snow.
The coffee is cold, and the cable TV is still off.

Lenny sent his wife and kids to other folks house
to stay. He is going to stay home alone, and guard
the house. There is light snow on the ground, and
there is a trace of snow in the air. I planned to
take Amy shopping for the First of the Month. They
called about 10:30 and told me the power was off.
I drove into the city just to see how they would
handle it. Sat with them for a while in the
dark living room. Finally I headed for home.

I returned that evening, after dinner. I brought
a two burner propane Coleman lamp, a camp stove,
and two one-pound bottles of propane. He gave me
some money, and sent me to the store to buy two
more propane bottles.

The house is rather cold. It's in the fifties, or
forties in there. And, it's seriously dark. I lit
up the propane lamp. The two mantle lamp lit up
the entire first floor, much easier than finding
my way around with a flash light or  head lamp.
It also put out heat. Lenny warmed his hands around
the lamp. The look on his face was great. Ahhh......
some warmth.

Dinner time came and went. Lenny offered me a can
of Aldis food, his wife bought it cause it was
cheap, but no one in the house likes Aldis food. I
don't mind, so I heated it in a frypan on the propane
stove, and ate.

I suggested to nail a blanket over the doorway from
the dining room to the rest of the house. Heat a
smaller area. Dining room and living room. Lenny says
he can't do that, the cats would pull the blanket
down. So, most of the heat goes into the rest of the
house, and up the stairs.

The two propane bottles  didn't last through the
night. The house got cold over night. Really cold.

Friday March 02, 2007
I brought several partial bottles of gas, total
about four bottles. Ran the lantern, the camp stove,
and a small infared heater I carry in the truck.
Lenny sent me to the store for six more propane
bottles. I bought those, and also brought a 14,000
BTU heater that fastens onto a 20 pound propane
bottle. And a part full propane jug.

A friend of mine had a part full propane jug. I got
her a gas grill for surprise present, I got a newer
one off Freecycle, and gave her the old one. Along
with the partial propane jug I got for free. She
said if they could use it and were cold, it was fine
to let them use it.

Wired the furnace on my generator, and ran the furnace
for two hours. Brought the house from 57 to 69F.

Lenny asked me to go get his wife and nephew, 4, back
from the sister's house. They talked to Lenny on the
phone, and then I went over and got them in my truck.
I told them I couldn't keep doing all this driving and
such at my own expense. They'd have to reimburse me
for the gasoline, fuel, propane, etc. They agreed.

Amy got into the house and remarked "this isn't bad".
The temperature was quite good, after running the
furnace. I showed him how to light the propane. Had
him light it and turn it off, twice, so he could have
the experience.

Saturday March 03, 2007.
They called about 10 this AM, and were cold. they
planned to send Amy to a motel, to stay warm. Lenny
says they have, as of that time, my big heater. Three
small bottles of propane.

   I decided to change gears today. After two days
of riding in with my white horse, I decided to wait
and see if they called.

   I called them about 8 PM, and she answered, so
I guess they decided against the motel. They sent
the kids out to friends houses. Using the propane
heater sparingly, "only turned it on a couple
minutes ago". She says they are doing fairly well.
I get a sense they are adapting to the colder
indoors, and making do with blankets and such. I
didn't get to talk to Lenny, he was out on the
porch. Smoking. So, I'm not sure how much propane
they have left. With the heater and the propane
lamp and so on, they are making do.

    The natural gas is on. He's got natural gas
water heater, and that's good. That means if it
gets too cold, they have hot showers and tub baths.
But the furnace needs electric for the gas valve,
and blower. They do have a gas pipe for the stove,
I saw it yesterday. But she's afraid of gas stoves,
so they won't be getting one. A gas stove could at
least heat the kitchen and that would help a lot.
I'd be thinking a non vented wall heater, about
$100 at Harbor Freight. Since it's rental, they
can't make major modifications to the building.
Being welfare people he's often said he wanted a
backup heater of some kind, but never actually
bought one.

   Since my church is 1-4 PM tomorrow, I'm going
there in the AM to drop off his Gameboy. His
battery was dead, and so I charged it at my place
for him.

Priorities. When the power went down, Lenny sent
his family to relatives to be warm. And he's there
to guard the house. I was thinking heat, and he was
trashing the house to look for a battery power TV.
And then go to the store to buy a lot of batteries
for the TV.

What concerns me is the power angle. I'm not talking
electric, I'm talking the ability to make people come,
go, sit stay, roll over, bring me a paper. Did I
sound like I was adressing a dog? I intended to.
Thursday Morning when the power went off, the case
worker told the wife to come here! Sit! And after a
while, she finds out that she needs to get a document
from the power company. Fetch! Bring me a paper! So,
she's at the power company at 8 AM, and they open at
9. She fetches the paper, and finds out the case
worker is not in till later, and then that he's
gone home for the weekend. Stay! Roll over! Speak!
Somehow, I find that rather undignified. I'm sure
she hasn't thought about it in those terms, and
I'm not gonna be the one to say so.

They got a ride to dinner and Walmart, and bought
a gas grill bottle for $15. Musta been the night
clueless clerk, as there is an exchange / deposit
involved. And, they neither exchanged nor

Sunday March 04, 2007

Lenny called Sunday Am. They decided to go to a
motel Sunday and over night. I decided to dash
over, and pick up my portable heater, as I don't
want it stolen out of the unoccupied house.

They will return Monday Am to wait for RG and E.
I'm figuring it to be serious cold in the house.
They do have six camp bottles of LP, and the gas
grill tank. But only a table top stove, and no
burner to use on the gas grill tank. I'll call
and see how they are doing.

Monday night near zero, and Tuesday in the teens,
if we're lucky. I'm guessing they will need some
kind of heat to keep the pipes from freezing and
bursting in the walls. The best heat is to use
my generator to run the furnace.

Mr. Heater 14,000 BTU unit wasn't quite enough to
heat their house.
Somehow doesn't surprise me. I havn't looked at
their furnace, but it's got to be at least 80,000
BTU. Probably 100,000. I'm imagining why 14,000
BTU doesn't keep the house warm.

I did get a King kooker several years before Y2K.
In case the world shut down. I brought it to a
church thing on new years day, Y2K, and didn't
use it. So, the only thing it's done was one test
when I got it, and otherwise it's not been used.
It's still new in the box, and got some clutter
piled on top of it. I wasn't sure if it was any
better or worse than a Mr. Heater. However, the
web site says it's 54,000 BTU. Which sure would
help heat the house. More than 14,000 for sure.

Anyhow, we will see. Tomorrow, if he calls and asks
for help.

March 05, Monday.
Got a call. It is bitter cold in the house. She
is shivering. When I got there, they had nailed
a blanket over a doorway. Sarah, the blonde hair
blue eyed seventeen year old across the street
(with a boyfriend and two kids) had suggested they
nail a blanket. When I sugges it "the cats will
pull it down". When she suggests it, it's the best
idea since sliced bread. The small camp stove was
doing a very respectable job of heating the two
rooms. It was maybe 65 degrees in there.

I had called a friend in the electric company. He
called collections department, and finds out that
there is some money owing. That wasn't too hard
to figure out. They are on the phone, going back
and forth from the electric to welfare. Trying to
find out why the voucher (that was supposed to
been faxxed over already) has not yet arrived.

Lenny takes totally no responsibilty for the
electric. Married, man of the house, but the bill
isn't in his name.   Amy says that she thought
the bill was being paid all along, by welfare.
I'd have to believe that the RGE was sending bills
to the house, but I can't prove that. Demanding
money for the copayment, or the balance due that
didn't get paid. I did get a blank look from her
when I told her that welfare was only paying a
basic ammount, and the copayment was due. She says
she thought welfare was paying it all. "We are
on voucher" whatever that means.

I'm remembering that a couple weeks ago, Lenny
tried to sell me his window AC. Cause he can't
afford it. Cause the welfare only pays so much,
electric, and they have to pay the rest, and he
can't afford to run the AC. This is the same guy
who when asked for things like a $3  copayment
for a tooth extraction tells them "I ain't got
it" but somehow manages to find enough for cigs,
coffee, cable TV. Video games, CD player and
disks, and headphones.

And the blame game goes. Whose fault? Might be
the case worker, might be the power company. Or,
who know, might be someone else.

So, my guy at RGE says that the credit department
might turn em back on if they can get some kind of
statement from welfare, and about $270 in cash
payment. Of course, after buying propane bottles,
motel room, and so on they are tapped out for the
month. They think they have convinced welfare to
fax over a voucher. I was allowed to see the report
welfare mailed. they got an advance on their welfare
monies, to send to RGE. And their beneifits will
be reduced until the advance is recovered.

While I was there, I did offer to run their furnace
on my generator, but they didn't seem interested.
They had put a blanket over the doorway, and were
doing OK with just table top grill. Of course, Amy
is cold regardless. I was fine, but she says she
lost a lot of heat after the girls were born.

A couple friends stopped by, and insisted (I
thought rather rudely) that Lenny and Amy go to
their place tonight. So, they are out of the
cold house tonight. And I took both my heaters
home. That means the house has no heat, near
zero temps, and no one there. Amy did accept my
suggestion, leave the hot dribbling, in the tub.
I woulda left it streaming, but not really running.
The upstairs was about 40F when I left. This by
my pocket IR thermometer.

Several things I learned. And to share with the
very fine folks reading this:

* When you can't heat the entire house, put a blanket
over the door, and retreat to one or two rooms. Much
easier to heat.

* Pan of water on the cook stove both puts out
humidity, and also gives water for hot beverages.

* With point source heaters, it's warmer near the
ceiling. Much more so. You also need some kind of
fan to even out the heat.

* Leave a hot water faucet dribbling, much less
likely to freeze pipes.

* I tried to describe "hot water bottle" over the
phone. But they didn't "get it". Finally, I went
to the kitchen and filled two soda pop bottles with
hot water, and handed to the Amy. Suggested she
tuck them into her coat. She did, and exclaimed
"Wow, that works! I would never have thought of

* The other thing I tried to describe. Fill every
bucket, bottle, can, sauce pan, etc. with the
hottest water from the tap. That will give out
heat, and help keep the house warm.

* City raised women might not know the following
terms: Salamander. Radiant kerosene heater. Kerosene
lamp. Railroad lantern. I tried my best to describe a
salamander, but was not able. I ended up drawing a
picture. Same wtih a kerosene lamp.

* I had my generator with me, and offered to run
their furnace for them. But they didn't seem much
interested,  so I didn't press. Nothing like a
furnace running to heat the house.

* A friend of the family stopped by, and offered
them a night at their place, at least till the
power comes back on. I took my heaters, didn't
want to leave them in an empty house. So, that
means it's going to be near zero tonight. With
wind chills of -20, and they have literally no
heat in the house. That's gonna be cold in the
house in the AM. And it's gonna be cold over night.

They had used up a gas grill bottle I'd left for
them. I was able to exchange it for a full one,
it was 16.99 plus tax at K-Mart. I'm realizing
how easy it is to use up a lot of propane, heating
a house. I have a couple bottles at home, but
they won't last very long. Might need more.

March 06, 1:05 PM. Tuesday.

Just got a call. The electric company did get the
voucher from Welfare, and sent someone over. Turn
the power back on. The furnace is pumping heat.
Now, back to some what normal. Try to get the
stress level down a bit.

From my middle class point of view, the lesson is
very, very obvious.

* Pay attention to mail you get. The invoices and
shut off notices suggest that you should pay your
co-payment for the electric bill.
* Keep in communication with the power company, and
keep the bill paid.
* Have backup heat source in the house. Backup heat
is very useful.

I'm going to chat with them, probably tomorrow. When
the house is warm, the coffee is on (even though I
don't drink coffee) and the stress level is down a
bit. I'm going to ask the two golden questions.

Q: What did you learn from this?
Q: Will you do anything different, in the future.

I do have some guesses what I will hear, but I won't
tell you till I actually hear what they say.

March 08, Thursday

Yesterday, went to go visit Lenny. He'd put the two
propane jugs in the cellar, along with the camp stove
I gave him, and the four propane bottles which were
remaining. Amy was busy playing on the computer, and
Tommy, 4, was all energy. Running this way and that,
and making a lot of noise. I got my propane jug back,
brought it home.

Some understanding comes, if slowly. I do believe
that one of the biggest harms that the welfare
system has done is to convince people that someone
else is responsible for you. In New Orleans, the
folks said "Why didn't the government come and
rescue us" and in Lenny's case, it's "why didn't
the government keep my electric on".

And you could see it in is response to the problem.
Call the case worker, and insist the power be turned
back on.

Someone I knew said "if you want to see what's
important to someone, watch where he spends his
money". In Lenny's case, someone else is
responsible for the rent, and power. Or so he
thinks. So, when money comes, he spends on his
personal priorities. Cigarettes, portable sound
such as Ipod, and tapes and DVD for the home. I
did a quick estimate, one time. He's proably got
300 movies, if you include DVD and VHS.

With the power cut, they spent a lot of money on
propane, motel room, and so on. I havn't seen them
buy food yet. They may have, but havn't said any
thing about that. So, I'm predicting they will be
out of food soon.

Amy showed me the paper she got in the mail.
Welfare did send more money to the power company,
but that's an advance. Which means their benefits
will be reduced for the next many months, till
the advance is recovered. It's going to be
interesting to see how they handle the reduced
welfare pay out. Also, the power company will
probably still want to be paid the money owed
from the last several years of not getting their

I do believe there are a wide range of people in
"the system". What's been going through my mind
the last few years. I wonder who is really the
cause? Is it the people who get the money that
is offered? The people who lie and cheat to get
more than they need, and refuse to work? Or is
it the people who write the laws, and set up the
programs that are so easily abused?

At the moment, I'm really thinking that the
legislators are most to blame. They have set up
a system which rewards illegal border crosses,
and unmarried women, by giving them generous money.

I doubt we'll have a return to sensible government
until a loud enough portion of the citizens demand it.

March 09

I'm middle class, born and raised. Lenny is welfare,
2nd genration. Watching his thought process, and
how he handled it. Really amzing, that he and I
handle things so differently.

Not only that I'm middle class, but I'm actively
involved in emergency preps. I do things like
staying involved and aware of the elctric bill,
which he does not. (After all, it's welfare's job
to pay the electric, right?). I plan for things
like power out, cause we have storms and power
out about once a year. He just calls his case
worker and expects it to be taken care.

He mentioned tonight as I was at his house. That
one of his friends was impressed with the heating
gadgets. I couldn't figure out why he didn't want
me running his furnace off my generator. The one
night I ran it about two hours, which warmed the
house from 57 to 69. I thought that was very
successful. He replied that they woke up cold.
And so they decided that wasn't working. They went
back to the propane gadgets, and shiverring.
Shivering full time, instead of of just in the
AM. D'uh.

And they did spend a  night in a motel, not sure
what that cost.

I really feel sorry for the kids. Tommy was frieking
out, yelling and screaming. They say he gets that
way every time that he visits h is bio mom. Sarah,
17, came over from across the street to visit.
Brought her one year old daughter Olivia. She's
got a boyfriend (not a husband) and a foul mouth
that would make a sailor blush. She's also pregnant
for the second time. I'm very sad for Olivia who
will grow up with a foul mouth teen mom, and
irresponsible stud balls for a dad. Olivia ought
to be in cereal commeercials. She's got blonde hair,
and round face, and bright blue eyes. Someone gave
her some chocolate, and she got it all over her
face. I was going to get my camera, I will for
sure next time.

Tommy, on the other hand, is a four year old mini
marine. Bio Mom is part American Indian, and she's
not sure who the sperm donor is. I suspect a black
man, but who can tell? Tommy has afro hair, and a
medium complexion. Inflated big lips, that say
"inflated to 35 PSI", just kidding. He runs around,
climbs on people, and screams to high heaven when
he doesn't get his way. Meal times are a fight, he
wants M and Ms, and they want him to eat crackers,
cheese, and meat. What's bad about crackers? I love
em. He was napping when I arrived. Woke up after a
couple horus, and ran around. Climbed on me, and
demanded Tic Tacs.

As usual, the kids get hurt.

Refrigerator report. They ahve about three mini
pizzas in the freezer, three trays of ice cubes.
I barely glanced into the fridge. They are trying
to arrange their ride to the meat market for
tomorrow. I have a nasty feeling they will be
out of food in a week or so. Tonight they had
french fries for dinner, shallow cooked in a fry
pan cause there wasn't enough oil for the electric
plug in cooker.

March 13

A friend of mine gave me two garbage bags of kids
clothes. Now that her grand kids are out of the
house.  I went to Lenny's to drop them off. Big
bag of clothes, probably 50 items or so.

I'd been out since morning, and was getting hungry.
He told me he couldn't feed me, cause money is
tight. They aren't sure the food will last to the
end of the month. Well, gee, that's short sighted.
I'm the guy who brings (past tense?) food and
stuff when he's short.

Amy sorted clothes, in the living room which had
cable TV, cable internet, 300 video tapes and DVD,
and Lenny went out to smoke a cigarette as he was
telling me that he couldn't afford to offer me
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