Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Cavepeople Unite

I live in California, and since we don’t have hurricanes or tornadoes to speak of, we got mudslides and wildfires instead. The mudslides aren’t so bad, since they’re never near my house. The wildfires, on the other hand, are scary.

Not many people know this, but California is not one giant beach with Hollywood on one end. Only the left side of the state looks like that. The middle part is covered with food. You’re welcome. The right side is covered in trees and mountains, in an attempt to keep those weirdo Nevadans out. It’s the right side that catches on fire.

We live on the border of the middle and the right side. Tragically, we lost an entire town and a lot of people to a fast-moving wildfire last year. PG&E is our utility company that supplies nearly the whole state with gas and electricity. They were sued because it was found that the fire started at one of their transformers. They declared bankruptcy due to the lawsuit, but somehow, remain our utility company, proving once again that no one knows how bankruptcy works.

Suing them for the tragic fire is a double-edged sword. On the one side, they provide power. Electricity is the only thing that keeps us from being cavepeople, and we take it for granted every day and are very quick to dismiss its true importance.

On the other side, we have been paying PG&E roughly a zillion dollars per kilowatt for the last three hundred years, and the only equipment they have updated regularly are the executive jets.

So, it comes as no surprise that social media is all aflutter today with the latest developments in the PG&E saga. They are now turning off power preemptively, in an attempt to keep another fire from starting. They do this when the winds reach (or might reach) a certain velocity. As of this morning, that velocity seems to be a sliding scale, ranging from “no wind whatsoever” to “kinda breezy.”

We were alerted last night by the school district that some of the schools might be closed today, which caused every school-age child in the district to simultaneously text each other bad information. Parent braced themselves. Local stores sold out of dry ice almost instantly, and everyone went to gas up their cars, which are vital tools in keeping our cell phones alive.

The outages began early this morning. Perishable food, gasoline, and lost episodes of The Voice are not the only things being wasted by these outages. Collectively, the California Facebook users have already wasted two hundred thousand man-days of productivity arguing about why this is or is not a good idea.

Whether or not a planned power outage is a good idea is irrelevant once your power is actually turned off, so in an effort to be helpful in these strange times, I thought I would provide some power outage operational and safety tips.

1) Buy non-perishable snacks, like Twinkies and beef jerky. Keep them out and handy. Eat all these snacks before the power actually goes out, because you were bored and have no self-control.

2) Stock up on batteries. Realize when you get to the store that you actually don’t really know what size batteries the emergency flashlights take, so just buy a lot of each kind. The ones you don’t need can be used as currency in the post-apocalyptic nightmare that will soon become your life.

3) The store you are at is obviously already out of both regular ice and dry ice, so ask the clerk if they know where you can get some. They will say no. Complain to them about their stocking levels of vital power outage-related merchandise even though you know the bag boy you’re talking to has about as much store management decision making power as the Twinkies you are buying.

4) Since the bag boy was no help, ask on every social media platform about where to get any form of ice. No one will know, but everyone will share a story about not finding any either and a tirade about stocking levels of vital power outage-related merchandise. #Icemageddon

5) Return home and realize that the batteries you just purchased are worthless because all the dead batteries inside your emergency flashlights have corroded, welding themselves inside the tubes, becoming one with the now useless flashlights forever.  

6) Wait patiently for the power to go out, surfing all the social media posts about whether power is on or off in a particular neighborhood. Post that you still have power, but never give your location. Just assume everyone knows exactly where you live. In the morning, reluctantly get out of bed and start your normal routine when your stupid alarm goes off and you realize the power is still on.

7) If the power actually does go out, turn on your cell phone flashlight and locate the bag of empty, non-perishable snack wrappers. Curse your non-existent willpower.

8) Hunt for candles since all your emergency flashlights are just cylindrical paperweights.

9) Realize the only candles in your house are the scented decorative ones in the guest bath and you’ll be damned if you’re ever going to light those and waste them on this!

10) Settle in on the couch and get back on social media, asking if anyone else just lost power, but again, do not disclose your location. #SoDark #HopeMyPhoneBatteryHoldsOut

11) Realize you no longer have WiFi. Realize that that is probably your biggest problem. Get back on social media to talk about WiFi and data plans, phone carriers, etc. #PG&EBetterPayForMyData

12) Open the refrigerator and momentarily wonder why there is no light. Laugh at yourself for being dumb. Close it quickly to keep the cold in.

13) Walk to the bathroom and flip the light switch on by habit. Laugh at yourself for being dumb. Wonder if the toilet will flush with no power. It does. Be amazed that you still have water and gas with no electricity to, like, get them to your house and stuff.

14) Realize that you have no idea what you will do if this lasts more than four hours.

15) Feed the kids crackers for dinner by the light of the gas stovetop burner that you lit with the long butane barbecue lighter.

16) Go to bed and pray.


So far, so good here at Casa de Smidge. I just hope they keep our power on long enoug



Copyright © 2019 Marc Schmatjen


Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Amazon.com Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

A Very Census-tive Subject

I received a letter from the United States Census Bureau the other day, about how my address had been randomly selected to take the American Community Survey. Oh joy.

In the handy pamphlet of FAQ’s under, “Do I have to answer the questions on the American Community Survey?” I was thrilled to read the answer, “Yes. Your response to this survey is required by law under a random title and code section number we just made up for this pamphlet because no one will respond if we don’t threaten them. Also, there will be penalties and fees.”

“We estimate this survey will take about 40 minutes to complete.”

Yay!

Then, in various different paragraphs, on various different portions of the pamphlets, letters, and website, they told me these three concerning things:

1. By law, the Census Bureau can only use your responses to produce statistics.

2. We may combine your answers with information that you gave to other agencies to enhance the statistical uses of these data.

3. Use of this system indicates your consent to collection, monitoring, recording, and use of the information that you provide for any lawful government purpose.

Hmm…

So what you are saying, Census Bureau, is that you guys are only allowed to use my answers to produce nationally-vital statistics regarding how many bathrooms are in my house, but you have access to answers I gave other agencies that didn’t make that same promise, and oh, also, anything I tell you can be used for any reason, by any government agency, for anything that someone decided to write on page 16,135 of a 17,000-page bill that you voted into law.

Interesting…

Here’s why that concerns me. You told me this would take forty minutes of my life, but around minute twenty or so you asked me very specific questions about my income. And my wife’s income. And the specific sources of that income. And the specific amounts of income from each of those sources.

In order for me to answer those questions EXACTLY like I did on my taxes, I would have to spend an hour or so going through my last tax return, which would mean it would take me eighty minutes to get to the middle of a forty-minute survey.

So, I guessed.

But here’s the problem. There is one currently lawful government agency in particular that loves exact numbers and loves reported numbers to match up exactly, especially when those numbers have to do with income – The Department of Agriculture.

No wait, it’s the IRS.

Your survey forced me to guess about my income, and you might be sharing those guesses with the IRS? I ask you, Census Bureau workers in charge of the American Community Survey, would you want the IRS seeing your reported income numbers for last year varying from place to place? Do you have any idea what an IRS audit is like? Do you want to go through one?

Not unless you are suicidal, which, now that I think about it could very well be the case since the career path you have chosen ended up at the Census Bureau – the lamest and most boring of all the Bureaus. Chin up.

I may have had more time to dig out my tax return and get the numbers right if y’all could somehow figure out a way to shorten your survey.

I happen to have a few suggestions for you:

You asked about my heritage, to which I answered European. You asked about my wife’s heritage, to which I also answered European because we’re both white and we’re all pretty sure her grandpa was making up the whole “part American Indian” thing just to get a discount on tribal liquor and cigarettes.

Previously, you had asked about our kids and how they came into our family. I responded (individually for all three) that they were natural-born children between me and my wife. You then later asked (individually for all three) about their heritage. That question seemed entirely unnecessary given my earlier answers, but since you gave me text boxes to complete, I went with Pacific Islander (other), Andalusian, and Guatemalan, in an effort to help them get into college someday.

You told me that my address was selected at random to participate in the survey, then asked me approximately sixty questions about my house, including number of bedrooms, bathrooms, general rooms that were not a foyer or hallway, lot size, year built, what I think it would sell for right now, and on and on. The only thing you didn’t ask about was the color. (It’s beige, by the way, like everything you own, Census Bureau workers.)

Have any of you ever heard of Zillow? You have my address. Just plug it in and you get all the information, and it will all be correct, because I won’t be guessing!

And speaking of information you already have access to, just get my tax return! It has every answer to all your financial questions, all your car questions, the household questions, the employment questions, as well as the questions about whether any of us are deaf or blind.

And speaking of the questions about our physical limitations, I wasn’t really sure how to answer some of those, so I just did my best.

Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition, does Son Number One have serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions?

I’m not sure if being fourteen years old qualifies as a physical, mental, or emotion condition, or if it qualifies as all three, but I answered an emphatic yes.


Do you have serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs?

I’m forty-seven, so this is a definite yes on days I have gone running, but only a “sort of” on most other days. I went with yes.


Does Son Number Three have difficulty dressing or bathing?

You already know he’s eleven years old. Of course he does! All three boys do.

Do you people even have kids? Who wrote these ridiculous questions?

See you soon,

-Smidge


Copyright © 2019 Marc Schmatjen


Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Amazon.com Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!