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The Column

Electricity and Other Things They Cut Off
8/18/02

Getting your first electric bill is a lot like getting circumcised. They’re both rites of passage, you have no say over the amount you’re giving up, and afterwards, you’re left feeling cold-cocked.

Baby boys must be terrified when they’re circumcised. They’re not just getting hacked at down there - they have no way of knowing that this is the only time it will happen. They think, “Do I have to go through this every week?” And it’s even worse because babies don’t have that much to spare. They take a look down, do some quick math, and wonder if they’re going to turn into a girl by New Year’s.

Electric bills whittle away at your bank account much the same way.

Rites of passage are something we all go through. There are financial rites, like owning your first piece of furniture, which is usually a mini-fridge that doubles as a nightstand. There are aged-based rites, like turning 21 and losing your appetite for drinking a few months later. And then there are the cultural rites, like getting your driver’s license so that your parents aren’t driving you to, well, another rite of passage.

The first time you own a piece of furniture is nice, since no one will yell at you if you break it. Turning 21 and giving your fake ID to someone who doesn’t mind saying they’re 28 is a great feeling. And getting your driver’s license is immensely liberating, or so I’ve been told (yeah New York upbringing).

But then there are things like that electric bill. And though getting the bill is much more comfortable than circumcision, I don’t have to like it.

Rent is supposed to cover your cost of living in a room. And it does. But if you want that room heated, hooboy are they going to charge you. So much that you’ll start saying “hooboy.” And it’s not just for heat. When you hand someone that check for $1400 (yeah New York upbringing) you should ask exactly what it’s buying you. Most of the time, you are renting a proverbial tuxedo without getting the shoes, shirt, bow tie, or that funny looking girdle guys have to wear.

Sometimes the rent covers water. That’s a trick - water is the cheapest of all the hidden charges. Since you can hear it running, you hardly ever leave it on unnecessarily. I’ve tried several times, but I still can’t hear the light in my closet. They don’t put lights in closets so you can see stuff better. That light is in your closet so you can pay the electric company ten bucks every time you forget to turn it off.

During the winter, your electric bill can get very high if you’ve got to heat the place. Not because you use more electricity, but because everyone uses more electricity. There are a finite number of closet lights in the world, and when everyone tries to turn theirs on at once, it gets much more expensive. I’m not sure if that’s how it actually works, but when I asked, all my electric company told me was ‘pay us or we cut the power.’

Your first paycheck is one of the biggest rites of passage, and the only way to afford paying for electricity. This usually happens anywhere between 14 and 21 years old, and comes exactly five years after puberty hits. If a girl started growing breasts when she was nine, she’ll be able to find a job early. If a guy started noticing girls’ breasts when he was nine, he’ll have to find a job early - girls with breasts are expensive. But your first paycheck will disappoint you, because it introduces you to the most common rite of all: taxes. Which are also what make electricity so damned expensive.

I had to learn all of this electricity stuff because I live on my own now. So I walk around all day, remembering to shut off all of the lights. I laugh at myself for not understanding why my grandmother used to make me shut lights in rooms I wasn’t using. I should have let her train me. It would have saved me at least ten bucks by now.

There are some good rites of passage that college graduates have to look forward too. Like business cards. The first time you get your own business cards, you are very excited. And it’s not because you’ve become big and important, because you haven’t. Most often, your first card says something like ‘Joe Schlabotnik, Lackey to Someone Making Much More Money Than Me.’ But you’re excited because now when you meet people, you don’t have to remind them of your name before you leave. You can just give them your card and walk away. Which is almost as dorky as running around shutting off all your lights.

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