Your Utility Bill When It Comes to Desert Living.

The desert, being a biome that I had yet to set foot in during my four decades of breath, I had some obvious concerns. Chief amongst those concerns was how dead our finances were going to be when those first utility bills came rolling in.

Don’t wave this off: I am the patriarch of a family of five. Three females and two males. On top of that, females tend to be in the bathroom/shower more than men and they leave lights on when they exit a room even though they don’t plan on returning to the very same room. Fight Me.

Preamble.

Once upon a time, I was fired from my job. The timing could not have been worse. I was the sole source of income. The wife was nearly finished with nursing school and on top of that, we had just welcomed our third and final child into our family.

Naturally, that negative catalyst had thrust a lot of things into perspective. Specifically, where our money was going. The first item to be examined was our utility bills. At that time we were living in a small apartment on the south side of Cleveland. Since we were apartment-livers, the only utilities that we were legally responsible for were the heating and electric bills.

The heating bill was never an issue. Since day one, I had always made a point of putting in the storm windows, laying down insulation tape, and putting plastic over the windows when the weather started getting cold. On top of that, we heated the rooms that we were occupying the most and turned that shit down (or off) when we all went to bed. This is common sense stuff when your global neighbor is Canada.

The electric bill was trickier to manage.

Thankfully, prior to my termination, I had all ready started making aims to shrink that bill. I had all ready swapped out all of the lightbulbs that were in the fixtures prior to moving in with energy efficient bulbs. (If you need a time stamp on these actions, energy efficient bulbs were a relatively new thing. Point of fact? They were fucking expensive back in the day).

On top of that, I had started over-paying the electric bill to a “whole dollar”. What I mean by that is that I treated the electric bill like a “leaky” savings account: you pay over the amount that the bill is for and then that excess that you paid gets applied to your next bill. (It’s “leaky” because it always needs to have a deposit…).

After I got shit-canned, I landed on that utility bill with both feet. I didn’t worry about “emergency relief” or anything like that. I took a walk through the apartment and took note of every damn electrical item that was plugged in, but not being used. There were multiple items in multiple outlets throughout.

After noting that, I had reasoned that those things were costing us money (that we desperately needed) even though they weren’t being used. And in coming to that conclusion, I put everything that needed to be plugged in on power strips and old surge protectors that could be turned off with the flick of a switch.

Within two billing cycles, I had knocked a $95 utility bill down to $15 and it stayed in that neck of the woods until we moved out.

Present Day

11 years later and on the opposite side of the country, my family and I are living in an apartment once more.

What it came down to was convenience, amenities, and utilities. We found a place down the street from where my wife needed to work, the apartment complex that we are living in came with washers & dryers with their units (which saved us from the purchase and logistical hell of having to secure those things) and as a part of the leasing agreement, the rental company offered us a flat rate on the water bill.

FLASHBACK!

After my wife had finished nursing school, we had managed to get back on our feet and rent our first house. When you rent a house, not only do you have to pay rent in order to live there, but you also have to pay ALL of the utilities.

That first winter was rough.

We relocated to Cleveland Heights. Cleveland winters aren’t anything to thumb your nose at. Our house was old, had high ceilings, and wood floors throughout.

On top of that the windows sucked ass. Point of fact: they were they were the original windows that the house was built with. AS IN, turn of the century style, the kind where you had to attach the storm window to the house from the outside.

After I plugged all of the holes that I could, I had other things to focus on and didn’t pay as much mind as I should have to “heat regulation”.

Our first heating bill was north of $600. After the shit was done curdling in my lower intestines, I put our heating bill on a budget plan that our gas company offered ($140 a month with the option to get off of that plan during the warmer months) and breathed a little easier.

The water bill to this day, can go fuck a goat.

The following information may be dated and it may vary depending on where you are at in the world. With that said, when you’re renting a home or owning your own home, there are two parts to your water bill:

  1. The actual amount of water used.
  2. Your “home’s use” of the city sewer.

You always pay the first part. The Second Part is paid on a basis that it is determined by the city within which you live.

Every other water bill was like the city of Cleveland Heights was trying to flick us in the ear, but we would turn our head at the last moment and we’d get flicked in the eye instead.

BACK TO THE FUTURE!

As of this writing, my family and I have been apartment living for the past 6 months. There have been a fair amount of challenges for sure. But when you consider that we pay a flat rate for water, we didn’t have to by a washer or a dryer, and our electric provider (Salt River Project) gives it’s users discounted rates if said users abstain from using major appliances between the hours of 3pm to 6pm (or 4pm to 7pm, user’s choice) a little discomfort has been worth it.

SAY WHAT??

It’s ok: I didn’t put much faith in it either regardless of my concerns.

During our first month in our new home, there was a lot of unpacking and downsizing that needed to be followed through on. As such, I couldn’t focus on keeping the margin of error lower on our electric bill. On top of that, we had just come from a part of the world that shares the same global parallel as the state of Tennessee (Japan). Our first summer in the desert was brutal. What resulted at the end of that first month was an electric bill north of $400.

It wasn’t unexpected. The AC was on constantly, ceiling fans were on high, and computational device usage was at an all time high because it was too fucking hot to kick the kids outside.

After I had finished separating the wheat from the chaff as far as our personal belongings were concerned, I turned my attention to our power usage. Bulbs were swapped, power strips were installed and a damn good reason better be had if I caught you running an appliance between the hours of 3pm to 6pm.

In the End

Honestly, if you’ve never lived in the desert before, how can you not wonder how utility bills work out here? Managing finances will always be an on-going process with respect to utilities regardless of the persons involved.  However, since our first month in the desert, that $400 electric bill has barely been out of the low $100’s. Years of experience and small changes will always yield big payoffs, eventually.

A Letter to Tempe, Arizona

Dear Tempe,

As cities go, I don’t understand you at all.

As previously mentioned, my family and I have been residing in your confines since the summer of 2019. The only reason for this is the fact that you are centrally located to my wife’s place of employment. While some people might consider that a luxury, we found this to be a necessity given that most of this part of Arizona is covered with smog due to the amount of people who drive everywhere because they’re delicate flowers who can’t handle the heat. We can’t handle to heat either. But we also don’t want to make the environment any worse than it all ready is.

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If I had to guess, I would say that the air was “unhealthy” because of all of the driving and the running of air conditioning units at all hours of the day. And yes, I am one of those who is a part of the “sensitive group”. Short of all of that, Tempe you do have your interesting points:

  1. Tempe was founded in 1871 by Charles Trumbull Hayden. Supposedly, Hayden surveyed the area after being stuck their due to impassable flood waters on the Salt River. During his survey, he saw the potential in the area and staked his claim. The city was named after the Vale of Tempe in Greece. The Vale of Tempe being a valley in Greece located between Olympus and Ossa.
  2. During the 1980’s and 1990’s, Tempe had a rather beefy music scene. Groups of note being the Meat Puppets and the Gin Blossoms. Fun fact? The Tempe Library has a modest display documenting their cities musical history. Funner Fact? The Tempe Library is DOPE! Their children’s section is 18,816 SQUARE FEET. Proof that if you want a better world, you need to educate the children.
  3. Tempe is also the home of Arizona State University. The University, oddly enough was founded almost 30 years before Arizona was declared a state. Should you find yourself in Tempe you’ll notice “A” Mountain. It’s not really a mountain by scientific standards. It’s more of a butte. Regardless, it’s within the realm of the University and is also rubbing noses with the former home of the Hayden Mill. Yup: the same Hayden who founded Tempe was also a businessman.

Regardless of those bright sides, in terms of a city knowing what it is, Tempe, you are full of contradictions.

Yes, your library is fantastic. But the grade schools and high schools have garbage ratings. (For the record, the school ratings are bad enough that my kid’s have been home schooled for our desert year).

Your parks and green spaces are nice (for the 3 months out of the year that you can enjoy them) but the parks also seem to be magnets for people behaving poorly. Point of fact?  So far, I have borne witness to: a transient man, of sound body, relieving himself on a tree in full view of myself and ten other people (This was in spite of the fact that there was a bathroom within walking distance.), another transient person sleeping in a pedestrian tunnel (whom I almost ran over with my bicycle), and a mental handicapped man stretching out in front of his wheel chair, helicoptering his willy, while his caregiver half-heartedly played frisbee golf and alternately kept an eye on me (probably because he was waiting for me to say something).

On top of that, the relatively high taxes pay for your expansion and maintenance. But the same maintenance and expansion has been been raising the ambient summertime temperature by way of heat retention within the building materials that the very same cities have been using. And this rise in temperature has given birth to a rise in the man-made pollutants being put into the air that we breathe because all of the locals drive everywhere.

That’s fucked up.

Tempe, I’m for societal advancement and making things better but how your residents have been cultivating and maintaining you is completely masturbatory. Every improvement and advancement made has yield two steps in the opposite direction. I can only hope that the definition of the word enough will eventually be understood and achieved and you’ll figure out who you are.

 

My Best,

The Rank Spoon

 

This bird, you cannot change.

I’ve never been a fan of birds. I understand that everything and everyone fulfills some purpose when we consider things like ecology and the food chain. But when it comes to birds, short of sustenance, transmitting disease, and having a reason to take your car to the wash, they’re a nuisance more than anything else.

I blame my mother.

In the Beginning

Sometime during the late 80’s or early 90’s, my mother started to keep birds as pets. I don’t recall the species she’s had over the decades. I know that parakeets have held court in her life at various points, but that’s about it.

For a short while, one of my chores was to care for her birds. I don’t think that she had some nefarious parent card that she was playing. Like “Wouldn’t it be ironic if I made my spawn take care of the pet that only I care about?” as she steepled her fingers a la Mr. Burns. I genuinely think that she was trying to work some responsibility into me.

And for a short while, I enjoyed it. I have always gotten a satisfaction from cleaning. There’s a mindful mindlessness to the act of cleaning as a whole. More so when it came to her bird’s cage. Filling the food and water with fresh stock, finding new faces in the newspaper for the littler fuckers to shit on, knowing that I can walk away when I was done, and the birds, well, couldn’t.

I don’t remember how I got out of doing this chore. Maybe I started doing a shitty job on purpose, like most kids do? Regardless, since those sepia-toned days of yore, I have determined that the only birds for me are my wife (because she is the prettiest bird) and chicken (because it is the tastiest).

If you’re known for carrying disease, being loud at inopportune times, and randomly shitting, you don’t have a place in my life. (My children, if they read this, should take note).

Overseas Facts.

One time when we were still living in Japan, my wife and I determined that we needed a getaway. So we booked a hotel and stayed in a traditional Japanese room (tatami mats, futons, legless chairs, the whole spiel…) Because why not? Right? How often do you really get to walk a mile in someone else’s getas?

When we went to explore the surrounding neighborhood, we started to notice that there were heavy, lined nets bunched up by all of the trash receptacles that we would walk by. We could have inspected them a bit deeper than in passing but we didn’t want to confirm that we were weirdo gaijin’s who had a trash fetish.

For the life of us, we couldn’t figure out what the purpose of all of those nets were. Until the next day, when we were cutting through the park.

One of the locals had thrown a speck of some grain-based product. That’s what you’re looking at, below.

Once the speck had hit the ground, that motley bunch had apparated from their bird-y dimension and had laid waste to said sustenance. Take note of the pigeon in the bottom, right. Looks like he was making towards my toes, right? Well, he was. We didn’t stick around to see what happened next.

What is not pictured are all of the crows that were higher up in the trees.

You’d be surprised by the number of crows you’d find in central Japan. My family and I certainly were. After the jet-lag wore off and we were able to explore our immediate surrounding we were pleasantly surprised to see that we were in the middle of farmland. Naturally, all of the tumblers clicked into place and we were able to unlock the why of all of the crows. Know what else you’d be surprised about? During the summer months in Japan, the sun is all ready in the sky at 4am. Know who else knows wakes up with the sun? The fucking crows.

That’s right: The nets are “trash nets” for the waste that won’t fit in the bins because the avian population in central Japan is so gangsta that they will fly off with your shit.

Lesson learned? Don’t fuck with the birds in Japan unless you want to become the Rennfield, to their Dracula.

How Our Desert Year Started

Shortly after the wife and I got our housing in Tempe squared away, we were both pleasantly surprised to learn that children of a certain age can ride the transit system for free provided that they have to proper transportation identification. We were further delighted to find out that the Tempe Transit Center was roughly two miles from our home.

It went downhill from there for me.

Should you be new to the Tempe area, consider yourself warned: there is nowhere to park on the transit center property. On top of that, it’s not clearly marked. You’ll see the bus turnaround and the accompanying silver building. But you will not see the closet where the TC office actually is. (For the record, it’s next to the Bike Cellar).

After the wife and I had ground our teeth down to the nubs trying to suss out if Google Maps was punking us, we parked at one of the many metered parking spots that are parallel to the TC and began the Bataan Death March of shepherding our children through Downtown Tempe lunch hour traffic. Keep in mind that this was the middle of July as well. The temperature was “Screw You” hot. 

As we had begun to draw close to the TC, we had walked by the aforementioned bus shelters. Distracted by the heat and the chatter of my family, I took passing note of all of the birds hanging out, still and stifled from the heat. They looked dead and that gave my cold heart pleasure.

When I redirected my attention to my mission, one of said birds took note of me by scoring a direct hit down the length of my left forearm. Fun fact? When a bird that is heated by the desert sun shits on you, said shit is unnervingly hot.

Since then, I make a strategic point of noting where birds are in relation to my person should I find myself in a state of ambulation.

Present Day

Sometime after I was baptized by the spirit of Tempe, I had decided to be nice and get my wife an adult beverage from the neighborhood QT. It was in the early evening so it was relatively ok to walk outside.  As I crested the sidewalk and stepped foot on QT property, I saw something I didn’t think that I would see that day.

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Yes, someone who is not me, ripped the wings off of a pigeon.

Before fingers start wagging in my direction in an attempt to paint me as a sociopath with mommy issues, I’d like to share with you the one thing that Tempe has plenty of: bums.

They are everywhere.

Point of fact? It seems to be an Arizona thing. My family and I noticed a fair amount of pan handlers, and people who would openly talk about where they were going to squat that night, in Sedona of all places. Regardless, Tempe, close to the Scottsdale border seems to have the highest concentration of transients. Especially in “high summer”. I wouldn’t be surprised if some nimble fingered gypsy got desperate enough to trap a pigeon for their daily meal.

For what it’s worth, I did make an effort to locate a carcass. It was for naught. Regardless of my opinion on birds all together, you can’t not feel a slight pang of pity for the pigeon. In all likelihood, whoever did this had some sort of mental illness that they have been carrying with them for some time. It’s a common theme amongst most homeless people. For all I know, it could have been some dickhead showing off in front of their friends. That said, they probably didn’t kill the little fucker first. We can only hope that I am not right.

I know I felt a pang of pity. The pity pang lasted 5 seconds before I realized that my wife was waiting for me. Like I said, we all serve a purpose.

 

My Life as a Tree Slut.

Out of all of the things that I’d thought that would happen to me when I got older, I never once thought that I’d become a tree slut.

It started when my family and I had moved from Ohio to Florida. From childhood to adulthood, I, like most Ohioans, had marked the passage of time with the changing of the seasons. This marking of time typically started when the leaves would change color.

Leaved trees undergo their color change when the chlorophyll process begins to slow down. This slow down is usually the result of temperature changes and shorter amounts of daylight.

In Ohio, there are roughly 62 varieties of trees. Overall, various types deciduous trees (mainly, maple…) populated the yards in the neighborhoods that I had lived in. Pretty to look at when the weather cooled, but ultimately heinous when it was your turn to rake the yard (Those types of leaves tend to fall all at once, from my recollection). There were some birch, oak, and a few pine. But it’s always the maple trees that sticks in my mind.

When we arrived in Florida, the passage of time was of little importance. Housing needed to be secured, boxes needed to be unpacked, schools needed to have their paperwork filled out: there wasn’t enough time in the day for quite a while.

It was also my first time for a lot of things. Namely seeing palm trees in person. And then saying, verbatim, “I never actually realized how fuckin’ ugly palm trees were…”

To date, there are only 12 species of palm tree that are native to Florida. Amongst them are the Needle, Thatch, Silver, Royal, and Cabbage Palms (the Cabbage palm being the state tree of Florida). Palms tree as a whole are generally found in tropical to subtropical regions. As for their exact point of origin? Tree nerds generally agree that the first palm tree (the date palm to be specific…) was thought to of been born in Mesopotamia over 6,000 years ago.

Regardless of their heritage, palm trees can go to hell.

Regardless of the facts (and my opinion on palm trees as a species) it wasn’t until our first fall as Floridians that it hit me: there are no seasons in Florida. There is only weather. When fall happens in Florida, there is a slight decrease in temperature and the humidity lessened some, but overall? There was no seasonal change that said fall is upon you.

Eventually, my family and I parted ways with Florida in favor of living in Japan for a few years. What little you know about that country and the sense of density that comes from it being over-populated in areas? That much is true. To wit, that sense of population density also translates to urban planning, especially with respect to the placement of trees.

When we got settled, my family and I got lucky and secured a residence that is on the same geographic parallel as Tennessee. There were the normal amount of seasons, leaved trees that changed color at the appropriate time of the year, AND the cherry blossoms in the spring. Everything was coming up Milhouse for us! (And when I say ‘us‘, I mean ‘me’).

As of 2017, there are at least 126 million people living in that country.

If you wanted to turn this into a dick-measuring competition between Japan and America, well, you’re dumb. There are roughly 327 million live bodies in the States, and Japan as a country, is 26 times smaller than the contiguous U.S. That means that you’d have as much luck comparing an apple to an orange. Point of fact? Japan has half of the national parks that we do (Japan = 30, USA = 62).

Green space, in relation to populated areas, is at a premium in Japan. There ARE local parks, but the ratio of people (who need homes) to parks is wildly uneven.

Hence, the Japanese ideal of forest bathing. Essentially, forest bathing is this: you go to a forest, local park, or green space, you “unplug” and you take in the forest. You don’t hike, you don’t workout, you don’t do anything other than be present in the moment.

We don’t do that nearly enough in the States.

That brings us to the present day. My family is, as of this writing, 1/2 way through our desert year.

Speaking entirely for myself, I had absolutely no idea what to expect when it came to desert living. Yes, I knew it was going to be hot. Yes, I knew the desert would be vast. And no, no I had no idea how varied and how damn tall cacti could be.

Here, have some weird facts about cacti you never knew you wanted to know: There are 1,750 species of cacti and all but one of them are native to the Americas. The tallest cactus ever reached a height of over 6 stories (that’s 60 feet).

For the record, trees and cacti are not related. If you’re comparing a cactus to a tree, think of the cactus as the evolution of the tree in the desert climate. The spines on a cactus are known to be modified leaves and in terms of photosynthesis, the stalk of the cactus does all of the work.

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No real reason for this beautiful son of a bitch to be included other than it reminds of me a dragonfly.
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While I didn’t whip out a tape measure, this beast is at least 30 feet long.
Saguaro Cactus
If you’re curious about the scale of this behemoth, 6′ is just under the first arm on the right.

While my stay in the southwest of the contiguous United States is nearly at an end, I’ll say this much about desert living: it’s not as bad as you’d think.

Yes, there aren’t nearly enough trees for my liking. Yes, summer in the desert can suck a bag of dicks. Yes, it is super disorientating when you realize that it’s January and the leaves are just starting to fall off of what little tree coverage that may be in your neighborhood. But the locals are nice (for the most part) and everyone should see the desert at least once in their lives. Even if it is in passing.