Theft and Acai bowls.

When I went on a ramble about my history with utility bills, I had made mention of the fact that my family and I had just moved to a new part of the world that none of us had ever lived in, let alone visited before: the desert. Previously, we had lived in Japan as a part of the US military.

Prior to our departure from Japan, one of my former co-workers had expressed to me his hopes that the culture shock wouldn’t affect us too greatly. Naturally, I didn’t know what he was getting at so I asked him to unpack what he meant.

He legally lives in Japan and is married to a Japanese woman. What he had meant when he was expressing his hopes for my family and I was what you all probably all ready realized. My family and I had been living in Japan for three years at that point. On top of that, we were living on a military base. For the uninitiated, military base living isn’t glamorous. If anything the best part about military life was that everyone is expected to behave themselves at all times.

My coworker was aware that my family and I would be living off base for a year and amongst civilians for the first time in close to a decade. On top of that, the majority of the population that my family and I had interacted with were of Japanese descent. While the Japanese population numbers are high, the majority of the Japanese behave themselves in a respectful manner because:

  1. It’s common decency.
  2. It’s built into their culture.

My coworker had visited his own family back in the States multiple times since the beginning of his marriage. Every time he’d come back to the States, he’d have a hard time enjoying his time there because we Americans, can be a singularly self centered lot. His wish was that we have an easier time adjusting to that than he ever did.

At the time, I didn’t put much thought into what he was getting at. I was packing up my home and my employment was coming to a close. It was obviously very nice of him to show concern like that, but really, how much adjustment would we need to do?

Famous Last Words

Finding a home in the Phoenix area was proving to be a bit of a problem. This search had resulted in my wife and I making the decision to move our family into an apartment for our year in the desert. After the dust had settled from the movers cramming a four bedroom home into a three bedroom apartment, I had set about downsizing.

It wasn’t easy. And it took the better part of two months.

What a lot of single people and couples don’t seem to realize is that no matter how “minimal”  you live, you will always accumulate junk and stuff that you know that you won’t use, let alone have a need for, ever.

When you apply that to yourself, your significant other, and any children that you may have, in my case three kids, that’s a lot of stuff.

Rookie Mistake

In order to make a bit of breathing room available for myself and my family, I had made a point of storing our bikes outside of the apartment. There were bike racks all throughout the property. I figured that I ought to take advantage of it.

So I bunched all of the bikes together and locked them with the shitty, little coil locks that I had bought when we were living in Japan.

Fun Fact: In an effort to deter theft, you, regardless of your race and placement within the land of the Rising Sun, you are legally required to register your bike with the bike seller. When you do that, you fill out paperwork and have an impossible to remove, decal  placed on your bike.

I opted for the shitty locks because I was the only member of my family that rode off base regularly. On top of that, if your bike did get pinched when it was on base, 100% of the time it was by some asshole kid who went joy riding and you could always find your ride relatively close to where you “left” it.

So the bikes lived outside for those first couple of weeks.

When I managed to get the inside of the apartment into a workable shape, I broke the bunch of our bikes down from one group, into two groups. My thinking was that the kids would never ride their fucking bikes if they had to move three other bikes just to get to theirs.

Two days later, I woke up to three out of 6 of our bikes missing.

img-0643

That morning, I fully understood what my coworker was getting at.

The Morning in Question

I was the first person up. Some time during the night, my wife had gone out to the living room and had fallen asleep on the couch. Our bedroom, the master bedroom, has a sliding door that lets you out on the back porch. Our back porch is five feet away from where I had grouped and then re-grouped my family’s bikes.

Suffice it to say, when I had opened the blinds and saw that someone had helped themselves to our bikes, I was fucking pissed.

What made my discovery worse was the fact that our apartment complex is gated. There are pedestrian gates and automobile gates of which, you’d need a key, or key card to access. I had happened to regroup the bikes on the same week that the automobile gate had broken and was left in the open position. Oddly enough, this was also the same week that my wife and I had noticed a lot of “new” faces that we hadn’t seen before, or since.

Culture Shock Achievement Unlocked!

So not only did I commit a rookie mistake most foul, I also had zero proof that the three bikes stolen from us were in fact ours. Two out of the three bikes were bought in Japan. I have the receipts but everything on them is in Japanese. The third bike was bought off of my brother 20 years ago. And no, I had no photos of any of the bikes in question. Filing a police report would be useless.

After I had gotten over my anger, I was gifted with a relatively lucid thought: none of the tires had air in them and the two bikes that were bought in Japan had Japanese tubes in them. Meaning that, whoever jacked them wouldn’t be able to ride them adequately unless they replaced the tubes.

It wasn’t hopeful but I had to try. So I threw on clothes and tiptoed past my wife and out of the house without waking anyone.

The game is afoot!

I found my wife’s bicycle 30 feet from our home.

Most Japanese bikes come standard with a mounted ring lock over the back wheel. You’re not going to cut through a lock like that. On top of that, there’s no way that you can pop the lock off without crippling the bike. Our bike thieves saw this after the fact, and as a parting fuck you they had severed the brake lines and gear shifters.

Finding my wife’s bike had spurred on so I kept walking. After a thorough inspection of my apartment community, I came up empty handed. Undeterred, I widened my search to include the surrounding residential blocks.

What an Acai Bowl Is

Of course, my luck did not progress past finding my wife’s bike. It was after 8 in the morning and the temperature had all ready been climbing steadily past 90 degrees. I had looked by dumpsters, down alleyways, behind stores, and in the yards of suspicious looking homes. All for naught.

Eventually, my thoughts returned to my wife and how she’d be up by the time that I’d be back. On the scale of shitty things to wake up to, waking up to the realization that you have been the victim of petty theft, is a shitty thing to wake up to.

“So why not soften that fact with breakfast?”, I thought.

And then I remembered the Acai Bowl place, Berry Divine. We had been back in the country just shy of two months. Neither of us knew what an Acai bowl was at that point. Even if it was shit, at least she’d have breakfast, right?

It wasn’t shit.

Basically, an acai is a berry. What Berry Divine does is freeze a bunch of the berries. Then they serve it in two forms: soft serve or… I don’t know what they other one is because I have always gotten the soft serve. There’s different types of bowls that you can get that have different types of fruits, nuts, grains, and sauces. The point is that Acai bowls are good.

After being indoctrinated into desert hippie culture, I proceeded to make the sweaty march back to our apartment in order to deliver the “good news” to my wife.

Every step that I took back to our apartment served as a reminder of my naive tendencies. As I got closer to home I began to notice all of the obviously homeless men and women who had bikes of their own. Makes you wonder where they got those bikes from, doesn’t it? As I reentered our property, I began to notice all of the bike racks on the property that had no bikes in them. Sure it was hot as fuck at that point in the year, but I can see now that there were probably other reasons for the lack of pedal power.

To her credit, my wife took the news a lot better than I did. I’d like to think that waking up to breakfast helped but I know that of the two of us, she’s the more realistic of us when it comes to matters like this.

Later that day, my wife and I went to Target and purchased real bike locks that couldn’t be cut off or hacked through. Having the worst of it behind me, I regrouped the bikes into one lump and locked them up.

A week later, I went to assess the status of the bikes that were left behind. I had had time to cool off plus I figured that some general maintenance was in order. In that time, someone had come back to helped themselves to the front tire of one of the remaining bikes. Fuck you, Tempe.

In the end

My coworker was dead on when he spoke to me of culture shock. None of the aforementioned bullshit would have happened in Japan, let alone on an armed forces base. The worst part about the whole experience wasn’t having the bikes stolen nor was it blowing smoke up my kids asses about where my bikes went.

The worst part about the whole ordeal was the realization that it was all my fault. I should have known better. I should have paid attention to the bums on bikes and the lack of bikes in our general area and put security ahead of unpacking. But I didn’t. I don’t think that I can be blamed, right?

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.

IMG_1160.png

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.

img_0625
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.