Don't freeze me, bro!

Bill Whittle recalls one of life's early lessons on charity.

There was a time, in my twenties, when I was very poor. I have sat silent in an apartment, shades drawn, silently waiting for the loud knocking of the landlord to go away. I have borrowed enough money to have to decide whether or not to restore the electricity, or the telephone. (And by the way, that decision is a no-brainer.) I have been that broke long enough to realize something about myself.

I was living off of the charity of friends. The charity of friends - do I make myself clear? I never applied for welfare or food stamps because - silly me - I thought that was for people who really needed it.

After a year or two being constantly bailed out by my friends - "Wheel-less Whittle" they called me, far more kindly than I deserved - after several years of their largesse, and because my delicate artistic nature prevented me from getting any number of the actual paying jobs I could have landed in a half-hour - I began to get angry with them, especially my best friend, Fritz. Yes, he bought me lunch and dinner and drove me everywhere. Yes, he helped cover my electric bills and rent. But he was making out like a bandit: he was a successful commercial actor in Miami, making over a hundred grand a year.

And so I stopped looking at what he did for me, and started looking at what he could do, but didn't. I went to him with a plan for him to pay my entire rent and expenses. He refused, the miserable selfish bastard. Not because he couldn't afford it, mind you, but because he was getting really worried about me and thought it would - get this, Mr. Berg! - do me harm.

And I was furious. Furious. For two weeks I hated him with a white-hot rage.

(Via Glenn Reynolds.)

By refusing to fund him, Bill Whittle's friend was kinder than the government bureaucrats, because he realized that not allowing him to fail would do more harm than allowing him to fail.

Bill's resentment about being cut off, of course, was a natural reaction, and it reminds me of something one of my employers told me years ago:

"Eric, if you put $10.00 a day in a stranger's mailbox every day for 30 days, and then you walk by on the 31st day without putting in any money, you will not have made a friend; you'll have made an enemy!"
Interestingly, if Bill Whittle lived in Michigan today, he might not have to worry about paying his utility bills. Under new legislation, it will be illegal for power companies to cut people's power off for nonpayment.

That's because some people have been known to freeze to death.

Why the man in this case didn't seek shelter or call an ambulance, I don't know.

What I'd like to know is, what happens when the government finally can't pay the utility bills for all the non-paying customers, and there's no more power?

Will they make it illegal for people to freeze in their homes?

That's no idle question!

I mean, even though it's April, the temperatures are still in the 30s and there's snow on the ground.


My thermostat is set at 64 and it's too damned cold. If I turn it up, why should I have to pay more money?

That strikes me as fundamentally unfair.

So why won't the government help me?

posted by Eric on 04.07.09 at 10:13 PM


Fascinating insights.

It is true that people, especially strangers abuse you if give them help.


John @ Professional Web Design   ·  April 7, 2009 11:19 PM

Many old people die from hypothermia even with heating available.

Perhaps I should say very old people. It is my understanding that some will lose their ability to feel the cold and/or won't sense what is happening.

But I am not a medical expert and don't play one on TV. Here a very old man, apparently living alone, died in a house w/o electricity. I can't blame the power company.

The problem was the absence of support when that old man could no longer manage his own life. Others did not help, perhaps because they did not know.

My step-father died at home at 92 from pneumonia. He lived alone but had relatives and friends and resources near. One bitter winter he seems to have just gone to bed. In a few days he was gone.

K   ·  April 8, 2009 1:18 AM

K is right. Apparently this man had the money to pay, just didn't for some reason. Where I live, heat is more likely to kill than cold, and the power company has a program to flag accounts of those who need personal contact rather than written disconnect notices.

Donna B.   ·  April 8, 2009 8:55 AM

In Illinois there is a law that requires utilities to keep customers supplied through the winter. It has kept me going through employment dry spells.

M. Simon   ·  April 8, 2009 9:53 AM

I'm all for limiting/cutting taxpayer funded utilities to those who can work but choose not to, but cutting off electricity to a guy in his 90's -- man, that's cruel. Maybe someone at the utility company should be looking at who is living in the houses they are putting these devices on.

Wayne   ·  April 8, 2009 10:41 AM

Why is it cruel to cut off electricity to a 90-year-old who doesn't pay his bills? Someone has to work to create that electricity. Somebody has to harvest the corn, somebody has to turn the corn into ethanol, somebody has to take the ethanol to a generator, someone has to monitor the generator to make sure it doesn't malfunction and explode, someone has to run electrical lines from the generator to the man's house. All of these people need to eat, have shelter, and have money to pay their bills. If the old man doesn't pay for the service he receives, none of these hard-working people gets paid for the services they are providing to him.

We used to have a system in this country in which some people worked to provide services to other people, who didn't pay them. It was called "slavery".

Dirtyrottenvarmint   ·  April 8, 2009 2:15 PM

inclusions Travis Neapolitan,fumble?resort?balalaika?...

Anonymous   ·  April 9, 2009 5:35 AM

It's hard for me to reconcile slavery with taking care of old people. I did not get from the video that the old guy had any money or that he could pay the bill. It's not like he's a crack-addicted 20 year old welfare mother.

Wayne   ·  April 9, 2009 10:08 AM

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