The DWP & me

Burt Prelutsky
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Posted: Nov 10, 2006 12:00 AM

As my friends will tell you, I have often said that the greatest invention of modern times is the air conditioner. It raises man above the beast and at least gives those of us in the warmer climates a fighting chance in the constant battle with Mother Nature.

I am therefore loath to pick a quarrel with any of the entities responsible for keeping me comfortable in the middle of summer even if I should find myself in Phoenix or Tucson. The truth is, I don’t know how a/c works. I also don’t know how heating systems function. How in the world is it that the temperature outside can be anything from sub-zero to Saharan and, by merely flipping a switch on the wall, we can make it springtime indoors?

To me, it’s nothing short of miraculous that technology can heat us, cool us, and keep us sane and functioning, in ways that our grandparents could barely imagine.

All that being said, I’d be remiss in my role as a public scold if I didn’t take a poke at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Still, if I thought that mine was an isolated case, I might let it pass. But, clearly, it’s a matter of established policy and, if it’s occurring here, there’s a very good chance it’s happening in plenty of other places.

To begin at the beginning, a few months ago, we broke down and bought a new clothes washer. Because it was one of those machines that allegedly uses less water than the typical unit, the local DWP offered a rebate. All that was required, we thought, was to mail in a proof of purchase. Which we did. But instead of receiving a check by return mail, we were notified that we’d have to make an appointment so that they could send some guy out to make sure, I suppose, that we weren’t turning out counterfeit Sears receipts in our basement.

So, like the sheep we all tend to turn into when there’s a rebate being dangled in front of our noses, we made our appointment. A week or so later, the fellow showed up at our front door. We led him to our washer. He seemed satisfied. He had me sign a couple of papers, and that was that. It took all of three minutes, and it only took that much time because I have a long name.

Soon, the check arrived. But we weren’t done, as it turns out. Today we received a phone call from the DWP. They were following up. They wanted a report. Had the fellow shown up on time? Was he polite? Had he done what he was supposed to do?

Now, offhand, you would at least have to agree it was a case of overkill. Surely my receipt should have been sufficient to get me my rebate. But, think about it. On the one hand, they’re rewarding me for saving water and power, but, at the same time, they’re paying a bunch of people to waste gas, driving all over L.A. to make darn certain these washers are actually plugged in on the service porch. What am I missing? Are there scofflaws I don’t know about who stick these things in the middle of their dens and are using them as coffee tables?

As if that’s not silly enough, the DWP compounds the farce by having this other bunch of spies phoning to check up on the first bunch. And is it unreasonable to wonder if there are still other people checking up on them?

Having, as I’ve confessed, no concept of how the utilities work, I’ve never had the slightest idea why the bills are so huge when they show up at the end of the month. Now, at least, I have an inkling.