Today was an interesting day. Today I found a small section of my brain where, upon closer inspection, it was revealed that a couple synaptic plugs had come loose from their sockets and were lying about on the floor not contributing to the overall brain function capacity assigned to my person. Sparks were flying, but the juice wasn’t flowing.
I really hate when that happens.
It’s like discovering that for the last five years, your health plan allowed for you to have a free massage every week, but only if you clicked on the web site’s tab that said Legal Jargon You’ll Never Understand and Fine Print too Tiny to Read.
Who goes there??
Well, I did. At least for a quick look-see. Not to my health care plan, but to another ordinary every month invoice. And what I unearthed was confounding and a little bit balmy. But I am attracted to the absurd. And this fit the bill.
When I was a kid, the food co-op movement was starting to rev up its engine, and folks were beginning to find little shops where they could scoop up bulk food from hand-labeled barrels and bins. I was never particularly interested in stepping over this threshold, as the air held the scent of patchouli, and the atmosphere reeked of good health. The only bin that roused my interest was the one containing carob coated raisins and peanuts which—for a reason that could only point toward a level of unflattering intelligence—fooled me every time into believing its flavor had changed from the week prior and now would be delicious.
Just mutton dressed up as lamb.
Recently, I have taken over paying some of the household accounts. One of them is the electric bill. Scrutinizing the statement top to bottom, I also examined its name. I belong to an electricity co-op. This came as a massive surprise to me, mostly because my mind had a hard time grappling with the mental image of local folks driving to the edge of town, where the rents are cheaper, walking into that ‘good commune vibe’ atmosphere, pushing a few old mason jars across the counter and pointing up at the bin lined shelves to say, “I’ll take 45 of the yellow joules, 25 green volts, and how bout …60—no 70 watts of the really bright red ones.”
An electricity co-op? Really?
I had no idea any such thing existed. And since research is like an addictive drug that must maintain a high dosage level in my bloodstream, I reached into my jar of joules and cranked up the old computer for a little overtime.
It turns out that utility co-ops were introduced to the U.S. somewhere around the time of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his shiny “New Deal” plan for America. As folks were in the midst of the Great Depression, it became even more depressing to discover that Big Business owned utility companies were not interested in spending the extra bucks on investment to bring electricity, water, and communication to the outskirts of society. If your nearest neighbor was a collection of cows, you’d likely still have to rely upon your hearth, your rain barrel, and smoke signals.
Shortly after Johnny Town Mouse left a visit to his Country Cousin, it was clear that listening to all that lofty babble about how grand things were in the city was a bitter pill no one wanted to swallow.
Cue disgruntled homesteaders, sharecroppers, and ranchers. Please enter stage left.
The utility co-op was born. Now you could tell that boasting braggart of a relative of yours that not only did you have running water and a light switch, but that you were now an owner of a business that stretched as far as the eye could see and beyond. You were a proprietor in the fast-paced industry of the Utility World. Public Power just took on a whole new meaning.
Okay, all of you in overalls and Birkenstocks, take a bow, and head back to the barn. Those cows aren’t going to milk themselves.
I liked the idea of a utility co-op. In fact, once I began to understand the structure and organization’s ideas, I called my electric company to speak with a real person to get a few more facts.
“So,” I began, “being part owner of a company, that means I have some say in how the business is run, don’t I?”
Absolutely, came the operator’s reply. The whole idea of the cooperative is that the community shares in the responsibility, management, and profits of the company.
“Profits?” I whispered excitedly. “As in revenue?”
Yes, ma’am. In this case, we call them Capital Credits. Our success is your success.
“Well, I think Capital Credits is a Capital Idea, and a Credit to whoever came up with that little gem.”
We hung up the phone and I paced about the kitchen planning what I would do with the share of my business—my Capital Credits. I quickly phoned back.
“I forgot to ask. When do I receive my dividends? When do you cut me a check?”
Oh! the operator chuckled, You, yourself, won’t actually receive any money. But the benefactors of your estate will.
Yes, it’s called Estate Retirement.
“You mean I have to die first to extract benefits from the co-op.”
Precisely. We simply need to see a death certificate from your estate representative, and whomever you dictate in your will to be the recipient is immediately issued a check for your years of collecting Capital Credits.
“Hold on a second. I grow my own vegetables. I DO NOT HAVE AN ESTATE.”
It’s just an expression, the operator said, snickering again.
“Well, I’d like to express my dissatisfaction with the way the profits are withheld from owners.”
Ma’am, this is a business. The profits are mostly rolled over into maintaining a working utility company.
“What happened to the whole idea of “Sharing is Caring?”
Oh, dear, the operator said. I’m just going put a mark in your file for future reference to other agents should they take a call from you. You are what we refer to as Newbie Members.
“What does that mean?”
New to the idea of business profits and margins. In your case, The lights are on, but nobody’s home.
Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.