Yes, I changed the world today

This is what happened after I left the town offices today.

The letter that I’d brought to the town offices the woman at the Health Department had taken from me and photocopied.  She had returned the original to me and kept the photocopy and written my phone number right onto the copy that she kept.  So I held that original in my hand all the way home.

I entered my building through the back door.  Puzzle and I came up the elevator.  Now guess who was right there?  I don’t usually see anyone from the Housing Authority right there in the hall, but there they were, two guys, really important ones, just the ones I wanted to see.  Never mind who these guys were but they were the “right ones” to give this letter to.  Or so I figured.  Not that I’d actually planned out exactly who the recipients would be.  I just figured I’d give it to someone important.  These folks were important enough.  Not only that, two of them.

What were they doing out in the hall?  I don’t know,  Inspecting some vacant apartment fairly close to my own.

So they ask what’s in the envelope and I say, “Oh, some writing I did.  I left off some paperwork at Town Hall.”

Trust me, they knew.  Oh boy, they did.   And they knew what was going on right away.

So one of them starts in with the teasing.  “Oh yeah, he says, ” Julie’s a writer.”  So I’m starting to feel partway put down by this, again, the tokenism, like writers don’t matter, that maintenance guys are far more important in this world cuz they do practical stuff.  But I say to myself, “Wait till they see what’s in the envelope.”

I can’t honestly recall if I told them that the Health Department stamped their copy as an official “complaint.”  But at any rate, the message got to them.

Folks, I’m positive they got a call.  I’ll tell you exactly why.

A guy named D called me within a couple of hours.  Okay, I’ll admit I was lying down with Puzzle on the verge of a snooze.  He asked me a bunch of questions.  I had to explain that the problem was intermittent.  He wanted to come over and “test” the water in my own apartment, however, when I went to the sink, the water was hot enough.  I tested it myself with my meat thermometer.  It was within range, 110-130.  I told him that 90% or the time, the water was under 110 degrees.

Did he believe me?

He told me as soon as the water was under 110, to give him a call.

I thought about things.  In a way, I felt like i was being accused of being “crazy” or “lying” or maybe “delusional.”  On the other hand, maybe D wanted to nab the Housing Authority.

But nabbing the Housing Authority isn’t even necessary.  They want to avoid getting nabbed.  They are scared of being nabbed.  Very.  Guess what they did?

They seem to have gotten off their butts finally.  Done what should have been done months ago.  Yes, months ago.  Fixed the darned system, I suppose.

As of tonight, my hot water has never, ever been hotter.  I mean, it hasn’t been this hot in ages.

Don’t tell me what I wrote didn’t scare the living daylights out of them.

Now, is what that shrink said true, that my writing degree is “useless”?  If you are reading this now, I love you.  Bless your hearts.  Good night.  Writing rocks.  I changed the world today.

Let’s keep on changing it.  And as I always say,

Never, ever shut up.


We Are Not Worthless People by Julie Greene, an official complaint to the Town of Watertown, MA July 31, 2013

I walked into the town offices with Puzzle.  I was bewildered.  I didn’t know which office was which.  All I could think of was the mantra that repeated in my head, “Never, ever shut up.”  And that I will never do.  I told myself that today I am changing the world.  Maybe in a small way, but I am doing something good and I can remember this.  I remembered the shrink who told me my degree in writing was worthless.  Well, shrink, I don’t think so.  I finally picked an office at random and handed the clerk the envelope.  She asked me if this was an official complaint.  I said, “I guess so,” and she stamped it and wrote down my phone number.  Here is the writing that was inside:

We Are Not Worthless People

by Julie Greene

Apartment xxx , Woodland Towers ,Watertown, MA

July 31, 2013

I live in pubic housing. The name of this place is Woodland Towers, and I’ve lived here now five years. I live at the end of the hall, and don’t know the names of my neighbors. My neighbors speak many colorful languages, including Armenian, Russian, and Chinese. I often wonder about the stories of these people. My neighbors don’t know me, and they don’t know that I’m a writer. I keep that little fact to myself.

It saddens me that there are eight stories of people in this building who will live and die and their stories may never be told. What are these stories? The writer in me often speculates about what it’s like to wake up in the morning at Woodland Towers for my neighbors, people I don’t even know:

“I can’t wash my dishes in this water. It’s only tepid. I’m afraid to complain.”

“I had to go to the job interview without a shower because the water wasn’t hot enough to bathe. I didn’t get the job.”

“The nurse said, ‘If you continue to skip showers, you’ll have to go to a nursing home.’ I can’t explain it the hot water problem to her, because I don’t speak English well enough.”

Yes, this all speculation, but the truth is that we are not worthless here. We are living human beings. Yes, perhaps we do not earn a paycheck. Most of us did at one time. The government loves to cram it down our throats the fact that they don’t enjoy sending out to us the pittance of minimal pay that they dole out to us, and in this way, the checks they send us are little messages to us that we are a nuisance to them and they’d love to be rid of us, the sooner the better. It’s not exactly comfortable knowing that you are a squatter.

This is why I write. To bring to life stories that would otherwise go untold. We are not worthless here.

By being lax about repairing our hot water, the Watertown Housing Authority is giving us a very clear message that our lives and health are not very important at all. They are telling us we’re just dust to be tossed out somewhere, something no one wants to deal with.

I believe the Watertown Housing Authority has known that the problem has existed for quite some time and has done nothing about it. I do know that the hot water problem has been going on for months and that other neighbors have gone for days without showers. It is time to act. I will not stand by and continue to see people be treated like they are worthless.

So I am asking the Watertown Housing Authority, please, We Need Hot Water. This means 24-hour access to hot water. Not hot water that only works some of the time.

Julie Greene, [my address]

CC: Town of Watertown

Today, I am acting out. I am writing. We are not worthless people here.

So, the Watertown Housing Authority is going to hear from me today.  CC the Town of Watertown.  Hopefully this piece of writing won’t take too long, but seeing as I don’t have loads of energy, I will have to do it in stages, that is, spend time writing, then probably lie down with Puzzle some and sleep, then write some, then sleep some.

No, we are not worthless crap here.  We are flesh and blood even though we get peanuts from the government that comes out of taxpayers’ money.  Yes, we deserve real hot water.

Oh, what a line of baloney I got about all sorts of tanks and and how the WHA was “working on it.”   And I’m sure you all knew there has been a problem for a long, long time.  You just didn’t want to do anything about it.

I took a cold shower this morning, folks.

This has been going on since winter and we should not have to live like this.

No, this is not a campground.

I’m sick and tired of it.

Okay, this “crazy lady” is going to start writing.  See ya in a bit.

I’ve already decided what to do about the hot water problem

I will wait till Monday.  I will approach the manager.  I prefer to approach the manager rather than go to maintenance.  I never know who is going to be in that office when I get there.  I never know how I will be treated.  Sometimes, whatever problem I bring up, I get poked fun at.  I’m serious, guys, they do poke fun at me.  Like they beat around the bush or change the topic.  Or say that they have no clue what I’m talking about and refer me elsewhere.  I once called, this ages ago, and they did nothing but make jokes about the problem I was calling about.  I think I said there was a mouse in my apartment and the lady made jokes about “mousie,” and so on.  I honestly wanted to inform them and was rather upset to have a mouse there.  I had mixed feelings, too.  I wanted to deal with this little creature humanely.  I think he or she just ran off.  Maybe he didn’t want to be called “Mousie,” eh?

Meanwhile, I will just keep my fingers crossed that by tomorrow at 7:30 or so, I’ve got water warm enough for a shower, or guts enough to be like a kid again, hold my breath, and take a cold one.

What should I do? The hot water in my apartment often doesn’t work

This is a chronic problem.  I live in public housing and I’ve been a tenant with the same housing authority for roughly 20 years.  I’ve lived in this building for five years. It’s an eight-story building.  I’d say this past year has been the worst as far as lack of keeping up with repairs goes.  But let me focus on the hot water problem.

Or, rather, lack thereof.  The first year I was here, a lady whom I’d barely ever spoken to moved out in disgust, kind of slamming things around in the process, yelling about this and that, and I do recall her ranting about the lack of hot water, the hot water seeming to go dead on her during those crucial times that she really needed it.  This event, her leaving in such a storm, stuck in my mind.  She was also pissed off about a particular neighbor who I guess was harassing her but I have no clue if this was true.  I don’t talk to anyone and he still lives here.  But that year I don’t recall much of a problem with the hot water on my end.  I remember the hot water not working one day and that lady having a fit in the hall, but this was a long time ago.

Well, back to the present.  This past winter was the pits.  I’d say more often than not, maybe five days out of the seven days of the week, I was unable to take a morning shower because there was no hot water.  In winter, you can’t take a cold shower.  So it would be freezing in my apartment and I’d say to myself, “Gee, I’d love a shower so I could warm myself up,” but I had no way of taking one.

My assumption was that this was a building-wide problem.  Usually, I could wait an hour or two, and the hot water would start working okay.  But by then I’d already walked Puzzle and I was already dressed.  So I’d get undressed and I’d shower.

On church days, that is, Sundays, this of course sucked.  It would mean I kind of faced going to church dirty or not going to church at all.  I mean, it ended up being one of my many excuses not to go to church.  The hot water wouldn’t come on at all until 10:30am, which was the time that services started.

I really want to go to church tomorrow.  So, since we do what we have to do to survive, I’m plotting ahead.  I’ve been hoping for a shower tonight.  I’ve been washing my dishes with a combination of hand sanitizer and soap.  It’s a little tough with the water being barely above cold.

Well, the hot water hasn’t been working, folks, all day today.  That is, today is freaking Saturday, it’s hot as Hades out there, and I’ve been out twice.  Do I take a cold shower?  I can’t go to church without a shower.  I’m no kid anymore and I know I used to take cold showers, suck it up and all, but I’m not like that anymore.  What’s everyone else in this building doing?  Don’t they take showers?  They must shower.  They don’t stink, for godsakes.  Why isn’t anyone else complaining?

I hear no banging downstairs and I am wondering if our maintenance department is even working on the problem.  If I call them, I get charged $25 just for calling on off-hours.  What do I do?  Wait for it to fix itself?  That’s what I’ve always done.

Really,no hot water, all day long?

I phoned the town about the “beeping” problem, and something got done.  The housing authority went to all the apartments in the building, and replaced all the detectors with new detectors with fresh batteries.  Guess what?  Mission accomplished.  I was the squeaky wheel who actually did a favor for everyone here in the building.   We no longer live with this constant, horrible “beeping” sound, the sound of carbon monoxide detectors with dead batteries, which frankly was inexcusable.

I wrote to a town politician about recycling here in the building.  Recycling is the law in Massachusetts and our building wasn’t providing recycling bins that residents can use.  The town politician agreed that it was inexcusable that we had no recycling bins, especially since this building is run by the state of Massachusetts.  Well, lickity-split, there you had it, the recycling bins appeared not long after I wrote the e-mail.  I wrote about something inexcusable, and something got done.

No hot water?  Is this, too, inexcusable?