Plink, plank, plunk … the nuts, bolts, washers and screws all made different sounds as Homer dropped an armload of stuff on the hardware store checkout counter.
“That’s quite a selection of stuff you got there, Homer,” said Jennifer the helpful hardware lady.
“Yep, got a big project going at home. You know, it pays to save energy,” Homer replied.
“That’s right,” said Jennifer as she rang up Homer’s purchases. “Now let’s see, that will be a hundred dollars even for all this stuff, plus eight and a half dollars sales tax.”
“Geez, I thought sales tax was 8 percent. Shouldn’t it be eight dollars tax?” asked Homer.
“Nah, the city’s got some extra expenses, so they tacked on an extra four-bits to every hundred dollars you spend in Davis,” Jennifer explained sympathetically.
“What kind of new expenses?” Homer frowned.
“Well, the latest is the upkeep on a new tank that the Police Department got for free from the military. It’s not really a tank. It’s got tires instead of tracks, but you probably can’t get those tires at any tire shop here in town. Not sure how they’re going to maintain it. But it’s bound to be expensive,” Jennifer volunteered, trying to be helpful.
“Why would the cops need a tank?” Homer asked.
“To quell civil unrest, I guess,” Jennifer volunteered.
“You mean like when citizens march in the streets to protest ever higher taxes and fees?”
“Yeah, I guess. No telling what the city might do next to set off a revolt. So you want a couple of bags for all this stuff, Homer?”
“Sure, I guess I’d better. I forgot my canvas bags today, and this is a lot of loose parts.”
“OK, that will be twenty cents for the bags.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it, Homer. See that change tray on the counter. Pick up a couple of dimes and put them in the can labeled ‘Deposit money for bags here.’ It’s next to the change tray. I can’t give you two bags, but I can give you two dimes. It’s just part of our helpful hardware service.”
“So Jennifer, what do you do when the can gets full?”
“Oh, I just empty the can back into change tray for my customers who occasionally forget their bags. It’s a little game I play with our City Council. They keep trying to make Davis a less attractive place to shop. I keep coming up with workarounds.”
“Guess you’ll be playing that game with the state Legislature next,” Homer contributed.
“Same dance, different fiddler,” Jennifer sighed wearily. “Say Homer, what are you building with all this stuff? Not an IED, I hope. You’re not going off the deep end are you, Homer?”
“Nah, you know me Jennifer. I’m a ‘go-along/get-along’ kind of guy — just another spectator enjoying the human comedy that is our fair city.
“You really wanna know? I’m building a photovoltaic array to run the beer refrigerator in my garage. I find self-medicating with a couple of cold ones in the evening helps me see the humorous side of life. Besides I hear that drinking beer may soon become cheaper than drinking Davis water. Yah know, you just have to guard against over-self-medication.”
“Just one thing Homer, you know solar doesn’t work when it’s dark. How are you going to keep your beer cold at night?”
“Oh Jennifer, that’s the best part. It’s never dark in my neighborhood. I have one of those newly installed LED street lights in front of my house. It’s now bright as day 24/7. In fact, I’m building my solar array right under the new LED street light. Should keep the beer nice cold all night long.
“Plus, get this, I’m building it to look like something I saw at Burning Man, so the city is giving me a public arts grant for ten grand.”
“You certainly are clever, Homer. See you next time. Bring your bags.”
— Clay Brandow is a hydrologist who happens to like the new LED street light in front of his home. He has promised his wife and two grown daughters that he will not become a curmudgeon in retirement.