Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Government and Your Storm Door...

One of the loudest battle cries of the modern Republican is Get The Government Out of People's Lives. The logic behind this motto is that over several decades -- some would say as far back as the Woodrow Wilson administration, but in any case, at least as far back as FDR's tenure -- that government has taken it upon itself to "do things" that government, strictly speaking, has no Constitutional Right to do.

Typically, this slogan is applied to specific areas of American Life,  like the Social Welfare patchwork, the regulation of commerce and Environmental regulations, that are often onerous, nonsensical, contradictory, and sometimes just plain dumb. I happen to agree with much of this sentiment, but for the purposes of this screed, it will not be necessary to talk about the Cradle-to-grave aspirations of some sectors of Government at all levels. That's for another conversation.

What we're talking about  today is the questionable level of government interference in something as simple a putting a new goddamned storm door on your house.

When Tess and I had decided that it was time to replace the aging storm door on the front of the house, we stupidly figured it should be a ridiculously easy thing to do. I have absolutely no skill with tools, so it was decided at the outset that we would hire "professionals" to do the job. My experience of working with my hands or any sort of tools is mixed: I have tried, in the past, to do some general repair jobs around the house, but the results are largely hit-and-miss. Sometimes, by sheer dumb luck, I manage to get the job done. More often than not, I end up making the original problem worse, and on several notable occasions, I have not only succeeded in making a hash of the task at hand, but in breaking the tools used, as well.

If you ever want to keep your tools intact, do not ever let me borrow them. You're liable to get a blunted Phillips-head screwdriver, a hammer head detached from the haft, a bent saw, or a crescent wrench returned in pieces. It's quite possible that if the Apocalypse were to occur tomorrow, and Humanity had to depend upon me to rebuild it, I might be regarded as more dangerous with a tape measure or a hatchet in my hands than the nuclear warheads that blew everything to Kingdom Come.

If I were the last surviving soul on Earth and had to fend for myself with little more than a toolbox and my mechanical skills, I'd probably be eaten by wolves in very short order.

So, we decided the best thing to do was to go to our local Lowe's Home Improvement Store, select the door we wanted, and then pay them to install it. It was safer that way, and there wouldn't be any danger of the roof caving in the second I began trying to screw a hinge to the door jamb with a butter knife.

I must say, the people at Lowe's are quite helpful, knowledgeable, and infinitely more qualified in the home handyman department than I am, and the experience was even a quite enlightening and entertaining one. Within 20 minutes of entering the store, we had a brand-new storm door on order, and I had every last one of my stupid questions answered, and I received quite an education which will go for naught because I'm the next best thing to Ebola Virus with a pipe wrench in hand.

The Lowe's people would send someone round to double-check the measurements I had taken (note: I even managed to fuck that up, incidentally), and once they had surveyed the job and had an idea of what needs to be done, they made an appointment to come and do it. Except for one little problem:  the model door we initially ordered did not come in the required size, and could not be customized to be made to fit the doorway, and so we had to return to Lowe's today to order another door. Which we did; no problem, they have the new, this-time-with-the-proper-dimensions door on order (it will take approximately three weeks to get it), and when it arrives, they will install it.

We were relieved.

And then the government showed up.

Not in person, mind you, but the government was there, all the same. In the form of paperwork. Lots of it.

Now, you wouldn't expect there to be paperwork involved in the simple installation of a storm door, but there most certainly is. Most of it has to do with legal mumbo-jumbo; there's the standard service contract, laying out your rights and responsibilities complete with the seven-page Consumer's Rights pamphlet. You fill in and sign a form that gives Lowe's (or their subcontractors) permission to do the work you've just paid for, and signed the standard service agreement for them to do in the first place.There's the tax form that needs to be filled in. Yes, that's right, a tax form. Apparently, because you're engaged in a capital improvement to your home (installing a new storm door), you are excused from paying New York State sales tax on it, and so you have to let the State know -- via paper -- that you've a) bought the storm door for your house, and not, presumably, for your boat, tree house or dead grandmother's funeral, and b) that you won't be paying taxes on it -- in accordance with State law.

You have just signed a piece of paper that signifies that you intend to obey the law and not pay a tax you are not legally obligated to pay.

You would think they could skip that part., but for some reason, there's paperwork to be filled in. Probably because some mouth-breathing fucktard with a 4th grade education has a rubber stamp they're itching to try out. Go figure. There's the form you fill in to have Lowe's (or their subcontractor) haul away the old door and take it to the dump, or whatever it is they do with it, because it is illegal in the City of New York to leave a derelict storm door out with your normal household trash (unless you call the Sanitation Department and get the full rigmarole of how to properly dispose of it in accordance with State and Federal Environmental Law. I had the same problem with a mattress, once). You give them permission to take this eyesore off your property, and pay them $25 for the Dump Fee. Fill that in, and sign it, too.

Six legal documents equaling some 13 pieces of paper, all with name neatly printed and signature, as well as your address and phone number to have someone come by and replace a storm door. The guy who gave it all to us and walked us through it all recommended we keep it safe, and close to hand, should we need it some day. Especially when the City Building Inspector comes by and notices a new storm door, and begins to wonder if all the required bureaucratic gobbledegook was filed before " a change to an existing structure" was in order. You'd be surprised how often building inspectors around here stick their noses into your home improvement routine just to see if there's some way to fine you.

The City and State are that broke, and that desperate for every dime they can extort from you. Hundred-plus-year-old Brownstones are collapsing in Brooklyn, The Second Avenue Subway project may have undermined the stability of some buildings on Manhattan's East side, the Freedom Tower is ten years and billions of dollars behind schedule, our bridges are crumbling, cranes and elevators fail in this city every day, and yet the Buildings Department is out in force,obsessed with getting the poor asshole who simply wants to hang some flower boxes from his balcony, or the guy who may have cut an obscure corner while repaving his own driveway, or building a deck in his own backyard without a permit.

One wonders how much all this paperwork and regulation cost, or rather, added to the cost of our storm door , which was ON SALE at some $370.00, but by the time you added all the extras -- excluding the taxes, and including the NY State Minimum Wage of $7.25/hour per worker -- somehow came out to be nearly $600.00, or, enough to buy two storm doors of only slightly-lesser quality.

But that would probably have entailed twice as many signatures, and no doubt, meant I would have gotten two copies of that Consumer's Rights pamphlet, which is half printed in Spanish, anyway.

That's government involved in a simple thing like a minor home improvement. Imagine what would happen if we were talking about something more complicated, or important, say...your triple bypass?

Get The Government Out of People's Lives is right. While we're at it, we could probably enlist the help of the environMENTAList movement, and save a couple of trees that would otherwise have given their lives for no good reason, except to keep a Public Sector worker occupied by something other than masturbation.

Wouldn't that be an interesting thing?

No comments: