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Heating Oil Truck - Boro Fuel Oil Company, NYC
The Oil Man
Do you know what it is like to be really, really cold?

I do.

I'm not talking about the cold that comes when you run outside and forget your sweater on a brisk day. Nor about the stinging temporary cold you feel when off on a ski trip the snow gets inside your Goretex or whatever wicking fabric you're wearing on the slopes. I'm talking about the kind of cold that gets in your bones. The kind that can sometimes kill babies, and old people.

I grew up on the second story of a turn-of-the-century brownstone in the ghetto. My home—thanks to New York City rent control—was as affordable as any rent is ever going to get on the welfare wages our family ended up living on when things all fell apart after my parents broke up. Many folks living in these old Brooklyn brownstones are renters, dependent upon their landlord's contract with the heating oil company for radiator warmth each winter. It's paid for by your rent, the heat that comes up through the at-times banging, at times crackling radiator in the corner of each room.
One of the (not all that well-kept) secrets is that when you have an absentee landlord in the ghetto, the business books are often balanced by simply not paying for necessities for your tenants. Necessities like heating oil in the winter, normally delivered weekly or biweekly depending upon how big your building is. The big truck rolls up, the hose (at least I remember it as being some kind of hose) comes out of the truck, and until the next time you never have to worry about being cold – all you have to do is turn the radiator on and after much banging and crackling, warmth spread into your apartment.

Unfortunately, our landlord during my teenage years, having bought the building from its prior resident owner for a handsome price, was convinced that eventually all the tenants would leave and he could raise the rents from their stabilized, deeply discounted levels, regularly balanced his books by cutting corners and necessary maintenance costs. By not paying the bills for his "investment" in a building that housed six famiies, all poor or working class.

So, more times I can remember, there was no heating oil delivery, and thus no heat in our apartment in the wintertime.

All the complaining in the world by the tenants was meaningless when this happened at my house. Assuming could even get the landlord on the phone, all he'd do was say that the heating company was coming "soon." A word that I learned has a different meaning for a landlord that doesn't have to personally live with the consequences of leisurely heating oil delivery than it does for a poverty-stricken tenant.

It doesn't take me long of reminiscing to remember what it was like. After a day or so of no heat, the entire building started taking on the temperature of the outside, and you'd find yourself reflexively touching the radiator every few minutes, hoping it would be warm. If you were like my mother, after yet another one of the calls with the landlord, you would glance from time to time through the curtains and out the window (through which you could see clearly since there was no heat inside to fog up the windows), looking for that truck that pretty much stopped traffic on the two way street for 1/2 hour at a time when it arrived because it was so big; waiting to hear that rumbling sound heavier than even the busses that ran down our street that was the oil man.

I spent a lot more days than I care to remember waiting for the oil man.

It was definitely not an easy wait—time doesn't move as fast when you're shivering and can't stop as an adult, but as a child it was as if time itself stopped some days. It was so cold, sometimes. Cold enough where even wearing your hat, and gloves, and street clothes (because you'd freeze to death in those flimsy pajamas) and socks and sometimes even your coat under as many blankets as you could find you still couldn't get warm enough to sleep. During those times, sometimes we would all be piled into bed with my mother, banking on the collective body heat to get us through. You'd get into the rhythm of waking up fully clothed except for your shoes to get undressed from the full garb you'd slept in and redressed into the clothes you might have to sleep in again that night if the oil man didn't come that day.

Adding insult to injury, no oil meant not only no hot radiator, but no hot water either. It's difficult to describe what it is like to have to take an ice cold bath in an ice cold house, no amount of boiling water being first put into the tub lasting long enough for you to have a really good scrubbing. And forget trying to wash your hair; it was agony when that icy water flowed down your back.

I remember it all like it was yesterday, even though sometimes I wish I didn't.

Of course we were poor, so we didn't know about the Multiple Dwelling Law in New York City making our landlord's behavior in allowing to go by what sometimes was more than a week without any heat in the dead of winter absolutely, positively, illegal. We didn't know that tenants can band together to try and buy heating oil when their slumlords simply fail to pay the bill, not that it would have mattered because, much like many of the people on the rez, nobody had any available money to pool together in the first place. Had we known, or had we had anything left over, maybe things would have been different. But we didn't know and since just keeping food on the table and the lights on was budget challenge enough, had no remedy except to wait. For the oil man.

This is why now, even though I am in a position where I have to be cold again only by choice, thanks be to God, it matters deeply to me that others never have to experience being cold with a capital C. Sure, there are programs like LIHEAP to help those who are suffering from the cold during wintertime, but inevitably the money always runs out and, unfortunately, once again a budget proposal has been submitted by President Obama that will cut—not increase—the funds for this lifesaving program that in its best years help only about 20% who need help each year.

So, on this Black Friday where it's all about the shopping and the bargain, can you see your way clear to lending your wallet to the cause of seeing that the children, elderly and the poor living on the rez don't suffer brutal cold right along with the indignities of brutal poverty?  But what I went through is comparatively nothing when looking at the situation on the rez. As I write this diary, it is 13 ° Fahrenheit (with a wind chill factor making it feel like -4 °) at 8:22 in the morning in Rosebud, South Dakota thanks to winds currently blowing at 17 miles an hour. Today, people on the rez they get to look forward to a balmy 38°. And yet it's only November.  In December and January, Rosebud residents can look forward to it being even colder – with snow regularly added to the mix. Long term exposure to these types of temperatures, where there is no heat source, can be dangerous to human life, particularly as it relates to young children and the elderly whose body temperature regulating mechanisms are not at their peak condition.

We can do something to help. And that's what this diary is asking you do to: help. By supporting the efforts to ensure that the residents of the rez don't have to wait, in the cold, as I once did.

Yesterday, on Thanksgiving Day, Denise Oliver Velez asked us if we have ever simply:  given thanks for being warm?" I know that I have. Because I know what it's like to be waiting, too cold to look out the window to see the truck come, too cold not to be compelled to do it anyway as the promised hours become days, for the oil man. And know the sense of finally exhaling when the cold is, at least temporarily, at an end.

indians at Rosebud Reservation
Since winter 2009-2010, thanks to the efforts of navajo, Native American Netroots and other Kossacks, low-income Indians at three Indian reservations have received propane and heaters to deal with the often-brutal winters of South Dakota. This is our fourth season of fund raising for this project, which literally saves lives because it catches people who fall through the cracks. Some have asked why we don't run this project through a regular charity. The reason is that our contacts on the reservations say they don't see the money when there is a middleman involved. That is why this is a unique project. You can learn more about the situation at the Rosebud Reservation, read some personal stories and see photos in Aji's post here.

Here is how you can help buy propane: The fastest way to help is to pick up the phone and call with your credit-card information. A family will get propane delivered either the same day or the next day.


Telephone St. Francis Energy Co. at:
Ask for Sherry or her mom Patsy, but others can help you also. Normally a minimum order is $150, but they have an account to accumulate small donations until they get enough for a full delivery. Credit cards welcome, and they are the only Indian-owned fuel company on the Rosebud. If you'd like to mail a check, make it payable to:

St. Francis Energy Co.
Attn: Sherry or Patsy
St. Francis Energy Co./Valandra's II
P.O. Box 140
St. Francis, South Dakota 57572


Of course, all the propane in the world won't do you any good without a heater. Many families don't even have working heaters—or ones that work safely. Every year, there are house fires as a result of malfunctioning heaters that people can't afford to repair. So if you're flush or you have a few friends who can put your dollars together, a heater would be really welcome this Thanksgiving season.
You can order a heater and the necessary accessories from Northern Tool HERE and have it shipped to:
Propane Heater for Rosebud reservation

Sherry Cornelius
St. Francis Energy Co.
120 N. Main Street
Saint Francis, SD 57572

Here's what you'll be sending:
• Mr. Heater Big Buddy™ Indoor/Outdoor Propane Heater—18,000 BTU, Model# MH18B
You also need to include these accessories:
• Mr. Heater AC Power Adapter for Big Buddy Heaters—6 Volt, Model# F276127
• Mr. Heater 12-Ft. Hose with Regulator for Item# 173635
• Mr. Heater Fuel Filter for Buddy™ Heaters, Model# F273699
Order Total of $235.85 (includes shipping)


If you live out of the country, please use our PayPal link at Native American Netroots. The donation button is in the middle right of the page. This process takes about two weeks for the funds to hit the reservation, so telephoning the propane companies directly is definitely the fastest way to help.

Photos show Rosebud Indian Reservation residents thanking Daily Kos donors for propane and heaters last winter.

Originally posted to Maat's Feather on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 09:45 AM PST.

Also republished by Pink Clubhouse and Native American Netroots.

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