We're from the government, and we're here to help -- or else

Fans of the Seinfeld TV series may remember the episode where Kramer wants to stop receiving mail.


It’s all the junk mail – Pottery Barn catalogs mostly – that sends him over the edge. So Kramer tells the powers-that-be at the post office, including his letter-carrier friend Newman, that he no longer wants their business.

Postal Employee: “May I help you?”

Kramer: “Yeah, I’d like to cancel my mail.”

Postal Employee: “Certainly. How long would you like us to hold it?”

Kramer: “Oh, no, no. I don’t think you get me. I want out, permanently.”

Newman: “I’ll handle this, Violet. Why don’t you take your three-hour break? Calm down, everyone. No one’s cancelling any mail.”

Kramer: “Oh, yes, I am.”

Newman: “What about your bills?”

Kramer: “The bank can pay ’em.”

Newman: “What about your cards and letters?”

Kramer: “Email, telephones, fax machines, FedEx, telex, telegrams, holograms … ”

Newman: “All right, it’s true! Of course nobody needs mail. What do you think, you’re so clever for figuring that out? But you don’t know the half of what goes on here. So just walk away, Kramer. I beg of you.”

Undeterred, Kramer mounts an opt-out campaign against the Postal Service and is abducted by secret agents. In a darkened interrogation room he meets the Postmaster General, who convinces Kramer it’s in his, ahem, best interest to keep getting mail.

Of course, this is a humorous jab at governmental heavy-handedness using the perennial “little-guy-fights-the-system” plot device. It is farce, but it also is partly true, which is why I’ve been thinking about it lately.

I’ve come to the same real-life conclusion that Kramer did in his fictional fight against the men in gray wool slacks: You can’t truly opt out of “the system,” postal or otherwise.

And if you try, get ready for a fight.


ASK ROBIN SPERONIS, the Cape Coral, Fla., woman who made national news for getting in trouble by refusing municipal water and electrical service at her home. She gets by just fine with solar-charged battery packs, a camping stove and rainwater she treats with colloidal silver.

I’m sure it was an utter lack of coincidence that code enforcement officials slapped her with an eviction notice for maintaining an uninhabitable residence the very day after a Fox TV affiliate profiled her “off-the-grid” lifestyle in a newscast.

The city later served her with an amended five-page complaint, citing a combination of international property maintenance codes and city ordinances. The notice stated Speronis had five days to fix the violations or risk a $1,000-a-day fine.

“Government is trying to invade Ms. Speronis’ lifestyle and dictate how she lives,” her attorney, Todd Allen, told Fox. “That’s what our Founding Fathers fought against.”

A local magistrate ruled in February that she could eschew city power and sewer, but not a municipal water hookup, which is required by city code. She has until the end of March to comply, but Speronis told media after the hearing she has no plans to connect.

“You may have to hook-up, but you don’t have to use it. Well, what’s the point?” she said.


THIS COUNTRY ONCE prided itself – no, depended – on the resourcefulness, ingenuity and rugged self-sufficiency of its citizens. The modern social contract now demands consistency, conformity compliance and dependence for the system to run smoothly. Deviations from the norm, such as Speronis’, are a threat, even when they pose no harm to anyone or anything.

Eustace Conway did his best to opt out of the system by building his own home deep in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

For 26 years he lived in peace on a 1,000-acre parcel he calls Turtle Island Preserve. Then in spring 2012 he and his rustic farmstead was featured on the History Channel’s reality show Mountain Men. That fall, a dozen Watauga County inspectors and armed law-enforcement personnel raided the secluded property.

The crime: building code violations.

Conway built the structures using hand-milled lumber and natural materials found on the property. He wanted to stay close to his naturalist roots and teach Turtle Island visitors about sustainable living practices. He didn’t set out to build an “off-the-grid” home; he simply wanted to build one
the way they were built before Home Depot and county building codes.

“Human beings have built their own houses for thousands and thousands, and actually millions, of years,” Conway told the Associated Press. “And now we can’t even build our own house with our own material that grows on our own land?”

The county gave him three choices: Bring the buildings up to code, have an expert certify they already met code or tear them down.

After a legal battle and a lot of negative press, North Carolina lawmakers intervened in late 2013 and approved a primitive-structure exemption that allowed Conway to keep the buildings as-is. Lucky.

Kim Fahey, not so lucky.

The Acton, Calif., resident became a cause célèbre of sorts in 2011 when Los Angeles County demolished his self-built home over – take a guess – building code violations.

The retired phone company technician constructed the whimsical but sturdy residence, which he called “Phonehenge West,”
out of reclaimed telephone poles and other salvage material on his 1.7-acre tract over a 30-year period.

Fahey’s legal battles with the county’s “nuisance abatement teams” are well-documented and too lengthy to detail, but from what I can tell, he didn’t make trouble and was well-liked by neighbors. He just sounds like a guy who did his own thing on his semi-rural slice of heaven until someone told him it wasn’t OK anymore.

The system wasn’t kind when it caught up to him. The retiree received community service and was fined more than $80,000 for the demolition. When he didn’t pay, he was sentenced in December 2012 to 18 months in jail.

That ought to teach him.

Speronis wants to live without city utilities. Conway wants to live as a mountain man. Fahey wanted to live in his telephone-pole home on the range. And Kramer just wanted to stop the mail. But nobody gets to opt out. Not completely, anyway.

Not even “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski, and he tried the hardest of all to escape (and destroy) the system. He successfully hid from the world for 25 years in a 10-foot by 12-foot shack in western Montana. But he couldn’t hide from paying county property taxes on that shack.

He got a bill every year. In his mailbox.



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