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The Yin of Spring
I've noticed the past few days, down in the village, that people aren't looking each other in the eye. This is quite unusual, since strong eye contact is a normal part of New England communication. But from the post office and the village store to the coffee shop and even the job, people seem to be avoiding conversation.
I shouldn't be surprised; it happens every spring. It's the yin and yang of April.
The robins are back, as amorous and noisy as ever. The redwings are chirring in the swamps. I saw a lone killdeer the other day, fluttering above the mud in Bob Adams's ox pasture. That's the yang: the positive, warm, bright, driving, optimistic force that through the green fuse drives the flower.
The yin is sitting in piles on the dining room table: receipts; a twenty-page questionnaire; inscrutable government forms with mysterious names like 1099 and Schedule C and instructions that defy comprehension. Mother and I are speaking to each other only in defensive terms. Also on the table, she's left copies of various women's magazines, all ominously open to the same regular feature--Can This Marriage Be Saved?
It's tax time. The fly in the ointment of spring, the blight on the early-blooming rose, the bloodthirsty mosquito whining in the ear of joy. Like death, it comes to us all; and like death, it finds some of us ready and most of us not.
That's the reason for the averted gazes everywhere. Those smart alecks who did their taxes weeks and months ago want to brag to everybody else, like the guy in the TV ad who's l;owered his cholesterol and wants to tell the world. Some of those clowns, the ones who filed online, have even gotten their tax refunds back already. They're running around looking for opportunities to tell the rest of us. But those of us who aren't ready will be damned if we'll give 'em a chance to get started. We just look over their shoulders at something behind them whenever they take a breath as if to speak. Misery may love company, but not theirs, by god!
It's not that we mind all that much paying taxes in the first place. They're a necessary part of living in organized society and have been for thousands of years--as necessary (and as much fun) as going to the dentist, changing the oil, and worming the dog. And my reading tells me that income taxes in America are much lower than in many other countries.
On the other hand, I think it's very poor public relations for the president to be videotaped anywhere near tax time tooling from place to place in a fleet of shiny limousines. Ten thirty-foot Cadillacs to get, essentially, one man from here to there? Seems absurd. We could do it a whole lot less expensively in a couple of Cavaliers. And if he trades in Air Force One for another newer model before I can scrape enough together to trade pickups, I'm really going to be some upset!
More or less unfairly, the bogeyman in all of this is the Internal Revenue Service. It's the handiest place to lay the blame for our pain. Granted, they may have some coming--especially for their indecipherable directions--but it's mostly a case of shooting the messenger. They're just doing their job, and in spite of the horror stories we've heard, they do it quite thoughtfully and well.
About twenty years ago I fell afoul of these grim reapers of the public obligation--nothing to do with unpaid taxes, but with unremitted withholding taxes, apparently an even more grievous omission. After several unsuccessful attempts to restructure and collect the debt, they finally sent along a very pleasant young man to see us early one spring morning. First, armed with levies, he had gone to our bank and cleaned out our accounts, including our fifteen-year-old daughter's. Then he came to see us at home.
(The breakfast hour, by the way, is when Mafia enforcers also show up. I think both they and the IRS got the idea from the American Indians, who favored dawn for their surprise raids.)
I'd already gone to work. Mother met him at the door in her bathrobe. He showed his ID, suggested that time had run out, and announced an imminent auction of our home, to be held in the front yard. After that pleasant opening gambit, he asked if he might come in. It was a cold morning.
Nothing doing! swore Mother, wrapping her robe more tightly about her. I don't want you looking at my furniture!
She called me at work, and I came home. It turned into quite a day. After painting vivid pictures of a grisly and inevitable doom that would have done credit to a West Virginia evangelist, and reducing me to a shuddering mass of desperate Jell-O, he gave me just a tiny glimpse of a light at the end of my tunnel. A year of so later I asked him, Do you guys take sort of a reverse Dale Carnegie course to learn to scare people's pants off like that?
Yes, he admitted, they did, sort of. By that time, what with his regular visits, genuinely valuable help, and apparent earnest desire to see us out of our difficulty, we'd gotten to be pretty good pals. And for a couple of years afterward, he and his wife and kids stopped in to see us (in the new house--the bank got the old one) when they were staying nearby on vacation.
I think of him now and then, but most often in mid-April, when with grim amusement I remember what a genuinely nice guy he was--and how very little I want to make contact with him ever again.