It’s somehow comforting to know that these old men still exist. This one came out at tax time to grouse about his new property tax assessment. I was next in line when he entered. I had already witnessed two protracted sessions with the men over at the table – the men who decide these things. The sessions didn’t seem to be going well. Everything seemed to be involved and contentious, and here I was, next in line, with no real supporting documentation. Strains of “I Shall Be Released” wafted through my head.
Every year we get a statement, showing us how our property taxes have gone up, clearly stating THIS IS NOT A BILL. Generally I ignore it, but this year I got one that needed tending to. I went down to the local meeting place, a former discount furniture center that never really made the grade. Now it’s a partitioned office building for obscure county government functions. The room I found myself in consisted of some hastily arranged chairs in a semi-circle spanning each side of the door from outside. To my right sat a man behind a desk, a kindly sort of older guy who attempted to make chit-chat as we waited. In front of me, in the center of the room, were the two assessor guys, one looking like he had just stepped off a nature show in his flannel shirt and rough beard, the other a youngish, bookish, balding dude who might have been the brains of the operation…or not, as the case may be.
When this skinny old man came in we were already starting to feel crowded. The kindly older guy behind the desk had rounded up a few extra chairs from a nearby room to accommodate the four other people who came in after me, but really we were already feeling the squeeze. Then, in comes this old man with bad posture and knobbly hands. He had extra big glasses that sat awkwardly on his face. He was wearing the obligatory winter bill cap with the earflaps up, and a camouflage jacket. His jeans were pulled way up, halfway to his chest. He eased himself into the room and shut the door behind him. Of course, a few of us offered to give him our seats, but he refused, saying he had been sitting too long today as it was. In his hand was a piece of paper which looked liked it might already have been the object of his anger.
It didn’t take him long to start grousing. “Gouldamm county must think we’re made of money or sumpthin’,” he started in, speaking to nobody in particular and everybody in general. He looked at his piece of paper and shook his head. “Don’t make no sense, when I already read in the Enterprise how land values are down 30% this year, but my taxes go up anyway.” He paused to ruminate a bit more and sidled over to the right, standing right in front of me. Then he started making a noise which I at first took for crying, but which was in fact just an intermittent intake of breath through his mouth.
Then he really got going. “Course you couldn’t get a job on the county planning commission if you knew anything at all.” Sharp intake of breath, followed by awkward silence. “Just like the new courthouse there. Had to build a new one. Couldn’t make do with fixing up the old one, oh no. Now they got a new one, but nobody thought about the sewage – drain field too small. Coulda just gone up with the old one, reinforced the foundations and just made it taller, but no, that wasn’t good enough. Had to have a new building. So they must think we’re made of money, I guess.”
And so it went on. But I think the overall effect was good for me. By the time I got to the table the assessor guys were so rattled that they didn’t even argue with me. I actually got them to reduce my taxes.