Paying My Taxes
by Donna Schoenkopf
I was driving behind a red pickup on the way to Chandler to do my taxes when I saw the cracked windshield and the man on the passenger’s side through the space between the high backed seats. The damage to the windshield was exactly the size and shape of a human head. And then, I am ashamed to say, I looked to see if he was wearing his seat belt. Nope. He wasn’t. And neither was the skinny woman who drove.
Live free or die.
It’s a 37.1 mile drive on Highway 18, a skinny roadway through country that is broad and plain and beautiful. On the way there is a sign indicating that Midlothian is to the west.
Midlothian. A town named Midlothian. My mind’s imagination saw a neat Amish town, put away for the winter.
It’s winter now and all the grass is a tawny color, the trees are leafless, the sky is pale.
I was going to Chandler to get my taxes done there because I have had it with H&R Block. Kill me if I ever go there again. They charged me $282 last year and I had to pay a mountain of taxes.
Now don’t get me wrong. I love paying my taxes. Seriously. We won’t get into why I am that way. That’s another story for another day. But let’s just say I love paying my bills every month and I love paying my taxes. Both are deep emotional and philosophical issues for me.
I had gone online the week before to see if there were any cheap tax experts and found out that AARP had expert volunteers who would do my taxes for free. Free, kids! Just click here and find out the nearest location, which turned out to be in Chandler at the Public Library, on Wednesdays from 1:30 to 4:30 and on Saturdays from 9:30 to 11:30. There was a phone number included.
I called the number listed and the woman who answered just said, “Hello,” as though she were answering her home phone, which she was, it turns out. No, I didn’t need an appointment, just bring your tax stuff.
AARP. Love them.
When I got to Chandler on the following Wednesday I found the library right away, but there was no parking out front, so I drove down the side street to find a spot and ran into that crazy Oklahoma signage I am so irritated by. What would you do if you saw these signs—Do Not Enter, No Left Turn, and One Way—all in a cluster at the entrance to a small parking lot?
That’s right. I parked there.
I pulled together all my stuff and walked back to the library, went in a side door, the wrong door, it turns out, even though the sign said Chandler Public Library over it (signage!), went to the other door, entered, signed in, and sat down at a small table where a man and a woman were sitting.
No one said a word—kind of an Oklahoma thing. (I think it’s about respecting each other’s privacy.) After a minute I got up and went over to the magazine section. There were home decorating magazines, some Christian literature, a lot of dog magazines, a copy of National Review, and a National Geographic, the theme of which was “Water.” Hmmmmm. A very important subject to me. I’ll take that one.
I took it back to my seat and began perusing. I came to a full page photograph showing a little African boy standing next to a large metal sheet covered with plastic bottles lying on their sides, filled with water. The caption said that this was an excellent way to purify water because UV rays would kill all bacteria and viruses and other nasty things in the bottles if they were left in the sun for a day.
I was so taken with that whole idea that I couldn’t help myself. I showed it to the woman next to me. She and I agreed that it was pretty interesting. And then, while she was looking at the picture my eye fell on the opposite page where a glacier was pictured and large print said “70% of the Earth’s fresh water is in glaciers.”
I read it out loud, and the woman laughed, a kind of smirky laugh, and said, “Well, that just shows there’s no such thing as global warming. Heh.”
I guess she thought I agreed with her. I think this because I have noticed there is a homogeneity of opinion here in this state. Every single county in Oklahoma voted Republican this past Presidential election, the only state in the nation to do so.
There is also a fierce fundamentalist Christian segment of society here that is pushing an anti-Obama message that is one of the most intense I’ve ever seen. Charges of being a Muslim, a Communist, and the Antichrist are the most potent in a state that fears all three. Being a fundamentalist Christian means that other religions, especially Islam, are from the Devil. And a political system like Communism is also from the Devil. And then, of course, being the Antichrist means that you are the Devil. There is no argument that can dissuade a religious person when the church tells them, “This is so.” Their faith is complete and strong. Anyone who argues against those charges are, at best, dupes of You-Know-Who.
And now included in those arguments is global warming, otherwise known as climate change. And guess who the person is they hate the most? Al Gore. He is reviled in this state.
Sometimes I feel a bit surrounded.
But not to worry. I am the Big Mouth, and my job is to speak truth to power.
graffiti, Edinburgh, Scotland
So we, the man, the woman, and I, had a discussion about global warming and Al Gore at our library table and it was heated but polite and then we began to be called, one by one, into the back room to have our taxes done.
My tax person was Nancy, a big, sweet woman, Diet Coke on the table next to her, laptop open and ready. We began the slow process of putting it all down. Mine was a kind of complicated tax return. I had substitute taught and I was a freelance writer (for this very website) and that required entering my stuff in many ways and it took a while. We laughed a few times. She was astounded that I couldn’t collect Social Security because in California you can’t “double dip” and get California State Teachers Retirement checks and Social Security checks even though you’ve earned credits. (A person can get military retirement and social security, IRAs and Social Security, etc., but not teachers in California.)
I could see her sense of justice was piqued about the injustice I was having to endure. A kindred spirit?
But to make a long and boring story short, I decided, after two and a half hours of laborious work on her part, that I would have to use another tax preparer because she wasn’t allowed to do “home office” deductions.
So I gathered up my stuff, got in my car, and started the long drive home down that skinny highway.
I was driving behind a silver SUV down that narrow road and noticed that there was a round, cracked area in the passenger’s side of the windshield, just like the one in red pickup.
I looked closely, and this time the passenger was a woman, the driver was a man.
And neither one of them wore their seat belts.
And then I remembered the accident I came upon last year, moments after it happened, just a mile from my turnoff on Killer Highway 177. A woman, maybe 60. How I knew this I do not know, seeing only the top of her auburn head, dyed—excuse the pun—to make her young again. I see the top of her head, dead still on the windowsill of the champagne colored car.
And the black SUV, turned over, off the side of the road, upside down, grandparents (young, my dears) and their grandchild, only two years old, all dead.
No seat belts on any of them.
Nobody could tell them what to do, especially the government.
Live free or die.
I continued on, feeling and thinking, until I got home. For a couple of days I thought about that day and began to count how many people wore their seat belts and how many didn’t. (It was a 5:1 ratio against belts in my unofficial count.)
I finally decided I would go back to Chandler and let dear Nancy finish my taxes. The difference between being free and being charged for preparation was so large, that it made up for the little bit of tax relief I’d get for my home office deduction.
On Saturday I began the long and languorous drive to Chandler, thinking about it all. When I got to Chandler I stopped at a convenience store and bought a Diet Coke, all frosty, for Nancy. While I was inside the store at the cashier’s station, I noticed a guy pulling up behind my car. I also noticed he was looking at my Obama sticker on the back bumper. When I paid and left the store I found that he had parked so close he had wedged me in. It took me a long, long time to weasel my way out of my situation. I saw him watch me through the window with a satisfied look on his face.
(That last sentence is poetic license.)
I drove to the parking lot behind the library, ignoring those irritating signs, grabbed my stuff, got halfway to the library when I remembered the Diet Coke, went back to get it, looked in the same wrong side door as the first time, and saw Nancy standing inside. I darted in and put the Coke on the table next to her laptop. She looked over and immediately said, “Oh I can’t accept that! Sorry.”
I laughed and said, “No? Gosh, I almost got killed for that Diet Coke.” She looked at me with a puzzled expression on her face and just said, “Sorry, I can’t.”
I went to the front of the library, signed in, and in a minute or two, Nancy called me in. She was glad to see me.
We sat down and finished up our business.
And what do you think?
I got back $912 from the federal government and only had to pay $349 for Oklahoma taxes!
I told her I loved her.
She smiled a great big smile and laughed out loud and asked if I would fill out an evaluation of how well she had done her job. I surely would!
And then she said, “And then we can go march in Wisconsin!”
A kindred spirit!
“I have been wanting to go up all week,” I said.