In all the world’s ancient literature: Sumerian, Egyptian, Babylonian -
only in our bible do we find an anti-tax text. It’s in Samuel I. The
Israelites beg the Prophet to find them a king. They want to be like
all the other nations. Samuel replies, and I paraphrase: “Are you
nuts?” He explains that Kings lust for power and power takes money
and money is only found in the pockets of the people. “He’ll take a
tenth of your seed”, warns this world-wise prophet, “and you
yourselves will become his servants.” Samuel is talking about King
Saul and other eager candidates, but I think since his prophetic
powers allowed him to see over the horizon of time, he’s also talking
about the IRS in 2011.
It’s Samuel that turned me off on taxes - made me a l040 hater. Oh,
nothing violent, just like filling out the form in pencil - and with
lots of smudgy print from an overaged, gummy erasure. They hate that.
I am sure my problem also rests in my reading of American history and
the anti-tax passions of our founders who, by the way, were also big
readers of my favorite prophet. Remember! John Hancock, Benjamin
Franklin, and Paul Revere - were the people who lit the fuse of
rebellion - fired the shot heard ‘round the world - stood the British
empire on its head over a 3-pence tax on a pound of tea. Then
Pennsylvania went and revolted when the new republic taxed a barrel of
But evidently by 1898 we were so enfeebled that we accepted a
telephone tax to pay for the Spanish/American War. (Remember the
Maine? I doubt it.) “Only for the war,” said the politicians. They
always say that. As I write this with pencil and pad on which I paid
an 8% sales tax, it’s March of 2011. And that 3% tax on your phone
bill was only lifted a couple years back - from 1898!! Check it out.
Well, figured the politicians, if we could slap a tax on the public
due to a comic opera war in Cuba - a real World War ought to ring the
jackpot. Here comes President Woodrow Wilson (who NEVER read Samuel),
World War I, and a significant national INCOME tax. (The first
painful tax was a 3% levy in 1862.
Any government, even a benevolent one like ours, laps up taxes like a
cat sucks up triple X cream, until it sickens. The only cure is to
withhold the cream.
I’ve never done well with the IRS. Doubtlessly, our incompatibility
has to do with the conflict in our corporate mission statement: Mine
says - keep the money. Theirs says, take the money.
My low point was an audit a few years ago when I showed up in coffee-
stained khakis and a T-shirt emblazoned with “Truman in ‘48”. It
never hurts to dress down. I was doing great defending my Sunday
School teaching travel expenses. It’s deductible, you know. Fifty
cents per mile.
IRS examiner: “You drive 400 miles a week??!!”
Me: “Yes sir.”
Wait, before I continue, there’s a lesson here - taught by every
professional tax consultant who ever lectured a class of tax evaders.
Say little! Even better, say nothing - silence is golden. Had I
remembered this lesson, I would merely have nodded. But nope - ol’
blabber mouth says, “yes sir”.
The examiner braced her shoulders - shook her shingled hair with
anger, and pridefully announced her gender as feminine. That hair,
that shirt, that masculine ferocity about my teaching - that’s what
deceived me. From there we not only went down hill, we coasted to the
cliff and plunged over. Disastrous.
That argument about my tutorial mileage resulted in a big, black check
by my name on the IRS roster of habitual - “he’ll do it again” -
offenders. Why else would they question me every year - like the time
I took a $1200 capital loss due to a hurricane in March that took down
my Sycamore tree. Blew it right over where it fell on my newly sown
front yard - 40 bucks worth of zoysia seed wasted. But according to a
real estate appraiser - who happened to be my cousin - that 40 dollars
should be added to FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS. That’s what I lost the day
of the whirlwind. “That tree, Ted, was the centerpiece of your
property and now it’s ruined.”
Naturally, the examiner sourly disagreed. And evidently since 5,000
dollar Sycamores are such frequent casualties - the IRS keeps weather
records!! Such blatant cynicism. Whatta lack of trust. He (it was a
“he” - I could tell by his nametag, Joe something or other) - asked me
the date and time of the disaster. March 12, two o’clock in the
afternoon. (Precision is respected by the IRS.) Then as soon as he
dismissed me, he ran to his Internal Revenue Service Weather
Encyclopedia and looked up March 12. “Fair, Springlike, not enough
wind to bend a buttercup.” At least that’s what he told me later.
Imagine going to the trouble of maintaining a meteorological data base
just to contradict imaginative citizens who wanted to save a few bucks
on their taxes. And he paid for that compendium of weather with
taxpayers’ money. We compromised at 842 dollars.
The humor of Ted, the Scribbler on the Roof, appears in newspapers around the U.S., on National Public Radio in Huntsville, Alabama and numerous web sites.