At some point I accepted the fact that my role in life is to be the pigeon at the table, the sucker, the dupe who somehow pays a higher tax rate than the average millionaire and is caught in that awkward position of having a little too much income to get financial aid from these expensive colleges but not enough money to be able to afford, for example, pizza toppings.
Cheese pizza is fine! I’m not complaining. I’m not a whiner. I consider that kind of mewling and kvetching and poormouthing to be unbecoming of a man of my age, stature, and tax bracket. I just miss the good things in life, like pepperoni. I miss being able to tip the waiter, who, in a more just society, would be compensated for answering all my questions about the menu, ingredients, kitchen environment, health department inspection reports, labor relations and for bringing me a brand new plate of food after I have discovered two-thirds of the way through the first plate that it’s a bit too bland.
And I regret the times I have taken food from the plates of people at adjoining tables. Usually they seem sympathetic, or perhaps the expression is merely one of horror, when I mumble, as I stuff my face with their leftovers, that I have two kids in college (it comes out “aw gaw too koodsin kawlg”).
Unburdened by shame, one discovers that the world is full of freebies. If that cold, gnawed, semi-mutilated strip of pizza crust abandoned by the couple that just left the restaurant wasn’t delicious the chef surely wouldn’t have cooked it to begin with, is my philosophy.
And there’s lot of free stuff just lying around everywhere. Routinely at the coffee shop I will notice that the proprietor has left a huge pile of sugar packets out in the open, practically begging a person to stuff 50 or 75 sugar packets into his pocket and open up some kind of entrepreneurial sugar-packet stand out on the sidewalk. What you can’t afford to buy you can plausibly filch. Call it foraging if you prefer the term. And don’t get me started on ketchup and mustard packets at the fast-food places. You may think of these things as “condiments” but I see them as a professional future, potentially. I’m a newspaper reporter, remember. We all need a Plan B.
But wait, I meant to write about taxes, because this is Tax Day. This year I tried to do something a little different with my taxes and file on time. I’m all paid up. The only thing left on my financial To Do list is resent the rich. I’ve blocked out Thursday for that.
But now let me confess something. This is kind of weird, so let’s keep this among ourselves. I don’t mind paying taxes, at least not much. I’m not sure what’s wrong with me but I somehow lack the Angry Taxpayer gene. Maybe it’s because I’m a pretty adept consumer of certain government services — free stuff provided by the United States, like the museums here in DC, one of which is about to get a new space shuttle. (I saw it this morning — and had no idea until now that it rode into orbit all those times on the back of a 747!)
And early this morning — true story — I went on a hike in a national park just up the river. The park was in great shape. A guy with a bulldozer was fixing a bad patch of the towpath. The road leading to the park was well maintained. Dare I say, the air seemed fresh, and the river looked clean. It was a fine spring morning, and I felt that, for this day at least, I got my money’s worth as a taxpayer.
Uncle Sam, the check’s in the mail.