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Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2002
You know you're getting too close to the grave when taxes start to amuse you.

Here in our azalea studded little corner of the South the 5 cities which comprise our metropolitan area got together several years ago and anguished about how to raise a little extra cash. I'm sure it was difficult for them, to come up with a new and inventive way to slip a hand down the pants of the general public and fleece an extra buck or two. But, being the educated and highly resourceful lot that they are, it was only a matter of time.

The personal property tax. Oh, the manna that has fallen their way since its' inception.

For those of you not so similarly blessed let me 'splain.

You buy a car, motorcycle or boat. You pay a sales tax on the purchase. Then you register it with the state, which will issue you a license, renewable once a year for $25. Okay, with me so far? Not too out of the ordinary.

The 5 cities will take the information you furnished the state and, if you fall within their boundaries, will tack on a personal property tax of about 2% per year. To prove that you've paid it, you get to buy a little window sticker for another $25. Like nearly every other sort of tax, it is based on a fear factor. "Get that sticker on your car or else" mentality. And herd-like, we swallow it whole and keep on grazing.

To put a personal spin on it, I pay something in the neighborhood of a thousand bucks for the two business vehicles each year. This is the property tax, the one that has the premise of "You were the one who wanted to buy a car so hand it over, bud." I then mail in the form for the two stickers and hope that the city will mail 'em out before the dreaded cut off date, which happens to be February 15th. Because after that, you know, every police officer in the city will be peering into my car window in hopes of finding booty.

At least, that's what the city fathers and mothers would have you think. The good police folks have to pay this levy also, and they aren't paid from those particular coffers.

Guess what? The city was slow in mailing back the stickers this year and a whole bunch of us cattle had to go stand in line, all a-mooing and a-chewing, just to collect on our very own sticker. Such was the scene yesterday. At 9 am. Your tax dollar at work.

They had a bank-style counter with workstations for up to 12 city workers to aid their fellow citizens. 3 were in use. A conga line of disgruntled people shuffled through at a rate similar to any other government beaurocracy, which is to say, slowly. You had your usual cast of characters. Some brought their entire life history to prove that the tax was paid. Some had little more than the receipt itself, which was all that was required. Some read textbooks, some talked on cell phones, small children played tag amidst the forest of grown up legs. As usual, I was on the lookout for color, for some small spark to make my hour long wait palatable. And, also as usual, I found it.

One of the three cashiers, a harassed and singularly unattractive woman of 45, was handling her charges at half the speed of the other two. I don't know if it was a lack of talent or just plain orneriness. She just wasn't keeping up. And as we crept closer to the head of the line, my fellow cows began to softly bawl.

From the lady behind me. "I sure hope I don't get her", she whispered with a hint of nervousness. "I've got an appointment in 20 minutes and she'll keep me here forever."

A ripple of added discontent went down the line. It became a game of chance, with the losers called to the window of Ugly Woman. Your odds were one in three, which made it a lottery of high probability. I momentarily considered the scenario of scribbling up some tickets and selling them to my line mates, a little gambling fun to determine the pecking order.

Two heads in front of me was a small man of Oriental lineage, who held no paper in his hand. He looked about in a bewildered sort of way at the trappings of government surrounding him, obviously confused as to why he had happened on this particular scene.

I think we all saw it at about the same time. Our Chinese friend was about to meet Ugly Woman. It was destiny. The stuff of which makes America great.

Sure enough, Ugly Woman happened to be the next available window when Lu No-paper Shin hit the front of the line. He approached, bowed, and began to explain the details of his birth in extremely broken English to the aghast cashier. By the time he had worked his way up to jumping ship in Singapore, I was at the head of the line and bolted towards Ugly Woman's compatriot, who swiftly stamped me and produced the treasured stickers.

I noticed the entire line of people leaning forward, pressing madly to get to the point in line where they could duck around Lu Shin and zoom past the Ugly Woman's window to the sanctuary of the two efficient cashiers, who were processing stickers at warp speed by now. Ugly Woman had adopted a Mandarin accent as she attempted, for the fifth time, to communicate the need for Lu Shin to go home and fetch his receipt. "Doo yoo unnerstand? Me need paper thingy. Yoo go fetchy. Come back tomollow."

This is such a great nation. Don't ever forget it. And here - have a handful of hay on Outfoxed. Tax free.

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