Oh, tax season. Glorious, gray-skied tax season.
Last week, I locked my bike and walked into my CPA’s office with a satchel bag full of all those year-end documents. I was greeted by the typical waiting room scene: a fidgety row of middle-aged, relaxed-fit men seated with stacks of manila folders in their laps.
As we quietly nodded at each other with the stoic faces of the condemned, I realized — this is it. This is the season of revenge. This is when all those CPAs who were nerdy before it was cool get to take the stage in a brief, benevolent kingship. They beckon us in, “have a seat,” lean back in their chairs, clasp their hands together, and briefly relish their anointed status over their confused, staggering clients. I could barely hold in the giggles as I watched the scene play and replay, even as I got called in for my turn in the humble seat.
Life is full of odd, unspoken power struggles. After all, we’re not a lot better than pups at Dog Beach when it comes to the game of “Who’s on top today?” Laughing at the awkwardness is a survival tactic I learned overseas, particularly as a kid growing up in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
My family’s work took us in and out of the Congo from 1993 until well after I went to college. Remember, my parents are the type that love Jesus more than elected officials. Because they believe no country’s flag belongs in a church, they’re pretty good at talking to, feeding, and loving people. (All the people. Even the scary, drunk, smelly, AK-47-toting ones.) Gun ownership was out of the question from day one, even though we’d see 12-year-olds armed like Redoubters on a pretty regular basis. So, my family got creative.
About every three months or so, we needed to make the eight-hour drive to a neighboring country to pick up our mail. We’d gear up for the military roadblocks full of grumpy, hungry, unpaid, bribe-seeking soldiers by prepping a strategy guaranteed to weaken every possible threat. It went something like this:
1. Disarm the danger by heightening the absurdity. For instance, Silly Putty is a mindblowing tool when applied to the right circumstances. One year, a soldier was doing the cursory vehicle search for the fourth time, and he stopped short at my window in astonishment, watching all three of us strange white kids playing with handfuls of bizarre chewing gum in the backseat. After his break in concentration, he couldn’t think of much else to do other than ask for cigarettes (fruitlessly) and wave us on.
2. Use any available children to smooth and expedite your exit. After the Silly Putty incident, we kids got a heightened sense of our power over proceedings. Stuffed animals, made-up games, and berserk behavior became the norm each time we rolled to a stop at gunpoint. We weren’t the only ones to realize the gift of youth. I remember hearing a Belgian family tell my parents that they would actually reach over from the front seat and pinch their children, hard, each time they approached a group of waiting soldiers. The uniforms would glance in the car, see and hear the wall of wailing, and quickly wave the LandRover onwards with a touch of panic on their faces. There is no weapon stronger than a screaming baby!
3. Learn to think like Shakespeare: Every moment is an opportune time to arrange a marriage. Often, on spotting my sister and I in the backseat of the vehicle, the bored gendarmes would turn and ask my dad what the asking price was for “that one there,” gesturing in my direction. To which my always-honest dad would retort, “Oh no, you don’t want the older one, she eats too much. She’ll eat you broke.”
My eye-rolling would then direct the laughing soldiers to look at my sister. “Well, how about that one? How many goats for her?” Inevitably, my underaged sister would cross her arms in an angry huff, recognizable in every language; and now, as more laughter rang out on all sides, we were people, not just a possible source of income.
And ultimately, with an exchange of waves and smiles, off we’d roll down the sinkholed road, towards the next military roadblock, and the rest of the world across the border.
PollyAnna lives, loves and writes from Sandpoint, where she is two-faced enough to devour all the venison her fiancé can legally shoot, while refusing steadfastly to ever handle a gun.
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