Each year on April 15, Hardyville's Leading Citizens, plus a few stragglers with nothing else to do, head up to the pet cemetary for a solemn moment of remembrance.
The thing they're remembering didn't actually happen on April Fools Day. It happened in March. During the Blizzard of Ought-two, to be exact. That storm shut the town down for darned near a week.
It was at the beginning of the storm that a taxman -- yes, an actual IRS man -- came wandering into town.
He was the new kind of IRS man. All brimming with notions of "customer-service." And "partnership with the accounting community." In fact, he was on his way to the Big City to give a seminar to teach some old folks at a senior center how to service themselves when he made a wrong turn in white-out conditions, drove 50 miles out of his way, hit a snowbank just north of town, and ended up stuck here.
Not wanting to waste his valuable service (or let even one taxpayer make honest errors like writing off a dog as a dependent), he decided to offer tax advice to Hardyville.
He stopped first at the sheriff's office to ask where he might be able to set up an impromptu tax seminar. The sheriff looked at him warily, then shrugged, "I don't expect you're going to find too many 'customers' for your 'service' in these parts. But, well, if you insist ... try over at the Hog Trough Grill and Feed. That tends to be where our Leading Citizens gather."
With a big, beaming smile, Mr. IRS Man plowed his way through the storm and burst brightly into the warm, steamy interior of the restaurant -- where he announced his helpful, "service-oriented" purpose to a small (but typically motley) group of Hardyvillians ...
... Who were (as you can imagine if you know these folks) stunned. But (as you can also imagine if you know these folks) hardly speechless.
"Exactly what 'service' do you have to offer me?" Carty demanded. "You gonna repair my truck? Fix my dinner? Neuter my dawg?"
"I can help you file your tax return," the energetic little stranger beamed.
"Uh. No," Carty responded flatly. "That you definitely ain't gonna do."
"Oh, you've already filed then," Mr. Taxman, that bright little fellow, chirped.
Carty drawled, "Wellllll, not exactly filed, I wouldn't say ..."
A few snickers went 'round the room. But the government man didn't understand. Because he didn't understand us. Didn't know that we're the last bastion of unreconstructed, cussed, totally independent Americans left in America.
Said the taxman, forging ahead into Terra Incognita, "Well, if you can't file on time, did you know you can apply for an extension? As long as you pay the full amount due immediately."
"Wait a minute," asked Bob-the-Nerd. "If I needed an extension because I didn't have time to fill out the forms, how could I possibly know the amount I needed to pay? That's not logical."
"Well, if you can't pay," beamed the helpful little IRSophile, "You can also arrange a payment plan. Of course, you'll also have to pay interest. And did I mention late penalties? But The New User-Friendly IRS (TM) is happy to accommodate ..."
"Hardyville don't need accommodatin'," Nat interrupted. "What we want to know is can you show us the law that says anybody's required to pay you people anything? Anyhow? Anywhere? Any time?"
"..." said the taxman. And before he could blurt, "Are you all illegal tax protestors???" Mrs. Nat put a gentle hand on her husband's arm and soothed, "Oh, now, Nat dear. Don't tease the poor man. You know you wouldn't pay even if he showed you some silly old law."
"Sorry," said Nat, scuffing his feet. "She's right. I was just havin' you on. If you actually did show us a law that said we had to give you part of everything anybody ever earned, why, I b'lieve you'd be really sorry. Cause you'd have a revolt on your hands."
"That's true," everybody agreed.
Somebody added, "There's a word for people who have to turn over their earnings or else get whupped."
"And that's against the law that really matters. So yep. We'd revolt."
"But taxes are your fair share of society's costs," insisted the now slightly outnumbered taxman.
"Well, I don't see 'Society' comin' here and helping mend my fences," Nat objected. "And even if it did, I doubt 'Society' would be any good at the job. Druther do it myself. Or hire the Young Curmudgeon. I can pay him in sixpacks and don't have to hire 10 damn useless bureaucrats to back him up or git in his way."
The frustrated taxman then turned to Dora-the-Yalie, "Now, you look like a sensible young lady. Surely, you appreciate the need to pay for ..."
"To pay for war?" Dora harumphed, rising to head for the powder room. "Torture? Detentions without trial? Don't even ask ..." Before she flounced completely off, she turned and added, "But unlike the rest of these folks, I resist your taxes the way even your law says I can."
The taxman then turned to Janelle-the-Waitress. As everybody else turned back to their own business, the taxman could be heard mumbling something about tip income, which should be reported by subtracting Line 2 from Line 1 on Form 4137 and including to total, above the $20-per-month threshold on Line 7 of Form ...
... Until the usually saintly patient Janelle informed him that she was going to take her tips out of his hide if he didn't just go the heck away and "let me earn my gosh-darned living here, you horrible little leech man!"
Eventually, the slightly wilted tax man wandered back out into the street where the storm was raging harder and the drifts were beginning to come up to the windows of the closed and boarded-up stores.
We hear he tried to get a motel room. But when he presented his IRS vouchers, none of the respectable establishments in town would have him.
We don't know where he slept. Only that he stayed all through the storm, getting more and more haggard and harried as he went on searching for any Hardyvillian who might need his servicing.
The weather continued to hammer and blow. Days later the little taxman was seen wandering about with an increasingly glazed gaze, grabbing snow-shoveling residents and shouting above the fury of the storm that they could use "... Form 1040EZ if your filing status is single or married filing jointly and you have no dependents, your taxable interest isn't more than $1,500, and your only tax credit is the Earned Income Tax Credit."
But Hardyvillians just shook their heads and kept on shoveling.
Marty Harbibi swears that on the last day of the storm he saw the now wild-haired, wild-eyed little man waving his arms earnestly at a lamppost and explaining, "For purposes of paragraph 3, an organization described in paragraph 2 shall be deemed to include an organization described in section 501(c)(4), (5), or (6), which would be described in paragraph 2 if it were an organization described in section 501(c)(3)."*
While Marty may not be the most reliable witness, we know for sure that the little IRS guy did inform the statue of the drunken cowboy, "You can still contribute $3,000 to your IRA for a deduction this year on last year's taxes, unless you were 50 or older by the end of last year, in which case you can contribute $3,500, and you and your non-working spouse ..." (he said, indicating the cowboy's horse) " ... can both contribute, as long as the contribution comes from your earnings, not your savings or investments, as long as the contribution doesn't exceed ..."**
We know for sure he said that because there were witnesses. The statue didn't care. Neither did the statue's horse, far as anyone could see. But at that point the Young Curmudgeon, who'd had a bad night trying to persuade one of the waitresses at the Hell-in-a-Handbasket Saloon to go out with him again after some earlier drunken dating disasters, staggered blearily out onto the street.
Spotting a live, moving (even if not entirely conscious) human being, the desperate little man turned from the drunken statue to the drunken, freshly rejected young man and shouted, "Of course, you know there are penalties for early withdrawal?!"
Mudge reeled to a stop, clutching a paper-bag-wrapped bottle in one sweaty fist. He stared at the strange apparition as if, at first, he didn't quite recognize which species of insect the taxman belonged to. Then he ...
Well, this being a family-oriented column, let's just say that a totally unbiased jury of Hardyville's Leading Citizens later ruled Mudge's actions to be entirely justifiable.
We haven't had any help from the IRS ever since. Nor has the IRS had any help from us.
* An actual sentence from the U.S. tax code, as quoted by Ronald Reagan.
** An actual provision of the tax code, as are the other taxman statements here. They sound more reasonable in a fiction column than they do in real life, though.