By Claire Wolfe
with even more thanks to Joel Simon
November 1, 2006
Pickle's Groce1 Mart was the first to collect the new sales tax. Yeah, you could figure that. The Honorable Lord-High-n-Mighty Mayor showing some noblesse oblige to his new city council.
And yeah. The tax even covered groceries. Our pack of Honorable Officeholding Idiots believed the tax was made more "fair" if they applied it to everything, then issued monthly welfare checks rebates. (Some folks are just weird. Or maybe they recognize a cagey way to make everybody dependent on government.)
But I'm forgetting myself. Sorry.
Goodin's Second-Time-Around Shop was the first to resist. New to Hardyville, the Goodins were accustomed to living in the real world, where persons of the freedom-loving persuasion have to be tough or get buried. The Goodins were tough. Never, they said, would they work as anybody's tax collector. Never, they said, would they pay the tax themselves.
The rest of us mostly just did what Hardyvillians do every day: ignored our new "legitimate government" like we ignore every other government. Well, except Nat.
Nat quietly went off and set himself up in the smuggling trade. Since no self-respecting Hardyvillian would shop at Pickle's any more, he started hauling his flatbed hay trailer to the Big City and bringing back bulk groceries. From then on, anybody who needed a can of beans or a jug of cider just headed out of town to the Lyons Ranch.
Of course our new ruling class knew what Nat was up to. But what could they do? They knew if they messed with the descendent of a town founder, they'd have the wrath of Hardyville on their necks. Besides, Nat's ranch is just honeycombed with backroads and hideyholes. Anything could happen out there.
So do what, then? Stop the customers? It's not like our new governators had money to set up highway thugpoints between ranch and town to catch all the tax-resisting shoppers. We hadn't given 'em any money. Hardy County's two old deputies weren't about to risk their skins on any such thing, either. And -- heaven forfend, it's not like the Birkenstockers were about to put their own stone-washed denim-clad backsides on the line. So people just kept driving their goods back into town with nobody -- and everybody -- knowing.
The Birkenstockers and their allies might not have had a clue what to do about Nat. But, being government supremacists, they knew that they had to do something to scare us into line. That, after all, is the basic function of gummint.
And there, right in front of them, sat the peaceful, but nay-saying Goodins. How very, very tempting.
Dora -- our spy at the Birkermasters' meetings -- reported the conversation, which went something like this:
"But we can't target them -- they're black. It would look like we were, um, targeting them."
"But that's the beauty, don't you see? These Hardyville rednecks are insular. The Goodins are new. The Goodins are people of color. We can crush them as an example to scare everybody else into line and none of these bigoted rednecks will interfere. It's elegant."
Well, okay, the conversation might not have gone exactly like that. But that's what it meant, translated into actual English.
But did I mention that Our Beloved Leaders didn't want to get their personal, well-scrubbed hands dirty with guns and things? No, this was to be -- or at least to begin as -- a battle of bureaucracy, a war of lawyer-words, an assault of ordinances rather than ordnance.
First, the Birkers fired off a bunch of tax assessments and demand letters. Week by week, the Goodins owed the city gummint more. Taxes. Interest. Penalties. And for all I know, contributions to keep the mayor's wife's Persian cat in Fancy Feast.
The Goodins never batted an eyelash. They just kept on doing a nice, taxless business. Used the demand letters for insulation, I suppose. Or a bed lining for their friendly, slobbery Newfoundland store-dog, Spooner, who soon became a favorite of us all, despite his tendency to slime everyone who walked in.
Town life went on, as normal. The judges announced the winners of the annual Hardy Awards from our Freedom Film Festival. We waited and non-cooperated.
Next came the attempted regulatory nightmare. Suddenly, nothing about the Goodins' building met the Birkers' new fire code. Expensive repairs were demanded, under threat of ... well, you get the idea.
No, of course the Birkers didn't send an inspector to Goodins' shop. We still hadn't given 'em the money -- or the cojones -- to do warrantless searches. (Anyhow, the building had already been certified safe by the private inspectors the Goodins naturally hired when they bought the place.)
And the Goodins just kept right on fixing up and selling used goods, especially computers. By now Will and his son had spiffed up a whole wall full of second-hand systems, exactly the sort of thing for low-tech ranchers and retirees. Business improved nicely. And that was aside from the smuggling the family was doing on the side, competing with Nat. Monique Goodin, with an eye for fine foods, brought bulk herbs and spices, packaged them under her own "Monique's Uniques" brand, and sold them.
The Birkers escalated. They resorted to dirty tricks. Broken windows, spray-painted insults and threats. Not obvious government-supremacist threats, no. The sneakers doing this stuff didn't spray "Uncle Tom" or "Oreo's get eaten," though some of them certainly thought the Goodins had gone over to the white side by resisting taxes. They sprayed "N-word go home!" and "We don't want your kind in Hardyville!" to make it look like the abuse and threats came from us alleged rednecks.
Then they offered to "protect" the Goodins from the hateful threat of us. And they noted that security required sacrifice from everyone ... like collecting and paying that sales tax.
Carty and his kids showed up to replace the window and paint over the racist grafitti. And the Goodins just went on. They sold. We bought. And we petted big old Spooner (who always laid right next to the counter), wiped the drool off ourselves as best we could, and went on with life.
Why, you might be asking, did we not just shoot the bastards and be done with it? Or at least run a few well-tarred Birkermasters out of town on a rail? Or blow the cardboard crown right off Mayor Pickle's head with a 12-gauge slug? Of course we considered all that. But ... well, what we were up to was more creative. And it didn't leave any icky substances to clean off our streets.
Considering what happened next, though, a lot of us thought afterwards that maybe we should have followed that first impulse to reach for our guns.
"Why the hell didn't you warn us, Dora? Whose side are you on?"
"But I didn't know," Dora-the-Yalie insisted with honest tears in her eyes. "I went to all their public meetings, I told you everything I heard there. But ..."
The previous night, Hardyville had slept in innocent ignorance. The Goodins and Spooner took their well-earned rest at home. And the Birkenbastards had backed a truck up to the Goodins' loading dock, smashed in their storeroom door -- and cleaned the shop out down to the last 1970s-vintage VHS machine and computer mouse. Then they boarded up the store, padlocked the front door, and posted a civil asset forfeiture notice. Everything the Goodins had worked for had been neatly -- and "legally" -- stolen.
No, I don't think it was Dora's fault. We're talking about government supremacists, after all. Those people always have ways of enforcing their will. Sure Dora sat in on the Birkers' public meetings. But why would they tell her what went on in their private "personnel matters"? And one of those "personnel matters" was that they hired the city council president's 23-year-old nephew -- a kid with a long history of burglary convictions -- to be Hardyville's police chief.
"What did they hire him with?" you ask, given that we'd never given them any revenues? Well, turns out that was all too easy -- so easy we completely overlooked it. No, it wasn't Dora's fault. It was our fault. And the Birkers'. And indirectly the fault of millions of our snoozing American neighbors. Because just like in the real world, the Birkers decided to finance their new "legitimate" law enforcement by letting the cops keep proceeds from stolen loot.
Sadly, that's the way "justice" works in real-world America today. But decent people -- and that includes every long-time Hardyvillian, even down to idiots like Marty Harbibi and anti-social drunkards like the Young Curmudgeon -- simply are too darned decent to think like that.
So right under our eyes, the Goodins' -- who had come to Hardyville because they thought life would be more free here -- lost everything.
The smirking Birkers congratulated themselves on their victory as they fenced sold the Goodins' goods and shared the take with their new police chief.
Then they waited for newly terrorized respectful town businesses to start handing over tax revenues.
They didn't understand that Hardyville had not yet begun to fight.
1 The "ry" fell off the sign years ago and nobody ever bothered to fix it.
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