Cheating the Taxman

It was sad when the big cherry fell, but not scary.

What was scary was how it fell: straight through Jaminaz’s garage roof, cleaving it like an axe all the way down to about three feet above the floor at the spot where he’d been standing, working on a cylinder head, forty minutes before the rotted trunk let loose. Big tree, that.

It took two days to fill five pickup truck loads and haul it off under a sheep-stankin’, formerly white nylon tarp, not because the tree was that big but because our friends’ neighbor heard chainsaws running, fired up his tractor and lined up a few fallen leaders on his own, next-pasture property. We kicked it off the truck into our backyard, where for weeks our protocol was to slip outside for half an hour or so and listen to our breath whistle out in clouds while we bucked and split at the top of our suburban hill. Firewood heats you twice, they say, but really it’s three or four solid heatings by the time you cut and load, unload and buck, split and stack. At some point, you even get to burn it.

There are a few folks who call us when they have a tree down. Two of them are professional arborists in Seattle. No money changes hands. Our old truck lumps up to the site, chainsaws sing a duet, and we chug off home with a load of wood for two years down the line.

It’s good to have tools when you need them, which explains the disreputable old Ford and the global warming saws, but not everyone has the same set. Out in our garage are a suite of woodworking tools including a bandsaw, table saw, mortiser, and a finely built, red beech Diefenbach workbench from back when I produced measurable income. When a friend needs a busted part of his bed replaced, we can facilitate that. If, by happy happenstance, he has a tech background and can help us network our home office, everybody walks away a little richer.

This is all mildly illegal, of course. In the land of the free, home of the brave, every single thing of value that you receive from absolutely anyone — space, time, stuff, or expertise — is subject to tribute extraction by the Internal Revenue Service. Furthermore, according to a representative at the Department of Revenue, in the great State of Washington, any donation that you make to a private entity is subject to use tax. If you donate a picture that you drew to your son, and that picture is valued at a thousand dollars, you owe the state 95 bucks. Are there exemptions? Why, of course there are. Contributions to government entities — e.g. endowing a chair at the University of Washington or donating a park to the city — are tax-free… perhaps because they’re already a voluntary tax.

Stevie Ray Vaughn

State lottery winnings aren’t taxed until you spend them; we have no income tax here. But Uncle Sam will take his bite of that small-government money.

Give a car to your kid or a gun to your dad, and somebody better be paying the tax man. In fact, if you take soup and a good book to your neighbor when she’s sick, you are a tax cheat. If she reciprocates with cookies when she feels better, she also has run afoul of the law.

Just imagine all that revenue loss! In a town like Seattle, where the city council refuses to consider a software application that would allow people to feed their parking meters when they expire and thus “deprive” the municipality of up to $6 million a year, I find our actions unconscionable.

Neighborly behavior manifests a clear threat to a social order founded on authority. George Washington wouldn’t have told a lie about hauling off that cherry tree.

See, what we’re playing at here is “community,” where your neighbors and friends might come over for supper, and bring a coolerful of crabs to throw into the pot. Where you might sew the costumes for the school play, and another parent might drive all the kids home. Where your buddy who makes beer brings a growler to your other buddy’s barbecue, and everyone eats your cheesecake afterward. Where no tallies are kept, except maybe at the poker table — and nobody reports what happens at the poker table.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously quoth, “Taxes are the price we pay for civilized society.” He was right, of course. No civilization lasts long without an army to protect it and roads for their army to travel on (hey, how do you think we got the interstates?). We pay our taxes to the Man, and bitch furiously when we don’t think we get our money’s worth. This is both duty and right (not to say rite) of citizenship.

Friendship is the price we pay for community. In our experience, the dividends on this investment are much more reliable.


  1. Man, I’ve started to comment here (in reference to the above) several times and dumped all, but one. This’n.

    I want to tell you about the magazine subscription my neighbor gifted me. I never expected any payment for the bit of work I did over there. Helping, was plenty payment for me.

    I want to tell you about my “new” truck. I traded my son an old beater pick-up I had for it. He said he only needed a truck for an annual dump run. So we swapped the p.o.s. Chevy for the Dodge. The Boy had given me the p.o.s.

    The cherry tree my neighbor helped me harvest for firewood. The fir tree I limbed as he bucked, for his stove.

    The new rock a friend brought over for the horseshoe pits. In passing I’d mentioned I was a little tight on funds and couldn’t afford to freshen the pits for the annual tournament. He pulled up with a truck bed full of 5/8 minus.

    I want to write about rebuilding a neighbor’s outdrive on his tiller and reaping the fruits of my labor (heh).

    To tell you…

    And then my head flips over to this whole diatribe about many of the issues in today’s society being the result of people losing the basic instinct to care for one another.

    How fear is predominate in today’s society. I want to analyze why the heck a person would rather pick up the phone and request a perfect stranger talk to their neighbor, rather than go knock on their door themselves.

    I want to get mean about it and ask you (you, anyone reading this) if you know your neighbors names.

    And then really go off the rails.

    So, I decided not to do that.

    There’s no tax for _that_, right?

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