I’m moving The Ides of March to April 15. The Ides of April. Tax Day. Seems like a much better knife in the back holiday than a two-thousand year old day where emperors got stabbed by their best friends.
Every March 15th I read Shakespeare to my students. “The soothsayer says to Caesar…’Beware, the ides of March…” I explain March 15 is the day Julius Caesar got killed by his best friends. We commemorate this day by looking twice at our friends. I say that they should always walk backwards to avoid sharp pointy objects. It’s high school. They believe in such drama.
I read the funeral oration for effect. They wonder if I’m serious. One or two spin their heads around all class, a couple walk backwards not realizing that means they can’t see someone on the other side, and someone even reports he’s consulted the Thug Notes for Julius Caesar.
I’m an adult. No high school best friend drama, and since I’m not ruling an empire, I don’t get many knives in the back these days. The ones I do get come a month later from Uncle Sam. Tax time. April 15.
Tax day is the day that initiates Americans into adulthood. When you’re 16 and have your first job, you get that money back. It’s called a “refund.” I keep explaining to my students that the government isn’t doing them any favors, bestowing any gifts. It’s their money that already came out of the top of their check. Uncle Sam invested it, and used their money for a year to make money instead of letting them do the same. Now, they’re getting what they don’t owe back. Knife in the back lesson number one.
For real adults, those who have crossed the threshold into the world of paying bills, suffering, and making life work, April 15 is sort of a combination of the Ides of March and Halloween, where we fear not only for our lives but our very souls as well.
Every spring I reread Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. Thoreau squatted on a pond in Massachusetts, estimating that it took him between twenty and thirty dollars to live for the year. He could work for six weeks for that money and homestead the rest. I read Thoreau because I like the idea of being able to sit by a pond and write for the rest of my life and not worry about whether the IRS will steal my last packet of ramen.
Sadly, on April 15th, the government reminds me I cannot. I must be a good American, work several jobs and give them all my money. I must pay my taxes in cash, I can’t even do it in bushels of wheat these days. This means I must work for cash instead of living in peace.
You can’t protest taxes. They have lists and labels for people who do that. Anarchist. Communist. Terrorist. Just take a long word and add an “ist,” and it’ll do. Thoreau tried to avoid taxes, and spent a solid night in jail. He got mad–his friends bailed him out, refusing to take part in his protest. You can’t beat The Man.
Thoreau objected to his tax money going toward war and conquest, among other things, and wanted his taxes to pay for highways and schools. There are plenty of highways in New England with potholes. I agree with him on that.
The government’s very specific about how we pay our taxes these days, too, so if I send my share for highways and schools rather than corruption and misuse, I have to file and pay them in a certain way. For example, it is illegal to file taxes in Roman numerals. The code requires Arabic numerals. Given the way the world profiles my friends of Arab descent, you’d think we’d be going back to the Roman soon. I’m ready.
Because of germ warfare, I’m told it is also illegal to seal tax envelopes with gum.
Founding Father Thomas Jefferson got cranky about the subject of taxes, too.
“The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not. To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical,” he said. I like Jefferson, not only for being a good writer, but for inventing macaroni and cheese. What he says about taxes is true. I should be able to dedicate my funds to things I believe in–the government should have a Kickstarter where we allocate our money to causes we love.
I don’t mind dedicating some of my tax money to those who are down on their luck, as I will be after I pay my taxes. We all need help in turns, and I will certainly help others. In fact, I’d like all my tax liability to go toward helping others, highways, and schools. And planting community gardens.
So, on this day, I’m taking a moment to develop a line of “Ides of April” Hallmark cards which I can use to make money to pay taxes, and commemorate the solemn day where Americans go from riches to rags until they make a couple bucks under the table that the government doesn’t find.
And I will reread my Walden again, because it is spring, and it inspires me to continue my homesteading project. That way, if the IRS ever allows me to pay my taxes in wheat or tomatoes, I will be ready.