Sunday, April 12, 2009

Paying Taxes

My first political thought had to do with taxes. I remember suddenly realizing that if people wanted something in their town, they would pay for it with "taxes." The image in my head was of a village that wanted a statue over a fountain, and the people would each have to pay some amount to pay for the statue. Much later I realized that fire departments, roads, and schools were paid for by taxes, and that no one wanted to pay into the kitty and wanted to keep their money themselves.

I did my taxes by hand on binder paper with a pencil until 2002, even though for years I always had at least two if not three or four W2s. It was simple math in those days, with the standard deductions, and I found it kind of fun to do. Later in my financial aid life I learned how to read tax returns doing income verifications, and until I had to figure the value of a business that was kind of fun too. I even trained other people on it!

When I've had to write a check to the IRS, I've often been tempted to write in the memo line what I want my money to pay for. "Head Start," I've imagined writing several years in a row, or five years ago, "Armor for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan." I've imagined drawing a circle/slash through "ADM." The check to the State Franchise Board would say "Education" and "Libraries."

I wonder what wouldn't get funded if people could say where they wanted their taxes to go. My first guess is legislators' salaries. What would you pay for?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Final Shake-Up

At CSH, starting in sixth grade we had midterms and finals. In other schools midterms fell mid-term, but at CSH, "midterms" was what we called final exams for fall semester. They were held toward the end of January, four days of two exams each day. The teachers spent the week before exams going over everything they'd taught us the previous semester (which we'd forgotten, of course, over Christmas vacation), and on the following Monday we reported to homeroom to get split up into our first period and second period exams, which lasted 90 minutes. At noon we were let go, to return home to study for the next day's exams.

My science exam was in our homeroom, in the SE corner of the top floor of the grammar school. Since the building was at the top of the Webster Street hill, the classroom in the opposite NE corner, had a fabulous view, seemingly miles above Vallejo Street below. Our classroom had a much less interesting view of Hamlin School for Girls down the street. Tables had been arranged separate from each other, rather than in the rows they usually were. Some of the tables were large enough for three, most for two, several for one. As a low-status student, I got a desk to myself by the door.

About halfway through our science midterm, the building started to shake. It shook for a few moments, and while I did not remember the teacher saying anything, to me it seemed that all at once, all of us two dozen people in the classroom simultaneously dropped under our desks. Once the shaking stopped, it seemed to me that the building was swaying, which to my mind made sense as we were inside the top corner of the building at the top of a steep, high hill. I reassured myself that this building had survived the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906 (which I subsequently learned wasn't true). The room was silent except for the sound of the pipes in the restroom next door rattling.

After a few minutes, Ms. R. stood up from behind her desk and said, "Return to your seats, girls." We all did, picking up our pencils and getting back to the test. For the minutes I was under my desk, I was certain that the girls who had tablemates had quickly exchanged as many exam answers as they could.