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Robert A. Mills

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THE TAXMAN COMETH
4/9/2010 1:05:03 PM    [ Flag as Inappropriate ]

I once had an acquaintance—a young couple, actually—which claimed they never paid a penny of either federal or state income tax. In fact, they bragged they were annually refunded every cent of their withholding. I was simultaneously amazed and envious, a diabolical mixture.

“How do you do that?” I asked, the essence of naivete. “You cheat?”

“Of course not!” was their indignant (if unconvincing) reply,) “We have the greatest taxman in the world!”

When I asked who that was, they refused to divulge a name. The lady, possibly to gain my favors, did jot down something on a ‘post it’ note and surreptitiously slipped it into my jacket pocket. Disappointed it was not, I later discovered, an invitation to an assignation, I looked up the name in the phone book, called it one blustery January day in 1958, but the call was not returned.

Just as well, I suppose. Suspicious of their nefarious ways, I abandoned the couple—or perhaps they simply moved away—in any event, I was in the process of becoming a radio and TV celebrity of local repute and could ill-afford any notoriety that might be interpreted as income tax shenanigans.

I needn’t have worried.

During the Nixon presidency, an acquaintance who either was or would become an esteemed State Supreme Court Justice no less, invited me to be ‘guest entertainment’ at the ****** ****** Republican Committee dinner at a nearby prestigious country club. At least, I think that’s what it was (who can remember a lifetime ago!) But I recall it was a plum booking, and I jumped at the chance—especially since I was a closet Democrat and saw it as an opportunity to blast (hidden from the unrelenting limelight of broadcasting) all aspects of the ill-conceived Vietnam War. I was eloquent, profound, and amusing—so much so, I was truly dumbfounded at the deafening ovation of silence and looks of distain that greeted my remarks. Luckily, His Honor had paid me for my appearance in advance, and I quickly escaped the dining room prior to any subsequent recriminations.

The story might have ended there, but unbeknown to me, our erstwhile chief executive at the White House had an “enemies’ list,” and I am certain I must have held an honored place somewhere near the bottom. How else can anyone explain the fact that for three consecutive years following my evening at the country club the Internal Revenue Service viciously audited my income tax returns?

Of course. they were always extremely fair and gentle with me, the economic penalties notwithstanding. At every turn I was treated courteously and with due respect; it was just that all deductions, exemptions and business expenses in my favor were summarily denied if there was even a hint of ambiguity. Of course, I probably didn’t help myself when I walked in and saw the nameplate of my Inquisitor: Doris Doody.

I suspect I may have sealed my own doom when I gaily greeted her with a hearty, “Howdy, Doody!”

In retrospect, Mrs. Doody was the epitome of professional decorum. A matronly woman of gentle composer, she treated me as she might her own son—except, of course, she had a job to do, and she did it to every letter and aspect of the law. These annual audits (in fairness, she was only involved in the first) took hours of precious time and cost me vast sums of money.

It came to a head one summer day when Mr. Nixon was in town campaigning and holding a ‘photo op’ for local media types. I was invited (probably as an after-thought) to the Americana Hotel downtown, and I arrived early, in time for the obligatory pre-festivity cocktail party, toward the end of which I made haste to the Men’s Room before the president’s arrival.

The nearest facility was just down the corridor from the Main Ballroom, and while I was dutifully washing my hands, another man entered and leaned against the door. I noticed he was tall, sported a brush cut, resembled John Wayne and wore a beige earpiece with a spiral cord that disappeared beneath the back of his button-down collar. No question: Central Casting Secret Service.

“Sorry, sir,” he said, when I tried to leave. “The hallway to the ballroom is off-limits.”

“That’s okay. I’m with local TV,” I said, fumbling inside my jacket. “I have press credentials. I’m supposed to—”

“Sorry, sir. You’ll have to remain here.”

I began a litany of protests, but aware the agent undoubtedly had a howitzer beneath his ill-fitted coat (and, if that failed, could easily have snapped my spine in his bare hands,) I backed away and decided the better part of valor was to wait until someone entered the lavatory to vouch for my veracity. No one did.

After an interminable hour or more, during which he never took his unsmiling eyes off me, I heard the cackle of the agent’s intercom. “Okay, I got it,” he said, into his wrist, before turning to me. “You’re free to go, sir. ‘Searchlight’ has left the building.”

I never got my picture taken with Richard Nixon (or any other president, for that matter.) What’s worse, he left office in disgrace after the Watergate fiasco, and I never found out where I stood on his ‘enemies’ list’—if anyplace.

Mr. Nixon was succeeded by his vice-president, Gerald Ford, and Gen. Alexander Haige literally begged the new chief executive to pardon ‘Tricky Dick;’ to his temporary credit, Ford refused. The Constitutionally-installed freshman-occupant of the White House had already made a deal with Nixon to issue the commensurate pardon, and although he could have reneged on the offer, he eventually capitulated. Had he tossed his despicable predecessor to the dogs of history, Ford might have won a bona fide term, and the Carter years would have, at the very least, been delayed.

But I do take solace in the fact I was never again audited. Plus I am equally delighted to have no clue as to the whereabouts of my strange ‘friends.’ Nor, come to think of it, has their benevolent taxman ever returned my call.

Thank God for small favors.


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