By John J. Cox
A Resident of Woodside
Having left my accountant's office a much poorer man after leaving a check for my taxes, I decided that a trip to the Shillelagh Tavern would buoy my spirits, or at the least, drown my sorrows. On entering the bar I took a stool next to my buddy, Vernon Jackson, who as usual was seated at the rear end of the bar. I placed a $20 bill on the bar and Fran the bartender brought me a beer. "Why so glum?" she asked.
"Just paid my taxes," I said. "That $20 bill is dear to me now."
"Put his beer on my tab," said Vernon. After thanking Vernon for his generosity, he continued: "Taxes. I decided not to pay mine this year."
"That's right. I figure I owe the State of New York about $600, but I have no intention of paying them."
"Well," Vernon explained, "The State never sent me the forms and the instruction booklet. How am I supposed to file a return if they never sent me the forms? For forty years they have sent me the forms. Suddenly they stopped sending them. If they can forget about me why can't I forget about them?"
"But Vernon," I said, "you still have to pay your taxes." I explained that this year the State decided to forego the mailing of forms and instructions because of the expense involved. I told him that there was even talk of charging people for the forms if they didn't file online. "Just because they didn't send you the forms is no excuse for not paying your taxes," I said.
"Ridiculous," responded Vernon. "I made a reasonable effort to get the forms. I even called the State Tax Department. They told me I could get the forms in any library. I went to a few libraries in Queens last week. They had federal forms, but no resident state forms. But do you know what they had plenty of?" Vernon paused to sip his beer, then continued: "They had hundreds of New York nonresident forms. Now I ask you, how many people who live in New Jersey or Connecticut and work in this State are going to drive all that distance to pick up those forms in a Queens library?"
I had to admit he had a point.
"And I didn't stop there," said Vernon. "When I couldn't find the forms in the libraries, I tried the post offices. As I recall the post offices used to have the forms, but this year not a single one I checked had them. But did I stop there? Oh no, I called the State again and told them I couldn't find the forms anywhere. Do you know what they told me?" Vernon took another swig of his beer. "They told me I should file my forms on-line."
"What did you say to that?"
"It's unprintable," said Vernon. "But I did explain to them that not only do I not own a computer, but even if I did I probably wouldn't know how to use it to get the forms. What's the word for that"?
"Yes, that's it. Heck, look at my hands. Look here at these fingers. Do you think for one second that I could operate a . . ."
Vernon paused, searching for the word. "Keyboard," I offered.
"That's it, keyboard," he said. I looked at Vernon's hands. Again I had to admit he had a point.
We had another round of beers. "I don't know what to say, Vernon," I said. "Maybe you should just hire a tax preparer."
"Well, maybe they should have just sent me the forms. My taxes aren't that complicated. And maybe if enough people acted like me and stopped paying them the people who run this State would change their thinking." Vernon sipped his beer. "Didn't one of those revolutionary patriots say that "times like these tax men's souls'?"
"Something like that," I said.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
By John J. Cox
A Resident of Woodside
Spring 1969. Forty years ago Sundays during the baseball season were special. Right after 8:00 a.m. Mass, my 7th grade buddy, Kenneth, and I, armed with baseball mitts and a five bucks apiece, would make our way to Grand Central Terminal and board the Number 4 Woodlawn train to 161st Street—Yankee Stadium. We would arrive at the players’ entrance just as most of the players did. As each Yankee crossed the street from the parking lot we dutifully hollered encouragement and begged for autographs. In those days the police barricades were set up so that the players had only a narrow pathway across the street and into the stadium. You could get so close to the players that you’d be able to tell if they had shaved that morning or not. We were particularly eager to see Bobby Murcer and Jerry Kenney, two prospects who had returned from military service and were now the face of the new Yankees. (Mickey Mantle had retired that spring.)
Not until we were certain that every player had arrived did we even turn our attention to buying tickets. There was no need to purchase tickets in advance, unless, of course, such special events as Old Timers’ Day or Bat Day had been scheduled. And with five dollars apiece there was no need to resign ourselves to the lowly Bleachers which cost 75 cents. Oh no, we could do better than that. So we’d line up at a ticket booth and pluck down $1.50 for a grandstand seat. Not only would this afford us shelter in the event of poor weather and permit us to visit the small Yankee Hall of Fame which then was located under the right field stands, but more importantly, it gave us closer access to the field and players before the game started and before we’d be forced to surrender our spots to those wealthy enough to pay as much as $4.00 for a box seat up close to the field.
Once through the gate and into the Stadium we raced to the lower right field stands. In those days the gates opened early so you would be able to watch both teams take batting practice. Our mission was simple: To position ourselves in the stands where we stood a fair chance of snaring a ball. Alas, it what was not to be that season, though the following year we finally had some luck. I caught one hit by Frank Tepedino and Kenneth caught one hit by Curt Blefary. I can’t recall anything of more importance that happened to us that year.
On Sundays the teams frequently played doubleheaders. Now I’m not talking about today’s idea of a doubleheader where after the first game everyone must leave so that a new crowd with different tickets can be seated. Back then a doubleheader was a doubleheader: two games for the price of one.
When the first game started our grandstand admission required us to take seats in the upper deck. However, by the fourth or fifth inning, after scouring the lower stands for such opportunities, we would note which seats close to the field remained unoccupied and we would move downstairs. When the usher responsible for the section of seats we had set our sights on turned his back or was otherwise distracted, we scampered like mice down the aisle and slunk into the empty seats. Then we held our breath for a bit hoping the usher hadn’t seen us or that some other patron hadn’t ratted us out. If we survived an inning we were home free.
During the games we were ever alert for the possibility of snaring a foul ball. And between games we’d have a hot dog and a couple of sodas. As the day wore on and the second game neared conclusion we’d secretly hope that the losing team (usually the Yankees that year) would tie the game so we could stay for extra innings. Either way, when the last game finally ended our excursion was not yet over. We would race down the ramps and out the exits so we could get a good spot to watch the players as they left. And there we would stand, as we did before the game, until we were sure that every player had left the ballpark.
Then we would get back on the subway and head for home. Our parents never worried or complained, even though we were frequently gone for a dozen hours or more. And after roundtrip subway fare, ticket expense, and hot dogs and soda, we came home with change to spare from the five bucks.
Until last year I had been to at least one Yankee game every season--some years I was there a couple of dozen times--for well over 40 years. As the Yankees and the Mets open this season in spanking new, state of the art stadiums, with big name players and big payrolls, I wonder if I'll ever see a game in either place. Not because most tickets are obscenely expensive (although that is certainly reason enough), and not because today's baseball stars are grossly overvalued (if the market can bear it so be it), but because today's experience of what the game has become is no match for my memory of what that experience once was.