"The IRS is gonna value that ball at $600,000, and he has to pay tax on it whether he sells it or not."
Another man said: "Well, the average guy will have to sell it to pay the tax."
The third guy pondered this a long minute, then declared: "He could insure it and then burn the house down."
That didn't bring any comment from the first two guys who spoke flat, middle-class Midwestern English. The third guy was obviously a local, a smart hillbilly whose people had dreaded revenuers for generations. What he'd said had been meant humorously, but it was a kind of humor the Midwesterners weren't used to anymore. They'd grown up in suburbs, and their people had been company men for generations. They'd paid taxes for so long, talk like this was nothing short of sedition. They might have laughed at an ethnic joke, after looking around to make sure that no one eating the powdered eggs and microwaved sausages was of the ethnicity under question, but they'd have laughed.
Taxes? Well, that's no laughing matter; it's something they went to the polls every election to vote against, but they couldn't conceive of anyone just out and out not paying them or, God forbid, as had been suggested, actually committing arson for the purpose of not paying them.
The mountain man knew that he'd struck the wrong chord, as if the others could actually smell the moonshine in his family tree. He hastened to repair the damage:
"I mean, if you found a crystal geode worth a few hundred or thousands, they wouldn't get you for it, would they?"
It was too little too late, and, anyway, what did the Midwesterners know from geodes? On their cubicle desks they had maybe a spinning gadget from the Discovery store at the mall, or maybe a test tube with a gold flake from Knotts Berry Farm in California, but a geode? For chrissakes, man, one of them telepathized his fellow Midwesterner, this hillbilly really is from somewhere else, isn't he? Not from America, I mean.
Mountain Home, Ark., is a growing town. There is a Home Depot and a Staples and one of every kind of fast-food joint. You can't yet get a fat-free latte for the world, but it's coming. This is why the Midwesterners were here, in fact. There were booming opportunities in the area, and they were here to do business with guys like the humorous tax-denigrator.
CNN went on to the war in Iraq and all talk of the lucky ball stopped. About Iraq they didn't talk. It wasn't breakfast talk, and if they thought differently on that subject, they weren't going to let it show. Now, about the labor shortage: Where are we going to find enough Mexicans to build us a Starbucks?
Andrei Codrescu's latest book is New Orleans, Mon Amour: Twenty Years of Writing From the City (Algonquin Books).