The tax bill as ransom note
It says "tax bill" on the envelope, but it doesn't feel like a regular utility or credit card bill. This particular bill, appearing in our mailboxes in the first few days in May, is the property tax bill.
It looks common enough, but one glance at it, and instantly your blood freezes. You recoil, unsure whether to shove the letter back in the mailbox, douse the post with kerosene and set it aflame, or to take the letter to your kitchen, retrieve a letter opener and slit your wrist with it.
No matter the sum, a bill from VISA or the phone company makes sense. You look at the statement, and tell yourself, "Yes, I did purchase these items," or "Right, I made a thousand phone calls last month." The amount on the bottom of the page has some correlation with the charges.
Not so with the tax bill. You look at the amount on the bottom of this page, and ask yourself: "What in God's name is going on?"
A tax bill in the state of Illinois is more in the nature of a ransom note. In effect, the government is saying, "If you want your family to continue to stay warm and dry, you will hand over to us six weeks' worth of your wages."
I realize that I use the library and the parks and that I would want the police and fire trucks to come to my aid should the need arise. I expect to pay something for my share of civilization and safety. But the schools' extravagant costs. The ubiquitous pensions. The administrative redundancies. I never ordered these.
If I found my cable bill to be unreasonable, I would switch to Netflix. But a tax bill has the force of an imperial edict; all I can do is turn my face prayerfully southward, toward Tennessee.