The Board of Equalization

When I moved to California from Atlanta a year ago, I was overjoyed when I discovered that I had left state employees with an Attitude behind. Granted, my only California experience on which I based this observation was with the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles), but in Georgia they were among the worst of the state employees in terms of serving the public–unless it was serving up copious amounts of Attitude, solely for the purpose of putting you in your place.

In keeping with the state’s overall image, the California DMV employees, were casual, efficient, helpful, and pleasant–the complete antithesis of their Georgia counterparts, who, after only one encounter, would cause a normal person to opt for Attila the Hun if a return visit were required.

So I was happy. California state employees are like other people here–as proven by the DMV. Therefore, I was not at all apprehensive when I had to go to the local state offices to apply for a seller’s permit for some artwork I am marketing. No Attitude–or so I thought.

The office at which I had to present myself has, what is to me, a mysterious and somewhat ominous sounding name, The Board of Equalization. I hated to think what was being equalized…was it the same as ‘neutralized?’ But I tried to remain optimistic, as I am in California after all, the all-but-official Land of Good Cheer.

The state building in Sonoma County is a huge concrete cavern of empty space–or at least it gives that impression when you walk in the door and see nothing but that, save for a central open concrete staircase leading to a concrete balcony that rims the concrete first floor emptiness. No warm friendly feelings here, no other people either. It felt more like the home of some unforgiving totalitarian state. This was definitely not in keeping with the California Spirit as I’d come to know it.

The Board of Equalization is on the second floor, and as I made my way there, I could feel the effects of the energy crunch (or was it just the mood of this place?) as it was freezing, and not because of air conditioning–no global warming in this building.

Once in the office, at least the temperature went up by several degrees, so I didn’t have to shiver and shake through what turned out to be a seeming interrogation of me for crimes not committed, complete with prison-esque surroundings of chairs lined up in front of individual glass windows through which one had to communicate with ‘the other side.’

Seated behind one of these thick glass windows to which I’d been directed, was a formidable looking woman of considerable size, whose broad, stern face was framed with short, thick, black hair chopped into a no-nonsense style, her narrow eyes accented by glasses with horizontally elongated black rimmed frames that gave her the look of perpetual squint. Underlining her nose, and occupying the place of her mouth, was an incongruous slash of bright red in this humorless landscape of a face–an attempt at decoration, or was it war paint?

My first impulse was to run, and in hindsight, that wouldn’t have been a bad idea, as what I was then subjected to had me feeling that I was sure to be arrested now that I had dared to enter the domain of the Board of Equalization.

When the woman of the stern face began to speak, I realized part of my test was to actually understand what she was saying. Obviously English was not her first language, and although she spoke it quickly, she also spoke it through such a heavy accent that it became unrecognizable at critical junctures. I feared for the consequences of what I was unable to understand.

The first thing she wanted to know was, “How much money will you make?” I was unable to answer because this business venture is brand new and in its experimental stages. The Board of Equalization does not allow for any ambiguity–and that was my first crime. The second was confusion.

What I was being told made no sense. I was told that I have to name a start date for my first sale, and yet, how could I know when that would be? Not only did I know when I would have something to sell, I also didn’t know where exactly and to whom I was going to sell it. Confusion is not allowed by the Board of Equalization and likely is grounds for incarceration.

I couldn’t figure out why this start date was so integral to the proceedings–why not say “today,” and let that be it, but the grim face seemed to think this was not the thing to do–and I still have no idea why although that may have been part of what I was unable to unsderstand because of the heavy accent.

Finally, my opponent in this exchange shoved a pile of papers, brochures and booklets at me–my reading assignment, apparently outlining the consequences of tangling with the Board. She assigned my experimental business an arbitrary start date–I have yet to inform myself of what will happen if the start doesn’t actually occur on this date.

Quite surprisingly, I was allowed to leave without police escort, or being handcuffed, and on my way out I again was struck with the emptiness of the building’s interior concrete expanse. Not another soul there but me, or so it appeared. Had the others already been ‘equalized?’ Maybe this is what happens when the governor of the state is known as ‘The Terminator.’

So, if this is the last that’s ever heard from me, you’ll know that the Board of Equalization has had its way. One more for the Terminator. Might make a good episode of Dateline.

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