|Hammer gets something off his chest|
It was a Saturday morning and the outer office was deserted and dark. My light was on and the speakers - and my voice - were cranked up. The Ides of March, a one-hit wonder from 1970, and I were teaming up on a loud version of Vehicle.
"I'm the friendly stranger in the black sedan, won't you-"
"Son of a . . . Damn, John! How in the world do you get up here?" I stammered, reaching for the volume knob on the speaker. "It's not like my heart's in great shape anyways. You're going to-"
"Why's the county raising my taxes again?" he asked.
You have to understand who John Hammer is. He's bigger than a house (although he manages to get around pretty doggone quietly) and carries his size and age well. He could've been a farmer or a guy who dug ditches. His hands are calloused and rough, signs of a hard, yet honest life. The only thing rougher than his hands are his voice. Every so often, particularly when he wants to get something off his chest, he comes by to see me. Usually on a Saturday morning when the office is closed and yet he somehow managed to fill my door frame before I know anyone's there.
"The property assessments just went out, are you talking-"
"I'm talking about something called the capital cumulative something or other," he said. "Don't you read your own paper?"
I also don't talk back to him much.
"Oh, the CCD, the cumulative capital development tax rate," I said. "Well, it's not exactly a tax increase, John. The state reduced it and-"
"Yeah, yeah," he grumbled. "The state reviews the budget and if they think the rate's too high they cut it and then next time the county raises it and it goes on and on. The question is, why and what are they going to do with it? But you know what, that's not even the biggest question, Timmons. Know what is?"
I had nothing.
"The real question is, why doesn't anyone care?"
"Uh, John, I think people care. I mean we get a lot of feedback from-"
"How many people were at the meeting?"
"Uh, not sure, uh, probably-"
"Hardly anybody," Hammer shot back. "There was hardly anybody. Have we really gotten to the point where all we want to do is bitch, but not lift a finger to do anything?"
"No, I don't think so, John," I said, even though I wasn't sure I stood on solid ground. "Maybe in the last few years we've just gotten to the point where people don't trust the government as much and we-"
"Oh bull," Hammer replied. "Ever heard of the Pendleton Act?"
I wanted to sound smart and rattle off an answer. I wanted to.
"The Pendleton Act was created to make sure politicians couldn't give government jobs to their pals, that people would be hired and promoted on merit."
"Well, sure, that makes-"
"Know when it was enacted?"
Again, I had nothing.
"In the '80s, Timmons, the EIGHTEEN eighties. So don't give me anything about the last few years. People have been griping about government forever. The thing is, we don't do anything about it. That's not the fault of the county council, or the mayor or the governor. You know who's fault it is?"
I was hoping it wasn't mine.
"It's all of us," Hammer said. "We don't vote, we don't attend meetings, we don't even understand the issues. We sit in our recliners and we gripe and we bitch and we moan. Know how many people voted in the primary a couple of months ago? I'll tell you how many. Twenty-three percent, that's how many. Less than one person in four."
The song had long ended. The quiet felt a little odd.
"I'll tell you something else, Timmons," Hammer said. "People may or may not agree with decisions that are being made, all the way from the president on down to a town council, but unless more than one out of four starts showing up and being a real citizen, it's not going to change. In fact, it'll get worse. Write about that, Timmons."
Hammer walked away. He made his point.
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