At the Office of the County Assessor

Today I did something I'd been putting off for at least three years, to my own detriment. I went to the county assessor's office and signed forms that say that I deserve the homeowner's exemption on my property tax bill because I am the homeowner. I've been the owner of the condo since 1998 but because so much time has elapsed I could only recoup for 2002 onward. I can't get the rest back. The positive way to look at it is that at least I'm doing this now. I had sort of thought I'd gotten it fixed a few years ago. I never look at the tax bill because I pay taxes through the mortgage company. So let this be a lesson to all of you.

First I was surprised that I could walk into a public building without being stopped by a security guard. If I were a terrorist I would go after government buildings such as the City and County Building. I'm glad that no terrorist thinks like me. Second, I was surprised that I didn't have to wait. I imagined sitting for an hour or more. At the assessor's office upstairs there was a counter and chairs and numbers to take. I was number 99, and 96 was lit up, but a woman behind the counter took me to her desk right away. I was surprised to be at someone's desk. She was very personable, asking if I had a cold. I didn't, it's just that my nose runs whenever I'm outside. I think it's because the chemo has killed my nose hairs. My eyes tear, too, and I think that may be because I'm losing some eyelashes. She'd had a cold and was still coughing a little. She had very short hair and I wanted to ask her how she liked having such short hair but I didn't. She saw I had the proper papers to prove my ownership and she said, Someone must have talked to you already, someone must have talked to you already. Crooning almost. Her birthday is four days before mine. Both Sagittarians. She said, Do people think you're me? I thought she was being playful because our birthdays are so near one another. I said, Maybe. Then I realized she'd asked if people think I'm mean. She said people think she is, because she's honest, but they say she's rude, and she says, I just tell it like it is, I'm frank, and they say, Frank and Rude are cousins. She punched up my condo's PIN number on the computer and changed the name of the homeowner, and for each year from 2002 on up she said, are you ready to see the magic screen? And then it displayed my refund for that year. She went off to copy some papers and two desks over a clerk was oohing over a taxpayer's baby, who was about a year and a half and all dressed in white. The clerk was throwing her up in the air and the baby was laughing. My clerk told me that the woman had just adopted three children; this, after already raising children who are grown and living on their own. It was all very sweet and relaxed, with a few other workers crowded around the baby. The office seemed generally easy-going, with murmurs everywhere and no one rushing around. I thought it was quite lovely but on the other hand there were about five people waiting at the counter, stony-faced. It didn't help that the waiting people were all white and the clerks were all black. The group around the baby kept talking about the terrible twos and threes and how kids are so smart these days.

When my paperwork was done, my clerk gave me copies of forms and explained I would be getting refund checks within 30 days. I know I will have to ask my accountant how to square this with the IRS, since I deduct some of my property taxes and mortgage. It will be a mess of more forms. The clerk said, You can buy something for yourself. You can go on vacation. I'd told her how I'd thought I'd have to wait forever, and she said it's like going to the dentist and finding out you don' t have to get any work done. I had my blue hat on. Another clerk had told me she liked it. I kept it on the whole time. The clerk was so personable I was afraid of getting too close by explaining about cancer and chemo. For some reason, I don't mind telling distant people about it, like the bank worker the other day-- a man I don't quite approve of because he doesn't read books, and didn't know anything about socially-conscious investing--but my cancer seemed too personal to reveal to this woman, who was so warm and open. You'd think it would be the opposite but it wasn't.