For several months I have been receiving letters from the United States Census Bureau demanding that I submit to a supplemental census exam. These letters have grown increasingly grim, advising me that my “response is required by law,” citing the applicable U.S. Code, and carrying the implicit threat of prosecution. The letters have also told me–or rather, the “resident of said address”–that my failure to perform this obligation would also result in a visit from “an official” of the government.
I have thrown all of these demands, which don’t even name me specifically–which is a “proof of service” fail, straight into the trash. I’ve given the government all of the cooperation I intend to give them in this lifetime–minus the obvious and distasteful yearly ritual of rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.
Yesterday afternoon I walked down to the barn and saddled the mare. I didn’t intend to ride her, because we are still getting to know each other, and because no one has been on her back in a long time. But I wanted to get some leather on her, and ease her gently back into the world of service. So I brushed her, and said nice things to her, dressed her up in a hackamore, then eased the old Billy Cook up onto her withers.
As I was leading her out into the arena, I saw a strange, obviously governmental–think Ford Taurus–car in the driveway. Guess who?
One of the delights of central Oregon living is the occasional outburst of sporadic gunfire in the woods, and it was during my summit with the government agent–who began by asking a series of questions I refused to answer–that someone, probably over toward Wychus Creek, began hammering failure drills with an AR. There is no mistaking the cadence of an AR in the hands of someone who knows how to use it. Two to the chest, one to the head.
The gunfire made the colt, who was still in his paddock, go happily bananas, further distracting the Census Man, and as he returned to the laptop cradled in his arm he waded further into the list of questions I wouldn’t answer. How much was your last power bill? How many rooms in your house? What is your place worth? Do you own it outright? Were you employed by someone last week?
None of your business, I reminded him.
As the questions continued, serenaded by echoing gunfire and a colt gone bucking and farting out into the trees, I looked long into the woods beyond the barn. Then I turned and told the Census Man: You know, I think some of the Bundy’s just moved in over there last month.
His face went ashen.
The truth is, I’m no rebel, and I have no personal beef with this nameless agent of the empire who was sent on the ridiculous task of asking me even more ridiculous questions. Nevertheless, somewhere deep in the shooter’s third full magazine, I explained to the agent that I was going to keep refusing to answer his questions, but sincerely wanted to make his day easier, and that perhaps I might meet him somewhere in the middle. That wasn’t hard, given that most–if not all–of the empire’s questions are answerable in the realm of public information. So I gave him just enough, but I made him work for it, and my honor was satisfied. I’m nothing if not reasonable.
But I was still standing there with the mare. So I decided, in that moment, just to ride her. She’s no bronc, probably doesn’t have even a single buck left in her sweet soul, but I was feeling a little randy myself. “Just a sec,” I told the agent, as he was turning to leave. “This horse ain’t never been rode,” I said, “so if you don’t mind waiting, when she blows up and puts me in the rocks, I will need you to call the ambulance.”
I could see in that moment, as the gunfire continued somewhere out in the woods and the the colt was running furiously up and down the fence line, that the Census Man was living in desperately uncomfortable skin. I paused for dramatic effect, uttered an audible prayer, then swung up on the mare. She stood rock still, of course, but I looked at the agent with my eyes blown wide and let out a long, oscar-winning sigh of relief. I looked at the agent sincerely. “By God that’s a miracle,” I said.
The agent was walking backward toward his car, stumbling in the cheatgrass, cradling his laptop like a child. “Mind if I go now?” he said.
I tipped my hat. “By all means,” I said, turning the old mare away. And the Census Man was still watching when I touched her up into an easy trot, down the road and into the trees.