Age nine. On the road with my cavalier father, the rogue. A man recently parted from a bold and less ordinary life, but somehow still ordinary. Wife, four kids, homeowner, business owner, tax protester.
Now he was a tax dodger on the run from the law. No, no; it’s not what you’re thinking. There was no dragnet, no ambitious sheriff, no manhunt. He didn’t want to pay his taxes for several reasons (As an adult, I understand why but can’t justify his actions), so after a fight with the IRS where they took the house, vehicles, business and most of our material possessions, he simply packed up the family and moved us to Arizona without telling them where we were headed.
So, there I was, on the road with my dad, driving through Utah on our way back from Wyoming. The home we left. I had flown up to visit my aunt and uncle; he drove up to tie up some loose business ends.
I now understand that he reasoned that if he was going to be a fugitive, he might as well do something criminal. His conscious was clear about doing business with those that descrambled your satellite and cable TV and turning a blind eye. It was an attempt by Corporate America to squeeze more money out of the consumers.
He justified it one way or another. He wasn’t a participant, necessarily, but he knew all about it.
To dodge taxes, he needed a rally point and abortion was the typical battle cry for the American tax dodger of his day. Even though .0001 percent of his taxes might have funded a Planned Parenthood condom drive, it was too close to abortion to not fight.
Back to the road. I was nine, reading Boys’ Life Magazine, going through this small canyon in Utah carved out by the Colorado River, my dad was driving the van he still has today, 20 years later. The windows were down, pouring in the warm summer air.
So, why not? why hold back? Why not take the plunge off of the edge? We had dabbled with it and we had disappeared. We didn’t exist. We were in another stratosphere. We lived in the shadows so the laws of normal civility didn’t apply to us. We weren’t normal civilians. My 14-year old brother and I were home-schooled, my dad kept a low profile and never filed for taxes, my mom stayed at home, we had no tax returns, mortgages, home deeds, or car loans. This eliminates most of a paper trail. Once you cross over, why not dabble? We were more hidden than an illegal immigrant in a warehouse.
I was startled and looked over at my dad in the driver seat. “Wahoo!” he shouted as he just popped off a .22 round at a road sign. He raised me to be a law abider, and he was shooting road signs with a .22 automatic pistol as he was driving. “What’s a matter, Matt?” He could see by my expression that I was annoyed. “Don’t give me that.”
“But, Dad, that’s illegal.” I was somewhat indignant with him. What if a Highway Patrolman was around the corner? A hitchhiker? What if he screwed up and shot the mirror?
“Oh, come on. Wait, hold on…”
I think my surprise arose from the fact that he just raised the bar with his antics with me as a witness. Cherry bombs, pop bottle rockets, Black Cats, sure, but shooting at road signs from a moving vehicle? This was a new reality for me.
This was just like him. He was tired of driving, I had already driven- better yet, sat in his lap and steered- and we had plenty of .22 caliber rounds. So, in his frame of mind and that of his loyal yet naive offspring, why not? The damn government paid for those signs, they can pay to have them fixed, can’t they?
Even today, I still can’t figure out the seeming hypocrisy of raising a kid to be a law-abiding, God-fearing contributing citizen. All this as you’re on the lamb, refusing to abide by the law. Certain laws he liked, such as those from the original constitution or the Ten Commandments. But other than that, it was a man of walking contradictions.
Yet he was still such a loving father. That wasn’t doubted.
“Yeha! Haha, I nailed that sucker.”
You have to understand. My dad was an excellent shot. He grew up an avid hunter, shooting squirrels, birds, snakes, or anything else that moves in the mountains of southern New Mexico. He was a gun nut, which played right into the whole tax dodger mentality. So, to hell with the Federal Government. Road signs meant nothing. They were feeble attempts by bureaucrats to maintain civility on the deserted road to Zion. A happier place where we’re all free and untethered. This was nowhere and nobody wanted it. It was a beautiful drive along the most famous river in the West. The Colorado had just spilled out of the Rockies and hadn’t yet carved Glen and Grand canyons. And my dad owned this very spot for just a brief moment. The ‘feds tore him down, ruined him and ate up any pride he had leftover. He was their chew toy. But not today.
We were in a small canyon, nobody else was on the road save some ranchers, probably, or other desperate souls, road signs and a couple hundred .22 rounds. Every damaged sign was good relief for my dad and more work for the feds.
He was embarrassing me. I’m an extrovert; I embarrass myself when no one else is in the room and don’t mind. Yet he was so uncouth. After a few rounds, I rolled my eyes or something and tried to read the magazine about camping and responsibility, stewardship and the path to Eagle Scout (I was a Cub Scout).
“Okay, fine. Are you going to sit there and grumble? Here, you try.”
“No way…” Confused, I tried to hide a grin. Everything he instilled in me about respect for authority and so on was still strong and this, in fact, was the first act of him starting the next evolution in his eyes.
Either that or he just didn’t give a shit about decorum anymore. It was anyone’s guess.
This dare, this criminal act was not only suggested by my own father, it was akin to a schoolyard dare and he encouraged it. Once it hit enlightenment in my pre-pubescent brain that he was serious, it became an out of body experience. Gun safety be damned- I knew how to shoot and not hurt myself- because the opportunity of a lifetime for a single-digiter just dropped in my lap. Sponsored by my own father. I was nine and getting ready to shoot at road signs from a moving vehicle. Too bad he didn’t offer me cigarettes and beer then. That would have changed everything. I was a prude for nine, but still nine.
I don’t remember the first time I ever shot a gun, but I do remember the first and only time I shot road signs.
I loaded a clip, rolled my window down all the way and took off the safety…
SPEED LIMIT 55. I joined in on the ecstasy, listening to the impact from the sign as I hit the side of it. The recoil was sweet, manly and lovely all the same. FALLING ROCKS. The objections I had 10 seconds previous had melted away and I was issuing the stance of rebellion, the oblivion of vengeance. What little it was, one sign at a time, some government agency, federal or the state of Utah, would have to pay.
I have never understood the bitterness that’s driven my father to his decisions, a large part detrimental to his family. I never liked Arizona. We moved there when I was nine and I never made true friends there. Then when I was 21, I moved to Reno and my circle of friends blossomed like steroids. Weird, awkward, painful. He still confuses me.
Maybe he was releasing the anger and bitterness a little. Things leftover from his physically abusive father, unloving mother, selfish older sisters, Mexican kids that ganged up on him, a rogue government agency that owned the crosshairs he jumped in front of to be martyred. Everyone was wrong.
The IRS made him a laughing stock and took most of our earthly possessions- everything but some tools, some guns they didn’t know about and his family. The man was stripped down to his bare soul and was innocent of any crime, save the proverb of picking your battles wisely. With that said, after his battle with the IRS, he should have used a shotgun. Maybe even a bazooka. Knowing his story, who could blame him?
Those signs were his; he paid for them in blood. Bitter, bitter blood. I was only nine. This was my inheritance and I was eager to take it.