Amy B. Smoyer, PhD

Prison Food, Incarcerated Lives, Health & Social Work

Hey Mr. Tax Man...

Cigarrones of Verin, the medival tax man.
The funny thing about February is that it turns into March.  It's January, the new year, things getting started, February inches along, it's cold, you've got time, and then, all of a sudden it's March.  Spring is around the corner, the semester is almost done, no time to lazy about...

I've got two things to do this March: finish the first messy draft of my dissertation and do my taxes. I will accomplish the first task by getting up every day and writing for about 4 - 5 hours, there's no other way about it.  I started this week, and so far it's going well. Now, when I say I spend this time writing, it's probably more accurate to say that I spend this time in the spirit of writing.  I organize the data I am going to write about - cut, paste, read, think, rest my fingers on the keyboard. Check Facebook. Write. Browse the New Haven Independent. Write. Stare out the windows at the green hills of Galicia.

My goal is to keep status updates and staring to a minimum because the tick is tocking.  Along with flowers and showers, April and May will bring visitors, and June I'll be packing.  Hard to believe the year has run out so quickly.  And I will not set foot onto that plane to the US without this project done or nearly done, so hell or high water, March is the month.

March is also the month to organize my tax papers and send them along to Uncle Sam.  Make sure I've paid my part of the tanks in Afghanistan and those pesky food stamps.

Although my W-2 forms are untouched, I did have a bit of time with the Tax Man last month.  When we went to Verin for the town's Carnaval celebration, I got to meet the Cigarrones, colorfully dressed masked men that animate the crowds.  There are several theories about the origins of this tradition of masked men dancing through the streets, whipping the ankles of those who aren't in costume or having enough fun.  According to my resident Galician expert - Jaime -  the Cigarrones tradition began when villagers employed by the feudal lords to collect taxes from their peers, put on masks in order to hide their identities.  Anonymity clearly has advantages for folks in this line of work.

The wide grin and rosy cheeks of the Cigarrones mask is an interesting choice. Was the design an attempt to ease the anxiety of the tax absconders - the nice enforcement guy - or to intimidate in a creepy Jack-Nicolson-Shining kind of way? For me, definitely creepy - I am glad that masks have gone out of fashion.  Can you imagine if today's agents of the state wore masks?  IRS officials, correctional officers, social workers - all with scary Jason masks or saccharin Cinderella smiles? Our work is not always pretty, but at least we meet clients face to face and, hopefully, recognize our shared humanity.