For much of my formative and early teen years, I really wanted to be an archeologist or a paleontologist or one of those other “ologists.” I toyed with wanting to be an astronaut except there was no such thing then. The only astronauts I knew about were Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. And I’m pretty sure they weren’t called astronauts.
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Something about discovering lost civilizations or creatures that no one had ever known of before appealed to me quite a bit. It might have been the fantasies promised by the slick, yellow cover of National Geographic Magazine. It was way before Indiana Jones.
I’d read the Henry M. Stanley and Dr. Livingstone adventures, the Tarzan books and the books about the building of the Panama Canal, the books about the Conquest of Mexico and the Conquest of the Incas, Marco Polo and Genghis Khan, and later Dr. Leakey’s discoveries in the Olduvai Gorge and Professor Raymond Dart’s investigations into human origins.
All of those featured people in exotic climes like the Sahara or Darkest Africa or the steamy jungles of Central America or the frigid Andes or the Gobi Desert, which had a particular come-hither for some reason. They all sounded like a 10- or 12-year-old’s vision of heaven to me.
I’m only recalling those thoughts because while waiting for several calls returning my calls, I checked the CNN Website and looked at a story about humankind’s roots in Africa. The chief researcher was affiliated with South Africa’s Wits University. I laughed at first.
Wits University. If I’d known there was a Wits University, I wouldn’t have spent all those years at Bob’s Easy College. I’d have gone to Wits University which surely cranks out archeologists and paleontologists by the ark-load as well as people who are just plain witty and others who have their wits about them. Half-wits would probably be more comfortable at Bob’s. Then the calls I’d been waiting for started coming in.
Here, I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to my fellow Californians, all of them. I got mail from the State Controller’s Office. Ahhh, an upward adjustment to my monthly PERS retirement check I guessed. Oh, boy, I hope it’s a good one. I ripped into the envelope with the little window that signifies there’s a check inside. What could we do with a couple of hundred dollars? Lots of things. And sure enough, there was Controller John Chiang’s signature on that check just like at the first of every month. But it wasn’t an adjustment to my pension. It was a tax refund.
The great State of California had sent me a check for $4.29, for the overpayment I’d evidently made on my 2012 tax return. Four dollars and twenty-nine cents! What we could do with that kind of money just staggers the imagination. We could buy a gallon of gas or nearly or a tad more. We could outfit ourselves with a new sock. It could make a good run on a twelve-pack of Pepsi at most places or knock down a half-dozen doughnuts at other places.
I surely didn’t intentionally miscalculate my tax obligation by $4.29. If I had known the trouble it would cause, I would have rechecked my figures a dozen times. Who can guess how many of our state’s taxpayers had to pay something extra to cover what it must have cost to process that $4.29 check — 3 cents, 9 cents, 1 cent or even 4 dollars and 29 cents? It’s to them that I owe this apology. Now, I have a dilemma. What will it cost my fellow taxpayers, and me, to have the state process that check again if I cash it? It will have to go through someone’s hands to get it into a machine that slits the envelope open and feeds the check into some kind of counting mechanism. The information will have to be recorded somewhere and at some point it will be noted by a human being who assigns the data to my account.
No doubt there will be at least one auditor or monitor or supervisor who confirms and signs off on the completion of the transaction and closes my file for tax year 2012. All of that has to cost a lot of money. Sure, no one outside the system will ever see it or know that it was me who caused that wasteful expense, but I know it, and now you know it. And for that I am heartily sorry.
Chris Daley is a staff writer and columnist for the Mountain Democrat. His column appears each Friday.