Can't get something for nothing

Some things may still be free, but not many things. I realized that when I wandered into the Expo Room at the income tax school this past week. In one of my other jobs, I prepare income taxes during the “season.” Therefore, I found myself with almost two thousand other preparers visiting the big city, driving in traffic, and expecting to get loaded down with a treasure-trove of freebees and other useless junk. It’s the expected thing at a convention: go sit through a bunch of boring speeches by experts, pay exorbitant prices for a cup of coffee and a sandwich made three weeks ago out of recycled plywood, and get junk to take home. 

So, when I walked into the Expo, I expected to be greeted by a bunch of steroid-stuffed salesmen and saleswomen who would try to lure me into using their computer tax-preparation software, trying the latest in scanners and copiers, and listening to the sales pitches for the best deals on accounting and banking products. I expected to be wined and dined, bribed and bargained for, complimented and colluded. I brought along a big bag to collect the goodies. 

I think most of you would have felt the same way attending a convention or seminar. Maybe some of you have attended a seminar on oil production. You probably came home with little vials of crude oil, a miniature working pump jack, or a Matchbox tanker truck. Those in the cattle industry might have received little key rings made from “honest-to-goodness” cowhide, barbed wire wall hangings, and windmills small enough to fit into your pocket. 

My dad worked for Texas Electric when I was in the third grade. After he went to Dallas to a school on climbing utility poles in the pouring rain, I received a pair of Ready Kilowatt earrings, mama got a Ready Kilowatt cookie cutter, and my brother got to take a battery-powered light bulb to school for show and tell. He refused to trade.

I’ve been going to these tax schools for years, but let me tell you, times have changed. Oh, there was a big room full of salesmen and saleswomen anxious to lead the lambs to the slaughter, but there were no flashlights adorned with logos, no hand-held calculators with emergency IRS phone numbers on the back, no glow-in-the dark sponges in the shape of an IRS refund check, and no tension-relieving foam Statues of Liberty.

We were supposed to be enticed by ballpoint pens, peppermints left over from Christmas, and a small bowl of chocolate candy hovered over by hordes of greedy tax preparers. I found one small Hershey’s kiss on the floor and grabbed it up. After all, I had as much right to it as that fat lady from Baltimore.

The first day, I came back to my hotel room with three pens and a plastic paperclip. I ate the Hershey’s kiss on the spot. 

The second day, I skipped the first training session and dropped in on the Expo. Sure enough, they had re-stocked overnight. 

I managed to come out of there with twenty-three pens and a handful of peppermints. I guess they ran out of chocolates.

Yes, times are hard. Maybe that was the theme of the seminar ... it was the IRS, after all.

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