Noe Valley Voice April 2010

Let Bylines be Bylines

Sitting on Tenterhooks

By Owen Baker-Flynn

So here we sit, on tenterhooks, like tens of thousands of parents and high school seniors across the great state of California, as we wait for the yay or nay letters to arrive. The college applications are in, the letters of recommendation sent, and people who usually wait until April 14 to start their taxes are scrambling to get them done so financial aid forms can be filled out. There is nothing more to do. The deadlines have passed. And now we wait. On tenterhooks (I know, always on the tenterhooks!).

My daughter has applied mostly to small, private liberal arts colleges in the Northwest and Boston. She has also applied to Humboldt State and U.C. Santa Cruz as her backup schools. She's already been accepted to Humboldt and one college in Boston. Honestly? I hope she picks a school out of state. It's her dream to go to college as far away from me as possible--and I understand that--I'm not each to live with. But I don't want her to go to college far away from me because I don't want her nearby. I want her to go to school out of state because California is broke, and Cal State and U.C. have no money. Both systems have announced broad cutbacks for the Fall 2010 semester. And by broad cutbacks I mean pink slips for teachers, students, and support staff. Meantime, the regents are...well, I'm guessing they're still sitting pretty.

Everybody knows who's responsible. Fingers have been pointed. Blame has been laid. The goats have been scaped. It's the unions! It's the illegals! It's the teachers! It's those darn people on welfare. Why, if it wasn't for them, California would be doing just fine. But there is a group of people that so far has escaped blame. Hardly anyone has mentioned this other group. No, not the smokers or the obese, or even the obese smokers. Heck, they're already getting a fair share of abuse. No, I'm talking about us. Yes, us!

Recently I was looking to buy a new computer. As I was scoping out a particular model at the computer store, a guy came up to me and whispered, "You know, if you go to J&R online in New York, you won't pay any sales tax."

"Really?" I asked.

He assured me it was true and winked in that conspiratorical way that suggested we were in this thing together and really sticking it to the man. I didn't know the guy, and as he walked away I thought too late to tell him, "Wow, what a great idea! I'm sick and tired of driving on paved roads, too! And I hate calling 911 and having some guy ask me what kind of emergency I have, or worse come to my house to save me. And those four adults who spend all day with my son at middle school, yeah I hate when they get paid! That's right! Let's stick it to the man!"

How many times have you been somewhere--why, you're probably somewhere right now--and a friend or a coworker boasted to you they'd just saved five bucks on sales tax by buying something online? How many times have you bought something online and not had to pay sales tax?

Well, there are about 30 million of us here in California (though I guess there are fewer and fewer of us every day) and if we all buy stuff online today and save a buck or two in sales tax, we're cheating ourselves of 30 or more millions of dollars. And that was just today! Naturally, not everyone is buying stuff online. Babies, for example, are too busy rolling down 24th Street. But the point is, every single day, the state is losing millions of dollars in tax revenue that it would have sucked up if we'd bought the goods at a local brick-and-mortar store.

I want to be very clear. I'm not in love with taxes. But I am in love with roads not falling apart. I love that there's a number I can call in an emergency and that a live person will answer. I love going to the library and borrowing books!

We'll never find our way out of this budget mess if we keep thinking it's those others who are at fault. To paraphrase the classic comic strip Pogo, "We have stuck it to the man, and the man is us!"

Anyway, just had to get that off my chest. If you'd like, you can go about your day blaming some small group of people for the state's financial woes. Me? I'm going to buy some soft chairs so I can stop sitting on tenterhooks. Man, are those things a pain in the you know what. I wonder if I can get them online...

Owen Baker-Flynn, a 22nd Street resident for 20 years, is a juggler, voiceover performer, comedian, and most of all a parent.

Let Bylines Be Bylines

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