“Department of Motor Vehicles.”
Nothing fills the hearts of Big City Dwellers with more terror than those four words. Not only are they inevitably accompanied by a bill guaranteed to burn your soul, very often they mean: “Get your butt in here, buddy. Time to stand in line.”
And in the Big City they aren’t kidding about “time.” When I lived in L.A., it was common to wait at least four hours just to renew a vehicle registration. And when I had to take the written test to renew my driver’s license, it literally took all day.
So it was with a fair degree of dread that I went to Paradise’s equivalent of the DMV the other day. The Revenue Office.
The state of Arkansas and I were having this little disagreement, see, about my personal property assessment for the coming year. I said I’d sent in all the right information about my truck. The faceless folks in Little Rock said, “Uh-uh.” I was hoping that my friends in the local revenue office, a storefront on the town square, would be a little more helpful than that.
I was also hopeful that I’d get out of there in time for, say, Easter. But I wasn’t counting on it.
As soon as I walked in, though, I saw yet another reason why this place is Paradise. It was the lunch hour, but instead of a milling throng of supplicants, only two people were waiting â€” for three clerks. In other words, no waiting. Not one minute. No need for the “Take-A-Number” machine.
I stepped up to the counter, and Evie the Friendly Clerk, who I’d seen many times around town, smiled like the sun and told me not to worry about a thing. She took the letter the state had sent me and clacked away at her computer keyboard.
In all of 20 seconds, she’d identified the problem. “This shows that you assessed and paid last year,” she said, “but the year before that is blank. The state wants you to pay for that blank year. With penalties, of course.”
“But I did pay it,” I said.
Evie nodded. “Of course you did. If you hadn’t, we wouldn’t have let you register the truck the next year. So let me make this little change…”
She typed something in. “There. Now you’re officially paid up. All I need is a check and I’ll give you your new sticker.”
I handed her the check. She gave me the sticker. Total time elapsed from when I’d entered: Two and a half minutes.
“Is there anything else I can do?” Evie said.
I was about to say no, but then I noticed something on the wall behind her. An old-fashioned cork bulletin board. On the board was an 8-by-12 poster with the words, “In God We Trust,” surrounded by little American flags.
“Is that your poster over there?”
Evie nodded. But she looked a little troubled. “We’re not supposed to have the word ‘God’ in public buildings,” she said. “But I kind of like it.”
“You think it’s risky for you to put it there?”
“I think it could be,” she said. “But they say it on money, don’t they?” Her voice grew stronger. “And besides, I’m a free woman in a free country. I can believe in whatever I believe in, can’t I?”
All I could do was shrug. “Anyone complain about it?” I said.
Evie smiled again. “No,” she said. “I was expecting them to, but nobody has. So far the only people who’ve mentioned it have said how happy it makes them.”
A look of concern returned to her face. I knew she was waiting for me to tell her my reaction.
And I knew what my reaction would be.
I’m not into ideology, or what rules and regulations and politics and religions are right or wrong.
But to me, when Evie put up that poster, she was performing an act of pure self-expression. Of individuality. Of, in its way, rebellion.
And as a thinking, feeling, pretty much open and out there “go ahead take your best punch kind” of human, there’s nothing I love more than self-expression and individuality and, yep, rebellion, too.
I mean, what’s real Paradise if not a strong place in your soul that plants you firmly as your own person, ready, willing and able to let everyone know who you are?
So I smiled back at Evie, and said, “I’m happy to see that poster, too.”
Larry Brody is an author, veteran television writer and producer and creative director of Cloud Creek Institute for the Arts. He, his wife and their dogs, cats, horses and chickens live in Marion County. The other residents of the mythical town of Paradise reside in his imagination, however, and any resemblance to actual places or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Originally published August 30, 2006