THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HOOTER MCCORMICK -- SORT OF CLOSED

by: Wes Ishmael

Hooter always felt a sense of righteous indignation every time he put a tax check in the mail to Uncle Sam.

He wasn't against paying taxes, mind you; he was willing to pay his share and expected everyone else to do the same. Hooter also understood that having taxable income meant that he was operating in the black, at least in theory. What he couldn't stomach was paying what seemed to him to be an exorbitant portion of his net income.

"At some point, there's just no incentive to do more, if they're going to keep so much of it," Hooter complained to one of his frequently replaced tax preparers decades ago. "At some point, you're just as well off to do less."

"You're exactly right, Mr. McCormick," replied the young accountant. "Unfortunately, you are not yet at that point of fiscal discretion."

Despite his frequent outrage at the current tax code, Hooter always did his level best to ensure his records were accurate and that any deductions were beyond reproach. Still, he couldn't help but feel a little guilty when he got a letter from the IRS in early December, saying they wanted to conduct a random audit of his books. That feeling weakened when he called IRS agent, Eugene Wilcox, as instructed; Mr. Wilcox was presumably better with numbers than people. By now, after what seemed like the umpteenth phone call, just to set a date for the appointment, Hooter's outrage was winning.

"Hello...Hello...Mr. McCormick are you still there?" Apparently Hooter was taking too long to consider an appropriate time and date for the audit. "Hello, hello..."

"Yes, I'm here," Hooter finally replied. "I didn't realize there was a stop watch on answering."

The voice on the other end tried, unsuccessfully, to be more pleasant: "Of course, there's no stop watch. I was just concerned that perhaps our connection was bad. As I was saying, could we schedule an appointment during the third week of the month?"

"There's nothing I'd enjoy more," said Hooter. "Unfortunately, we're temporarily closed."

"Um, what is closed, exactly?"

"What does it say on the return?"

"Huh?"

"What's the name on the return?"

"You know very well what it is; it's Apache Basin Cattle Co., LLC, which you own."

"Yep, and it's closed."

"Ummm, I'm afraid I don't understand. You are still in business, aren't you?"

"Yep, I'm in business, but the business you mentioned is closed for a bit, while the board tries to reach resolution on a couple of outstanding matters."

"But, you're an LLC, you don't need a board of directors."

"That's true, but it's structured such that we can and do have one."

Silence on the line. Finally, Hooter couldn't help himself. "Hello, Hello...Mr. Wilcox are you still there? Hello, Hello? I hope I haven't lost you."

"I'm still here," came a more somber voice. "I'm just trying to understand the situation. You said the board was trying to reach a resolution; on what exactly, if you don't mind my asking."

"do mind, but in the spirit of cooperation, I'll tell you, but leave out specific names."

"O.K."

"What it boils down to is that one half of the board wants to funnel our spare change toward more cattle. The other half refuses to agree to that until we strengthen the fence across our south pasture. So, until they hash it out, we're just idling."

More silence, but less than before. "What's wrong with the fence?"

"Not much, really. It's worked fine ever since we had the place. But our neighbors in that direction are adding more numbers, and the one half of the board is worried that increases the odds that their cattle will end up with ours, eat our pasture, spread disease and whatnot."

"I see," Wilcox said, though of course, he didn't. He was trying really hard, though.

"You say one faction of your board is concerned about the south fence. Aren't there fences on the other sides of your property?"

"Yep, natural or otherwise, just like on the south side."

"I'm afraid I don't understand. How does strengthening the one fence prevent an intrusion through one of the other fences?"

"It doesn't. That's what I and the other half of the board keep trying to tell them."

"Surely, there must be some way to keep them out," Wilcox said, mostly to himself. Hooter could almost hear his wheels spinning.

"No sir. My experience is that sooner or later, anybody or anything can eventually get through if they want to bad enough."

If Wilcox understood where Hooter's conversation was heading, he didn't let on. He finally asked, "So, you're saying there's no way to protect your own herd of cattle?"

"I didn't say that at all."

"Please explain."

"We told the one half the board, them that wants to spend money on the one fence, that we'd be all for a bio-containment zone."

"A what?"

"Basically, we provide the edge of our south pasture, and the neighbors provide the north edge of theirs as a buffer zone. Our vets work with theirs to make sure their herd health is up to snuff with ours, and ours gibes with theirs. Then we establish a plan for how to handle things if some of their cattle end up in our pasture or visa versa."

There was another long string of silence.

"So, this board of yours is at an impasse?"

"I don't know about that, but it's sure enough a good old fashioned Mexican standoff."

"What? I'm still trying to understand, Mr. McCormick. You say your business is closed, but surely you must still operate."

"It's a trick; down to just me and Buster, Jr."

There was the sound of paper rustling on Wilcox's end of the line. "Buster? I don't see any mention of him or any other employee. Who is Buster, exactly?"

"He's the neighbor's dog; we had to let ours go, at least while we're closed."

"If you don't mind my saying so, that doesn't sound like much a way to run a business."

"No sir, it truly is not. When you folks can set a time for the audit, without the risk of another one of your government shutdowns interfering, let me know and we'll get it scheduled."







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