The way Bill Carroll tells it, his antipathy for Uncle Sam might have started with that letter back in 1969, the one that began: "Greetings."
Carroll, a dropout-to-be at Ohio State, visited the draft resistance counselors. They took one look at that scrawny 5-foot, 10-inch frame and told him that if he could get down to 107 pounds, he'd flunk the physical.
Carroll starved himself. When the moment of truth came, the emaciated 19-year-old confidently stepped on the scales.
"But you know that bar they use to measure your height?" Carroll recalls. "That guy bent that thing over my head and made me 5-7. . . . Ever since, I've always wanted nothing to do with the government."
Carroll says he managed to dodge the draft by spending a month in a mental hospital. Some people would say he'd have been crazy not to. But today, when people hear about Carroll's latest brush with Uncle Sam, they might wonder if he really is a bit touched after all.
You see, this 44-year-old family man who lives in Canyon Country recently received a check for $430.30 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The money is to help repair quake damage to his home. But Bill Carroll doesn't want it.
"It's still sitting in a drawer," he says. "I'm afraid to send it back, in case I get arrested."
He's joking about that. Or maybe half-joking. Bill Carroll is so anti-government that he's a libertarian, and so libertarian that he joined the Libertarian Party. His resume is that of a free spirit. After dodging the draft, he played drums in rock bands and managed the old Pussycat Theater in North Hollywood. When video started and drove the porno houses out of business, Carroll accepted a job offer in his father-in-law's business near downtown. Achievement Badge Co. makes banners and buttons for things like Little Leagues and beauty contests. People tell Bill: "I guess somebody has to make that stuff."
Like many libertarians, Bill Carroll is big on principle. He believes in the free market and thinks the best government is the least government. He's the kind of guy who cancels his subscription to a newspaper (this one) because he doesn't like its editorials favoring gun control. And when the proverbial rainy day comes--even in the form of a huge earthquake--Carroll figures that's what insurance and savings are for.
Now, Bill doesn't admit as much, but maybe he'd compromise his principles if his home had sustained more damage. As it was, he figured some spackle, paint and few hours on the weekend was sufficient. So when the check for $430.30 unexpectedly arrived in the mail, Bill Carroll looked the gift horse in the mouth. "I feel creepy taking the money," he says.
People who've been frustrated with FEMA, saying aid is too slow or insufficient, aren't completely amused by Carroll's experience.
Critics may see this as just another example of government incompetence. That's what FEMA was accused of in February when it sent checks to several homeowners who didn't apply for assistance. FEMA says it simply put speed ahead of normal procedures in heavily damaged ZIP codes because inspectors were so backlogged.
That isn't what happened in this case. The bureaucrats, when apprised of Carroll's predicament, say it isn't their fault at all. If Bill Carroll wants to point fingers and assign blame, said FEMA spokesman Marty Bahamonde, "He needs to talk to his wife."
Or, as Bill describes her, "my lovely wife, Gay."
Gay must be more lovely than libertarian. She apparently fell victim to what Bill calls "FEMA fever" after listening to all those post-quake news bulletins and public service announcements. As far as FEMA is concerned, Gay applied for aid when she placed a phone call.
Bill figured that if he ignored the letter that arrived a week later, the government would leave him alone. Instead, he received a call from a FEMA inspector.
We don't want help, Bill said. The inspector, however, pointed out that the Carrolls had been assigned "a control number," and thus an inspection simply had to be done.
On the day the inspector dropped by, Bill followed him around as he counted and measured the cracks.
Look, Bill said, if I don't fill out any forms or sign anything, I won't get any money, right?
"I don't answer questions," came the reply. "I just inspect."
The check arrived a couple weeks later. Once the machine was in motion, it seems, there was no stopping it.
When asked about the curious case of Bill Carroll, two FEMA officials said they'd never heard of such resistance.
"We are not flooded with people who don't want money," one deadpanned. "Why doesn't he deposit it and give it to the charity of his choice?"
Why indeed? Or why not throw a party? Why not contribute it to the Libertarian Party? Why doesn't he send it to the address that appears at the end of this column?
Actually, Bahamonde says, to use the money for anything other than quake repairs would be illegal. Aide recipients are supposed to keep receipts and return the money they don't use.
The last time I spoke with Bill, I told him that FEMA says it's OK for him to return the check--that he won't get in trouble. He seemed reassured. The check might be in the mail already.
There was just more one thing Bill wants everyone to know: that being a draft dodger doesn't mean he is unpatriotic. It's just that he didn't think the Viet Cong were really a threat to Columbus, Ohio.
Not that he worries about his military record too much. These days, being a draft dodger isn't such a stigma.
Bill Carroll figures it's about the only thing he has in common with that other Bill, the one who lives in the White House.
Scott Harris' column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.