“Has the eagle landed?” my lovely wife, Grace, inquired, peeking into the den.
“Not yet,” I sighed, peering up from the piles of papers, files, records, and receipts.
“I should be finished in a few more days,” I added. “I have everything pretty well organized.”
“Well, you could have fooled me,” Grace proclaimed, scanning the hills and valleys of documents. “It looks like an imitation of the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo.”
“Not funny,” I shot back as Grace backpedaled from the room.
We both had reached the point when nerves get edgy and tempers short. No, not menopause. Worse than that! Income tax time: the approach of April 15th. I had been in my usual “avoidance behavior” mode throughout January, February, and March, finding any project (Want me to caulk the waffle iron?) so as to not have to start the dreaded process of collecting, tabulating, preparing, and filing our income taxes. With the arrival of April, I had to relent, retreat to the den, and begin my form-1040 flagellation.
I realize people have paid taxes for millennia (“…there went out a decree that all the world should be taxed…”). After all, it is said the only certainties in life are death and taxes. Yet, while death looms just once for each of us, taxes are an annual agony. I really hate doing the taxes. This yearly parade of pain plays itself out in the Williams household like an ancient three-act tragedy (Taxus Impossibus).
The first act is the gathering, sorting, and tallying of checks, bills, receipts, and most everything else that isn’t moving. I place these in stacks on the desk, the den floor, the kitchen table and counters, and on every other available flat surface. As the phalanx of papers advances throughout the house, I can sense Grace’s level of agitation advancing as well. She will chime in with a comment such as, “Hey, Michelangelo, are you planning to cover the foyer ceiling, too?”
The climax of this first act is the annual audit of the checkbook for bona fide deductions. This drill, however, invariably ends up much like a congressional investigation of each other’s expenditures.
“Three hundred dollars to Gwynn?” I queried.
“It’s Gwynn’s, and it was for Donald Pliner,” Grace answered.
“Is it Gywnn or Donald?” I asked exasperatedly.
“It is for a pair of Donald Pliner shoes at a very nice store named Gwynn’s,” Grace replied, adding, “While we’re talking expenses, who made this purchase from Paul Hobbs Winery?”
This is usually followed by a couple of days of our communication being limited to only grunts and gestures. Thus begins the second act of Taxus Impossibus. I continue to accumulate various amounts of income and deductions and attempt to enter these totals on the proper lines of the proper forms. This is no easy task. To potentially make it less burdensome, the good folks at the IRS have published an instruction booklet for the foreboding, formidable 1040. The booklet is 128 pages! I suspect an instruction book on building your own nuclear submarine is shorter and less complicated.
My favorite page of the instruction book is page seventy-five. Here, the IRS provides a table with suggested time allotments for each step—from recordkeeping to mailing the completed forms. These estimates would be more believable if described in terms of months and weeks rather than hours and minutes. Plus, left out are a number of time-consuming steps such as digging through the trash for a misplaced worksheet, apologizing to one’s spouse for not shaving for yet another day, and wiping spilled coffee from the computer keyboard.
Despite these obstacles, I inexorably work my way forward—stack by stack, line by line. I keep myself armed with yellow Eberhard Faber No. 2 pencils, and Grace keeps me fortified with pots of Starbucks’ strongest brew. My moods range from unbecoming to a gentleman to downright nasty. Papers and expletives fly. I accumulate a stack of stuff for the IRS and a sack full of sins for my next confession. I push onward, following my own simple instructions historically founded from Aprils past: If you think it may be taxable as income, it is. If you think it may be a deduction, it isn’t! I process pieces of paper as the sands of time sift rapidly toward April 15th. I sense how Dorothy must have felt in The Wizard of Oz. And then, miraculously, just as my paper and patience are exhausted, I am finished! Now, I rush to the post office to stand in line with the other Cinderellas trying to mail their return before the midnight deadline.
The third act of each year’s play involves clean up, shredding, and filing away certain tax records. At this point, Grace always inquires why, since we shred so much, we still have so much to store. I explain we need to keep some information for a required period of time, and the shredding is to guard against identity theft. Last year, I even proclaimed that, if I were a “bad guy,” I could troll through someone’s trash and steal their identity. “If you ever are seriously thinking of doing that,” Grace replied with a twinkle in her eye, “may I suggest that you steal the identity of Jon Hamm?”
As the curtain falls on the final act of this year’s drama, Grace offers a piece of coconut cream pie—my favorite.
“Here you go, honey,” Grace soothes. “My big, strong bookkeeper. You’ve earned it.”
As I savor each morsel of my reward, Grace suggests, “Next year, why don’t we have someone do this for us?”
“I can do it,” I start to explain.
Grace gently interrupts, “Yes, I know, dear. You can change the oil in your car, too. But why would you want to?”
Grace has a good point. I wouldn’t give myself a root canal. I could find my own wizard behind a curtain to prepare our tax return, but there is something that keeps drawing me back to this spring ritual. As Grace serves up a second helping of pie, it dawns on me why I do. Finishing your tax return is like hitting yourself with a hammer—it feels so good when you stop.
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