Wednesday, April 13, 2005

More about death and taxes, with a note on sainthood

If last night was a 1040 hellhole, today, New York tax law proved to be the hatchet that came crashing down on my withered and shriveled form, hunched over papers and open applications, screaming to no one in particular that it was just not fair to expose one suffering soul to the atrocities written by vermin parading as tax code experts. May rodents gnaw at their heels and vultures swoop down and peck off their slimy typing fingers. May they squirm in helplessness, may they feel the trauma of having absolutely no control over what happens next.

I admit, these were not kind words.

For reasons known only to divine beings, none of them friends of mine, I am sitting filling out not only Wisconsin tax forms (easy!) but also New York ones. Even as a scrawny little non-resident, I have had to wade through oceans of papers worksheets and forms. I am spent.

And I also had a seminar to teach.

I am back from class now, and I have gained some perspective. True, the work for tonight is elephantine indeed and there may not be the hours to accommodate it all, but still, there were positive aspects to this day:

What brilliantly glorious weather (can we notch up the thermometer a bit tomorrow?)! I cannot believe how beautiful it is. Drop-dead gorgeous!

Then there was Jessica (her real name, though hereafter you may refer to her as Ste. Jessica). My note to you:

Dear Jessica,

Was it the uncontrollable pain in my voice over the phone that tipped you off? Was it the spiritual decline that you sensed was taking place in my home over the past 24 hours? Whatever made you do it, know that I am grateful. That you should fly down in the middle of the day from campus, deliver into my hands a calculator AND a hot cup of skim latte is beyond-words wonderful. Thank you. I will recover and someday repay this kindness.

May I also offer a piece of advice? If H&R Block ever calls and asks to have your business, give it to them.


Helleborus in my front yard: pushing through cold soil, opening to the sun. Posted by Hello
Tracking the willow: an explosion of leaves Posted by Hello

Grumblings about death and taxes

When the pope dies, the news cameras head for Rome to take in all the chanting and grieving. When April 15th approaches, the cameras focus on us and our hatred of the 1040.

It’s all sadly inevitable. For more than a week we watched and read about the v e r y s l o w process of moving the pope from the state of being freshly deceased to being placed in his “eternal” “resting” spot at St. Peter’s (both words are of dubious validity here, but it is what one says, out of respect I suppose). That took more than a week. As of yesterday, the rituals were still paraded before us as I watched the Cardinals file past to say their final goodbye and then hang a red ribbon on the door of his chambers – another ancient ritual for a deceased pope, though I have to believe that the ribbon will someday be removed and the chambers made fresh for the new pope and oh by the way, no I do not think it will be the cardinal from Milan nor any other of the Italians. No bird told me, I have no inside track, but as long as everyone else is speculating, why can’t I?

With the 1040, it’s more complicated. I have been struggling with figuring out the tax system here since I landed on the paved-with-gold soil in 1972. My parents never paid American taxes when I was a kid – a privilege for those affiliated with the diplomatic corps. When your own government pays you your salary, you fill out their 1040, not the American one. Of course, Poland in the 60s scoffed at such concepts as taxation and I no longer remember from my days of reading Lenin if there was a reason for it, but in any event, under communism there was, therefore, no April 15th nightmare for Poles.

But once here on my own, I began the struggle. No one ever explained anything to me – I did not get a little note as I crossed through passport control in New York – no one said: from this day forth, you will be made to feel small and worthless because you will make repeated mistakes throughout your life as a taxpayer.

Mistakes I made aplenty, even after I was licenced to practice law, which in itself is sadder than sad, since I received a rather excellent grade in Tax while in Law School. This tells you something about the 1040. And predictably, as I noticed last year, the IRS only tells you about the mistakes that are not in their favor.

Yesterday, I finished my 2004 1040. And I am proud to say that it only took me about 10 hours and 40 minutes to do, as opposed to the national average which is more than twice that amount. Moreover, since my calculator broke and I only at midnight found out that every computer has a built in counter, I added and multiplied the old fashioned way – carrying the ones and twos and mumbling my times tables as I went along.

But halfway through, I realized that somewhere in the year there must have been some dreadful mistake whereby the wrong formula was used to withhold because in spite of only a two digit figure in the 9a line, this year, I was going to owe owe owe.

That, perhaps, was the wrong time to open a bottle of wine and yet I felt I owed owed owed myself at least that. What with the long day, the muted TV throwing images of Jon Stewart making grotesque faces, stacks of penciled-in papers, the decreasing level of liquid in the green bottle next to me, I would say it was one rough set of hours and at the close of the day, my inner peace, insofar as I had any to begin with, was shattered. I apologize to everyone I talked to or wrote emails to between 8 pm and midnight. I do not really hate life, the IRS, the Vatican, you, none of the above. But I’m not too crazy about the April 15th ritual. There must be a better way.