Copyright 2011 by Peter Merkl
Last year, IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman admitted that he has an accountant prepare his taxes because the system is just too complicated. So it‘s understandable why, like most Americans who are forced to go it alone, I approach the process with all the courage and resolution of the Cowardly Lion shuffling sideways toward the Wizard of Oz.
I learned the tax day ritual by watching my father. Armed with only pencil, paper, and Pall Malls, he'd sit at the kitchen table surrounded by thick clouds of blue smoke and piles of cancelled checks, receipts, and tax forms miserably calculating and calculating again. We kids were very quiet and kept out of sight, because that night literally anything would set him off. My mother sat, still and forlorn, on the living room couch awaiting his next barked order to immediately find a missing receipt or cancelled check. Sighing softly, she’d head back to the kitchen drawer stuffed with 20 years worth of “important” papers, dead batteries, broken pencils, a hammer, and birthday candles, and sort slowly through it all, again.
There was also a ritual dance and chanting involved. Dad would suddenly slam the palms of his hands against his forehead, grab his hair in a death grip, shoot to his feet, spin around on one foot, and pace quickly around the room, all the while repeating, "But, last year.... If.... Why...? Devils, dirty, lousy devils! If there‘s any justice in the world…! You mark my words!"
I've added banging my head against the computer screen to the routine; somehow, I know he'd approve.
My tax day weapon of choice is TurboTax. It figures the amount you owe by asking an endless series of strange, seemingly disjointed questions. If you give the answer it wants, it asks another question to determine if you qualify for a particular deduction. If not, you're out of luck.
Q: Between June 9 and September 3, 2010, did you purchase any beer from a domestic retailer to be used solely for personal consumption?
A: Why, yes I did.
Q: (So far so good.) Between June 9 and September 3, 2010, did you consider purchasing a team of Clydesdales to assist you in transporting your beer?
A: Yes. (Hey, I think about a lot of things.)
Q: (I'm feeling lucky!) If you had purchased Clydesdales at any time during 2010, would you have grazed them in Puerto Rico, Micronesia, or American Samoa?
A: No. (Coin Flip.)
Sorry. You do not qualify for the American Protectorates Clydesdale Emissions Reduction Incentive Deduction.
Dirty, lousy devils! If there’s any justice in the world…!
This year, for reasons unknown and unknowable, I owe more than last year.
Thanks for nothing, TurboTax. And you too, Doug Shulman, O Wise and Wonderful Wizard of the IRS.
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