April 18th, 2017

On tax day: the taxman

[NOTE: This is an edited version of an essay of mine from the past.]

Today is the last day to send in your taxes.

Ah, paying taxes. What fun! Along with close to 100% of Americans, I hate the process. It’s an attitude that unites us like almost nothing else. In recent years it’s even worse than usual, because the IRS has proven itself to be beneath contempt.

But to go back in time—tax day always reminds me of my father. He was both a lawyer and a certified public accountant, but it’s the latter profession that conjures up the April memories for me. He was not the Taxman (see video above) but the Taxmiddleman, the one who prepared tax forms—often of a very complex nature—and did it all by hand back in those pre-computer, pre-calculator, pre-Turbotax days. Actually, I suppose there were calculators back then—clunky mechanical ones, much like the calculator our neighbors had in their house to use for their business. But my father disdained and distrusted calculators, preferring to rely on his lightening-fast abilities with pencil and paper.

Every year starting around February—when my parents always went away to warmer climes for about ten days, in preparation for the long hard slog to come—until mid-April my father would come home from work every night, eat dinner, and go immediately to a small table in our living room. There he’d set up shop until bedtime, around midnight, and then repeat the entire process the next day. Weekends it started earlier. No TV for him, and almost no relaxation, just this quiet sitting in a chair, bending over papers and fiddling with small figures.

For those months, we kids were instructed to tiptoe around in the evenings and not disturb him. This was a tense time. We could see it in his exhausted face and bloodshot eyes.

And so in our house tax day was a very happy day. That’s probably true for all the Taxmiddlemen/women.

[NOTE: The video that appeared in the original version of this post is now unavailable. The one I inserted here instead—Indonesian titles and all—is the only one I could find right now that isn’t a cover version or a later solo by George Harrison. So in case you were wondering “why Indonesian?”, the answer is “because.”).

15 Responses to “On tax day: the taxman”

  1. Ralph Kinney Bennett Says:

    Thanks for the memory, Neo, of your Dad laboring over other folks’ taxes. You mentioned the April deadline, but I’m sure yoiur childhood memories include the fabled “ides of March” deadline. I can’t remember when the switchover to April occurred. My wife is a (retired) CPA and I remember not only her days of labor but the nights when she couldn’t sleep because she was thinking of particularl clients and wondering if she had done everything right for them. Many of her loyal clients were quite crestfallen when she retired. Now she only has to worry about our taxes. I am ever thankful for her diligence and wizardry and consider myself very lucky that throughout our over half century of marriage I have only had to sign the forms. You have a wonderful analytical sense that shows when you write on complex or difficult subjects, and I’ll bet you got at least some of that from your Dad.

  2. neo-neocon Says:

    Ralph Kinney Bennett:

    Thanks!

    Your wife sounds like she was a wonderful CPA. No wonder her clients miss her!

    My father also used to have an (unofficial) sliding scale for his clients. I doubt that happens too much these days.

    When I was a little girl and argued with my mother, she used to say “You sound like a lawyer!” I’ll leave it to others to decided whether that was a compliment or not 🙂 .

    By the way, I don’t remember the March deadline, although since it happened in 1955 (I just looked it up), I certainly was alive. But not paying all that much attention to the dates.

  3. adagny Says:

    I wonder what the percentage of folks actually posting their taxes by the April deadline vs. those who file for extensions?

  4. chuck Says:

    I fought the good fight and filed Sunday. I did not win, but I survive to be taxed another day.

  5. J.J. Says:

    I have always done our taxes. Many years ago I saw an ad from a tax preparation service that offered $25 to any taxpayer who brought in his/her return and the preparer couldn’t find at least $100 in savings. I took my records and return in. I got $25 and an offer of a job. That gave me confidence that I knew what I was doing.

    My wife worked for H&R Block for few years in the 1980s. She had some Vietnamese refugees as clients. She was amazed/amused at how quickly they embraced the concept of deductions and credits. Many of her American clients weren’t as quick to pick up on that.

    As long as we have government (And I believe we do need government. Just not as big and overwhelming as the one we have now.) we will have to pay taxes of some kind. What is maddening is how complex it all is. Maybe that will change under Trump. Well, we can always hope.

  6. huxley Says:

    For a change I filed my returns some days early. The California Franchise Tax Board bite was worse than ever — 60% of my Fed tax, instead of the usual 30-35%.

    And I hear CA taxes are going higher! Well, that’s why I’m not retiring there. Even my grandfather, who was a wealthy man in his day and loved California, moved to FL rather than pay CA taxes.

  7. huxley Says:

    As it happens, I’m reading, “Revolver: How the Beatles Reimagined Rock’n’Roll.” That was the album where George Harrison’s songwriting came into its own. He got three songs on “Revolver” and his “Taxman” was the first cut.

    “Taxman” was a curious song for someone taking LSD and studying Eastern wisdom, who would later complain about Western greed in the song, “Piggies.” Nonetheless, Harrison was incensed and rightly so. He was being taxed at 95.6%!

    Harrison’s lyrics weren’t quite up to the high bar of Lennon-McCartney, so Lennon helped him out, changing the clunky ending:

    You may work hard trying to get some bread
    You won’t make out before you’re dead.

    to:

    Now my advice for those who die
    Declare the pennies on your eyes.

    Which I heard, mondegreen-style, as:

    Put leather pennies on your eyes.

    All I could figure was the leather pennies were cheaper than copper ones.

  8. Yankee Says:

    I have observed that many people feel that they should get professional help, or use software like TurboTax, instead of doing their own returns. Outside help has somehow become an imperative, due to this perception, even for those with very low incomes.

    Most states also have income taxes of some sort (even NH, on dividends & interest). Some states have programs to alleviate the burden of property taxes (including rent) and sales tax on the poor. One of these is Maine, where property tax and sales tax credits can be filed at the same time with your state tax return. Depending on how little you make, you could not only get back all that you paid in for state income tax, but get paid a credit as well for those other taxes.

  9. Lee Says:

    My dad was an accountant. Actually a Capital Investment Analyst. He was good at his job. But tax time at HOME was a tribulation. He’d set up shop on the dining room table starting April 1st. He’d have a pad of graph paper and an adding machine. And he’d crunch away at doing my parents’ taxes. It was always miserable.

    TurboTax came along shortly before he died. My sister would but it, and do everyone’s taxes. My dad loved it, sort of. I think part of him missed his annual ritual.

  10. texexec Says:

    I yearn for just a sales tax. It seems fair to me to tax consumption instead of productivity. Then private citizens wouldn’t have to fill out all those complicated forms. I’d allow a lower tax on food and a higher tax on luxury items.

  11. Gringo Says:

    I recall my parents spending all day on Saturday and Sunday preparing their tax return. That would be 30-40 person hours. Today’s software makes it a lot easier.

  12. parker Says:

    We will receive a fed refund, so we filled early. But it does not sit welll that the taxman has the use of that money without paying us interest. Flat tax and an amendment to require a balanced fed budget is the next battle, then term limits. Article 5.

    BTW, the video link does not sound like the Beatles.

  13. huxley Says:

    parker: By George, you’ve got it! That’s not the Beatles.

    Looks like whoever handles the Beatles estate managed to kick off all the real Beatles versions from Youtube.

    Here’s a cool Stevie Ray Vaughn cover:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dNDYArDUgSg

  14. SemiLit HalfWit Says:

    Your statement about close to 100% of Americans hate the process should be amended to 54% of Americans. The other 46% don’t pay federal taxes.

    On top of that, close to 90% of all taxes are paid by the top 20%. So when your hear the leftistis and their media guard screaming that tax cuts only benefit the rich, they are right because the cuts can only go to those who actually pay taxes.

    Quick story, at Easter dinner, my nephew who recently joined to work force was complaining about his tax burden. When I explained the percentages of people who actually Paul taxes, he was floored and asked how come no one knows these facts. I told him to ask his mother and father, both leftists, why this information is muted by the media and leftist politicians.

  15. J.J. Says:

    texexec: “I yearn for just a sales tax.”

    I don’t. Here’s why. People will practice tax avoidance as much as possible. That means a black market. That means new autos, houses, and other big ticket items will be bought only by the wealthy who can afford the sales taxes. Most people will buy used to avoid the tax. I live in a sales tax/real estate tax only state. Those taxes determine a lot of my buying decisions -especially as applies to autos, real estate, and other big ticket items. A not-so-big ticket example: My state enacted a huge cigarette tax. ($3.03/pack) That tax created a black market in cigarettes. (It is estimated that 46% of all cigarettes consumed are smuggled into the state). The sales tax only creates a whole lot of unintended economic consequences.

    A semi-flat tax on incomes (10% – up to $100,000, 15% – up to $250,000, 20% – $250,000 and up) with a healthy deduction of approximately $15,000 for single people, $20,000 for married couples and $5,000 per child would simplify the code and bring in more revenue. Unfortunately, it would also put a lot of tax preparers and CPAs out of business. All changes have consequences – some good, some bad. I prefer simplification and the system that is familiar to a leap into uncharted territory.

About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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