Monday, March 12, 2007

Taxes in the Desert

I wish the title of this could have been “Dessert in Texas” but it just wasn’t to be, and since the ugly old head of the government needs more money for red tape, bureaucratic rubber stamps and hydraulically-powered toilets in the U.S. Embassy in Australia (to make the water spiral in the proper direction), I need to pony up my share of the ante.

The night before, I was optimistic that we’d emerge from the Schedule C unscathed, because last year we sucked back from the vacuum that is the tax system about five grand. It’s nice because I wasn’t expecting it. I didn’t think that anything in our lives had changed since 2005—same number of kids, same house, same total income, same expenses—but I was wrong.

I sat on the couch and had everything splayed out on the ottoman to make sure it was all accounted for, W2s, 1099s, a bevy of tax forms from a variety of sources—more numbers than any one law-abiding American should have to look at—and for one night I force myself to play accountant, totaling receipts, cross-checking spending on AmEx verses the checkbook and adding up all of the business expenses. Lots of grumbling and a few “Wow, we spent that much on going out to eat!?!”

Natalie asked what I was doing and I told her that “I’m doing our taxes” which she translated into “I’m going to Texas,” and when she kissed me goodnight, she wished that I have a good trip and that she’ll see me when I get back. Very well. Off to Texas.

Our tax guy moved last year. Most inconvenient for us, and why I don’t get a new one can be summed up by my creature of habit policy: If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. We’ve been going to him since Kara and I have been married—for the purposes of the IRS and the alternate lifestyles people seem to condone these days, we’ve been going to him since Kara and I have been jointly filing our taxes. He gets us. He knows what I do and he caters to my other staunch policy of not paying the government a red cent unless they absolute demand it. It doesn’t seem like the ninth year that we’ve gone to him, but it is, but this year, he decided run off and to move his office to Palm Springs.

I’ve never been to Palm Springs before, not that I remember, and for good reason I guess. There isn’t much there, and if you drag your oven out to the patio and stand in front of it in the sun with the door open and the temperature set at “self clean” you get the idea of what it’s like. Reluctant to go, Kara suggested that we visit The Living Desert, an arid, desert-themed zoo nearby and make a day of it, and once we blew a half tank of gas to drive way out where the sun is apparently closer to the earth, I couldn’t imagine how this could be a hot spot for the jet set of the 60s. Hot spot, yes… very hot spot… hot spot for the 60-year-olds, yes again, as we entered city limits they had to make a drastic adjustment to the average age of the residents, not to mention we brought up the heterosexual quota too.

If you’re old and gay, Palm Springs is the place to be.

The zoo was pretty good. I wouldn’t completely agree with all the rave reviews it got from the Mommy&Me club members that Kara informed me about, but it was a pleasant change from all the other typical zoos. It reminds me of what a zoo would look like if it was in someone’s backyard: very quaint and friendly, lots of desert paths, all the plants and trees were labeled and the paths meandered through a well manicured desert wonderland of cacti and thick-skinned animals. We gave ourselves about six hours to see it all and grab some dinner before our appointment and that was plenty of time. As I expected, the desert animals are no more stupider in a zoo than they are in the wild; most of them stayed well hidden and out of the 95-degree, 10-percent-humidty weather. The small rodents kept to their holes. The cheetahs were probably hiding in plain sight but I didn’t see them. And the bighorn sheep were strangely absent. The three giraffes were munching on palm trees, which seemed odd to me, and the camels were playing with big paper bags.

It was hot. We drank a lot of water, and I even plopped down four bucks for a bottle of beer, which was nice. I spent the day wiping sweat from my brow and didn't notice until I got home that I hadn't used the restroom all day. One delight: There’s nothing like a cold beer on a sweltering day and the four dollars seemed like a bargain, especially since I could drink it from the bottle (try that at Disneyland).

The highlight for Natalie was the butterfly exhibit, a giant webbed tent that housed a complete habitat for hundreds of butterflies, and it was the closest she’s ever been to her favorite flying insect. They fluttered all around her as she stood there, mouth gapping in that this-is-so-wonderful way she expresses her amazement. Eyes wide. Gentle steps in such a hallowed ground. She crouched. She pointed. She stood quietly while they swooped out of the sky and skirted our heads. She laughed as they flitted by. Matthew tried everything to clamor into the water fountain and spent some time picking at the flowers.

We got Natalie a spotter’s brochure and she spent the rest of the day pointing to the various butterflies we saw…and a few we didn’t, but they all look alike after a while. Monarch, Painted Lady, Zebra Heliconian, who knows?

As we left the “Butterflies Alive!” Butterfly Garden and into the gift shop, Natalie found all kinds of things to help her express her love of the butterfly, and I was feeling like a spendthrift. The payoff will be at tax time where I expected a large return. Certainly, I can afford to make my only daughter squeal with delight by buying her a butterfly t-shirt, a butterfly finger puppet and a butterfly poster. At that moment, $30 meant nothing, especially since I was picturing a hefty check from the IRS. Oddly, in this day and age, the gift shop took cash only and I considered myself rich having a twenty in my wallet so we had to leave to get some cash for Natalie’s souvenirs. It was an investment in happiness.

After much heat in an afternoon of deserty funness, we decided to leave for dinner and then make it to downtown Palm Springs for our tax meeting at 5:30. I didn’t know where I was going, where I was and where I had just been. I only had a crudely drawn map, by yours truly, of the area: a four-street box with an X where the office was. No address. No phone number. Just an X to mark the spot. I knew that if I found myself inside that box, I couldn’t get lost.

Who knew that there would be two streets with exactly the same names going in completely opposite directions, north and south, paralleling one another? Who knew that there was a very bad neighborhood in Palm Springs reminiscent of “the projects?” Who knew that the streets packed up on a Saturday night? And who knew that we wouldn’t be able to find a decent place to eat that would require us to fill out loan documents and prove our net earnings? Who knew all of this? We did after discovering it. We were stuck driving north on South Palm Canyon Boulevard, a one-way street, when we wanted to be going south on North Palm Canyon Boulevard, a two-way street, with only a few access roads that lead to it—and one of those does not go through the projects. Then it got crowded. We passed a dozen suitable restaurants, thinking that a better one was just round the corner. In truth, we were holding out for a Red Robin, of which there isn’t one in the entire valley. Nobody told me.

We settled on Coco’s. Not my first choice, and we felt oddly out of place. They sat us in a booth away from everyone else, and when knew patrons arrived, they started piling them up in the opposite corner of the dining room. It didn’t help that Matthew was crying as we walked in and I’m sure there was a collective groan by everyone and lots of praying going on that they wouldn’t put us next to them. Again, the Palm Springs demographics held true. Our server—I think his name was Link—talked about his nephews (which he had a picture taped to his order book). Every man was gay and every woman was overweight… and everyone was old. Soon, the dining room was like Manifest Destiny, as more and more people showed up, empty tables began to be filled, slowly creeping across the room toward us. Pretty soon, just as we were finishing up, they put someone next to us.

The food was okay. I was a little miffed I wasn’t eating a Monster Burger from Red Robin (or anything else from anywhere else), but I was still hungry. The bacon was a little crunchy, and since Kara said I was making obnoxious comments all through dinner—there were some tasteless pickle jokes I chose to make—she insisted that I tip well. I did. I always do, but that night I was getting a big return, so for a few moments, I could afford to pretend I was Diamond Jim Brady, at Coco’s.

I’ll make this short, as I don’t especially like to relive the tax experience, but I strolled into my tax guy’s office with the confidence that I was going to leave with expectations of a big check, say around $6000. Instead, the blood drained from my face when he told me that I was going to have to pay that amount, and more, much more.

Crap. I hate the government. I hate my tax bracket. I hate money. I hate working. I hate earning. I hate my wallet. I hate the fact that I spent $14 on a butterfly t-shirt for Natalie that she’ll grow out of in six months. I hate the fact that I gave my homosexual waiter an $8 tip on a $32 meal at Coco’s. And I hate the fact that the little guy always gets screwed. Let’s move to Costa Rica, no federal taxes but they get the benefit of snuggling under Uncle Sam’s wide-reaching blanket. Yeah, let’s do that before April 15th.

As luck would have it—and for me, when it comes to making ends meet—I have always been lucky…as luck would have it, we missed adding our mortgage interest to the list, and since I pay an arm and a leg to live indoors, it was enough to save the day. Thank you big expensive house, at least you’re pulling for me.

So, me and Uncle Sam are square again. Sorry about all that stuff I said about you.

What happened, you ask? Well, in 2005, I actually had a tax-sucking W-2 job for a few months and the rest was freelance 1099 money. It was enough to cover the taxes and provide a return. Last year, it was 100 percent freelance; therefore 100 percent taxable income.

Nothing like dodging a bullet from the IRS, especially when it’s got your SSN on it.

Good times. At least until next year.

1 comment:

Ryan or Kara said...

I said Nick, our server, deserved a good tip for two reasons. First, he put up with our big mess. Second, he called me miss!


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