If there’s any time of the year when I know I’m going to get an unpleasant reminder as to just how far I need to go in the “growing up” department, no matter how much I spring for the fancy shampoo, it’s the second week of April. For this is the time I’ll get home from work every night, toss my keys into the handcrafted wooden “key bowl” I inherited from my grandmother and juke towards the fridge feeling like the lord of all creation…until I see the tax forms on my dining room table, still as fresh and as unblemished as the morning snow.
Generally what happens then is I stand there and stare at those forms scratching my head before looking down at my feet and kicking at the carpet like a little kid who just got caught smearing peanut butter all over the stereo and denying it even though Creamy JIF is congealing on the V.U. meters, thinking, “Oh yeah, I guess I’ve got to do something with these.”
Which is why I bring to you, from a 1982 Journal Gazette, one of the many, and I do mean many, ads I found from the “Tax Preparers” at H&R Block. A pretty nifty flipbook could be made of such things as a testament to how anyone could put such a positive yearly spin on such a dreadful thing: all with a shoulders-and-up photo of some local guy or gal in business regalia, all smiles, usually with a quote of some kind about how much you can trust them.
And maybe you could. It seems like “back in the day” there was a pride of craftsmanship, no matter what that craft might have been, and when you live in a small town, word gets out about that kind of thing. Everyone who ever did some kind of service for you was known by everyone else, which is why growing up many of us had fathers who would remind us who these people were. As in, “Son…if you ever need help with fill-in-the-blank you just talk to ‘Tom Appleton’ over at fill-in-the-blank. He’ll take care of you. He’s a good guy.”
Griping about taxes isn’t exactly the freshest of topics, ranking somewhere on a continuum with “Why do you always get the one cart with the wobbly wheel?”, “Do you ever wonder what Count Chocula and Franken Berry do when it’s not Halloween?”, “Who comes up with all the stupid names for the laundry detergents?” or any other grocery store related comedy bit you care to name. But still it must be said. Doing your taxes every year is the worst. And why? Because it’s one of the few moments in adult life when you’re confronted with the one thing you never thought you’d encounter again after leaving high school: homework. Well, that and squat thrusts.
Viewed as a “Wow, I’m an adult now” moment, your taxes are almost kind of “fun” the first time you do them. I mean, they’re easy enough when your financial responsibilities are low and you probably get a nice refund back, the government’s way of making you forget they were holding some of your money so that it wasn’t accruing interest.
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But at some point, right around the time you start picking up spouses, kids, houses, cars, yards, and maybe one of those self-propelled lawn mowers, your taxes start to become… well, less fun. If I could put it in Price is Right terms, as you can with most things in life, it’s the difference between that game where you punch out the holes of tissue paper to pull out the money and that game where you had to write a number on the giant check…mixed with the one where the little Swiss man yodels to his death off the cardboard mountain.
The first few years I did my own taxes, that part of me that loved memorizing long, involved rule books for 1980s board games that had roughly 200 plastic pieces of dragons or spaceships or both sort of enjoyed the Zen of hunkering down with my 1040 EZ and filling it out line by excruciating line. I made the first draft in pencil before retracing every number in pen and putting it in a freaking envelope to mail like I was sending off my membership to the G.I. Joe “Live The Adventure” club.
And then at some point, the adventure stopped. Which is why, as of this very sentence, those tax forms are still sitting right on that table. But be of good cheer, for as you read this sentence (typed 12 hours later), they’re pretty much done. And wow, it only took two and a half hours of sitting at a card table angrily saying to myself, “You want what form now?”
And right on schedule, my trusty laptop froze up on me at a crucial moment referencing the instructions for the state taxes. So yeah, now you can add, “Why does my computer wait to download updates until I really need it for something?” to my ever-growing list of tax questions I’ve been accumulating over the years, questions including, but not limited to:
- If everyone has to do taxes each year, why am I the only one ever in the library getting the forms?
- Why in the world is there a box for ‘non-taxed interest’ if it’s, you know…not taxed?
- Why do I need to print out a voucher just because I still pay with a check and just when am I ever going to remember they need it?
- Would it kill them to put the sentence “Now look up your taxes on the included tables in your booklet” on the space where it just says “Tax” and then nothing else?
- And new this year: Remember to throttle the person who suddenly decided I needed something called a “WIT” form for a step that’s never needed an additional form before.
Alright, that last one’s not a question but more of a “to-do” item. Ahh, Tom Appleton, where are you when we need you?