Douglas Shulman, IRS Commissioner during President Obama’s first term, admitted in 2010 that he had an accountant prepare his returns because the tax code was just too complicated. So it’s understandable why, like all Americans who are forced to go it alone, I approach my 1040 with all the courage and resolution of the Cowardly Lion shuffling sideways towards 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 dining room table surrounded by thick clouds of blue smoke and piles of cancelled checks and receipts miserably calculating and calculating again as midnight ticked ever closer.
All of us kids would lay low, because that night literally anything would set him off. My mother would sit, very still and forlorn, on the living room couch dreading his next barked order to immediately find a missing receipt or cancelled check. When it came, she’d sigh softly and slowly head back to the big kitchen drawer stuffed with 20 years worth of “important” papers, dead batteries, broken pencils, a hammer, and birthday candles, and sort 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, shoot to his feet, and pace quickly around the room, all the while repeating, “There’s no justice in the world!” 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 a 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. For example:
Q: Between June 9 and September 3, 2012, 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, 2012, did you consider purchasing a team of Clydesdales to assist you in transporting your beer?
A: Yes. (Hey, what foamophile hasn’t dreamt of that?)
Q: If you had purchased Clydesdales at any time during 2012, would you have grazed them in Puerto Rico, Micronesia, or American Samoa?
A: (Coin Flip.) No.
Sorry. You do not qualify for the American Protectorates Clydesdale Reduction Deduction.
Me: “There’s no justice in the world!”
Thanks for nothing, TurboTax. And you too, Doug Shulman, O Wise and Wonderful Wizard of the IRS.