It’s Not So EZ

Tomorrow, I am leaving town to staff a warrior weekend.

Tonight, I am pondering how I will show up. Will I be intuitive and open-hearted enough? Maybe. I hope so. But it sure doesn’t feel like it in this moment. I’m still stuck in my day-to-day details, the backyard raspberry patch which needs the winter leaves raked away, so the roots can soak in April showers. Dirty dishes in the sink, unanswered voicemails, and I am sitting next two three piles of paperwork on the floor of my den. I reduced it from five piles, but I hate leaving piles of unfinished business as I leave town for three days.

(By the way, internet people, please don’t break into my house while I’m gone this weekend. I just bought some seedlings I’d like to plant on Sunday evening in tiny little starter pots and I can’t do that if I’m sweeping up broken glass and filing police reports, trying to take inventory of all the creepy monkeys stolen from my home. Plus, all the valuable stuff is locked up in the garage with the broken door hinge, so seriously, start there.)

But it’s not just yard work and paper work that has got me bent out of shape and focused on the nitty-gritty details of life: tomorrow a large sum of money is going to be sucked from my checking account through a government tube: it’s tax day.

I like having roads and a system of justice. Imperfect as our government may be, if you watch enough Law & Orders marathons, you can convince yourself that the courts works most of the time and that the New York DAs are gruff but hug-able.

I’m pro-taxes. I like having 17 kinds of peanut butter to choose from in the grocery store. I like that there are government programs and that we’re not beheaded for being gay. I love America.

But, dammit.

I worked for myself this year and it stings, quite frankly, to watch that balance disappear. And I was prepared:   I calculated business expenses and mileage, tracked charitable donations, measured the square footage of the area I use as my office. I kept receipts. I was responsible.

I investigated a new tax person this year, because I thought, hey, maybe a certified accountant would be a better way to go for someone who lacks the basic business sense to buy himself business cards. (Note to self:   get some business cards.) Maybe I needed more guidance than my Regular Tax Guy? We scheduled a trial run: in March, I gave New Tax Guy my paperwork and he gave me a fairly detailed estimate regarding my tax situation.

New Tax Guy did little to hide his disgust that I didn’t fold myself into an S-corporation, like I am business origami who should have instinctively become a swan. Out of sheer spite, he calculated how many thousands of dollars I would have saved in 2009 if I had.

“There,” he said pointing at the total. “Wow. That’s a lot. I bet you’re kicking yourself.”

Didn’t love the New Tax Guy.

When I entered his office, he sneezed into his hand and he said, “I’ve got a cold.” After the meeting, he reached out that same hand to shake mine. Sure he had used it for a whole lot of other stuff in the intervening hour, including eating a Snickers bar, but eewwwwww. Pay attention to small details much? But it was our first meeting, so I caved on my resolve and gave him a grim handshake.

During our time together, he made it clear I should lie on my taxes.

The third time he said, YOU SHOULD REALLY FIND $10,000 MORE DOLLARS IN BUSINESS EXPENSES, I started getting a queasy feeling in my belly. I had twice explained that I would look harder, but I didn’t spend much on office stuff or growing my business this year. I was too busy working three jobs and trying to become a novelist.

I am not shy about reimbursing whatever is legal, but messing with the IRS freaks me out. Maybe our taxes shouldn’t be so high, and maybe I am paying $24,000 for government toilet seats. That truly sucks. But the last thing I need is 15 red-necktie, blue suiters storming my house, demanding to see my fabulous, expensive, office skylight, which is not there.

And yet…I owed a lot of money this year. So, maybe?

I looked a little harder for business expenses.

I hated that New Tax Guy thought I was a chump because I did not really research the financial and legal implications of working for myself. He was right, I was a chump, and I should have thought more about that aspect of business. Now, I will literally pay for not having foresight.

If not outright lying, fudging seemed like an option.But I kept seeing business people swinging through the front windows on government-issue rope, smashing out the glass all commando style, and that dark fantasy tempered my temptation.

In the end, I had to stop an think about integrity.

The word means something to me now, a result of being in New Warriors for many years. I think of integrity as keeping my word, being honest about my feelings, telling a friend when I am pissed off at him. But integrity exists in the smaller details, too, small white lies like cutting off other drivers, and whether or not I cheat on my taxes to save a few bucks.

I don’t like integrity much on the days that it costs me money.

Living with integrity has cost me more than money, sometimes a friendship or two. Some days I don’t care for honesty, usually when someone is being super honest with me. Some days, I want to watch TV and forget about my obligations, being part of a community. But I have discovered I need to be around men who are also working on their own integrity, and women who nurture theirs. I need to be around people who fall on their knees and then ask for help, because I am often weak and fall on my knees, too. Focusing on integrity is not always easy.

I made a decision not to finish my taxes with New Tax Guy.

Nevertheless, I delayed and delayed, waiting until last Sunday to call my Regular Tax Guy, and surprisingly, he could see me this week, so we got together two days before the April 15th deadline. Regular Tax Guy is jovial and smart about taxes. I’m not sure why I thought I should try someone new; I really do want someone I trust. He gave me the bad news last night with the solemn dignity of a funeral director’s explaining that a closed casket service will be necessary after all. Year after year, he handles the good news and bad news professionally and does not think to cheat or lie, because, why would you do that?

That’s why I staff a few times a year, to remember integrity and what changes it brought into my life. I need a refresher course, like tax accountants do every year as they discover tax laws that have changed. FYI, in 2010, the IRS allows you to put up to $3050 into your HSA account, up $50 from 2009.

Regular Tax Guy always regales me with stories of tax returns performed long ago, always omitting names or identifying details, which makes them like urban legends or beloved holiday stories. Last night he trotted out the sad story of the newlyweds who did not calculate their new home tax credit correctly, and received an unpleasant surprise, a tale he tells me every other year. Why did I turn to someone else? What was I thinking?

Last night, I decided to commit to working with him for a long time to come.

I asked him about the S-corporation thing.

“It’s a good idea for you,” he told me. “But once you do it, you’ll have to find someone else to do your taxes.”


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