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Gristmill: Tax Daze

Wed, 05/19/2021 - 18:40
Hard times for Uncle Sam circa 1920, as seen in a James Montgomery Flagg illustration.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the federal government for the chance to leave all things taxes to the very last minute exactly 32 days later than I would have normally.

May 17: Maybe that can be another “new normal.” It’d be good to get Tax Day a bit away from a risen Christ and the Easter Bunny.

They used to say there’d be a revolution if everyone had to cut a check to Uncle Sam every week, instead of this silent, sneaky, almost unfelt and unnoticed payroll deduction. But now, I don’t know. As I sat there at the laptop, clicking through the ingenious yet relentless TurboTax steps in preparation for shelling it out, my eyes losing focus from screen strain, thin-lipped with stress and self-disgust, posture concave from the economic drubbing, it at last seemed just one more chore to hump. Something else to simply get over with and not think too much about.

“No taxation without representation,” my father used to say, invoking our forefathers’ indignity at the colonial Stamp Act. I asked my wife, in somewhat less strident terms, “What exactly do we get for our taxes, anyway?”

“We have three beautiful children!” she answered.

“Yes, but what does the federal government have to do with our biological issue?”

“We have something to be grateful for!” she said, exasperated. The subtext was clear: Don’t tempt the gods.

But could we all just see about adding better roads to the wish list? This comes to mind every teeth-rattling trip down State Route 114.

And so I say, “No taxation without macadamization.” A question for New Yorkers: How can it be that states with no income tax have smoother, better-maintained roads than we do? It can’t all be Albany-style institutionalized graft. Washington, Alaska — I’ve lived there, I’ve seen it.

Relatedly, or at least anecdotally, let me add here that I remember being given only warnings from cops and state troopers out of central casting for, one time, mindlessly speeding after seeing a girlfriend off at the Sea-Tac Airport (with relief or sadness, I simply can’t recall), or another time for sailing through a changing stoplight for fear of braking and skidding on the Fairbanks ice.

They were nice about it. Even understanding. Your tax dollars respectfully at work. Here? Forget it — it’s instantly 350 bucks.

Before I go, unburdened by thoughts of the I.R.S. for another year, or make that 11 months, I’d like to briefly lament the passage of the 1040EZ, the old single sheet for filing. So quick, so simple, so, as advertised, easy. If its use tagged you as a nickel-and-dimer, I wonder if that status is now conferred by TurboTax. As in, if you’re doing your taxes yourself, there can’t be a whole lot at stake.

Of course, in the Fabulous Hamptons you can be a homeowner on a half-acre and still be a nickel-and-dimer.


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