My husband and I have finished going through our tax materials. There are all kinds of papers scattered on the floor, but no blood. This is good news.
Every year, we set aside our own, personal night in hell, when we thrash through a year’s worth of documents. For people who aren’t detail creatures — like both of us, say — this isn’t pretty. I become more and more grim and determined. My husband responds by questioning every aspect of the tax code.
“What about cleaning bills?” he wants to know. “Aren’t they deductible? Why not? They’re business expenses, right?”
Wrong, I say. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
He wants to know why. I think of the old New Yorker cartoon: Shut up, he explained. It seems appropriate.
He moves on to questioning every fee we pay to our bank, convinced we are being robbed. Robbed! I ignore him. He gets louder. Teeth are bared, voices are raised. By now, we are surrounded by paper. We are falling apart. We don’t speak for 30 minutes and all you can hear is the sound of paper, more paper.
You always hear about the marriage tax penalty — how two people pay more taxes than two single people of comparable income. I guess that’s true. But I don’t think it’s the real penalty at work here. I think sorting through your financial documents with your spouse and thinking — however briefly — about how you’re going to kill and dismember the person you’ve sworn you’re going to love and honor for the rest of your life is the real penalty. The other stuff — well, it’s just money, right?
I am marginally better at all of this than my husband since I’ve taken a couple of legal accounting classes (thirty years ago, but knowledge is forever, I like to tell myself). At least I don’t have wild, fairy-tale notions of what “should” be deductible like my husband does. That’s why I’ve always been the one who delivers our tax documents to our CPA.
I was sparing the CPA and her whole office having to interact with my husband and his crazy tax notions. That’s what I told our CPA. Believe me, I said over and over again, you don’t want to talk to him at tax time. He gets a little nuts.
But a year ago, my husband and a friend formed a small corporation and started taking their taxes to our CPA. Ever since then, our CPA and her whole staff have been raving about how much fun my husband is. It’s gotten a little annoying.
“He took this place by storm!” our CPA said last year. “He’s so great!”
This year, when I drop off our wadded-up documents and tortured calculations at our CPA’s office, she just smiles. Unlike wastrels like us, she becomes very zenlike during tax time. She loves numbers, details, IRS code.
“Looks good,” she says, running through our papers. “How’s your husband? He’s so funny!”
Fine, just fine, I mutter. After all, if we finish our tax accumulating and there are no dead bodies hidden under the W4 forms, we’re doing pretty well.
“Tell him everybody says hi,” she says.
Sure, I say. I’ll remember to do that. I’ll try to remember to deliver all that good cheer. After all, we should be speaking again any day now.
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)