I hate doing my taxes. It’s not the actual tax. I’m a big gooey liberal, and I can’t wait for elections so I can vote for more places to send my money. Yours, too! I’ll pass a parks levy and a library levy and a school levy and I’ll drive my Chevy to the levy and pitch in a trunkful of cash. Send an agent over here with my bill and I’ll fire off a check. Just don’t make me do them.
When TurboTax first came out, I bought a copy for about twelve dollars and cranked it up. That took a while; my old PC got all belchy over that sort of thing and gassed on all morning, installing drivers and putters and I don’t know what-all. There’d be a visual for the installation progress that looked like someone pushing a crayon through a capillary. It was intolerable to watch. I’d have to go away and start drinking and hope that when I came back I would find no error window or hear an orchestral chord of doom. It was always dicey. But then when everything settled down, I started feeding it data, and TurboTax methodically sent everything where it was supposed to go. It was just like what your body does automatically when you put a sandwich in it: without your even thinking about it, it sends a bit to the organs and a bit to the muscles and slabs a big old Schedule D on your rear end on its way out, and calls it a day. It was brilliant.
Then the program asked me if I wanted to print out my return. Sure! And all the worksheets for my records? Why not? I hit the button. When I saw Worksheet CXL.VI, Rendering Unto Caesar, I was alarmed, but did not know how to stop the printer, and it pooped out paper by the ream for twenty minutes, while I flapped frantically around it like Lucy Ricardo.
The next year I bought the TurboTax for twenty-five dollars and it only took about eight tries, two hours and four beers to get it installed, and it even found all my previous year’s data and sucked that in. Brilliant. There were a few hitches here and there, but I was a happy customer. Good thing, too, because now I had become dependent on this software that knew where all my stuff was.
The third year TurboTax ($55) detected that I was not the simple soul I had made myself out to be, and started asking probing questions. Do you have any passive activity loss carryovers from a prior year? Well, I don’t rightly know, Turb, but let me ask you this: in Flaubert’s classic novel Mme. Bovary, is Emma a sophisticated aristocrat born by mistake into a bourgeois prison, or is she simply a middle-class girl obsessed with a richer life?
Turb doesn’t have a sense of humor.
This year, I bought the TurboTax ($1,436) and introduced it to my new iMac ($5,333,000), which slurped the disc into the screen somewhere. I have no idea where it went, or how it was planning to find last year’s data from there. Last I saw my data, they’d been incinerated inside the smoking hulk of a haunted Dell, with Windows Vista used as an accelerant. I let ‘er rip and got up to hunt down some beer but only got halfway to the refrigerator when an encouraging beep sounded, with overtones of a celestial choir, and there was my software installed and my data located and everything ready to roar. Sadly, I have become even less simple. New questions arose. Did the decedent of the IRA of which you are a beneficiary turn 70-1/2 in 2008? Turb, honey? Do you know what “decedent” means? It means “no longer turning.”
There was more. I decided I had a business–writing is a business, albeit not the kind in which you make money–so it had lots of questions. Do I have a home office? I thought I did, but in order to take tax advantage of that, I needed to know the square footage of my house and how much I’d spent to keep it warm, lit and relatively free of garbage. Then it was a simple matter of determining what 36/2750ths of the total of my utility bills, property tax and insurance is. And just like that, my home office turned back into a guest bedroom.
I still don’t know what a cost basis is, but I do know I don’t want the worksheets, I know how to say “stop that” to the printer, and I can’t wait for the spring primary. I’m going to buy us a new park.