A Taxing Question

A twisted red pencil

Image courtesy FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Writing inspiration is everywhere–and you never know where your writing talents will be useful. As proof, I offer something I just ran across from the H & R Block tax preparation class I took in 2002.

The assignment was to create a squirrelly problem in which other class members had to puzzle out a number of significant tax issues.

Sounds boring, right? Most of my classmates’ responses were pretty dry. I wanted to have some fun, look for the story behind the Form 1040, and at the same time challenge people to notice which details were significant and which weren’t. This is what I came up with:

After eleven years of marriage, Betty finally kicked that sponging loser, Al, out of the family’s rented tract house on June 2. She went to a lawyer the following day. He filed a separation agreement that was signed by the judge and filed with the court clerk on June 25.

Betty has been too busy working paid overtime at her job with Swell Computers to get back to her lawyer about a divorce. Swell paid her $27,329 in 2001. Her only other income was $13.54 in interest from a savings account, and she does not have enough deductions to itemize.

Al’s in no hurry for a divorce. It’s not a community property state. He has to grovel to Betty for the bucks to make his rent every month on the converted garage where he now flops. He figures he has a better chance of guilting her into paying it if she still thinks of him as her spouse. So at year’s end, they’re still legally married.

Al works a part-time, dead-end job with Toilets Is Us Cleaning Service, which paid him $6,003 in 2001, and which is too cheap to spring for health insurance. Al and Little Al–his six-foot-four, sixteen-year-old son from a weekend liaison with a Swedish volleyball player–are still covered by Betty’s generous fringe benefit package at Swell. The biological mother was last heard from on the little tike’s third birthday, when she sent him a postcard from Tokyo.

Because of the rat droppings on the converted garage floor–and because Betty believes Little Al hasn’t been totally polluted by his father’s laziness and lack of aspiration–she urged Al to leave Little Al in her custody until Al gets his act together. Though she never adopted Little Al, she has cared for the lad as if he were her own and continues to do so now, working a split shift so she can be home to fix him an after-school snack–three grilled bologna and cheese sandwiches, a quart of milk, and half a package of Oreos.

Betty’s instincts were good about Little Al. In 2001, he earned $3,953 as a web designer for local small businesses, working after school, on weekends, and during the summer. $1,546 went to his support and $2,407 to his college savings fund.

When Al moved out, his grandfather–Al the Big Cheese, 67 years old and legally blind–sensed that the pickings were about to get slim and left Betty’s to live with his recently widowed niece, Myrtle. His meager disability payments help her keep her rented shotgun shack.

Al the Big Cheese was wrong about Betty. She’s had a soft spot in her heart for him ever since the time he brailed his way into a spousal argument and told his mewling grandson to stuff a sock in it. Betty pays his portion of the utilities at Myrtle’s, in addition to his food, blood pressure medication, weekly jaunts to the race track, and evenings out with the nineteen-year-old who claims to be pregnant to him–more than half the old gentleman’s upkeep.

Now for the questions (drum roll):

  • What is Betty’s correct/most advantageous filing status?
  • Would the added deduction and exemption involved in filing Married, Filing Jointly status outweigh the added tax liability from including Al’s income on the return?
  • Would Betty be too pissed off to do it? Would she file Married, Filing Separately, just to spite Al, and make him file his own 1040?
  • How many dependents can Betty claim?
  • Is she eligible for Earned Income Credit?
  • Extra-point question: If Al has to file separately, can he claim his flesh and blood, Little Al, as his dependent?

I haven’t made a taxable dime on this piece, though it may have helped me get a job the following tax season because the people giving the course ran the local H & R Block office. I did, however, turn a dull dissertation into a mini-melodrama that made my classmates laugh–and think.

Neighbor

I went for the Feng Shui book. I always go for books. This time I was in a tiny antique store looking for items for a neighbor’s house. She was supposed to have come along. This shopping trip had been her idea and she’d insisted that I rearrange my schedule for it. Then at the last minute she found something better to do. Faced with a free afternoon, I went anyway. By myself. Better this way, cruising through stores without her.

So I bought this little book on how to design the living spaces in a home. I studied it, and on the weekend went shopping for her, without her. I didn’t buy much, just a few items as an excuse to get in her house and rearrange things. I told her the re-arrangements had been recommended by a French and Italian design firm. She was happy with that. Not happy enough to help me do the work, however.

I spent many pleasant hours with my Feng Shui book. I laughed a lot, thinking of that silly, bothersome woman in her rooms that I had set up exactly the opposite of the way the little book said they should be done. She claimed to love her house, and bragged about how much she spent on it. Yet within two months, she was complaining about not sleeping well, not feeling well. In three months, her house went up for sale.

My work was done.

Horse Laugh

True love, we are told, can withstand anything, barring necrophilia, disappearance and serial infidelity. My first venture into the slippery arena of amor, however, ended in a puddle of aromatic foam.

Cloudcroft, NM, is a mountain community whose revenue source at the time of this story, was largely from skiing and winter games. My family, dad Ken, mom Muriel, sister Shirley and I, were on our way to Hobbs, also in NM, to begin a new life. Mom suffered from respiratory problems and her doctor recommended she move to a dry desert locale and away from Iowa’s winters.

We arrived in Cloudcroft after supper one evening in early mid-September and took a room in a cheap motel. Two rooms down another family was carrying their suitcases into their room. I was outside staying out of the way while my parents set up a sleeping arrangement on the floor for my sister and me, when a girl about my age emerged from her room two down. From inside her mother’s voice counseled, “Don’t go too far, Millie.”

“Okay, mom,” the girl answered.

Millie had reddish-blond hair whose attractive tint captured my attention, and like me seemed at loose ends. Her gaze turned ninety degrees and spotted me. She walked toward me with a kind of natural boldness, then stopped by a 4×4 post supporting the overhang. “Hi,” she said leaning against the post

“Hi,” I answered. She was close enough for me to see that she had light blue eyes and a pale skin dotted with apricot freckles.

She regarded me, then said, “I’m Millie. What’s your name?”

After I answered, she regarded me some more, gnawing on her lower lip. Then she cast a glance back at the door to her room and said, “Let’s go for a walk.”

She had already left the post and started away from the row of connected rooms, so I gigged myself into action. As I caught up with her she stuck out her hand. It felt strange to take hold of her hand and walk along as if we were old friends. I began to feel some odd stirrings inside. It occurred to me that maybe we were going somewhere where we couldn’t be seen, and that maybe Milly had something in mind, like maybe messing around.

We were heading toward a large fenced-in pasture in which three horses were foraging. Now about forty yards from the motel, she stopped next to a mare that was cropping at grass clumps about ten feet inside the fence.

“I just love horses,” said Millie dreamily. “Don’t you?

“Yeah, I like horses. I like to draw ‘em.”

She apparently wasn’t impressed by this. “Did you ever ride on one?”

“No, I never did. Did you?”

She shook her head. “I hope to soon. When we visit my uncle’s ranch in California.

She reached towards the mare, who stopped cropping grass and raised her head. A big black stallion that had been nosing for grass some fifty feet away in the center of the pasture saw this and must have concluded that treats were being handed out because he came on a trot directly toward us. He stopped in front of us about five feet from the fence and studied Millie’s hands. Seeing that the mare hadn’t taken anything, he gave a snort and shook his massive head. My head barely came to the lower part of his mane. I was impressed by his size and the suggestion of powerful grace as he stood looking at the ground some feet away as if musing.

“Oh,” Millie said rapturously. “Isn’t he beautiful? Oh, he’s so gorgeous, so noble looking. I wish I had a camera.”

Then time and volition seemed suspended. Before our softened gazes a purplish-black organ the diameter of a baseball bat began to slide from the stallion’s penile sheath, growing close to two feet in length. A tiny squawk issued from Millie’s lips. She edged away from the fence. From the nodding tip of the stallion’s penis shot a garden hose stream of urine that spattered against the churned up soil of the corral behind his front hooves and quickly formed a puddle the color of , well, urine.

Between the spatter noisily lashing the widening pool into crenellated spires of foam rising from its perimeter, much like egg whites beaten until the frothy stuff stood, romance was sending out tendrils of hopeful longing, and then blunt reality grinned in the form of the stallion’s preposterously enormous dick sticking out so far as to sweep our wispy sentiments into oblivion.

The forceful hiss of urine plunging into the foaming pool, now glinting an unwholesome off-greenish tinge, must have gone on for twenty seconds or more, its rank, hot steamy aroma enveloping us in an invisible cloud. Several feet away from me, Millie made an “Ulkk-k,” sound.

I had been so distracted by this engrossing event that I had forgotten about Millie. Glancing over, I saw that she stood back  from the fence at a lean. I watched as she panted a few times and seemed to be struggling to swallow. My attention drawn back to the stallion, I was wondering where that lengthy organ reposed between waterings when Millie said, “I think my mama’s calling me. I better go.”

I watched her  jog and walk by turns toward the motel. I shrugged, somewhat disappointed by her faintheartedness, then turned my attention to the horse reeling his member splotched with pink back inside his abdomen. He had bitched up what was to have been my first taste of a girl’s lips. I studied him wondering if his timing at uncoiling his colossal penis had been deliberate. Maybe he was getting even with us for teasing him with nonexistent treats. His upper lips folded back revealing his big uneven teeth. Then he whinnied, clearly laughing at me.

Actually that didn’t happen. What did happen was that Millie and I almost met the next morning, but when she saw us leaving our room she kept to the far side of  their car so she wouldn’t have to exchange glances with one who had seen her at a moment of great personal embarrassment.

Offended that I no longer met her criteria for notice, I whinnied.

Well, actually that didn’t happen either.

First Time at Carboholics Anonymous

Moderator:  “Good evening and welcome to all of you. Tonight’s program is a talk on addictive personality and before we get into our program, I’d like to welcome a new member into our support group. This is Trev. Trev, would you please stand up and introduce yourself.”

Trev:  “Hello. Ahh, my name is Trev . . . and I’m a . . . ahh . . . I’m  a carboholic.”

Chorus of voices:  “We hear you, Trev. We know your suffering and support you.”

Trev: “Well, ah, thank you. Umhum. (Shakes head.) I can’t believe I’m doing this. If my wife hadn’t got your number from your TV ads . . . And then she placed an emergency call with your flying  Carbo–what you call it?–Intervention Squad; She was taking a chance, but I know she only wants to save our marriage, so I promised I’d give it a shot . . .  Anyway, I stand before you reduced to this by . . .  by . . . a goddamn creampuff.”

Moderator, when the chorus of commiseration has abated:  “Now, Trev, you mustn’t be hard on yourself. We all know what it is to suffer an addiction for sweets. Even Friederich Nietzche, whose manly philosophy of courageous sacrifice and self-denial set forth in Man and Superman found it impossible to pass a bakery without dashing inside.  Why don’t you go on, share some more with us so we can get to know you a little better.”

Trev:  “Okay. (Long pause.) Well, I don’t have a problem with bagels, even with cream cheese on them. And I can skip candy bars. But . . . a cookie, a crisp, crunchy cookie, or anything that oozes vanilla cream robs me of any volition or resistance that I have . . . I’ve got to have that squirmy piece of delectable ooze . . . It’s almost a sexual thing . . . the power a Napoleon has, lying there in puffy, chocolate-covered innocence . . . what it does is tap into your sexual appetites . . . you get a figurative lingual erection for this little cake lying there waiting to be penetrated, its insides all mushy and liquefied and ready for invasion . . . and it’s all you can do to keep from ramming your tongue in that inviting little end whose tiny opening advertises the sweet runny love goo waiting for your assault. You know what I mean?”

A chorus of gasps  and throat-clearings.  

Trev:  “But you manage to contain yourself, and you pay for a half-dozen of these wanton little cakelets and you walk outside looking to passersby for all the world as normal as you please. But halfway down the block you can’t hold back any longer and you duck in an alley and plunge behind a dumpster and there . . . (swallows, pants wearily) . . . you take one from your package and you rip the cellophane covering off and ram your greedy thrusting tongue—”

Moderator: “Okay, Trev, we definitely understand what you’re going through. At this point, however, I think we need to take a short break for saltine crackers and diet colas. Allright, everyone? Okay, meet back here in fifteen.”

A Dream of Spiders

It was a warm afternoon in sixth grade Geography class at Spuntford Heights Grade School in Chulaska, SD. The classroom was stifling, the air close and stuffy. The kids, like sullen cons waiting to be sprung from solitary, languished in their hard wooden seats. Spring filled the air with inviting scents, putting Charlie Kinslow into a somnolent doze. The blackboard blurred. His head dipped; his breathing slowed. . . .

. . . before his trudging feet lay a mountain pass through which he could see a green and yellow tree-lined meadow that beckoned to his ravaged spirit. To reach it he had to cross a chasm. While feeling his way across a fallen tree bridging the chasm and looking downward to assure his footing, he blundered into what seemed at first a giant net. He pulled back but the net came with him; it was stuck to his face and clothing as if it had bonded glue-like against him. Recognition dawned instantly. In a panic he sought to pull his arms free from the sticky webbing and realized it was hopeless and his agitation was being transmitted like Morse code to the creator of this glutinous immensity that held him fast.

Terror enveloped him as the web’s shaking vibrations foretold the immanent arrival of its rapacious maker. He tried to look upwards but his head was stck. A dry, feral stink enveloped him, and before he could even recoil cold pincers pierced his flesh and held him firmly while two enormous fangs sank into his chest, pumping jets of caustic venom into him by the quart. In passive shock he felt his insides emulsify and his limbs grew cold and unresponsive. Clawlets on two of the spider’s free legs began turning him along his perpendicular axis to enwrap him in silk.

Hyperventilating with fear, Charlie Kinslow began moaning and panting rapidly and twisting stiffly in his seat in an effort to find release from this day-mare to the wonderment of his nearby classmates. Before he was entirely cocooned he let out a despairing wail of terror, and awoke in a sweat, gasping for breath.

Panting shallowly, he saw that the entire classroom was turned and regarding him with a mixture of curiosity and amusement. The teacher, Mr. Sagner, as well. Charlie shook his head and sagged in relief.

Mr. Sagner handled the interruption smoothly, allowing Charlie to pant his way to relative normalcy before inviting him to share the events that restored him to consciousness. Embarrassed at first, he recounted the entire dream with a few embellishments and had the room laughing hysterically by the time he was finished. The teacher was similarly amused and had him go out in the hallway and splash cold water on his face. It was the most terrifying dream he’d ever had, more real and graphic than anything he’d ever experienced while conscious.

That night he stayed up late, waiting for exhaustion before risking a slide into unconsciousness once again.