And of course it was tax season. Tax is very old word, which is not surprising given how long we’ve been doing it. (“Hey Thog! You have collected many rocks! You must give some to the cave elders so that we may throw them at the people in the next valley. Also to support public campaign financing.”) “Tax” comes from the Latin taxāre, meaning to evaluate or assess—it’s possibly also related to tangare (to touch). Before that it derived from the Greek τάσσω (tassein), which means to put in order or to arrange in battle formation—hence our modern word “tactics.”
She rattled her ten-key through a long list of categories. Mortgage! Property tax! Medical care! Refunds! Dependent care! Then she stopped. She looked at the previous year’s return, flipped a few pages, then fixed me with a gimlet eye. “On last year’s return—this was home business income?” She pointed to a paltry line item, the fruits of a single editing gig that I took on late in the year after leaving my previous job. “You didn’t claim anything against it?” Um, well, it wasn’t all that much and I hadn’t been keeping track...
She seemed to swell a little bit. “You paid taxes on all of it?!?” I dithered a bit but admitted that I did, I guess?
She sat up straight in her chair, like a field marshal preparing to dress down a recalcitrant orderly. “That,” she said flatly, “is NOT acceptable. Not on my watch.” Fingers flying on her keyboard, she took me through a rapid-fire series of deductions. How much did I spend on this? What were my expenses for that? Advertising? Utilities? Insurance? Uniforms? Professional fees? Travel? As the evidence of my fecklessness mounted, her exasperation grew.
“Where’s the mileage from driving to these meetings?” she demanded. I imagined her standing in a map room, epaulets atremble with choler, smacking her riding crop on the desk.
Well, I said vaguely, I meet with that client after I go swimming, so I was already going in that direction. Does that count?
She smacked her invisible riding crop. “Of course it counts! Now. Expenses! Did you buy printer cartridges?”
Well, two, but the kids mostly use one of them so maybe that doesn’t...
<Smack!> “Do you EVER use it?”
Well, from time to time, but….
<*Smack!!*> “That’s YOUR printer! YOUR cartridges! If someone else uses it that’s pilfering!”
“It Is a LEGITIMATE! BUSINESS! EXPENSE!” (*SMACK!* Rattle rattle ping!)
I was beginning to realize that my version of tactics amounted to hollering and whacking at the tax form with a stone club. And I was in the presence of a general, with a mind full of pincer movements and strategic engagements and heavy artillery.
Two hours later I staggered out into the daylight, more than a little shell-shocked, but clutching the promise of a hefty refund and a long list of instructions for how to arrange my forces for next year.
Some of this I have taken to heart. But I am still struggling with the doctrine of "Never retreat! Never yield the barest inch of deductible assets!" I am, it seems, a lover not a fighter. So I muddle on, doing my best to keep my tin soldiers in order. At least I know the cavalry will back me up if things get really grim. The tax preparer swears that if we get audited she will ride to the rescue, rattle her sabre, and hold my hand.