Like millions of Americans intimidated by mathematics and ignorant about how to file their tax returns online, I waited until the last possible minute to dive blindly into this annual cesspool of torture.
And I was determined to do it the old-fashioned way: chicken-scratches on paper and delivery via the good-old U.S. Postal Service. “TurboTax is for sissies, Billy,” great-granddad told me once during a birthday chat from debtors prison.
For generations the Brotherton men have considered it their birthright to sharpen their No. 2 pencils, fire up the abacus/calculator, inhale a good whiff of Wite-Out and hope against hope to avoid accidentally committing tax fraud.
I should mention I’ve never been good at arithmetic. Last time I checked, I had the lowest math college board score in the history of Beverly High School: 280. You get 200 points for getting your name correct; I assume I aced that part of the test. The principal used to introduce me to his pals thusly: “Say hi to Bill. He holds the Guinness World Record for worst math SAT score: 280” “280!” his friends would bellow, and they would double over with laughter and hold their sides.
I also must mention that my lovely, long-suffering wife is excellent at math. She’s balanced our checkbook flawlessly for more than 30 years. One of my smartest moves has been to hand her my paycheck every week and let her do her magic. If I managed our finances, odds are good we’d be living in a van down by the river.
But it’s important that I, as the last living Brotherton male, continue tradition, as futile as it might be.
Anyway, yesterday, while some were preparing to run in the Boston Marathon, I faced a similar race against the clock. The post office closed at 5 o’clock. Better get started …
I gathered all my W-2s, 1099s and WD40s and spread them out on the dining room table. Thirty-five minutes later my loving, tolerant wife yelled down “How are the taxes coming honey?”
“Pretty good,” I lied. I’d spent all that time carefully tearing the federal 1040 and state Form 1 from the instruction booklets. They must’ve used rivets to fasten those things. I can see workers — workers who get paid with our tax dollars, by the way — sadistically chuckling as they applied yet another daub of Gorilla Glue to each page.
First of all, I was surprised that “dependents” have nothing to do with adult diapers. And did you know that “joint returns” are not connected to our new marijuana laws?
Anyhow, miraculously, it took only two hours to complete the federal form, even with occasional side trips to Facebook. It was relatively simple, even for me.
But the Massachusetts form? Oy vey! The line-by-line instructions might as well be in Swahili: “If your total exemptions in Form 1, Line 18 are more than the amount of your 5.1% income after deductions in Form 1, Line 17, but are less than the amount of weight you gained in 2017 subtracted by the number of times you hid Peanut M&Ms from your dependent(s) multiplied by the number of times you took President Trump’s name in vain, subtract Line 17 from Line 18. Not less than zero.”
This should be easier. It’s just the two of us. No dependents. No mortgage. No shirts, no shoes, no service. It seems that I’m writing the same numbers over and over again on a series of different forms. At this point, I’d welcome a simple instruction: “If, somehow, you still have a few pennies left, write out a check (or e-file) for that amount and mail it to Massachusetts Department of Revenue, PO Box FLAT BROKE, Boston, MA, 00000-0000.”
I hit a roadblock when I got to Line 6 on State Form 1. It doesn’t match up to the instruction book. On the form, Line 6 is to enter the Massachusetts bank interest/exemption amount. But in the booklet the state mailed out, bank interest is on Line 5 and Line 6 is all about business/profession income or loss. Huh?
Even worse, this tax exercise couldn’t be more boring. I suggest the state add a few exemptions that would benefit longtime residents, penalize newcomers and make things a bit more fun.
“If your neighbor talks about Donner Summah, Tiner Turnah, bubbler, sub, tonic and you know what she’s talking about, claim a $1,000 exemption.”
“If you are a Yankees fan, add $1,000 to your income.”
And you deserve some sort of exemption if, when reciting the sentence, you say “My son is going to the prom” instead of the annoying, anglicized “My son is going to prom.”
Men and women who serve our country in the military should never have to pay income taxes. And everyone who adopted a dog or cat from a shelter has earned an exemption. Social workers and addiction counselors deserve a break. Ditto for those whose recyclables regularly outweigh normal rubbish.
Well, gotta run. The post office is about to close and is probably crowded with other procrastinators, all soaking wet from waiting in a line that snakes outside the building. Serves us right.
Maybe next year I’ll try that e-file option. Yeah, that’ll happen…