Claiming His Dependence

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By Gene Weingarten
Sunday, April 8, 2007

I'm finished with my taxes. I got them in early this year.

By "I," I mean my wife and Stan the accountant. My entire contribution to the effort involved taking a completed document my wife handed me, with little Post-it note arrows showing where to sign, and signing.

I couldn't handle the pressure. Wite-Out had to be deployed.

My point is, I am not good with money or numbers or insurance or savings plans or any of the other annoying but essential clerical responsibilities needed to avoid destitution. I have handed over the financial management of my life to my wife, and she has my complete trust. Should she see fit, she could present me a completed document with little Post-it note arrows, and I would sign there and there and there, and I would discover the next day that she had a diamond necklace and I no longer owned my kidneys.

What ails me is a basic, dysfunctional fear of finance. You know how some ATMs, when they dispense your money, show you the balance of your account? When that happens, I have to put my hand over the screen so I can't see the number. It's just too much information for me to absorb.

I don't know my exact salary. I don't know the size of my mortgage payment. If it fell to me to file my taxes, I would currently be incarcerated.

For a few years back in the 1970s, before I engaged the services of a wife, I lived alone. Financially speaking, things did not go splendidly, but I tried. For example, I always remembered to pay my electric bill, because I had developed a tickler system to remind me. Here is how it worked: Once a month, like clockwork, the lights in my apartment would go out. Time to pay the bill.

One day I got into a serious auto accident. I was not badly injured, but my car was accordioned into something that resembled an enormous Milk Dud. The next day, a letter arrived from my insurance company informing me that my policy had been canceled the week before, because I was so late on my payment. I hired a lawyer to challenge this. His strategy was to contend that my sustained, years-long prior record of late payments should have given the company ample forewarning that it was dealing not with a deadbeat, but with a hopeless idiot. We won.

Whenever tax time came around, I was in luck. My father was an accountant, so he did my returns. Every year, after he received my tax stuff in the mail, we'd have an entertaining conversation.

Father: Where are your financial records?

Me: I sent you everything I had.

Father: You sent me a Domino's Pizza receipt and an X-ray of a tooth.

Imagine the heartbreak of being an accountant and having a son like me. It would be like being Robert James, the Baptist minister, whose son was Jesse.

Actually, it would also be like being a capable lawyer whose husband was me.

This year, my wife and I lost hundreds of dollars in reimbursements because I could not prove several legitimate business expenses. Those receipts that I did not lose outright, I left in the pockets of my jeans. When the jeans went into the washing machine, the receipts fused together into a fuzzy white shingle. Forensic surgery was unsuccessful: No ink remained.

The fact is, there is no reasonable way I could ever make it up to my wife for my train wreck of fiscal incapacity. The guilt is overpowering. If one day she is wearing a new diamond necklace, I will seek no explanations. It would be better not to know, and, besides, all things considered, for what I am getting, dialysis is a small price to pay.

Gene Weingarten's e-mail address is weingarten@washpost.com.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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