Before answering two or three thorny tax problems for you today, I freely disclose that my own tax problems began at the Memphis Symphony Ball many years ago when I was told it was my duty to buy some tickets.
It was mainly a pig-out and I did not much want to go, being skinny and beautiful in those days, but I took my wife and we spent a full 40 minutes circulating about so everybody would know we were there, then went to our assigned table where we for the first time met a Mr. Seidman.
"We can't stay," I said in that hearty manner one learns to develop at symphony balls and similar chores, "but you take these stubs for the floor prizes (one of which was a greased pig, I remember for some reason) and Mr. Seidman, who also was proficient in heartiness, said haw, haw, you're ducking out.
The next morning I found out I had won, as a door prize, a dinner for 12 at Justine's, the town's main restaurant. What's worse, they had not called out Ticket No. 395 but my name.
"Mr. Henry Mitchell," they kept hollering, "has won a magnificent prize at Justine's Restaurant," but I was long gone, of course, and Mr. Seidman, presenting the winning ticket stubs, kindly explained my wife and I had been bored silly and gone home (he was very kind, very tactful, but everybody got the picture).
Well. Naturally I invited the Seidmans to the free dinner and it was then I learned he did income taxes and asked him to do mine and he said he'd love to.
"My God," said all my friends later, when everybody started moaning about taxes and who does yours, "you must be a multimillionaire. Don't you know Seidman goes to England every year for weeks to do J. Paul Getty's taxes?"
Trembling, I waited for the ax, but none fell. Mr. Seidman did the taxes, charged a nominal fee, saved me not a dime, of course, and I had high regard for him, though he would not let me deduct the bitch's milk supplement for the litter of hounds, or any of the other legitimate expenses of life.
When I say my tax troubles began here, I mean that since that day I have not been allowed to deduct anything that everybody else does.
Up here, I found there was a branch of his outfit in Washington, and the guys there are fine and continue the company policy of not letting anybody deduct a dime for anything and last year (unlike their splendid man in Tennessee) only charged me about half my income to do my taxes.
Every year I swear I'll do them myself, since any fool can do it, but you know how that is. The difference between the Washington office and the Memphis office is that down there the man just said hell no, every time I opened my mouth, whereas up here the man says "I'll read Section G-489, which is applicable," and naturally G-489 was written specifically with me in mind, to bilk me out of one more reasonable deduction.
One year the government sent me a notice saying they were going over me with a fine comb, but nothing happened except they sent me a check for $400 because I had overpaid my taxes. My own tax man said "my, my," and said the government shouldn't have sent me the check.
Now I find I am not alone in having a tax man of no creative ability whatever. Nor am I alone in hearing, every year, about some Mr. Wonderful who charges $45 to do your taxes and saves you $4,000 in hard cash that you never dreamed of.
When I ask my own tax man about all this, he says:
"Maybe your friend Tim did deduct it, but I read you the applicable section and the question is do you want to go to jail?"
"They never put Tim in jail," I point out.
"Some day they will," he says. "Besides, you make more than $8,000 a year and are statistically rich. Aren't you an honest citizen, keen to pay your fair share?"
"Well, sure," I always say. I go back home and sulk. So today I offer the Any Day Tax Forum, which the government tax people ought to study. Tax collectors have gotten away from the grass roots. They need to reform. Here is the way these things ought to be done: SHAD WELK: "I am a professional distance runner and made $975 from this profession last year. We are underpaid, but never mind all that. My problem is that my equipment for my profession cost $2,874.26 and of course I wish to deduct that expense. There is a technical snag. I only spent $72 for my shoes, partly because I did not finish 24 of the 26 races I entered, advertising beer on my shirt. I did not spend the remainder of that first sum simply because I had no money. But the $2,000 is a fair figure for what a runner like me should spend on shoes, etc. My tax man says since I didn't actually spend it, I can't deduct it. Well, what kind of unfair discrimination is that? If I had made a lot more money and spent the $2,000, it would have been okay. Why does the government discriminate against a poor fellow because he can't even afford to buy the equipment he needs?"
ANS: Fire the tax man, deduct the $2,875. You are striking a blow. LETTY BROCKLEIGH: "People in general and the government in particular think I am far richer than I am. As you doubtless know, I am a sculptor and need photographs of my work to show various committees who consider me for municipal projects such as statues in town squares. It is not easy to find a good photographer of sculpture. Finally I found just the man in Tangiers and got him to come over. Naturally he has to eat and buy clothes. His expenses in the year he has been occupying a room in my house have come to $62,419 and that insolent pig at the tax office says I can't deduct it. He says I could deduct the 'normal price' for the photographs he actually took (38) but no more. What he does not comprehend is that a special relationship exists between sculptor and photographer which, if damaged, results in inferior work. Unfortunately Felipe is extremely handsome and has a somewhat languorous manner which the pigs at the tax office interpreted in their own vulgar way. Please do not tell me to go ahead and deduct Felipe anyway since I have already done so, and I have this warrant for my arrest. Those pigs are trying to put me in prison. Surely there is some justice for an artistic woman like myself who knows nothing of crooked business practices but who is determined to have her art correctly photographed without going broke or going to jail?" ANS: You cannot expect accountants and lawyers to understand the problems of art, the frightful anxieties and the mechanical difficulties of your profession, which I personally consider the highest of all the fine arts. Do not give an inch. This is a battle for the human spirit. If the worst happens, ask for Allentown. DUNSTABLE FRETLEY: "I am, as you know, a music critic, earning $39,000 last year for my truly endless labor. When the tax man would not let me deduct $12,000 expenses for my trip to Africa to hear a concert of instruments made entirely of grasses and reeds, I put in a deduction of $14,000 for depreciation of my brain. The fool broke into laughter and said my brain was as good as ever and in any case I couldn't deduct it. But the truth is my first major review was of Mme. Schumann-Heink and the profession has been downhill ever since. Apart from the ravages of age (I am 93) I believe I have lost all my brains. This occurred to me the last time I sat up all night reviewing a John Cage concert. I must be mad by now to do this sort of thing to earn a living. Tell me, do you deduct wear on your brain? It is a sort of warehouse, isn't it? If I stored cotton bales or something in it, there would be no argument. Because I store the mystery and glory of music there, however, they say it has no tangible value and I can deduct nothing. There must be a way." ANS: Not unless you were appointed by the president. See if you can't get appointed official articulator of something or other by the government. Then you can send them the bill for Africa in the first place and forget about deductions. I do not, repeat not, deduct wear on my own brain since it is not depreciating at all, thank you very much. graphics: I read you the applicable section and the questions is do you want to go to jail.