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Monday, April 9, 2012

It's Up to You, New York

I hate tax season.  I hate scrounging around for all the documents you need to prove you spent money here, wasted money there, and lost money everywhere.  I hate waiting for the numbers to be crunched.  But my least favorite day of the year is the day I learn how much more I'm going to owe Uncle Sam and/or any of his cousins collecting money for the states.

I'm going to go out on a limb and guess some of you feel the same way.

Tax preparation and payment was an especially painful process when I was in private practice.  I worked all the time, sometimes literally.  It was a rare weekend where I didn't have to do at least some work for at least part of a day.  It often felt as though the only good thing about the job was the paycheck.  But even that reward wasn't completely sweet.  Every pay period there was a big line item for the taxes being deducted from my gross pay. 

Then April 15th would roll around and I would inevitably be told to cut yet another check.  Had I hired the government as a household employee?  If not, why was I paying it all the time? 

To make matters worse, much of my time in private practice was spent in New York City.  As you may have heard, that place is expensive.  It distorts everything.  My husband and I (and eventually our daughter) lived in an apartment the size of some walk-in closets.  Not only did we have to pay for our own apartment expenses, but every month we also had to pay maintenance fees to the building - like a second rent or mortgage.  We paid around $2.00 per trip to commute to work in a subway car where people packed in like sardines, many of them with umbrellas cocked for immediate eyeball dislocation or a backpack stuffed full of encyclopedias that inevitably smooshed your face into the stomach of the tall man beside you.  Venturing out for a meal meant paying a lot of money to eat food hovered around a table the size of a garden stool, with your next-door couple close enough to spoon feed.  If we had waited around until our daughter was of school-going age, she could have learned how to sit cross-legged for circle time for the bargain price of about $25,000 per year.  The only relatively economical thing about New York City is the dry-cleaning.

After a few years of this, I had built up a lot of unhealthy but really adrenaline-inspiring rage towards the State of New York.  In my mind's jaundiced eye, it took the human form of some sickly twisted tyrant that only found enjoyment at my expense.  It seemed the harder my life was, the more the State of New York enjoyed it.  In fact, I think Suzanne Collins might have used my internal war with the Empire State as the basis for the Hunger Games.  (The next thing on my to-do list, right after "put away laundry," is "sue Suzanne.")  The harder I worked, the more money it wanted.  Whatever disposable income I had, the more ways the State found to pry it from my death grip.  As I roamed the city streets, my smile eventually faded to a snarl, my conversational tone turned more to a growl, and my glass half-empty became my glass of water to throw in someone's face.  In short, I'd turned feral.

It wasn't good.

By 2009, we realized that we had three options: stay and end up in a jail, stay and end up in a hospital, or leave.  We left.  Screw you, New York - we're outta here!  We're taking our sour attitude, crippling fatigue and the measly pennies you've left us and we are hitting the road!

Not so fast, said New York.  That little prick of a state made it impossible for us to sell our godforsaken apartment until the spring of 2011.  So we spent 24 months paying a mortgage for a place we didn't live in and maintenance fees to a building we didn't set foot in.  When we finally sold the apartment, it was for a loss. 

But by then, it almost didn't matter.  We were done with New York, once and for all.  Didn't have to think about how it was bleeding us dry.  Could start to let the toxic memories go and move on.  Suspend the plans for a one-woman civil war to be fought with hateful thoughts and a vengeful letter-writing campaign.  Just let go.

Then this tax season, the unbelievable happened.  Thanks to the loss we took on the apartment, we did not owe taxes to the State of New York.  In fact, we were owed a REFUND!  EEEKKKK!  Our first refund EVER!  We took a picture of the amount and put it in our tax scrap book, right next to the stenciled copies of our social security cards and the pens we used to sign our first returns.  It was a glorious day.  I saw the first robin of spring, could smell freshly cut grass, felt an ocean breeze in my hair, and tried to calculate if I'd be able to buy 23 or 24 cafe lattes with the check New York State was finally going to be writing US.

But I'd underestimated that ever-wily, always-slippery state.  It just couldn't let us have the last word.  Didn't want to part with a piggy-bank of quarters.  Wants us to answer "who's your daddy?" with a resounding "New! York! State!"

Exactly one week after our return was filed, the State of New York dropped us a line to say that they'd "recomputed our taxable income."  Guess what that meant?!?   You'll be amazed!  THE STATE NO LONGER OWED US A REFUND!  Apparently New York only acts with any speed when (1) New Jersey goes around bragging that it's the New Jersey Giants, or (2) anyone tries to leave the state with any money.

Fine, New York, you win.  I won't drink cafe lattes this year, and you can buy some paper to print checks to yourself on in my name.  It's all up to you.  You write the rules, I just lose at the game.  You're my daddy.

Just FYI - I'm filing for emancipation.  And I'm bringing Jeremy Lin with me.

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