April 16, 2004

Yesterday was one of those good news/bad news days.

I was phenomenally organized for meeting Emil, the accountant, in midtown.

I had backup data, I had extra forms printed from the IRS and NYS tax sites, I had mailing envelopes, large and small, I had scissors and a stapler and tape and a checkbook and ID and cash. I had a scarf should it get chilly and a book should I get bored. I had my trash and recycling ready to take down and I secured the strap that had torn off my bag with a safety pin. I had a metro card. All systems go. I had time to take a shower and then, as I opened the medicine cabinet for baby powder, the mirror flew free of its tab moorings and sailed into the bathtub. Where it smashed and splintered into many small bits. Trying not to think it was bad luck, I picked the bits up and put them in the trash, left the apartment, and reached destination Starbucks.

Emil had everything all organized and photocopied. I asked him if I could hire him for some other matters, and he said it was policy not to charge clients and that he priovides follow-up to all years thay prepare should there be an audit or further dealings with the IRS. I asked him if he does personal financial planning (I'd like to start a retirement account and also find out how to get insurance and what's the best option for a low-income freelancer/artist.) He doesn't but will have a friend get in touch. I was so pleased that I wanted to hug him, but settled for thanking him profusely.

If you're low-income and live in New York, please, avail yourself of this fine organization. They also are happy for donations, since the IRS is being nonsupportive and prefering to steer people to their VITA program (the VITA people are not necessarily acountants, and only e-file a basic 1040 with W-2s, no supplemental forms or self-employed).

So then I head down, on a gorgeous, sunny spring day lunch hour, to the main Post Office. I've never been there before on their famous tax day and am looking forward to the experience. There are tons of police. What they call a significant "police presence." Are taxpayers known for rioting? Are large groups of obedient, law-abiding Americans a terrorist target? Or is it fun and overtime? Judging from the vibe, I'd say the latter. In fact, everyone in Starbucks was doing their taxes, including a couple of uniformed police, which was somehow cute.

So everyone is out on the street. Clatches of smokers. And I'm walking behind two young women. And every, I mean every, guy we pass is tracking the woman on the right with their eyes. Some lasciviously, some covertly, but none briefly. It's like some bad commercial, conversations stop dead, the guys, as if by some alien force, are compelled to watch the woman for the entire time she's in their field of vision. I can't see her face; from behind she's got long, flowing dark hair and tight jeans. And I feel this wave of... pity. And then I'm surprised at its authenticity and I realize I've gotten older.

Before, I think the circuit would have been: notice men Pavlovianly slavering over woman, feel brief envy of her youth and beauty, instantly self-correct that those are not my values but society's, internalized, and that all of my truly stunning women friends over the years have had real problems interacting and in relationships because of the skewed way the world (men, especially) treats them. But this time, I didn't experience those thoughts; I just felt pure empathy for her and for the amount of energy coming at her that she must continually ignore, deflect, or choose how to repond to. Now this was a crowded, sunny street. Imagine what she has to deal with alone or at night.

The Post Office is gorgeous, all marble and clean. I am so equipped. I fill out a certified mail form, I show a few other taxpayers the addreses to send their federal and state taxes, I am filmed by a cameraman looking for "last-minute taxpayer" footage as I address and seal my envelopes.

The line is orderly and fast; such a contrast to the 14th St. Post Office, which is grungy, tedious, and slow. This must be the creme de la creme New York postal assignment. The woman notices I'm sending my 2000 taxes certified (last day to get a refund for that year; learned that thanks to Emil) and we have a chat about that. I forget to send the video I'd carefully cued and packaged, so it just goes for a long walk with me (and it's headed not far from that Post Office). Choose a long walk home in the sunshine rather than the subway. Feel adult, New Yorkish, hopeful.

Get home and look over my copy of the returns and see that...Emil has checked "Yes, I want $3 to go to the Presidential Election campain fund."

I can't believe it! I just sent $3 to George Bush! I should have looked the stuff over carefully, but I really didn't have time to redo the return anyway. Does Emil assume everyone shares his politics, or is this some kind of superstition to ward off an audit? Now I have to send $5 to Kerry to even the playing field on my account.

But it got me thinking: When did this practice start? Where does the money come from? (Your taxes are not increased by $3; so the money is tranferred from where?) How many people check the box inadvertently or because they hope a small gift to the Powers That Be will protect them? How much money does Bush get (with his war chest already perhaps tens of millions greater than Kerry's) from this instantaneous transfusion? Is this not fair?

Some answers

"During each of the last five years, approximately 33 million taxpayers have checked the "yes" box. Every four years, the federal government distributes dollars from the Fund (sometimes called public funds or federal funds) to qualified Presidential candidates and national party committees for use in the Presidential elections. Whatever money is left over at the end of the Presidential election remains in the fund and is used in the next election, four years later."

Ah, so it's money available to both candidates. Okay.

Fixing the funding program.

A plea to participate.

Lack of support hurting public campaign funding

Well, maybe people think, as I did, that it goes just to the sitting President.

Rest of day.

Good news: nap
Bad news: hunger
Good news: Survivor
Bad news: snarky boyfriend making snide comments about Survivor
Good news: send boyfriend out for Indian food
Bad news: have to give boyfriend last dollars in house for food
Good news: excellent Frontline about John O'Neill
Bad news: boyfriend, money, and food AWOL
Good news: food at 10 pm
Bad news: so ravenous I eat too fast, both spilling food on clean chinos I'd just donned and giving self stomachache. also Indian place uses styrofoam. Environmental guilt-fest.
Good news: bed and books
Bad news: snarky boyfriend making fun of titles of books, all of which do, in fact, promise "7 Steps to financial security" or take the form "Smart Women, Foolish Money." Give up trying to read when boyfriend has riffed on every book by bed despite putting pillow over his face, poking him, and saying "you can stop now."

Good news: fantastic yoga class. spring sale at Puerto Rico coffee place. e-mail from long lost friend from Berlin.
Bad news: haven't heard from either Michal, my cybering web hosting guy, about how I can access my control panel (password not working) to tweak the site, which has long languished and which I mentioned on my application for
American Candidate.
And the really bad news is I haven't heard from them.
Good news: Hope springs eternal.