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October 27, 2009

Taxes and Death and Big Talk

More from the cutting room floor. Seems like all my favorite stuff got edited out with a red pen!

Taxes and Death and Big Talk

My accountant is a year younger than me, and he’s tall. Over six feet tall. He has dark brown hair and is the best looking accountant I have ever met. The first year I went to see him I was still in the process of getting divorced and I cried in his office. I did that a lot back then.

The next year I was happier, because I was really moved on from the crying and I was working on my first book. It was an exciting time, so much so that I managed to completely ignore his suggestion to begin paying quarterly taxes and this year I am sitting in his office, thirty hours before April 15th and I am watching the numbers on the screen add up. I brought my checkbook but I’m not sure how much it will help, I forgot to rob a bank first.

The accountant and I agree that the number is large, larger than we expected. I have to pay that amount, and I ask if there is some way to claim the cats on my tax return. He laughs politely. I own no house for deductions, I have no dependent children, and I am in the state with the highest tax burden in the U.S. The accountant and I chitchat before I leave –- I don't cry, victory again! -– and then he tells me he's getting married and she's in the medical field.

"Taxes and death," he says. I laugh politely and leave.

Later that night I call my dad and tell him I've been to see my accountant and I am now researching the states with no personal income tax.

My dad is used to me saying things such as "I think I want to be a painter and develop a dark side," and "I’m thinking about quitting my job at the bank and taking my chances at professional cat whispering. Unless there's an opening for blimp drivers, doesn't blimp driving sound fun?" He listens to me patiently contrast all the pros and cons of the seven states on the list.

"There’s Florida –- too humid. Nevada is too gambly. Texas is on the list but I was born there and if I move back no one will find my southern accent charming because they all have accents," I said.

"Yes," said my dad, "that and now you sound like a Yankee from living out in Los Angeles for so long."

Sounding like a Yankee is a cardinal sin for most southerners but I took voice and diction lessons for five long years so that I could have conversations with other human beings from outside the Delta without them interrupting me four words in to say, "Where are you from? Your accent is so... thick!" so I am not only unoffended by sounding Yankee-ish, but smugly thrilled that my family thinks I am a yellowbellied Yankee traitor in the diction arena.

"New Mexico was a real possibility," I tell him. "But it seems hot, and I already live in the San Fernando Valley so it would be out of the frying pan and into the fryer. South Dakota is really far. So that leaves Washington State and Wyoming. Those are all seven states with no state income tax. I don’t want to pay taxes anymore, so that’s as close as I can get without being jailed or moving offshore."

"I can see your time at the bank has paid off," said my dad. "You have become a true financial whiz kid."

"I’m thinking Wyoming," I said. "It sounds rugged."

"What will you do in Wyoming?" dad asks. He is always the annoying and how do you plan to pay for that missy sort of pragmatist.

"I don’t know, but I will be free, dad! Freedom! Los Angeles has been great but I am certain I have an inner rugged pioneer spirit just waiting to burst forth!" I said.

"When you come here for a visit you don’t even like to go upstairs," he pointed out.

I know better than to call my pragmatic, Southern parents and talk to them about ridiculous notions such as enlightenment, moving to encourage my inner pioneer or sharing my dream of one day opening a museum of knitted objects. Not just knitted scarves and hats but everything like tables, chairs, plates, little knitted cupcakes and silverware. I think it could become quite the roadside attraction.

This is a clear example of discovering who is on your team. There are people you love and admire and talk to every day –- friends, family members, psychic astrologers. But not everyone is on your team. Some people are just programmed to be dogmatic pragmatists. They can't help but poke holes in all your fantasies and stories. They're the ones who interrupt you to tell you that they don't think "Roberta" is the best name to use when you become an undercover operative for the CIA. Like they would know!

Those who are on your team will nod and smile and act like they are listening to you as you pour your heart out on the telephone. They are silently playing online scrabble on the other end of the phone line, but they are not arguing with your logic, your planning skills or your loose definition of "earning potential." These people are your support team, the ones you go to first with your ridiculous ideas and wild-hair-up-your-butt theories.

Everyone else –- no matter how close you may be or how closely related you may be –- will be full of all the ways your current dream and plan will never work. They will tell you how bad the economy is, or how risky that kind of adventure is, or that you're too short for espionage, and they will helpfully provide any number of ways you can fail, fall over or embarrass yourself. Those are the ones you do not share your schemes with. You can still remain close to these folks but you don't tell them about the long afternoons at your desk when you daydream, picturing yourself on horseback wearing faded jeans and something plaid, riding free on a windswept big-sky farm in tax-free Wyoming.

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Edited to add: Thank you for all the people emailing me furiously about Tennessee and New Hampshire. Those states tax dividend and interest income which technically does not make them personal tax-free states. As for you folks emailing me about Alaska, what can I say? It was a silly essay, not a real-life hard news story about the taxation situation in the U.S. I probably had wine. What's funniest of all is that it's not actually about finding a place to live OR about taxes! In my mind it was about fantasizing, dreaming, goofy stuff. Clearly now I know why this essay was cut. Thank God I have an editor, right? I seem to be hearing another language sometimes. Funny funny.

Posted by laurie at October 27, 2009 10:17 AM