This Side Up

When doing taxes, just follow the directions


Tony Deller eased into his chair, positioning the coffee and corn muffin I had brought to one side of the papers that I just removed from a wide envelope. He took an instant to assess his desktop, like a pilot going through a pre-flight checklist. Sorting through the forms, arranging them, placing the organizer on top.

In front of him, in a semi-circle, four flat computer screens glowed. He was ready for take off. Well, almost. Tony stood up and pulled over a chair. I would be going along for the ride.

It’s been this way for years. It’s a trip that I would just as soon not make. In fact, it’s one that few enjoy and is cause for angst and quite possibly widespread depression. There’s little joy in doing taxes, even though a refund can be rewarding and compelling.

I hoped that by the end of the morning that would be the outcome and I could look forward to envelopes from the federal and state governments, although, given the state of affairs, it may take awhile for the treasurer to cut checks. I could wait, as long as I wasn’t the one writing the checks.

Tony had the music on. It was upbeat and lively; hit tunes from the 70s. There was room on the flight deck for my coffee and a muffin.

The coffee was tepid. I feared that would be the case.

Finding Tony took longer than planned and the whole preparation to our morning of taxes had that uncanny feeling that something was missing. Not what you want when dealing with the IRS.

Before leaving Warwick and driving to Smithfield, I mentally ran down my list. I was reasonably confident I had all the forms and, as a precaution, since this is not a trip made frequently, I asked Tony to send along directions to his place. I printed them off the email.

Directions, isn’t that what taxes are all about?

Directions gave me a level of confidence, although, when it came to finding Tony’s apartment in a renovated mill complex, I felt sure I knew where I was going.

It was as I remembered. There was even a half dozen parking places in front of his building.

I gathered my stuff and the coffee, opened a red door and climbed narrow wood stairs to the second floor, turned right and stood in front of the first apartment. It had a number, but no name. I knocked. Nobody stirred. I knocked again, still nothing.

I pulled out the directions and read them for the first time.

Yes, I had taken Route 146 to Pound Hill Road. Yes, I had turned into the mill complex immediately after crossing the stone arched bridge. This was the place. Then I read the last line and knew I was missing something. My premonition was being reinforced.

“Call me, as I still need to come down and let you in,” Tony wrote.

How logical, except I didn’t have Tony’s number.

Now what? This was the right building and the right apartment. Or was it? On the off chance I had the wrong floor, I went down a flight and knocked at the lower unit. A dog barked immediately. Tony didn’t have a dog, I was sure of that, but maybe he got one since my last visit. I heard footsteps. The door opened a crack to reveal a quivering black nose and a set of inquisitive eyes flanked by shaggy ears. Behind the dog stood a young man without a shirt. He looked at me sleepy-eyed.

I asked if he knew Tony.

“Nope. Try the office,” he said slamming the door. The dog barked a farewell.

O.K., I thought, but what are the chances of the office being open Saturday morning? And, besides, where was it?

I reminded myself that, if I had read the directions, I wouldn’t be in this predicament. And isn’t that what doing taxes is about, following the directions, not taking anything for granted or stepping outside the boundaries?

The one time I was audited, about 30 years ago, I learned that. There was no Tony to help, no computer programs off the shelf, and I labored through all the directions, feeling quite justified filing for a refund I believed was due me. Then I got the letter. Filled with trepidation, I went to the IRS office in Providence to learn my fate. Around me was a solemn bunch, clutching reams of papers and staring into the distance like zombies.

I was shown into a cubicle. My inquisitor was nice enough. She wanted proof and I produced the paperwork.

“You missed a few things,” she said. My stomach was in a knot. I confessed my ignorance, hoping that might save me from a penalty. She went to work on a calculator. I wished I had brought my checkbook, wondering if they would allow me a phone call to have Carol bring it before I went to jail.

When she was finished, she pushed the form across the desk. She was smiling.

“How sadistic,” I thought.

“You’re actually going to get more of a refund than you thought,” she said.

But this is a different age and I doubted a lame excuse like not being able to find my tax preparer would buy me sympathy.

I went in search of an office and, miraculously, found one. The door was locked, but a man reading the paper in his car spotted me and gestured to go around the building.

A receptionist listened to my plight and without confirming Tony was a resident called a number – high security for tax preparers. A moment later she asked for my name and I was cleared. Tony would meet me outside the building.

I was in. Tony had moved into another unit. No wonder I couldn’t find him.

Ninety minutes later, Tony had the good news. I was due a refund.

Then he asked if I wanted to apply it to next year’s return.

For once, here was a simple question.



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