Thursday, March 17, 2011

Reflections At Tax Time

When I came to Toronto as a poor student, I wound up living in the basement of one Roy Medough, a retiree who owned a big old house near Sheppard and Victoria Park. Occasionally ,he would receive letters from an English gentleman named James Jerrold, who some years previously had been institutionalized for behavior that Roy never did want to discuss.

In any case, when one of his letters arrived it brought out the strangest reactions in people. Our maid, who came around three times a week to vacuum and do laundry, refused to handle the envelope. Even the postie seemed a bit unnerved, holding it by one corner. And he'd give you a pitying look that said "Oh its so sad you're getting mail from a lunatic".

Because Mr. Jerrold would cover the whole outside of the envelope with handwriting, first horizontally across the page, and then when he had run out of room that way, vertically so the lines criss-crossed. And he did all this in a wonderfully florid style, using what I always imagined must be some kind of old-fashioned fountain pen.

I pointed out that the great naturalist James Audubon used to write in a similar fashion, when he was out in the bush exploring nature, so as to save paper, but Roy told me that the asylum where Mr. Jerrold had been stored was "private, and pretty ritzy", so that Mr. Jerrold should not lack for paper.

Indeed, the actual letters inside inevitably ran to a good 15 pages of pink foolscap, all covered on both sides in the same fashion, with tiny stars and planets and wildflowers drawn in the margins. I couldn't make heads or tails of the content, and even Roy could only decipher a line or two, but I always thought James Jerrold's letters were incredibly beautiful objects, even if they failed as attempts to communicate. Most other people just seemed frightened of them

And one year a different letter arrived, from the federal government. By this time I was out of University, making money, and thoroughly tired of filling out all the damned forms involved in paying my income taxes. It wasn't so much that I disliked the idea of giving up money. If the feds had sent around some guy to ask me to dump out the contents of my wallet, I would have been happy to do it. But I can't stand paperwork; every time I fill out a form it is as though my soul is being sucked out through the tip of the pen.

Suddenly, I found myself inspired by James Jerrold's example. I took the return envelope Revenue Canada had provided me and began writing on it--bits of old essays I'd done, the type on the backs of cereal boxes, whatever. I didn't want to swipe Jerrold's shtick, so I didn't cross-hatch the lines the way he did. But I did switch pen and ink colors every couple of sentences, and used a dozen of those brightly hued ballpoints they sell to school-kids.

Later, I transcribed the numbers I had written on my work sheets to the tax form itself using roman numerals. Or at least my approximation of Roman numerals. I wasn't really shooting for 100% verisimilitude. To justify my calculations, I included an elaborate series of footnotes written in multi-colored ink and employing an alternative mathematical notation that I invented as I went along. I doubt it was logically sound, but it was quite pretty.

At the bottom of the form I wrote the figure $1,000 in big black letters, and the words "YOU OWE ME!" with an arrow pointing to the figure. I signed my name, stuck a stamp on the whole thing, and dropped it off in a post-box one evening in April.

About two months later Revenue Canada sent me a check for $45, and a supplementary letter informing me that the various tax forms existed in 45 different languages, and if English was not my primary tongue, I was free to order these forms in any of their alternative versions.

The next year I tried the same kind of thing and, as Mr. Jerrold had died in the meantime, cross-hatched all the writing on the envelope. I got back a letter saying I owed the government $212 plus a small late fee, and another letter reminding me about the various languages that Revenue Canada material existed in.

A few years after that my wife moved in with me and made me stop. She does my returns these days. Typically I get back around $1,000 to $1,500, so really things work out better this way.

But the point is, no matter how crazy I tried to act, the Revenue Canada Bureaucrats were twice as anal-retentive as that. I was, I suppose, trying to make them forget me, pitch aside my file or dump it in a pile marked Incorrigible, but they refused to surrender

They didn't care if I was crazy; they knew my money was good.

NOTE: Yes its a shameless rehash of some old material.


Marlowe Johnson said...

my wife does my taxes too :)

Scanner said...

I knew a man who worked on the original computer system for S.I.N. and Rev. Can. He built himself a S.I.N. number that vanished when data was entered and never paid income tax. He is long dead so it can be revealed.

sassy said...

Scanner - I guess one could call that a perk of the job.