Monday, May 01, 2006

What a Lunatic Taught BigCityLib about the Canadian Income Tax System

When I came to Toronto as a poor student, I wound up living in the basement of one Roy Meadow, a retiree that owned a big old house near Sheppard and Victoria Park. He used to get the occasional letter from an English gentleman named James Jerrold, who some years previously had been institutionalized for a form of strange behavior that Roy never did want to tell me about.

In any case, when one of his letters arrived at Roy's place, you wouldn't believe the fear and loathing it caused. Olga, who came around three times a week to clean and tidy, refused to touch the envelope. She'd cross herself and gasp out loud when she saw Mr. Jerrold's distinctive handwriting. Even the postie seemed a bit superstitious with the thing, holding it by one corner. And he'd give you a pitying look that said Oh I'm sorry you're getting mail from a lunatic.

For this reason: Mr. Jerrold would cover the whole outside of the envelope with his own 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 hand, using some kind of old fountain pen.

I pointed out that James Audubon used to write in this fashion, to save paper, but Roy told me that the asylum where Mr. Jerrold lived was "private, and pretty ritzy", and that Mr. Jerrold would not lack for paper.

Indeed, the actual letters inside inevitable ran to a good twenty 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 failures as attempts at communication.

And one year a letter arrived in Mid-April. By this time I was out of University, making a little more money, and I was 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. I'm a good Liberal, after all; if the feds had sent around some guy named Guido every year and he'd asked me to hand over my wallet, I would have been happy to do it. But I absolutely loath forms; every time I write on one it is as though my soul is being sucked out through the tip of the pen.

So the letter to me was like kismet. It inspired me. I immediatly took out my Revenue Canada envelope 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. 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.

When I got to the tax form itself, I transcribed all the numbers I had written on my worksheets to it using roman numerals. Or at least my approximation of Roman numerals. I wasn't really paying attention. 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 don't know if 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, "BigCityLib", stuck a stamp on the whole thing, and dropped it off in a post-box late the evening of April 30th.

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 language, I was free to order these forms in any of their alternative versions.

The next year I did 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.

The next year my wife moved in with me and canned all that silliness.

But the point is, no matter how crazy I tried to act, the Revenue Canada Bureacrats were twice as anal-retentive as that. I was, I suppose, trying to make them forget me, pitch aside my file or stick it in a pile marked Incorrigable, but they would not surrender.

They didn't care if I was a lunatic; they just wanted my money.


Anonymous said...

My favorite part was the roman numerals, and the "available in 45 different languages"..

If only you had posted this last week, I would have called Revenue Canada and asked for the forms in the lanuage of the Piraha (They have words for 1, 2 and many, because of this, they can not count past 2)

Anyways, after having almost pulled my hair out over those stupid forms, this made me laugh; thanks!

Home Site said...

Being self employed I see my taxes are way to high .The fact is being in business the IRS taxes you twice for being self employed .taxes