Tax time brings private accounting to the drawer


February 21, 1993|By ALICE STEINBACH

Events in the past, someone once remarked, may be divided roughly into two categories: those that probably never happened and those that happened but do not matter.

A wise observation. However, in my opinion, it leaves out a third major category of events in the past: those that are tax-deductible.

Indeed, it is my impression that many people lead lives dictated by the tax consequences of such disparate items as: children, spouses, medical procedures, cars, houses, vacations, books, newspapers and whom to invite, or not invite, to dinner.

Such an approach to life has its rewards. Especially when income tax time rolls around. Because usually those who keep a sharp lookout for the tax-deductible item also keep a sharp accounting of such items. It is the kind of record-keeping that allows them to breeze through the whole income tax process with little or no trauma.

Order, neatness and a penchant for defensive record-keeping. It all seems to come so naturally to some people.

Unfortunately, I am not one of them.

What can I say? I am not neat. I am not orderly. And I have no filing system.

What I do have is a drawer into which I've thrown receipts, canceled checks, pay stubs, handwritten notes, odd photographs and the occasional souvenir intended to remind me of some expense or another that might be tax-deductible.

I am going through all this stuff right now -- trying to arrange my canceled checks into organized categories. So far I have envelopes marked: House Troubles, Cat Troubles, Man Troubles, Job Troubles, Hair Troubles and Personal Growth.

It is not my idea of a good time. For one thing, each canceled check is like a little time bomb, setting off memories I'd rather forget.

Take, for instance, Check No. 763. Made out to "Jack's 24-hour Emergency Towing Center," it represents one of the worst nights of my life last year. True, I've almost gotten over the part about the alligator's escape. But the business about explaining to the police why I was even near the zoo that late at night and how the car drove off a small -- tiny, really -- embankment is still a painful memory.

It goes into the Personal Growth envelope.

Check No. 691 really upsets me. Just the sight of the dermatologist's name makes me cringe. It doesn't help, of course, to remember the way he refused to treat my cat, Max, for the same emergency skin problem I had. Heck, there we were, Max and me, stranded in a little town near the Mexican border and where was I supposed to find a veterinarian? Particularly one who knows tropical medicine.

It could go into either Man Troubles or Cat Troubles. For reasons too complex to explain, I decide on the former.

Uh-oh. Look at this. Check No. 600. For some reason it reminds me of that Yogi Berra observation: "You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you are going, because you might not get there." Made out to a travel agency, Check No. 600 demonstrates once again how important it is to know a foreign language. Otherwise, a person headed, say, for Siena could end up in Siberia.

For reasons you wouldn't understand it goes into Cat Troubles.

I could almost smile about Check No. 717. Except for one thing: Hardly anything Madame Perestroika, my psychic, predicted would happen to me, happened. Not the promotion. Or the inheritance. Or the sudden trip to Hawaii with a short, handsome stranger. Only the part about getting a really bad haircut came true.

Check No. 717 goes right into Hair Troubles.

There is a slight detour here as I find a piece of paper wedged between Check No. 689 -- made out to "Lou's 24-Hour Emergency Locksmith Service" -- and Check No. 702, the one written to "Woody's 24-Hour Emergency Carpentry Service."

It's a lined sheet of notebook paper, yellow with age. Written in a scrawl that could be psychotic are the following words: Coco puffs. 2 bottles of Yoo-Hoo. Double fudgsickles. Spaghetios. Marshmellows.

I turn the paper over and on the back is a note written by me many years ago. It informs me that what I am looking at is a grocery list made up by a son -- age 6 -- who was at the time suffering from a cold and sore throat.

Distracted by the memory, I wander down into the kitchen and open the back door. The late afternoon light casts a violet shadow across a white brick wall. I hear the wind sighing in the winter grass.

For reasons you probably understand, I file the moment in Personal Growth.

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