Old boxers knocked out as tax break contenders

MIKE ROYKO

August 09, 1993|By MIKE ROYKO

While getting dressed this morning, I pulled a pair of underwear from a drawer. I noticed that the elastic was frayed, which would cause the shorts to sag.

I pointed this out to the blond, who said: "Throw them away."

A predictable response from someone who is not known for her fiscal shrewdness.

No, I told her, I am not going to throw my old underwear away. I am going to put them in a box along with any other old underwear I come across.

"Out of nostalgia or as a weird hobby?" she asked.

Neither. A sly financial move. I will make money off my old underwear.

She said: "I doubt if even your most faithful readers -- if there are any -- would buy them as souvenirs."

That isn't my plan, I explained. I intend to use my old underwear to reduce our tax burden.

"Where did you get that nutty idea?" she asked.

Nutty? Not at all. I had simply been following the example of our commander in chief.

And I explained how the old underwear trick works.

Recently, a Washington-based magazine -- American Spectator -- looked into records listing the charitable contributions made by the Clintons when Bill was governor of Arkansas.

They discovered that every year the Clintons would bundle up their used clothing and donate it to the Salvation Army or the Goodwill stores, which sell second-hand items.

Besides being good-hearted, the Clintons had a keen eye for a tax break. So they would write off the value of the garments they bestowed.

And for tax purposes, they would estimate the value of Clinton's used underwear at $4 a skivvy.

Reading that, I was filled with admiration for their financial savvy. Of course, they attended Yale Law School, where one would expect to gain such knowledge.

And I slapped my forehead in disgust at the memory of all the underwear I have thrown away over the years and all the tax benefits I had stupidly overlooked.

But I vowed that I, too, would turn my old underwear into a tax break.

Shaking her head, the blond said: "I don't see how you could value your underwear at $4 for tax purposes when you didn't pay $4 for it new."

She had a point. I buy my underwear at big discount stores, where they cost about $3.75. Even less in the three-pack bundles.

But then how could the Clintons have placed a $4 value on Governor Bill's briefs?

"Well, maybe he wore silk underwear. You can spend $50 or $60 for a pair if they are silk."

I doubted that. Maybe if he had been the governor of California or New York, or mayor of San Francisco. But Arkansas? I question if he could even buy silk underwear in Arkansas, where many of the rustics prefer a sturdy burlap.

Of course, it's possible that because of the size of his underwear, the Salvation Army might have converted them to bed sheets or even a hammock, which would rate higher prices.

"Or if they were silk," the blond said, "they could have been turned into parachutes."

Possibly. But I still doubt that Clinton would have donned silk undies. He is too politically astute. If word had leaked out, the backlash in the Ozarks would have been disastrous. On the other hand, he attended Oxford University in England, and one never knows what odd quirks a person can pick up in a dapper place like that.

Out of curiosity, I called some Salvation Army and Goodwill HTC outlets in Chicago and asked for the going price of used underwear.

About 75 cents, they said.

Then I called a few outlets in Little Rock, Ark. One said underwear goes for about 50 cents. Another said 25 cents.

"Only 25 cents?" I said. "Up here in Chicago, they get three times that much."

"Mebbee you got classier underwear," he said. "Or a higher cost of living."

If that is so, how could Clinton have valued his briefs at $4?

"Don't know," the Arkansas clerk said. "Never seen his underwear and I wouldn't know 'em if I did."

Then I phoned the tax accountant who helps me out each year and told him of my newfound dodge.

"I strongly recommend that you forget it. Just throw your underwear away. If you start placing a $4 value on shorts for which you paid $3.75, an Internal Revenue Service computer will probably spot it and go off like a fire alarm. Then we will have a full-blown audit, which can lead to nothing but misery and grief."

But the Clintons are reported to have done it. And what is good enough for my prez ought to be good enough for me.

"Maybe the tax offices in Arkansas don't have computers. Believe me, $4 a pair would be a rather aggressive interpretation of the tax laws. I suppose Julia Roberts or Michelle Pfeiffer could get away with it, but not you."

He's kind of conservative. Maybe I should hire myself a Yale man.

But it makes you wonder: If Clinton's old underwear was worth $4 as governor of a small state, what is it worth now that he is the leader of the last superpower?

And I wouldn't even try to make a guess about his jogging shorts.

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