I asked around for a referral and Nelson, my nemesis, suggested someone in Queens that he uses. (Those of you unfamiliar with Nelson can find out more about him here.)
"He'll get you all you deserve, and more!" enthused Nelson. This was not reassuring to someone who lists among his greatest fears "Going to jail for tax fraud". That fear appears on the list between "Getting food poisoning from drinking milk that is past it's sell-by date" and "Buying shoes that are a little too tight but letting the salesman convince you that they will stretch".
A few days later Nelson called and excitedly informed me that, "I got you all set up with my guy in Queens."
"Well, I wasn't really ready..." I began my excuse, but he cut me off.
"Not ready for tax time? Are you really willing to take that risk?"
Nelson, of course, knows that I am as risk-averse as they come so in the end I agreed to see his "guy in Queens."
Two nights later ("He only works nights and weekends! How convenient is that?", Nelson had said) I found myself on a 7 train heading into the wilds of the Borough of Queens. Following Nelson's directions I got out at the 33rd Street station and headed south two blocks to Van Dam Street. From there I took a left and went one block where I found myself standing in front of the Queens Correctional Facility.
I reminded myself to pre-screen any directions I get from Nelson in the future.
I continued half a block farther to a narrow building which displayed the number I was looking for, along with a sign reading "Bail Bonds" in large Helvetica type. In the lower right hand corner someone had scrawled "Taxes".
In the lower left hand corner, in the same handwriting, it said "Watch Batteries Changed".
As I was turning to head back to the subway station when the heavy metal door opened and a large-headed man stuck his large head out and said "You from Nelson?"
I was about to deny the allegation, but I was never good at lying to large-headed men so I said, "Yes. Yes I am."
He looked both ways and, although the street was deserted, looked both ways again before opening the door a bit wider and saying "Get in".
I squeezed through and waited for him to look both ways again before shutting the door. "Siddown," he said, gesturing toward a lime green plastic chair positioned before a large folding card table.
He sat across from me in a pink plastic chair, shuffled some papers which were sitting on the table, picked up a pencil that looked to be an inch and a half long, looked up at me, and said, "Income?"
For some reason I had a sudden memory of playing "Marco Polo" when I was a kid, so I replied "TAXES!" and smiled in that friendly way I have that never really works on large-headed men.
A look of recognition flashed through his eyes as he said "Oh, right, Nelson said you were a wit." When he said the word "wit" he wiggled the first two fingers of each hand in the air. "Yeah, I usually like to start with the income."
"Yes, sir," I said, resorting to the military patois I use when I get nervous. I opened the manila envelope I had brought and spread the papers on the table. "Income. Let's go."
"Let's start with cash income."
"Yeah. You know, the jobs you did for cash. Sales, deliveries, enforcement, that stuff."
I rummaged through my papers, although I knew I had no cash earnings for the tax year. Or any tax year, for that matter. I don't think I'd had any cash income since I stopped getting an allowance. Still, I felt that I had to make an effort to look.
"What do you know?" I said trying to sound surprised. "I don't appear to have any cash income this year. How about that?"
He rather forcefully crossed out three or four lines on a form he had started filling out and muttered, "No cash. No cash. No cash."
He looked up after a bit and asked, "Well, exactly what income do you have then?"
I handed him a couple of W2 forms. He looked at them for a moment like old friends he hadn't seen in a long time. "Ah," he said. "W2." He looked a little more closely. "This is your real name?"
He crossed out another line and wrote something down. "Real name," he said to himself, shaking his head. "Anything else?"
I timidly pushed over a couple of bank interest statements. He glanced at them, jotted something down on his form, crossed out a few more lines, and softly chuckled the words, "'Taxable' interest."
He sighed, turned his form over to what I deduced to be page 2 and asked, "Expenses?"
I paused for a moment, then again rummaged through my papers before saying, "What do you know..."
"No expenses?" He had raised his voice and it looked as if his head had gotten even larger. "How can you have no expenses? Don't you go to church? What about sales tax? Fire damage? What about business expenses? Social club dues? Travel? Solar panels?"
"Solar panels? I live in an apartment."
"Solar panels are a gold mine."
"Look, I just don't think I'm the type of taxpayer that you usually have for a client."
"Taxpayer? None of my clients pay taxes, friend. None."
"Right," I said as I began to gather up my papers. "Maybe I should be on my way..."
"Relax. Here." He scribbled for a minute and handed me a 1040 which was completely filled out with my W2 and interest income, no expenses, and a nominal refund. I looked it over and it actually appeared to be in order.
"Thanks. Shouldn't you sign it or something though?"
"What? And use my real name?"
By the time I got home it was pretty late so to comfort myself I had two excellent homemade cookies and a glass of milk and felt very satisfied with myself.
Then I noticed that the sell-by date on the milk carton was two days old.