Viewpoint: The IRS Tax Man Sigheth

By Claudia Harrington
Special to the Palisades News

Have you ever wanted to swat that nagging voice inside your head? You know the one: “better clear out the gutters before it rains,” “better sew those name tags in Joey’s drawers before he comes back from camp naked,” “better arrange those store-bought cake slices on a paper plate before PTA members realize you don’t bake.”

Lately my little voice has been nagging “better get those tax receipts organized before the April 18 deadline.” Truly, how can you get excited about tax receipts? After undergoing an audit, I discovered they are like little pieces of gold.

I’ve always lived my life thinking that when you got randomly chosen out of a trillion people it’s got to be a lucky thing, like Lotto. Boy, were my rose-colored glasses shattered when an IRS envelope came requesting our presence at an audit.

Armed with my receipts, Advil, Tylenol and my tax preparer, I arrived on time for my audit. Nervous? Not me, until we walked in and recognized the look on the auditor’s face. It was the look of a lion … a really hungry lion … who’d just spotted a five-course dinner. I think he even licked his chops.

The appointment was painless enough . . . in a root-canal-with-no-novocaine sort of way. Did you know that just because your IRS man can’t use a certain deduction, you can’t either?

“You had to pay for parking to see a client?” my IRS guy said. “Too bad, I can’t deduct my parking. You can’t deduct yours.”

It was at about this point that I started to see the big picture. Here they sat, these soldiers of the IRS, crunching numbers in their gray cubicles, computers not working right, planes from LAX buzzing overhead.

Then came the prove-it game. “Now, about those medical claims,” the auditor said with a Grinch-like grin.

“I’m so glad you had me bring those,” I said. “I actually found $2,000 I didn’t claim!”

“What was your biggest expense?” he asked. I hadn’t thought to organize them according to amount and madly flew through medical and dental receipts. There were the emergency room visits, the girls’ crooked teeth, my husband’s broken elbow . . . The tax man sighed.

“My daughter’s hospital stay!” I proudly announced when I found a whopper.

He studied the receipt, punched some more numbers into his calculator, and asked, “Next most expensive?” Okay, this guy was going to be doing some more sighing.

When we finished the medical expenses (he had no desire to see the $2,000 I’d missed, by the way), he went back to my car (he had to “consult” with somebody behind a secret cubicle), then my office computer, then this, then that, and then . . .

He released us, saying the change in my tax situation would be mailed to me soon.

“You were lucky,” my tax man said. “You got a nice one.”

We ended up paying with our souls and through our noses. I wonder what we’d have owed if our agent hadn’t been nice?

As I gather my few allowable receipts this year . . . I wonder how often lighting strikes the same place twice?

(Editor’s note: Claudia Harrington, a graduate of Northwestern, the mother of three, a children’s book author and a realtor with Sotheby’s International Realty, lives in the Alphabet Streets.)

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