Sunday, March 29, 2009

Death by Taxes

I’m going to jail.

Well maybe not jail, but I’m definitely going to get audited.

There is almost no doubt in my mind that 2009 will not only be the first year I did my taxes by myself, but also, the last.

If I think about my life since college, I pinpoint one major benefit of not having to go to class. And that is not having to do homework.

Not that I was any sort of prolific homework doer in college. But when it needed to get done, I done did it. Even if it was an easy homework, the stress and foreboding of this lurking cloud of obligation that must be done every night or every week, really cramped my style.

This is a perk I enjoy as an adult. Aside from the occasional trip to Bed Bath and Beyond or the Dry Cleaners, there really isn’t too much in the way of homework dragging me down these days.

But I moved into my very own apartment last year and since I am living on my own, working full time, and on my way into my late 20s, it is time for me to not just tell people I am a grown up, but to pretend I am one as well.

I have been given my first homework assignment as an adult, to do my taxes. And this, my friends, is why it is almost a guarantee, that I will be audited.

I would like to clear the air by first saying that I am great at counting. I can count from 1 to 10 no problem. Hell, I can even do it 3 languages. Where I struggle the most is with calculating.

That would probably explain why I couldn’t pass calculus in college. Calculus seems to be the root of calculating.

The first time I failed calculus I really didn’t have a chance. I was consistently the first one to finish tests. It wasn’t because I was brilliant; it was because I had run out of questions I could make up an answer for.

That mentality carried over to my adult homework of doing my taxes. In addition to being borderline incompetent I am also extremely lazy. So I downloaded Turbo Tax, the software met all the requirements I had for tax software.

Speedy Adjective in the title – Check
The title mentions “tax” – Check

I started doing my taxes and realized I did not have the attention span for this. The program does all of the math for you, but it asks you look at forms and pull numbers and get the information from your 1098 and 1099 forms.

What the hell happened to the first 1,097 forms? Shouldn’t I have to fill those out?

That’s like going to an empty airport but still having to fly out of Gate 27. What is wrong with all these other gates?

What kind of society do we live in that the government had to make 1097 versions of something before they got it right?

So I commenced using the software and filled in numbers, consulted my forms, and answered Turbo Tax’s questions about things that might be deductible.

Things like, Was I hit by a natural disaster in 2008?

Like did my house blow away? If so I think I shouldn’t have to be doing taxes thank you very much. It even gives you a drop down list to choose from states that were affected by government approved natural disasters.

I still clicked on the drop down menu.

I was curious.

New York wasn’t even listed. As it turns out Turbo Tax wouldn’t even let me pretend I was hit by a natural disaster in 2008. Maybe I wouldn’t be going to jail after all.

I even did my tax homework the way I did the rest of my homework in college

I tried to do it by myself for about 9 minutes while watching Seinfeld, then gave up and called my friend who had already done his tax homework to ask for help.

All the while hoping that my five million questions would get so annoying he would just give up and tell me to copy it before class…I mean work , the next morning.

The only real difference I have been able to delineate so far between college homework and this tax homework is that college homework I never really got any reward for. They’d give me a grade.

Oh a grade. Whoopee.

However tax homework, if I do it right, I get like… hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars. So I might be a bit more motivated.

But on the flipside, I never had the risk of going to jail if I didn’t do my college homework.

So I finally finished my taxes, or Turbo Tax finished them for me. Of course I gave it to my best friend who is an account to look at. He did and faxed it back to me at my office.

Though when he faxed it back to me, by the time I got to the copy machine the only thing there of the 24 page document was the cover sheet. The rest of my taxes were missing.

My taxes which contain my personal information, social security number, my bank accounts, my salary, and more.

This means that not only am I about to be audited and go to jail, but my identity will be stolen while I’m in there.


Screw this. Next year, I’m not paying taxes

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Fear Thy Neighbor

Do you really know your neighbors?

I postulate that the further you live from your neighbors the more you know about them. Case and point, when I lived in suburbia I knew a decent amount about people who lived throughout my neighborhood.

Now I live in an apartment on a floor with 6 other apartments that take up roughly the same amount of space as my old house. I know almost nothing about the people I live next to and across from, except what I can glean from observation.

I walked out of my apartment not too long ago to find a Houdini sized chest sitting in the hallway next to one of my neighbors doors. It looked like it was straight out of the 1920s. Upon closer inspection it appeared that this chest was in fact extremely old, and also, it was from Holland.

I’m not sure how this 5 foot tall chest ended up in America, or more specifically, my hallway. I imagine something that size is tough to move around one’s apartment so it probably made sense that it had to be temporarily relocated out into the hall for a bit to allow some space.

Did this mean someone on my floor was a magician? Or even better, a Dutch magician? I was so curious to see what was inside the chest. A sawed in half lady? A whole bunch of shackles and chains? But I didn’t touch it for fear that it was also a trick, and a dozen springy snakes would shoot out of it and scare the crap out of me. So I left it untouched.

The next day I come home to another surprise in the hallway. In addition to the Dutch chest, there was also a grody looking four story carpeted cat condo. (That is some awesome alliteration, OH there it is again!) So now I have Houdini’s chest and a cat condo in my hall. Two very large but very different items.

Granted it really doesn’t bother me because the area outside my elevator is more of a rectangle so they don’t block anything. But I did find the pairing of items quite bizarre.

Especially the fact that on this cat condo there was a yellow note taped to it that said “Please Don’t Move This.”

As though someone would be in the elevator up to the 6th floor talking to their spouse just as the door opened;

“Yea honey I was thinking if we could just find some sort of used really smelly shelving unit with a built in rug we could…. Oh my god its FATE!”

Don’t move this? I imagine the only possible move would be to chuck it down the stairs, or if you were feeling ambitious, bring it up to the roof and chuck from there. But either way I feel that note on a smelly carpeted cat condo just isn’t necessary. The hideousness of this object speaks for itself.

Stay away, I am a cat condo.

Aside from the stuff your neighbors leave outside their doors, sometimes we are given a glimpse into what goes on inside their apartment.

The exterminator comes to my apartment every other month or so. This is always a welcome visit, because as you may know, I have had some experiences with his clientele.

He comes in, sprays some stuff in the kitchen, puts some goo down in the bathroom and then leaves. He is in my apartment 2 minutes tops. Upon leaving I sign his sheet to say that he visited my apartment and I accept his services

On his sheet I can also see whose apartments he has already visited. Once, upon signing his sheet, I saw that someone had refused preventative bug measures.


What would you think if you found out that someone had refused fumigation service from the exterminator? Wouldn’t that make you wonder just the tiniest bit? Living amongst a kingdom of bugs and disgusting may be your prerogative but I live on this floor too.

I can only imagine 2 possible reasons you would not want the exterminator to come into your apartment and spray for bugs.

1. You run a Meth lab out of your bathroom
2. You are gross.

I envision one who does not use preventative bug measures also leaves open jars of maple syrup lying around and pieces of shredded Mexi-chicken on their floor.

It shouldn’t be up to you whether or not your apartment gets fumigated. It should be up to me. I want you to be fumigated. I need you to be fumigated and that should be enough for all of us.

For all I know it was probably the same guy with the cat condo and the Houdini chest, which I now know is either filled with dead cats or Crystal Meth.

So is it better to know your neighbors? Perhaps. But if your neighbor is the Meth addicted Dutch Cat Magician… perhaps not.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Price of Being Ripped Off

How much does stuff cost any more?

I understand that things like inflation and the global economy can raise prices, but things have gotten a little bit out of control. I suppose its supply and demand, but in my opinion I think it is more laziness and convenience.

I was recently ripped off by two different vendors in two completely different stores. I did nothing about it in either case. (That's kind of my thing)

My first rip-off happened this week. I needed to buy a stamp to mail a letter. One stamp, that’s it. The post office is only 2 blocks away from my office but I didn't feel like leaving work in the middle of the morning just to mail one letter. So I just went downstairs to the convenience store in my building's lobby and got a stamp.

To be clear I would like to point out that at this point in our economy regular first class stamps cost 42 cents. That is across the country. The price will be going up soon but the price, for now, is 42 cents.

So I go up to the counter and ask for a stamp. The man hands it to me and says "50 cents."

Fifty cents? FIFTY CENTS? YOU SONOFABITCH! You are marking up the price of a stamp? OF A STAMP!

Isn't that illegal? It was price gouging! It wasn't like there was some sort of stamp shortage.


And it wasn't just markup, it was 20 percent markup. Do you know what that means? That means if I wanted to buy a book of stamps at $8.40 this sonofabitch would have charged me an extra $1.68.

Where is the law? Where is common decency? Where is the morality of business that the Greeks, Romans, and aristocrats have venerated for centuries and centuries?

Gone I guess.

I should have stormed out of there. I should have made a fuss. I should have thrown up my arms and in my rage thrown packages of gum (spearmint trident of course) from his buffet-like display at his knobby little head.

But I didn’t.

Instead I paid the 50 cents rather than walk 5 minutes to the post office to wait on a line for 10 minutes to pay 42 cents for a stamp to put on my maintenance check so I could mail it in a week late.

Laziness 1 – Richard 0

I also had 2 watch batteries replaced recently. One in a dressy watch with a leather band, and one in a sport watch with a rubber band.

I went to the jewelry store on the corner which does have a certain sketch factor to it. The man behind the counter has a booming scratchy voice and an accent that could be from anywhere east of Germany. And, while friendly, he also appears to be completely out of his mind.

When I brought in the leather watch the crazy man asked to see it before he told me how much it would cost. I should have known I was about to be ripped off.

I showed him and he said, "Ooo nice watch." What he was actually saying was, "You probably have a roll of hundreds stuffed in your underwear right now." He then told me the price while shrugging his shoulders as though telling me it didn't matter that I'd lost his cat.

"Ehh… 15 dollars."
I was skeptical, but also lazy. So I just accepted his price and left it with him.

Laziness 2 – Richard 0

And because I am too lazy to find a new watch repair shop I went back to this guy with my other dead watch. When I came back with my rubber and considerably cheaper watch, I handed it to him and asked him how much it would cost. He responds by asking me if it is waterproof. I hesitate fearing what kind of scam my answer will get me into, but I tell him yes. He says, “Ok… 20 dollars.”

20 Dollars? Last time it was 15!
Oh I have to water test it.

Water test it? If by water test it you mean take the watch and run it under a faucet, I will water test it myself thank you. I’ll go wash a dish or something. I don't need to pay you an extra 5 bucks to make sure gravity and air pressure still exist in our universe.

And besides, if you "water test" it and it turns out you botched the job and it is no longer water proof…what then Bruneleschi? What's your plan of action there? Charge me another 5 bucks to tell me it wasn't waterproof?

So not wanting to pay more than 15 bucks I argue again.

But last time it was 15!
Did I water test it?

And now completely lying because I don't like this guy and his wandering right eye that points towards the moon, “Yes, yes you water tested it.”

He concedes and charges me only $15 for 15 minutes of work, which I am almost positive, is highway robbery to begin with.

By that standard, this guy gets paid a dollar a minute to put batteries in watches which by my calculation, if this guy works 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year, he is making $120,000 a year putting batteries in watches. And if he had charged me his “standard” price of $20 this lunatic would be making $160,000 a year.

Either way I am in the wrong line of work.

So I left, happy that I had only been mildly ripped off as opposed to my usual completely ripped off.

Laziness 3 – Richard 0

But the good news is, going forward at least I know what time it is when I get ripped off, whereas before I just had to guess.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Snow Day

I think often about my childhood. I think about the things I did and no longer do, or the things I had and can no longer have. And whenever winter storms blow in, I think about snow days.

As a child there was no greater lottery than getting a snow day. The sheer chance that school would be closed because there was too much awesomeness outside seemed almost unfathomable.

We had a bunch of snow last week in New York and I got something that is as rare as the white whale, an adult snow day. My company has a rule that we must close when New York City schools close. Last Monday my work was closed due to snow.

What follows is a step by step recount of how a typical snow day went as a child and how it did for me last week as an “adult.”

Child: Wake up at 6 am and run to the window to see the snow. Run to the TV to find out if schools are closed. Wait in anxious anticipation. Turn on radio and listen to school closings while watching the ticker on the bottom of the news. Witness my district on the TV as one that’s closing. Jump for joy and celebrate by running around the house and gathering up all snow gear for day of playing in the snow.

Adult: Wake up normal time. See text message announcing work is closed. Text back, “really?” Celebrate by immediately closing eyes and going back to sleep.

Child: Spend 45 minutes putting on long johns, shirts, sweatpants, 2 pairs of socks, snow boots, jacket, gloves, scarf, and hat. Zip everything up closed and tight. Get ready to spend several hours jumping and frolicking in the snow. Realize I have to pee.

Adult: Spend 45 minutes trying to go back to sleep but curse the irony that on my day off I can’t fall back to sleep like I do every other working day. Walk around apartment in boxers and lay down on the couch. Get comfortable and ready to spend several hours not moving. Realize I have to pee.

Child: Run outside and start shoveling the walk into a huge pile on the lawn. Eat entire handfuls of fresh snow. Finish shoveling and immediately jump head first into the pile of snow. Lay there for 20 minutes making snow angels.

Adult: Excited to eat breakfast but too lazy to make something; lay on couch eating entire handfuls of dry cheerios. Go back to bed and dive headfirst into my pillow. Lay there for 20 minutes making bed angels.

Child: Build a snowman. Throw snowballs at trees. Build a fort. Throw more snowballs. Tackle snowman. Build a better snowman. Completely destroy all snow in front yard.

Adult: Wake up 2 hours later. Go back and sit on the couch. Do nothing.

Child: Come inside around noon because I am hungry and have to pee. Strip off 7 layers of snow clothing and realize under it all I am drenched in sweat. Go pee. Sit at the kitchen table where mom has prepared me a most delicious hearty meal of hot soup and grilled cheese.

Adult: Realize I have to pee. Sniff self and realize I stink. Contemplate eating. Think about the simplest possible meal I can make. Pour pre-made soup into bowl and microwave. Put cheese between 2 slices of bread and fry. Eat while lying on the couch.

Child: Redress in snow clothing, boots, coat, jacket, hat, gloves, socks, scarf, zip, zip, zip. Go outside with sled. Walk like a yeti to the park to join all the other kids sledding down the big hill.

Adult: Lay on couch. Watch progressively worse television. Do nothing.

Child: Sled down the hill, run up the hill, sled down the hill, run up the hill. Try to stand on sled while going down the hill. Fall on head. Pretend not to be hurt. Walk around dizzy for 10 minutes.

Adult: Lay on couch. Do nothing.

Child: Trek home from sledding around sunset. Put all clothes in dryer. Have cookies and milk. Run into the living room and plop down on the couch exhausted. Watch afternoon cartoons and finish your day.

Adult: Stuff half a Toblerone bar in my face. Chew while horizontal. Contemplate the meaning of the words “Saturated fat.” Look outside and notice it is getting dark. Decide to shower. Turn off TV and start my day.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Wanted: A Spine

I am not confrontational. I don’t fancy myself a wall flower per se. Even though I am quite the extrovert, when it comes time to stand up for myself in small matters… I don’t usually do so. This is not a new thing; I didn’t used to do battle on small matters. And I don’t see this as being something I strive for in the near future.

I have noticed this starting to affect me on a day to day basis with small but seemingly important stuff, stuff I shouldn’t be afraid to correct people on.

It amazes me that I don’t waste a second correcting somebody if they pronounce my last name wrong. If they say something like, “Bohemkey” or “Bojaflemkey,” I will instantly point out that is in fact pronounced Bem-key.

But if somebody calls me by the first wrong name I often just… respond, as if my first name actually is Steve, or Terrance, or Rob.

Then I spend the next 10 minutes thinking about how the hell I can casually bring up in conversation that my first name is not Rob without making the person who called me that, feel like a total boob. I contemplate telling stories like;

“So my friends were all like RICH, RICH, RICH don’t put a top hat on that penguin.”

I don’t know how to respond when a person has given me a completely new first name. It is the most uncomfortable when it’s somebody you greet nearly every day but never really converse with. Somebody oh I don’t know, let’s just say who works at your gym.

I feel like the best method is to just ignore the person until they seem concerned that something is wrong and then I can say “Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you were talking to me.”

Or maybe they will just think that I have turned into a huge jerk and they will start telling all their other friends that Rob is a really cold jerk. And I just can’t have that kind of reputation.

Names are just words. You can still have a healthy great functioning relationship with somebody if they don’t know your name or they think it’s something else. Really it doesn’t affect my life so much except for give me agida deep in my chest that prevents me from enjoying any aspect of my life.

But aside from that it’s nothing big.

When it comes to matters of my own health and safety, I am also pretty non confrontational. Perhaps it comes from experience in traveling and feeling like going with the flow is the best way to experience things. Things like food poisoning.

I went out to a nice dinner recently with a good friend and her mother. My friend ordered steak, she ordered it cooked medium. I ordered a pork chop for dinner. They did not ask me how I wanted it cooked because everybody cooks pork chops the same way, until they are done.

Well when my food came out, it was absolutely completely noticeably pink. And pink is a color that a cooked pork chop should not be. Some might argue that when it comes to pork, pink is the color of food poisoning.

I was slightly nervous that perhaps I was going to get my second case of salmonella in as many years. But in my head the inner monologue went something like this.

“Well they probably wouldn’t just serve me something bad for me. I mean that would be bad for them? I’m sure it’s fine. Oh well I’ll just eat it.”

It wasn’t until I was about 4 bites in that my friend’s mother mentioned that there was no way I should be eating that pork chop and should send it back and have it cooked more because it wasn’t cooked enough and it was not healthy for me.

At first I declined.

Of course at this point I had already started thinking about what time I was going to start throwing up all of the uncooked food in my stomach.

Under peer pressure from my friend’s mother, I finally sent back the pork chop to have it cooked more.

When I got the steak back it was cooked more for sure, but still relatively pink. I wasn’t about to send it back a second time, unless of course my friend’s mom made me. Salmonella may be bad for you, but I can only imagine what the chef would have added had I told him his food didn’t meet my standards twice!

Part of me thinks that I don’t stand up or act more confrontational because it is just easier that way. I don’t really care too much about the consequences and it will end up being more frustration than it is worth. I am trying to be an easy going person. I try not to let too much bother me.

My personality is not that of pit-bull it is more of… well… pug. I am not one to be chained up barking my head off like a mad man for hours on end. Just put a funny outfit on me and let me run around in circles with my tongue hanging out of my mouth. That’s more my thing.

I think when you start to cultivate a mentality of easygoingness, and you try too hard to be easy going, you forget to pay attention to things that might affect you. Things like losing your identity, or death.

Maybe I should stand up for myself in those small matters more often. Maybe my life would be a lot better if I did. Or maybe… maybe I should change my name to Rob and avoid the whole confrontation.

That’s got to be easier.