me and al capone
One of the most under-reported stories of Tax Day is that I filed my tax returns. You know, the yearly ritual of teeth-gnashing, hand-wringing and misdirected whining that everyone goes through. Well, until this week, that was everyone but me. The IRS even has a term for me (makes sense–we have plenty of terms for them)–I am known as a Chronic Non-Filer. Believe it or not, I am fifty-one years old and had never, until 2009, told the government how much money I made.
When I first started making money as a comic, I wasn’t really clear on how to file with that kind of freelance income. Then, as each year passed, I became afraid to file, thinking than once I started the paper trail, I would be in some serious trouble. After all, this is how they got Capone–not the stealing, or the killing people, but the tax thing.
What’s ridiculous about this is it’s not like I was leading a Capone-like life. When I was on the road as a comedian, the most I ever stole was some hotel towels, and other than metaphorically, I killed nobody. I wasn’texactly hiding from a reign of scandal and terror (although I have often thought that I’m just not famous enough to know if I fathered any children–when I’m huge, that’s when I’ll get the letters saying “I was a waitress at a the Chuckle Hut in East Des Moines in 1987, and here’s a picture of our son–send money”).
I also never made enough money to have to PAY taxes. Even in my best years, I would frequently get bailed out by various friends and “the kindness of strangers” (It’s so much easier to pull of Blanche Dubois now that I’m a tired old queen). I wasn’t hiding all of my vast income in some offshore unmarked account–I put most of my ‘assets’ into the pockets of my weed dealer and the CD store at the mall in the town where I was performing.
The IRS never contacted me–I’d like to think changing my stage name twice and moving every year and a half made me more elusive, but that’s ego talking. I changed my name because I thought of one I liked better, and I usually moved because I ran out of money and–had to. The reality is that one occasionally employed guy telling jokes in bars for a hundred bucks and a couple of drinks just wasn’t a priority for the Federal Government. I feel so insignificant.
I realized a while back that I was actually living ‘off the grid’. Now unlike the Unabomber, I didn’t have the discipline to write a manifesto, and unlike Jack Bauer, I wasn’t using my fringe status to infiltrate any terrorist organizations. Frankly, I’m just too lazy to make the most of being off the grid. Then there’s the issue of my politics. Anyone who knows me would vouch for my lefty sensibilities–as far as I’ve always been concerned, to paraphrase Jefferson, “that government which governs best spends buttloads of money building really cool things”.
When friends would confront me about this (ok, they usually were confronting me about money I owed them, but that’s not the point here), I acknowledged it would be more consistent with my politics if I, oh, paid into the system I supported, but I always said that I’d deal with my tax status ‘next year’.
Well, next year became this year, and I’ve started the paper trail. Of course, now I’m afraid that I’m gonna have to do all those other grownup things I’ve dodged on my blithely blissful bohemian path–like I’m worried that when I get my refund check, in the same envelope will be directions to my house in the burbs , the names of my wife and children, and a Home Depot credit card. I suppose to assuage my fear of growing up, I could take the refund I’m expecting and piss it away–buy a few hundred Powerball tickets (you can’t win if you don’t play!) or fly to L.A. just to have a drink with some old college buddies.
When the Tea Party protests started, I couldn’t help but relish the ironic juxtaposition with my life. Here were thousands of people protesting the very thing for which I had finally signed up. But that’s me–I’ve always been a little back-asswards. Or maybe I’m just a rebel. Yeah, that’s it–I’m a rebel.