April 14, 2011
If you add it all together, I spend about a month every year doing my taxes. And I don’t even do the hard parts myself. Yesterday is a good example.
My accountant’s instructions told me to pay my California taxes online. That sounded like an efficient process to me, so I waded right in and started signing up for a username and password. The state’s website system naturally has a high level of security and asks a lot of questions. I type, type, type, research, type, type, type, and get to the point where I think I must be near the end. But the system has one more question. It demands that I enter my California Gross Income from any past tax return so they verify that I am really me. Unfortunately, that information is stored far away on a high shelf of a storage room.
So now I have to get dressed, put on shoes, find a step ladder, and find an old tax return. But I can’t find my step ladder. Then I remember it’s in my wiring closet because I didn’t have a long enough cable for one piece of equipment to reach a proper place to rest. The step ladder was my temporary solution.
So now I need to fix things in the wiring closet so I can free up the step ladder so I can go to the storage room and find a tax return to enter a figure to finish my sign up. All of this activity gets the attention of my dog, Snickers. She’s trained to know that when I leave my home office at about that time of day it means it’s time to go outside and play fetch. And she will not be dissuaded. She makes such a big deal of it that I feel guilty and change plans.
Now I’m outdoors playing with the dog. I realize I’m so hungry that I really need a toasted bagel before I can get back to the hunt for my tax return. That puts me in the kitchen. All of you married work-at-homes know the kitchen is a trap. If you leave your office, you’re fair game. I was like a caribou at the only drinking hole in lion country. I was deep in the heart of honey-do territory. This could have easily turned into a trip to the roof to find the source of the scratching noise, or an hour of cleaning cat vomit off of the couch. But Shelly was on the phone and even her note-writing hand was busy. I shoved the toasted bagel down my throat and scurried toward the storage room.
Armed with the last bit of information I needed for my signup, I finished the process. Or so I thought. The website informed me that it would send a confirmation email. I would need to open that email and click a link to finish the signup. Now, for the benefit of my readers who are not from Earth, let me explain what it means when a website says they will send you an email: It means they will not send you an email. Or it will go into a spam folder you never even knew you had. And if you try to sign up again, the system will reject you for already being in the system. If you try to call someone to fix things, you will find yourself lost in an audio menu tree that will end with a disconnection. If you try to email someone on the contact list for the website, your response will go to the same imaginary place as your confirmation email. If by some miracle you reach a human, that human will ask for some sort of identification code that doesn’t exist, such as the Taxpayer Assessment Property Social Security Code.
But I’m an optimist. I checked my inbox every few minutes for the next hour. I couldn’t move on to a new task because everything I do is equally complicated. I worried that my tax documents would sink to the bottom of the piles on my desk until I forgot they were there. I would become a delinquent taxpayer and lose my house. I might go to jail.
You might wonder why I don’t make lists of things I need to do. I’ve tried that. And it’s no exaggeration that the list is so long I don’t have enough time in the day to maintain it or even read it to figure out my priorities. I usually do whatever is on top of the piles on my desk and is an immediate threat to my health or my freedom.
In my corporate days, I took a course on time management. One of the secrets involved “touching” each task once then moving on. In my world, I can’t touch ANYTHING once. The simplest frickin’ thing in the world can transform into a full-blown project.
My solution that day was to pay my taxes online without signing up for an account. You can do that if you enter most of the same information again from scratch. That took care of my personal taxes. Then I needed to pay my California corporate taxes online too…through an entirely different website.
That evening I decided to take care of the speeding ticket I got a few weeks ago. I planned to pay it online (kill me now) and take an online traffic school course to clear the ticket from my record. That’s two more websites I needed to sign up for.
I’m what you call a good test taker. I tore through several chapters of traffic information and multiple choice tests. At the end, the website surprised me by saying it needed to verify my identity through yet another website that does credit checking. Now I’m signing up for my third website so far just to clear this ticket. The credit checking website determines that I do not exist and the traffic school expels me, effectively deleting all of my work that night. But it gives me one more option: I can print out an entirely new test, take it to a Notary, do the test in front of him, ask him to fax it someplace for grading, and maybe someday get a response I can use to clear my ticket.
In the time it will have taken me to clear just two items from my to-do list, eight more have been added. If you wondered what the life of a cartoonist is like, yesterday was typical. The majority of my time is spent unscrewing endless tax problems, dealing with insurance issues, negotiating contracts, and piles of paperwork. Last year I paid seven different lawyers for about two dozen different issues. I suppose I could hire a business manager to handle that stuff. But the economist in me knows that no one in his right mind would take on such an ugly job unless he was planning to do some serious embezzling to make it all worthwhile.