Peter Desmond

Sunday morning I wake up startled: In my dream a tax client was ringing the doorbell. I stare at the electric clock. It says 3:15, but the sun is up. Confused, I make my way to the kitchen, where the clock-radio reads 10:30.

Gradually I realize what happened. The electrician came yesterday to replace the building’s fuses with circuit breakers. The power cutoffs must have fried my bedside alarm. I’d disconnected my computers and the stereo but hadn’t imagined that any minor appliances might die. So everything’s all right. The only scheduled client today won’t arrive till noon. With fifteen minutes to spare, I vacuum. 25 clients will visit me during this last week of the tax season.

My twelve o’clock, a writer, has a five-day growth of beard. I wonder why I bothered shaving my two-day growth this morning. He paid some big dental bills in ‘99. Unfortunately, he gets no tax break from the outlay for inlays.

We do better with his free-lance expenses; still, he owes over a thousand. “Send them a check for as much as you can,” I suggest. “They’ll write you about paying it off in installments.” He’s grateful he didn’t have to pay more, and says, “See you next year” as he leaves.

I finally check my e-mail. The client in Singapore has sent revised cost figures about his stay in Boston, and one of my New Yorkers has come up with additional moving expenses. These two are “table people,” clients whose files I array on the 8-foot-long refectory-style wooden table in the dining room. I’ve whittled them down to 20. Half are returns I should already have completed (my fault). The other half are pending because the taxpayers haven’t gotten back to me with needed information (their fault).

Next I phone a video producer who wants to take extensions. Over the course of a half-hour we hammer out the details of her income and expenditures, after which she says, “I hope you won’t charge as much as last year.” Does she think I’m doing this for fun? I grumpily print out the extensions, stuff them in an envelope addressed to her, and add it to the pile of outgoing mail at the head of the stairs.

Now I have the rest of the afternoon free for the “my faults.” This weekend I’ve been concentrating on three Massachusetts clients who moved to New York, and I’ve figured out how my tax software handles part-year New York City residents. It’s simple. All I have to do is make some entries in the “Dependents” section of the form, even though none of the New Yorkers has dependents. Tax law may be obscure, but programming is a close second.

I e-mail the first New Yorker to inform him he’s getting two refunds totaling $1,200, and that my fee will be $150. While I’m working on the second return I get two phone calls. One is from a client in Istanbul; his wife will be in Cambridge to take care of their taxes, and I arrange to see her Monday the 17th.

The other is from Helene, an ex-girlfriend, whose landlady has just told her that she must leave in two months. Helene thinks she’d better buy a condo. I tell her she can withdraw up to $10,000 from her IRA for the down payment without a penalty. The news cheers her. She says, “Petie, if we get together again, there are going to be some ground rules. One is that you can’t play Greek music.”

We hang up. I realize I didn’t eat lunch. For dinner I have leftover spaghetti. By the time I check my e-mail, the first New Yorker is complaining about the $150 fee. I take an hour and a half to finish up the second New Yorker’s return—I’ve made masterful use of the Massachusetts rules concerning tuition payments—and I charge him $175.

It’s late, I’m tired, and the next emigrant to New York is going to have to pay at least $200.