Wednesday, April 15

Tax Man

(circa. 1961 ~ Danny & Cindy in the framed portrait, beast calculator on desk to his far right, clip-on bow tie because he didn't like to tie ties)
My dad was a CPA. Attending school on the G.I. bill, it was a career choice suggested to him by one of his professors at BYU. Flattered by the generous recommendation, he switched his major forthwith and forfeited completing try-outs for the football team. He had already been issued a locker and his new Cougar uniform.

Tax season began in January. We didn't run out to greet his tail-fin Cadillac coming up the driveway anymore as he stayed later and later at the office. When he did arrive, he didn't play or wrestle with us, but simply flopped onto the couch with a whistle or a groan and asked us to take off his shoes. "Hoo-wheee!" he'd exclaim wiggling his stockinged toes, "these doggies are tired!" Sadly, we went to bed without papa's thrilling home-spun stories of adventure and intrigue following the Lewis & Clark westward expedition, his big voice rising and falling with the pathos of the moment - be it blood-thirsty Indians or enraged grizzlies waiting for us at the end of another harrowing canoe ride through killer rapids.

By late March, he was bringing home arm loads of files from the office and staying up until the wee hours of the morning every night. Mama often stayed up really late then too, vacuuming or playing the piano or reading when they normally would have both been asleep. It was a time of general tension and excitement we little kids only vaguely understood because our daily routine had changed.

He used an old hand-crank calculator about the bulk of a 6-slice bagel toaster on steroids. A veritable cast iron beast with enamel-topped metal keys, it made a wonderful racket as his fingers attacked the number keys and pulled the lever working his endless figures. He hardly even glanced at the thing; his fingers knew the numbers just as intimately as his head did.

We had an old black wall phone in the service porch (aka laundry room) off the kitchen that was reserved for his business calls. We kids were not allowed to answer it. Ever. When my mom answered it (first always drying her hands on her gingham apron), she used a funny, sing-songy "different lady" voice. I sincerely wished I could answer the phone once in a while, but it was a little too high for me to reach properly. I knew I could yank the receiver down by pulling on the coiled cord. However, this was just a knowledge I possessed without benefit of actual application. Some rules in childhood were strictly and absolutely established. While I don't remember the verbiage used, it must have been wondrously impressive because even hearing the phone ring gave me a little shiver in my stomach and made me freeze in my tracks: "DO NOT RESPOND - MUST NOT TOUCH -"

I was much more impressed with my papa's collection of sleek, shiny fountain pens.

Gleaming and handsome (in a profusion of colors and designs) ever perched at the ready in a nicely polished marble or wooden holder, they shouted sophistication. He had a lot of them - mostly sitting around at his office. Some had little brass plaques on them, inscribed with something important I am sure. One even had a clock in it, with the two pens poised like bunny ears over it. In his desk drawer, there were more of them. They came in little decorative cases that snapped shut like an alligator, or in an elegant cardboard box presented with all the formality of a State gift. Their little plastic ink cartridges rolled around in the scooped wooden drawer dividers next to brand new pink erasers and paper clips.

He could write neatly and precisely with any of his fountain pens. The golden nibs seemed to glide effortlessly at his beck and call. Personally, I resisted the beautiful temptation of the lovely fountain pens. It didn't take a genius to realize deadly ink flowed like Niagara Falls and your secret little drawing experiment would be a horrifying beacon of obviousness all over the paper, the light blue felt desk blotter, your dress, your hands and always always - your face.

There were too many fat books in his offices; one in Canoga Park (or Thousand Oaks or North Hollywood as his practice relocated) and one in a room at the back of our garage. Shelves of books. Stacks of books. Not story books, I knew this, but stupid laws and rules books. Most of the books were glorified 3 or 5 ring binders with thick leather outsides. The pages were often thin and fragile like scripture pages, but lots of them were coarse and stiff, displaying folds from how they had arrived in the mail before being filed. Most of the titles had alphabet letters and a dizzying variety of number combinations on the binding. The gold leaf in much of that lettering seemed a spectacular waste. Virtually all of them were totally uninteresting. Not one picture, either. I checked lots. The only occasion I felt these types of books were useful was when my Grandma came to visit. She slept in my bed. Her doctor had instructed her to sleep at an angle, feet higher than head. I'm not sure why. Two of the oldest and most ridiculously fattest books on the planet were placed under the foot of her bed. They were as effective as concrete blocks, and grandma didn't seem to mind in the least that her bed was in a perpetual NASA launch position. I kind of admired that she was able to begin snoring so quickly each night after we said prayers.

Numbers were papa's friends. They spoke to him, and he knew their language. He could think
fluent numberese lightning-quick in his head. Everyday problems seemed to often have a remedy quick arithmetic could help solve. There was a mathamatical equation to the meaning of life ~ if you knew where to look. As much as I was an emotional and visual-thinker, his was a naturally analytical brain. He had little tolerance for my violent aversion to what he considered an essential life-skill. He took it as a personal insult that an accountant could have a child who didn't like math. Maybe about 4th grade, a swift belt and a chalk board on an easle in our living room seared the answer to 6 X 8 into my psyche permenantly.

I even worked for him once for about 6 months in the front office. Bi ("Bee") was in Kindergarten, and James was a toddler. I rode the city bus to his Scottsdale office and dinked away on an IBM Selectric ball typewriter the size of a small freighting vessel, answered the phones, ran errands and filed endlessly. New tax laws or revisions of the tax code arrived daily and in multiples via manila envelopes. Dutifully I opened them all and sought the corresponding fat book they belonged to, wrestled with iron maiden-like ring clasps and filed everything away. I did tedious data entry on an old computer that would have crushed a small child if it ever fell off the desk. His partner's son (only just barely back from his mission) was super condescending whenever I approached him for assistance with something I had done wrong on the computer, or if the snail-slow copy machine jammed in an area beyond human intervention. He sighed a lot. (He was my baby brother's age. It would have been sweet to clobber him). I also learned what ASAP meant.

Eventually, very eventually (and not prompted by the afore-mentioned experience)- he finally conceded that I had indeed thwarted his early assessment of my mental accuity. I had somehow managed to skirt even casual interplay with his precious numbers and still excel in other cognitive areas he considered decently important. It was a long time coming, and it stunned me when the cat was finally out of the bag. "...You're smart," he said, more than once. It was declared matter-of-factly, as if he had just spoken the sum of annual Federal deductions to an assistant and then continued on with another topic. He wasn't one to soothe or coax or attempt to offer the 'feel good' thing within the context of an adolescent emergency, or at any time for that matter. And there it was. I think I was about 39.

While I have no absolute proof, I'm pretty sure there are no concerns on the other side about income taxes, last-minute unorganized clients or reams of yellow legal pads. Happy Tax Day, dad.


Cynthia said...

Your description of all the "freight train" sized office equipment cracked me up. My dad's computer to run his store filled an entire office, it seemed.
Happy Tax Day back at you!
We broke a personal record this year and have our taxes completed and signed on the 14th of April. Usually we are still working on them late in the night on the 15th. However, since we have to send a huge check, it will not go in the mail until the absolute last second today.

two forks said...

i don't think i've seen these pictures before.

Lindsey said...

That was entertaining....and it made you sound far older than I think of you. It's amazing how much has changed in so little time.

And yes...snipes. I have a whole bag full. It was a very successful hunt and we missed Rachel!!!

Yaj said...

That was a great story! I feel like I know him now...

When I was Financial Secretary in my mission - I served for 11 months of my mission - I used a hand-crank calculator, which weighed about 70 pounds and an IBM Selectric, with all the Spanish necessities so I could properly type correspondence in Spanish. I tried to type faster than the ball could move, but never succeeded!

The two constants are death and taxes. On the other side, death, I think anyway, is eliminated. But the taxes remain. Don't kid yourself! I have read stories that indicate that the other side is busy and the work is taxing. Maybe the get April 15 off!