Thursday, April 15, 2010

what? you can mail income tax forms before april 15th?!?

so today . . . is tax day, which means (drum roll please . . . ) it is time for a story . . .

filling out the tax forms has always been my job. it started out simple enough--poor college students, 1040EZ form, 10 minutes to fill it out--so there was never any real hurry. in our early married years, we usually got back some of what we had paid, because we hardly got paid anything! you would think the possibility of money we had already earned being returned to us would be quite an incentive to file those taxes early. but, being the world-class procrastinator that i am, the ease of filling out such a short form negated the result of a check in the mail, resulting in me filling out the form at 4:00 p.m. on april 15th and then dropping it off at the post office. mission accomplished. no laws broken.

we got older. we made slightly more money, because we both had jobs. we still didn't have enough deductions to itemize, being young and healthy, but we did graduate to form 1040A. since rollie is a pastor, the government considers him self-employed (which is pretty hysterical if you have any idea about his job,) so we have to pay self-employment tax--which gave me four times a year to play beat the clock with the post office when mailing his quarterly taxes.

we got older. our lives got more complicated. we graduated to form 1040. many years, instead of getting money back, our tax forms showed that we owed the government even more of our hard earned dollars. and of course i wasn't going to give it to them a moment earlier than i had to, so i still did the tax forms on april 15th, wrote the check, and raced to the post office, making sure to drop it off before the overtime staff went home at midnight. these were not fun times. i would look at the clock at 11:15 p.m. and think, "there is NO WAY i am going to get this finished and at the post office by midnight. no way." and yet, i always did. and then i would vow to start earlier the next year. which i never did.

and then we moved to california.

the first year we lived here, i didn't have a job, so i had plenty of time to get the tax forms done early. but of course i didn't. by now it was a sort of nightmarish tradition that just wouldn't die. i would think about doing them earlier, but it just never seemed to happen. so there i was, on april 15th, 2002, working on the taxes as i watched the minutes tick by. i finished up about 11:00 p.m. and since the post office is only about two minutes from our house, i was feeling pretty proud of myself! those forms were going to be sitting in that post office, and i would be back home in bed well before midnight. i thought.

i got in the car and drove to the post office. oddly enough, the small parking lot only had a few cars in it. i drove up to the drive through mailbox, but there was no special sign on it proclaiming that there would be a mail pick up at midnight. hmmm. i almost dropped it in anyway, but i decided it wasn't worth the risk. so i parked the car and went inside--only to see about half a dozen people wandering about in a zombie-like state. i soon realized that there were no employees working overtime at this post office. this post office was done dealing with mail for the day. it was closed.


i was toast.

it was now 11:15 p.m. on april 15th, and my tax forms were still in my hand and the post office was officially closed. this couldn't be happening to me! i didn't have time to walk around like a zombie, so i dashed back outside and started looking for notices. i finally found a piece of paper with a very short list of post offices that would be open until midnight.

there were three. and i only knew where one of them was. and i had to drive all the way to long beach to get there.

fortunately i had been at that post office once before and kind of knew where to go, because this was before everyone had a gps in their cellphone. i jumped into my car, slammed the door shut, and sped (yes i said sped) to the freeway. i checked the time, and noticed that my gas light was on. but i didn't have time to stop for gas. i started doing the math in my head, "let's see, the light just came on, so i can still drive about 60 miles, i think--i'll get gas on the way home AFTER my tax forms are safely delivered." because the clock was ticking.

11:40 p.m.--i could see the long beach post office. it, of course, was on the opposite side of the street from me and there were an awful lot of cars on that long stretch of road. there were traffic cones and uniformed officers directing traffic--apparently i was not the only one on the southeast side of los angeles trying to mail my tax forms before midnight. i approached the cross street, drove between two rows of orange traffic cones, and waited for someone to let me cross traffic so i could get turned around the right way to enter the post office parking lot. i saw a traffic officer running my way yelling and waving his arms. yes, i thought, come over here and make these people stop so i can get across. otherwise we are going to have a traffic jam!

to my surprise, he came to my window. "ma'am," he said, "what are you doing?!?!?!" so i explained that it was almost midnight and i had to get my income tax forms in the mail, but there were all these cars out tonight and no one would let me go across so i could turn around . . . and then he said, "why do you think all these cars are out here? they are ALL here to mail their tax forms!!"

you have got to be kidding me! i was stunned. i had never seen such a line of traffic in my life! (of course, i hadn't been on the 405 during rush hour yet!) "and didn't you see the orange cones?" he continued. "you can't turn here. it will create a traffic jam." oh. i thought the orange cones were there to mark where to turn, not to keep me from turning. as i was saying this to the officer, he looked at me like "what planet are you from?" so i did the only thing i could think of to do. i played the out-of-state helpless female card.

"i'm so sorry!" i said, because when a police officer is leaning in your open car window, that is probably a good way to start. "we just moved here from oregon," (ten months ago, but i think anything less than a year counts as 'just'.) "and in oregon the post offices stay open until midnight on april 15th and i live in cerritos but the post office there is closed and this is the only post office i knew how to get to and my husband is already in bed alseep and i had to drive on the freeway to get here in the dark and i thought the traffic cones were marking where i was supposed to turn and if i have to get in that long line not only will i probably hit something when i back up, but i will also probably run out of gas before i get to the post office because my gas light came on 20 minutes ago and then people will get mad and honk their horns at me . . . " and then i looked like i might cry. actually, i felt like i might cry--and it probably didn't hurt to have tears threatening at just that moment . . .

he should have made me get back on the road and drive clear to the end of the seemingly endless line and wait my turn. but he didn't. he let me cut the line. i think he just wanted to to be done with me--and preferably before those threatening tears erupted or a traffic accident occurred. i thanked him profusely and promised that this would be my last midnight run to the post office on april 15th.

and i've kept that promise. the following year we hired carol at h&r block to do our taxes, and she always calls us well before april 15th to get us started. rollie meets with her, they fill out the forms, and all i have to do is sign my name.

carol mails them. early.


Carroll said...

Oh my goodness Julie! My hands are sweating and my heart is racing. I could not live like that and I hope you can do it earlier from now on. Too much pressure for this Mom's poor heart! Hang in there.

mom said...

What a riot!! That cop probably shares that story every April 15th and tells his friends to watch for the crazy lady cutting the line!!hahaha I love the way you write. Keeps the reader guessing how it is going to end, the sign of a good writer.