Peter Desmond

Peter Desmond

A weeklong electronic journal.
April 12 2000 9:00 PM

Peter Desmond

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On Tuesday the pressure mounts—only six days till the filing deadline. Between scheduled tax sessions with four clients, I thumb through the 18 folders, FedExes, and Priority Mail envelopes laid out in rows on the dining room table. Sadly, I can only do one at a time. Meanwhile, the phone rings repeatedly as late-breaking clients call for help in taking extensions.

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The tax appointments are oases in my day. For an hour or two I sit attentively with a person whom I may barely know. Yet our conversation concerns matters which one might reveal only to a close friend or family member.

As the years pass, the client-tax preparer relation can begin to feel like an actual friendship. For instance, take my 2 o'clock, a young woman whom I first saw six years ago. At the time she was in a tax pickle and got my number from a friend. Because it was off-season—October, as I recall—I was able to help her immediately. Returning the favor, she drove me afterward to Harvard Square. On the way I got to play with her dog, a charming white mop, who had been waiting patiently in the car.

Today, after we've finished her return, I naturally ask after the dog. I listen in surprise as she tells me that her landlord accidentally let the dog run loose, that a trolley car ran into the poor creature, and that she spent $3,000 at the animal hospital having a steel pin installed in its hip.

"He's a bionic dog, now," she jokes, "but he's doing fine for a 14-year-old." I like that she has an older pet and mention that my cat, who's been purring in her lap all this time, is 19. I also am tickled that she realizes my screensaver is a haiku:

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early April

buried receipts burst forth

deductions blossom

Hours later I'm wrapping things up with my last client of the day and starting to think about dinner, when the client comments, "You're looking better this year." I answer, "Yeah, nobody died."

She is one of the 15 people I had to reschedule last April when my ex-girlfriend Patty finally succumbed to cancer. Patty had wanted me to preside at her funeral, and I promised her I would. When her daughter called the day before Patty's death, I reshuffled my appointments and headed to Pennsylvania to conduct the (secular) service.

So this tax season is much easier in comparison. The hours are long, there are stressful moments, and clients sometimes call with voices on edge, uncertain whether to be angry that their returns aren't ready yet. Nonetheless, it's doable.

And the season even has its moments of jollity. I'm preparing a Maine return for a client. A notice pasted on the cover of the tax booklet catches my eye. "The word 'Spouse's' ... has been misspelled," it states. "Because of time constraints, we were unable to correct this error. We apologize for the misprint."  Curious, I turn to the form in question. The line reads "Souse's first name."