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Taxing

I had it all planned out perfectly. So naturally, all of my plans fell apart.

Actors’ Equity maintains a VITA office (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance), where union members may have their tax returns prepared for free. If you don’t have an advance appointment for this service (which my erratic schedule doesn’t allow me to obtain), you need to come by the Equity building early in the morning, sign up, and then wait to be seen by the volunteer tax preparers as time permits. They do their best to fit people in, and while there are no guarantees, they usually do a good job of doing so.

Last Thursday, I had an appointment at 3pm and nothing else to do that day. This therefore seemed like the ideal opportunity to get my taxes done. I woke when it was still dark, travelled from my Bronx apartment to Times Square, and arrived at quarter to six. I’ve been doing this for years now, and based on turnout in those previous years at this time, a month before the tax deadline, I figured I’d be seen easily. I might even be first on the list.

I was eighth on the list. The first people there had arrived at around 4:45 in the morning.

And so I waited – outside at first, then in the 14th floor offices. Where I napped, and waited, and waited some more. Despite the first volunteer arriving at 8am to prepare returns, everything proceeded at a snail’s place, and it wasn’t until 1:30pm that they even asked to see my preliminary paperwork. By which time it was clear, given the amount of time each return was taking, that I couldn’t possibly be seen and get to my appointment in time. And so, after eight hours of waiting, I left.

Resolving that this should not happen again, this morning, Monday the 20th, I awoke shortly after 2:30am and staggered out of my apartment building into the cold dark night, and once more caught a subway into Manhattan. I arrived in Times Square, as the first folks on Thursday’s list did, at quarter to five in the morning. Surely I’d be first on the list this time!

I was fifth. I don’t know when the first person got here, but the second person helpfully wrote the time next to their name – 2:55.

To make matters worse, at the deli across the street from the Equity offices where I went to get my breakfast of an egg sandwich, the upstairs seating section was closed. This despite the fact that the place was crowded at that ridiculous hour, more so than at lunch time. I couldn’t figure out why, until I listened to them talking and heard their tourist brogues.

My god, I realized. I’m here so early that the St. Patrick’s Day weekend hasn’t finished yet.

And so, Gentle Reader, I’m typing this now as I wait once more on the 14th floor of the AEA building, to get my tax return prepared. All around me, folks are snoring as they grab some needed sleep, waiting for the first preparers to arrive. Nothing has started yet, which is problematic - I need to be at work by 2pm, which needs I’ll need to leave here no later than 1:30pm, which means I need to be seen by 12:30.

We haven’t started yet.

Apart from the inconvenience, I’m distressed by how angry I feel. The preparers are all volunteers, doing this out of the kindness of their hearts, and I have no right to demand they be here to accommodate me – but then again, this service is a privilege of my union membership, and I should have every expectation that I may exercise it. Likewise, the people around me here are my fellow professionals, with whom I should have some camaraderie – but that gets difficult when they bring a giant tupperware container of receipts with them and occupy the one preparer on duty for a good two hours. We’re a community, we actors, and it’s a problem if the structures designed to support that community wind up seeding dissatisfaction within it instead.

Still, it must be done. After all, our president’s golf vacations, all protestations to the contrary, are not going to pay for themselves.

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