Internal audit

Dec 31, 2008 at 6:00 am

I’ve been fretting lately.

More accurately stated: I’m fretting still. I’m a worrier, I’m told. It’s easy to do this time of year, and, frankly, given the current climate, it would be hard for anyone not to at least dabble. We’re beset on all sides by the existential pitfalls of Western life, the planet is in immediate and real danger, and the Cards lost to the damn Golden Gophers last week.

In the shadow of real peril, I’ve been distracted by worrying over money.

When we revert to a Mad Max barter system of trade, or when Capitol Records finally cold calls me, these problems will evaporate. Until then, money worries will wax and wane predictably. It feels terrible, nearly desperate and maybe endless until it recedes slightly, or just hibernates in its dusty little box, where, as chance would have it, unpaid bills live. It’s a mystery.

Worrying has an evolutionary biological use, no doubt. It’s a derivative of fear, which is designed to motivate an animal into some protective action. As a result of worry/fear, for example, you fight, run away from or pay the Tax Man. It’s that simple. It’s the paralyzing effect of worry that seems a garish flaw in an otherwise lovely design. It’s usually accompanied by a sensation like someone swinging a Wiffleball bat around inside my guts while maliciously shouting that despicable 4 Non Blondes song.

It is an empty, fruitless endeavor, and I’d like to get over my compulsion to indulge in it.

Gentle reader, I’m not a liar because I don’t lie. I’m also not bright enough to make this shit up. Sitting here, JUST NOW, writing this little gem about hopefulness in the face of crippling doubt, there came an insistent knock on my door. I shouted for my guest to enter, as I was expecting a Buddhist friend and was hoping to talk with him further about techniques for overcoming my worrisome ways. But, alas, my mailman poked his head in instead. He’s a good guy. We’ve had nice, albeit brief, conversations about basketball in the past, and I like him. “Certified letter,” said he.

“Fuck,” said I.

Yes, the IRS are calling again. They are a persistent lot. I owe back taxes from two years ago. You see, I was an “independent contractor” commuting daily to Shelbyville to swing a hammer for $13 an hour.

Independent contractor is a convenient way for a construction company to say, “pay your own taxes, asshole, and you don’t get benefits either.” This set-up seems bent against small businesses and independent contractors, but lots of people make it work. I did not. I’m terrible with money, especially when there isn’t much of it, and I’m even worse at keeping receipts. … That leaves only me to blame ’cause mamma tried, as the old song goes.

A few years ago in a similar situation, I tilted at the taxation windmill as a conscientious objector. The IRS told me they felt like they should have $1,900 or so for a year of just scraping by on my part, and I posited that, because I didn’t want to pay for the new Gulf War and, given the option to choose, I’d like to decline, thank you. This plan did not work and my wages were garnished. I saved for a long time and finally wrote a large check for the remaining balance, along with a letter for the clerk who opened the envelope describing why I didn’t feel like paying for the U.S. government to kill on my behalf. They never wrote back.

Now, several years later, I’m in the same boat. The difference being that I know the hounds will not be thrown off the scent, and I don’t have any wages to be garnished. Lest you think me a lazy ne’er do well, know that I’ve been working, just not enough to pay this bill.

The Lord works in mysterious ways (sewing machines do, too), and this is as good an opportunity as I’m likely to get to try out a different approach to worrying, which might include not doing it at all. Getting overwhelmed, then moping around, despite repeated attempts, doesn’t help. I’m going to finish this column, then go work on some bookcases that a friend has hired me to build. I’ll chip away at my debt as I can. Next time somebody knocks on that door, though, it had better be a Buddhist with a box of 20s or a straight job.

Listening to: “Atlantic City,” The Boss; “Who Can It Be Now?” Men at Work.