I called the IRS today with one question: Does a homeless person have to pay taxes? Absolutely, the man told me. I thanked him and hung up.
I liked that conversation. Asked a simple question, got a simple answer. From that conversation I place the IRS high above Welfare and the Housing Authority and the Defense Department. Ask questions to those people and you get a big run around. I called the Defense Department with a simple question about our defense from Canadians, and they got all clammy and uptight. But the tax people just give you an honest answer. I appreciate that.
So I go to the nearest post office and take a look at every tax form they got. What I settle on is the 1040 EZ, because I am a single man who neither owns a home nor rents. I also don’t have any deductions or dependents that I know of, not that I am sure what a deduction or a dependent is in the first place. I don’t like those letters, though. “EZ” sounds like “ea-sy,” doesn’t it? Well, it took me all day to fill out that damn form. It wasn’t easy at all.
You familiar with the 1040 EZ? Let me walk you through it.
First line says print your name. Me, I’m Harold W. Jackson. You use your own name, of course. Use mine and I’ll get a lawyer to sue your ass.
Next come a bunch of blank boxes for your social security number. I don’t have no social security number. Never found need of one. I was ready to leave this part blank until I read that every line of the form has to be filled out. So I made up a number for myself. I gave myself number 18, after my favorite bus out of the George Washington Bus Terminal. Bus 18 of the Green and Gold Lines. Takes you across the bridge to Fort Lee, New Jersey, then on to Englewood Cliffs, Englewood, Teaneck, Bergenfield, and Dumont. Leaves on the hour and twenty minutes after. I’m proud to give myself a social security number after the Green and Gold Lines Bus 18. You want yourself a social security number you got to come up with something different. Give yourself number 18 and I’ll get a lawyer to sue your ass right off you. I mean it!
Second line of the 1040 EZ is for home address, number and street, followed by city, state, and zip code. This was a tough one because I have no home. Best I could put down is my business address, which is the George Washington Bus Terminal in New York City. In case you’re wondering, I work there as a bus wrangler. That’s what I put at the very end of the form where it asks for occupation. My occupation is a bus wrangler, and I’m a damn good one. It’s a fine job except for the pay, which is whatever the people feel like handing over.
What is a bus wrangler? Say you’re trying to figure out which bus to take. Maybe you’re staring at the bus schedules and you can’t make any sense of them, or maybe you’re just walking around the terminal looking confused. That’s where I come in. I know when every bus is leaving and where every bus is going. I come up to you, see, and ask you what bus you want, and I lead you to where you need to be. ‘Cause I know the George Washington Terminal inside and out, better than you ever will. I’m a bus wrangler. If it weren’t for me you might never make that bus to Yonkers or the Bronx or wherever it is you’re going. You should pay me a lot more money than you do.
A couple nights ago I see this suburban kid staring at the bus schedules. You can tell he’s not from the city because he’s got one eye on the schedules and the other eye looking for any bad-ass out to steal his precious money or throw a knife in his back. So I go up to him real friendly and ask him where he’s going, and he says he just wants the first bus across the bridge. He sure was desperate to get to Jersey! Of course I know exactly which bus he needs, and it was leaving in thirty seconds. So I tell him to follow me, and I sprint up to Dock 23A, which lays at the far end of the terminal. I get there two seconds before the bus is going to take off, and I even get the driver to wait while this kid is still running up the stairs.
So the kid boards the bus, and I’m standing there holding my hand out. I did a first class job, you understand, and I expect to be rewarded accordingly. You know what the kid gives me? 15 cents!
“Sorry, that’s all the change I got” he says, and the bus door closes and the bus pulls away.
15 cents! 15 cents is nothing in this world! If I ever see that kid again, I’m going to hand him a bill! If he don’t pay, I’ll get a lawyer to sue him for everything he’s worth and use the money to buy booze and maybe some Cheetos. And onion dip. Cheetos go great with onion dip.
Next line on the EZ is for presidential election campaigns. “Do you want $3 to go to this fund?” it says. I put down, “No way!” Some fancy-ass wants to run for president, he uses his own money, not mine.
Next line, total wages, salaries, and tips. “This should be shown in box 1 of your W-2 forms,” it says. Over the past year I made exactly 834 dollars and 19 cents. I pride myself on my bookkeeping. I keep track of every penny that I take in and every penny that I spend. But I don’t use no W-2 forms; I do it all in my head. I made $834.19 and spent $702.86, which accounts for the $131.51 I’ve got left. I keep it in the toes of my shoes and taped across my stomach. You try to take it off me and I’ll beat the crap out of you.
Most of my money didn’t come from bus wrangling. Most came from a woman who thinks she’s my daughter.
“Daddy, how are you?” this woman says to me one day last winter.
“Don’t call me Daddy.” I says to her. “I don’t got no daughter. I don’t know who you are.”
“It’s me, Janice,” she says. “I brought you some clothes, and I’m taking you to the doctor.”
“I ain’t going to no doctor.”
But this woman is very persuasive. Pretty soon she’s got me in her Toyota and the next thing I know I’m across the Triborough Bridge in Queens, looking at this bald doctor wearing a frown and a white coat. This guy pokes me and prods me, and he takes my temperature and steals some of my blood and makes me go piss in a little paper cup. Then he asks me about my hat. I say what about it. He asks why I got plastic forks taped all over it, and I say that’s to keep away invisible snowballs from Canada. The Canadians bombard the U.S. with these invisible snowballs, you see, because they don’t like us down here. Not big snowballs, little tiny ones. That’s why they’re invisible. You got plastic forks on your head, and that traps the snowballs before they get into your brain.
The doctor brings the woman who says she’s my daughter into the room, and they want me to commit to some Home for the Crazy somewhere. I tell them to go to hell. They ask me what I want to do. I say I want to get back to the George Washington Bus Terminal because it was close to 6 o’clock and that’s when I make the most money. So the woman takes me back there. She says would I accept a few bills to keep me alive. I tell her that she has taken up half a day of my time and that was worth more than she’d want to pay me. So she hands over some twenties and I stuff them in my pockets, and then I spit on her dashboard and I get the hell out of her car.
Next line of the 1040 EZ is taxable interest income of $400 or less. I’m interested in all my income, not just less than $400 of it, so I put down $834.19.
Next line is adjusted gross income. I don’t know what that means, so I put down $834.19 again.
I’ll tell you the bottom line. Skip to the good stuff, save you some time. I owe the government $834.19 cents in taxes. That’s what I gotta pay and that’s what you gotta pay. You should be proud to pay taxes. I am. The only thing is that I don’t have no $834.19 any more. I only got the $131.51 like I said. I suppose I’ll have to charge that kid from Jersey more than I planned, assuming I ever catch up to him. I got another problem, too. The IRS says you gotta pay with a check, and I don’t have no checking account. I suppose I could open one somewhere but I don’t know when else I’d ever use it.
I think I’m going to call up the IRS and tell them that if they want the homeless to pay taxes, the least they can do is accept cash. That sounds pretty reasonable to me.