dadsville  - Ward Cleaver's Prozac Fever

death and taxes

Charlie died.

I had a feeling he was dead. I'd felt it

for a number of years --- there was this

nagging, empty reverberation in my bones

in the infrequent times I thought about him.

When I tell you Charlie was the old guy who

prepared my taxes, you will no doubt suggest

I'm a brick or two (or quite a few) short ---

light's on, nobody home --- the Otis ain't

goin' all the way to the top floor.

But bear me out, dear dads.

Charlie was an old, old man, no doubt about

that. He was an elderly gentleman on a fixed

income trying to pick up a coupla extra bucks

when tax time rolled around by cipherin' and

pushin' a mechanical pencil across a mountain

of government forms at H&R. While he was a

product of this century, (but just barely),

there were vestigial Victorian mannerisms

from his own upbringing that cropped up

in his comportment.

Despite my yearly protestations and the

fact that I was old enough (or young enough)

to be his grandkid, he always called me "Mister."

Eternally cursed as an unwitting upstart,

I always called him "Charlie."

I knew absolutely nothing about him.

He, on the other hand, knew my financial

situation --- the size of my family --- the price

of my house and my car --- the crushing debts I

had, the status of my job producing TV news, and

the paltry, embarrassing size of my "savings."

I saw him just once a year, and then for no

more than an hour-and-a-half or so. My wife

and I would chase all over hell in our topsy-turvy

house, hunting down donation receipts from

Purple Heart Veterans and W-2s and mortgage

interest statements and all of those snippets

and scrappets you desperately need at the

11th hour to stuff willy-nilly in a brown

paper bag for your tax preparer's

organizational scrutiny.

Every year, like you, I am very sure, tumultuous

changes rained down on us; jobs lost,

job changes; children born; emergencies;

financial strains; tragedy; love; loss.

And every year, Charlie'd shake my hand firmly,

allow a small smile to creep across the craggy

topography of his face, and slowly, very slowly pour me a

little Styrofoam cup-o-joe that had a hint of

cinnamon thrown in, since flavored coffee had

become de rigueur. He'd ask a ceaseless

stream of questions about local TV news personalities,

star-struck for gossip. Then, he'd slowly lead me

to his cubicle, where, unbeknownst to him, he'd put

the utter madness of the past twelve months

into a succinct, rational perspective I never seemed

capable of deducing on my own.

"Did better this year, Mr. F____!"

"Call me H_____, Charlie, you can call me H_____."

"Certainly, Mr. F____," he'd say. "Job OK?

Wife all right? Children growing fast, no?

Looks like you're doing better than last year!

Next year, even better, eh?!"

He was an endangered island of respite --- of

Victorian calm and sanity. I got hooked up with

him completely by chance one year, very early

on in my dad-dom. I placed a random, frenzied phone call,

looking for help, even though I only needed to file the

most brainless of forms, as these modern times had

swallowed up all of my dadly free time with scouting

and ballet and art classes and swimming and

basketball camp and little league and frequent trips to the the veterinarian

to name just a few.

Maybe it was the grandadly thing. I'd never really

had one of those --- not for long, anyway. The only

real grandfather I had left pretty early on. I was

not quite done with the first grade when he left.

He was a gruff Hungarian immigrant with not much

regard for the English language or warnings about

his wanton abuse of Kessler's and cheap cigars.

He'd Kessler-up his coffee at first light and stumble

his way through three fourths of a fifth, futilely

munching peppermints that could never hope to

quash the acrid whiskey wind he trailed like a malevolent spectre.

He quit the stuff forever and ever every day.

Only old age mellowed his drunken rages into harmless,

shambling babble. He ruined the end of my grandmother's

life, and near as I can tell, ruined my mother's

along the way, ruining his own for good measure.

But by the time I got him, he was harmless and soused;

swearing to the family that he was taking me to the

toy store, but always landing us at the Dew Drop Inn

or some such blight, where he'd buy my 6-year-old

silence with strawberry Bonomo Turkish Taffy and a

couple of dimes for the cheesy little tavern bowling

machine that always gave you another chance

if you'd had a bad game.

He'd regale his gin-soaked colleagues with wild

tales of the old country --- of being chased while

on ice skates by ravenous packs of Hungarian wolves

and escaping with the invocation of his superhuman speed ---

of feeding a circus elephant a hot pepper as

a joke to impress the ladies, and then returning

next year to the same circus, where the same

elephant (not forgetting) began a stampede after

the old wag, hell-bent on wreaking vengeance.

He outran the elephant stampede too,

but he could not outrun the ravages of time.

On the day he died, I drew him a crayola picture of

John F. Kennedy, his favorite president. I never

knew if he saw it or if my folks balled it up and

tossed it in the hospital lobby trash before riding

the lift to his death bed. I always liked to believe

that he did, and that though it was the smallest

of messages, that it was a little jolt of daylight

and of thanks for those too-few years ---

for the "attaboy's" he'd toss my way in the moments

of clarity he saved just for me. He comes to me still,

when I'm white-knuckling my way through

the chaos of these mad dadly days.

And now Charlie is gone too.

I stopped having him do my taxes when I got irate

and up and quit my cushy job, the one allowing me

to report to Charlie that I'd done better year

after year after year. I quit in some inexplicable

mid-life fugue during which time I started a poor

excuse for a business and floundered in a frightening

free-fall, my family firmly behind me, plummeting together

into an abyss of penury.

Still, I figured Charlie was just too

darn old to figure out all these high-falutin'

business forms and stuff. I mean, I had me one

of them thar gen-yoo-ine S-corps like you read all

those business swells have in Inc. magazine and

the last section lower-left-below-the-fold of

the Wall Street Journal. Yeah, Charlie was a good guy

and all, but I needed some high-powered,

high-finance expertise after all.

The old guy just wouldn't cut it.

After my first year and 300-plus cheese-and-macaroni

dinners for our family, my high-powered, high-finance

(high-fee) accountant delivered solid evidence

relating to my peculiar level of

business acumen --- my income had dropped 60 percent

over the past year.

The following year wasn't too swell either,

nor the next or the one after that.

During each of those years at tax time, I'd think

of old Charlie, and how embarrassed --- how humiliated

I would have been for him to see that, contrary to

the years he'd helped me out, that I was

no longer "...doing better, Mr. F_____."

When the self-inflicted maelstrom of those pompous

and self-important intervening years had been fully

mitigated by poverty and humility and epiphany, I

collected my tax stuff up in a neat manila folder.

I divided up all the sections so Charlie would have

an easy time of it. I'd drink up a cinnamon coffee

with him and tell him I was sorry I hadn't been around,

and tell him what I had been up to, and answer

any and every mundane question about local

TV news stars that I could answer.

But I guess I knew when I pulled up to the little storefront.

"Do you have an appointment?" asked the receptionist.


"Are you a new customer?"

"Well, no, but I haven't been back in four years.

"Charlie did my taxes --- Charlie D______.

"Is he here?"

"Just a moment."

A woman about my age came out from the cubicle

bank, all smiles and handshakes. She gave me a

coffee in a little Styrofoam cup.

"Thanks, it's good," I said between sips,

"is there a pinch of cinnamon in there?"

We talked about our kids. We sat down and she

started pawing through my file and filling out

forms with an ink pen. Every desk had a computer now.

All the little clackety calculators with

the paper rolls were gone, too.

"Charitable deductions?"

"Mortgage interest?"

"Are we itemizing?"

"Any sales of stocks?"

"Contribute a dollar to the presidential----"

"Is Charlie here?" I finally blurted,

interrupting her relentless rote interrogation.


She drummed her fingers on her mousepad and looked away.

"Well, no, Mr. F_____, you see, Charlie passed away.

"Passed away a few years back, now. Right about when I started."

She cleared her throat and spoke after an infinitely awkward silence.

"Uh, your W-2 --- did you bring your W-2?"

"Sure," I said absently, rifling through my

file and producing the paperwork.

"Umm, looks better than last year!" she chirped.

"Next year, even better," Charlie whispered to me from some far, far away place,

" year, even better, Mr. F_____."

Last "dads"
Past "dads"

2003 Arhythmiacs
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You never talk to your old dad!