Filing Away



St Marks Pl & 3rd Ave, New York, NY 10003

Neighborhood: East Village

I felt a little nostalgic as my W2 slips started arriving in the mail. For the first time in two decades I did not receive the form letter from Sheldon, my long term accountant.

His annual reminder always opened with the awkward phrasing: “Winter is here and with it the knowledge that April 15 will soon be here.” That stilted sentence always made me smile. He was good with numbers, not words. I was just the opposite

He died last spring right after my taxes were done. This winter I was desperately seeking a replacement. I first met Shelly 20 years ago in the East Village. He did the books for the printer who had a business in the storefront of my building. The shop was a gossipy hang out where the mailman delivered our packages; the place reeked of cigarettes.

In the early 80s, I had a disastrous experience with a street corner tax moron who urged me to deduct all expenses for a trip to the Caribbean. I’d sold a travel article about it. I was just starting to freelance seriously and didn’t realize this would send up red flags. I was audited that year and had to pay hundreds more dollars. I vowed to find someone who knew what he was doing. That’s when my partner and I became Sheldon’s clients.

We could not have been more different. He was a religious Jew living with his wife in Brooklyn and we were a lesbian couple living on St Marks Place. We had to remember not to call him on Saturday.

After the printer downstairs retired, we no longer saw Sheldon in person. Although I hadn’t actually seen the man in years, I felt a strong connection. This man I called Shelly was privy to personal details about my life. He knew I was in psychotherapy for over 10 years, and he knew when I stopped.. (“That’s good but now you need another big deduction,” he said )

Who else but Shelly would note the positive side when I spent a small fortune on dental work several years in a row. He knew what publications I wrote for and how much money (or how little) I made. Most important, he knew when I moved to another apartment and my lover stayed put.

“How’s your friend?” he asked that spring. “Everything okay?”

“She’s fine. We see each other all the time,” I added.

Looking back, I think maybe he worried if I could survive in Manhattan on my own or maybe he cared about my relationship. Or maybe both. When I told him I’d landed a studio in subsidized housing after years on a waiting list, he seemed relieved.

Shelly’s rates were very reasonable, so I knew we’d have trouble finding someone comparable. This crisis reminded me of when my long term dentist retired to Florida unexpectedly. He knew my teeth were bad; Shelly knew my financial situation was bad. Both knew better than to lecture me. They accepted me as I was and worked wonders with what I brought them. How would I find a new CPA?

As usual, my partner, Slim, was not as anxious about this dire situation. She always did her taxes at the last minute.

“You can’t do that this year,” I said. “We don’t have anyone lined up” She accused me of being nervous and neurotic. I lashed back, “I’m not the extension queen, like you.” Slim remembered that someone else had signed her forms last April. Were mine the last papers Shelly inked? Did an assistant finish those jobs left behind? Recouping this name was like finding a life line. For once, her filing late had saved the day.

We both called John in Brooklyn. He said Sheldon taught him everything he knew about taxes; he worked for him five years. John was familiar with our names, recalled our forms. And he’d do our taxes- for the same rate. So now we have the master’s apprentice- it’s kinda like Shelly is still doing my taxes, punching that old calculator in the sky.

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