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Entries in Main Post Office (1)


Tax Day: The Thrill Is Gone

Now that I’m a mature adult (married-filing-jointly) and do my returns online, I miss some of the old rituals of Tax Day -- that annual celebration of the art of procrastination. Until recently, I used to wait until April 15, then embark on a daylong reconnaissance mission -- finding forms, rounding up W-2s and 1099s, and unearthing receipts in exotic locations in my apartment. By 10:30 p.m., I would have calculated my salary, wages, and tips, itemized my deductions, checked "no" to a gift to wildlife, and I'd be ready to go -- to the main post office at 33rd Street and Eight Avenue in Manhattan, which is open all night.

One year when I arrived, the TV news was there on the steps, interviewing some of the procrastinators. People had set up Chinese massage chairs and were offering stress relief for a few bucks. A group showed up with banners and bullhorns to protest the war. The Lyndon LaRouche folks were there, promoting Lyndon LaRouche. (This was before the Tea Party existed.) Some old ladies were selling homemade cookies at a card table. There was a display with free samples of Knorr's instant cup-a-soup, and California Pizza Kitchen was giving away free pizza. You see, if I had done my taxes early, I would've missed out on this stuff.

There was even a show! A group of drag queens came prancing down the steps wearing huge wigs, sequined gowns, and feather boas. One of them was carrying a boom box blasting "You Gotta Work" by Ru Paul. I looked around at the carnival and thought, “These are my people -- misfits, thrill-seekers, low-level hucksters, master dilly-dalliers. God bless us, every one. This is probably the closest I'll ever get to Woodstock.” Then one of the drag queens nudged me and said, "Honey, you better get that postmarked."

He or she was right. It was 11:55, but I wasn’t ready. I wanted to go to the edge. I wandered over to the pizza table and tried a cold slice of the BBQ chicken pizza, which really hit the spot. I talked to someone about the Yankees' starting rotation. I made my way inside and approached one of the postal workers standing by a giant bin with her rubber stamp. It was 11:59. She gave me a look of "Come on, hurry up!" I presented my envelopes. She took them, but I still held on. I looked up at the clock, the second hand making its way uphill. This is it, I thought: the total edge of human lateness. The Eagles song "Take It to the Limit" played in my head. "Let go," she said. "It's time." 

I'm pretty sure my returns were postmarked after midnight, but they still got in. I like to imagine I'm one of a few people alive who can say that. Outside, looking down on Madison Square Garden, I felt all the tension release from my body. I'd been to the mountaintop. I'd stolen fire from the gods, tempted their wrath, and returned to tell other mortals my tale.

Now I use TurboTax.