I saw a bumpersticker today that said “I love my country: I fear my government,” and it got me thinking about my identity as an American. I thought about the lack of faith I have in other Americans, and I thought about our government, and I thought about all the things that are wrong with this country, and then I got to the post office, where the last piece of paperwork I needed to file my taxes was waiting, so I decided to file my taxes when I got home.
As someone who is self-employed, I was well aware this year that I could end up owing the IRS a substantial amount of money, but I also wanted to pay down my debt. So I worked. Very, very hard. I put a fair amount of money in savings, and I paid off part of my debt, and I lived reasonably frugally. I got rid of my car to save money. I didn’t travel. I was proud of the money I had set aside in savings, although a bit depressed to think that it would all vanish come April, but I was thinking ahead, trying to be responsible, trying to do the right thing, something we oh-so-earnest Americans do so love to do.
The thing about this country is that people always tell you you can be anything when you grow up, but that’s bullshit. You can be anything if you come from money. You can be anything if you don’t have to take out tens of thousands of dollars in student loans. If you don’t run up credit card debt trying to stay afloat during lean periods. You can be anything if you get lucky, and most Americans count on that luck as they live paycheck to paycheck, hoping they don’t get sick, hoping their cars don’t break, hoping that nothing happens.
And not everyone’s lucky, apparently. Today, it would appear that my luck has run out. Despite being fiscally responsible, despite trying really hard to get ahead, I owe the IRS $10,000 that I don’t have. Oh, I have part of it, in the meagre savings account I was so proud of this morning. But I won’t have anywhere near that by 15 April, and I know that if I apply for a payment plan or an extension, I still won’t have it. And I won’t have it next year when I owe it all over again.
And this means that I am fucked. Well and truly fucked. You may have noticed that less of my posts have a personal aspect these days, for a variety of reasons, but I am so depressed and horrified right now that I’m writing this, and posting it. Because what I really want to do is go and beat my head against a wall while shredding my garments and kicking cupcakes across the yard, but I can’t do that, because I have to work, now more so than ever. So I am going to write about my frustration and anger, because that means that in 10 minutes, I will be able to go back to work, and then at 4:00 I will turn on NPR and listen to pathetic political candidates making empty mealy mouthed statements about how they will fix America.
People wonder why they can’t get ahead in this country, and I think this is a prime illustration of why. I can’t afford to be American. And I don’t mean in the sense of having to shift money around and feeling stretched, I just plain can’t afford it, and I could never afford it. It’s not like I drive a Porsche, drink Veuve Cliquot, and throw lavish parties every weekend. I’m just trying to keep my head above water in the only way I know. The IRS wants over a quarter of my income, because I am working hard to get ahead, and I don’t make enough to hide my money. I don’t even want to give them my money in the first place, since they’re just going to waste it, but the government is set up in such a way that I have no choice. I have to comply with the IRS or they. Will. Take. Everything. In Confessions of a Tax Collector, the author writes about confiscating everything from a woodworking shop, every scrap of lumber, every nail, and selling it. That is what will happen to me unless I somehow magically figure something out in two months.
When people ask you what’s wrong with America, this is wrong with America. College graduates busting their balls to keep up on their debt and then running up against a brick wall in April is what’s wrong with America. People trying to be enterprising and branching out to work for themselves, and being totally unable to do so is what’s wrong with America. People evading their taxes because they can’t pay them and losing everything, every chance at success: this is what’s wrong with America.