Alison Berkley: The Princess’s Palate
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
When my grandmother died, we found out she was like 10 years behind on her taxes.
“It’s probably a good thing she died because if she hadn’t, they probably would have come and carted her ass off to jail,” some rude person in my family said.
The way I see it, Grandma Joan pulled it off.
This is my Dad’s mom, and even though we weren’t super close, everyone says we are exactly alike. I always thought she was sort of weird because she covered her furniture in plastic and bought us toys that were already opened at those weekend flea markets in Queens. Instead of buying me a book, she wrote one and illustrated one herself. Of course now I realize how amazing that is, but back then it was just odd. She laminated the pages and put it together in a binder and stranger still, the story was about monsters that ate little kids.
She stole library books (“I’ll return it when I’m through, and that’ll just have to do,” she’d say), and if we had to wait too long to pay for something she’d just leave with it, feeling justified on account of “bad service” to do so. She always wore a scarf on her head and carried Juicy Fruit gum in her purse and wore big, tall shoes with tights.
She was also very much ahead of her time, a true liberal and feminist before they’d even coined the term. She graduated from journalism school at the University of Missouri, long before it was common for women to go to college. She got divorced after only a few years of marriage – also unheard of. She drove fast cars and made very wise real estate investments and somehow managed to keep those profits from the IRS, God rest her beautiful, rebellious, little soul.
Where I am going with this story (even though I do realize I’ve told you all this before) is I’m following in her footsteps in terms of being an anti-establishment journalist with an “overdue” library book or two on my shelf and maybe a few tax returns that haven’t yet been filed.
Until this point, I always functioned on two principles: One, ignorance is bliss. And two, it’s not like I’m going to die if this or that bill doesn’t get paid on time.
That’s why I have the tendency to ignore my mail. Sometimes I take it out of my mailbox, and if I don’t see anything good, I’ll put it right back in and close the little door and lock it. Once it gets really full I take it out and put it in my purse until it eventually makes its way to my desk, where it will sit for another six months until I have some weird cleaning fit and decide to go through all of it.
It’s usually all bills and mean, nasty notices from the IRS and threats from the Kansas Department of Motor Vehicles for some speeding ticket I got a million years ago. I mean, it’s not like I plan on driving through Kansas anytime soon.
But now that I’ve hit the big four-uh-oh and am, for the first time, actually contemplating a future beyond how I’m going to lose that last 5 pounds, I’m starting to face the music with a few things I’ve been ignoring most my life.
And I gotta be honest with you: It’s not really working out for me.
For example, for years I went without health insurance. I just didn’t have it and the thing is, I never needed it. At some point, some very neurotic person convinced me that I should get it just in case something happens. Four years later, nothing has happened and now my premium has gone up from 170 dollars a month to 469 dollars. I have all this money in my Health Savings Account, but just as I’m about to get a prescription for Botox or that laser hair removal I’ve been dreaming about, I am told by my insurance broker that I better not use it for anything that implicates I have a paper cut or a rash because then I won’t be able to qualify for a different policy that’s less expensive.
I’m also trying to deal with my tax situation because my mom keeps having nightmares about me getting carted off to jail and is super paranoid. Then I sort of got this idea that it would be cool to be free and clear of all this debt that’s hanging over my head.
So I’ve been working with Steve Marolt, and he’s been awesome, keeping me calm about it and yelling at me at the same time. It’s quite an impressive skill actually, and it has been somewhat effective.
Steve’s twin brother Mike is also helping me, but he doesn’t do taxes, he just gives financial advice and has his own office that’s a few blocks away from his brother’s. He’s way sweeter than his identical twin, which I find fascinating. I met with him last week in the midst of a major meltdown and he goes, “You just need someone to tell you it’s going to be OK.”
I bit my lip and had to refrain from asking him to just hold me, but he did make me feel better about things. “Debt is just part of life,” he said. “Everybody has it – it doesn’t matter how rich you are.”
So after a few months of trying to face reality, I’m kinda over it. All I learned was that there are all these things I really can’t control. Honestly, my life wouldn’t be any different if I didn’t know any better.
How does that old saying go? The three things you can’t escape are death, taxes and one other thing. What is it?
On second thought, I don’t really want to know.
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Columnist Roger Marolt is learning to hold his breath longer during these hot, dry summers, he writes.