The I.R.S.

When I was a senior in high school, I drove over the hill three times a week to take calculus at UCLA. At Yale, I was an economics major, studying with a Nobel Prize winner, while simultaneously taking classes at the grad school. In my lean years as a writer, I worked for an old time Hollywood business manager, paying bills for the widow of Edgar Bergen and painstakingly balancing the books of Irene Dunne to the penny, a solid five years after her death. My claim to fame in sitcom writers rooms used to be doing complex calculations in my head. So when I’m audited by the IRS, my warm welcoming reaction, spirit of fellowship and love of numbers often catches my examiner off guard.

In 2002, I was living in Napa but working in Los Angeles. The fact I was paying an agent ten percent of my income was an anomaly in Vallejo, so something in a computer got tripped, and I was called in for questioning. I brought boxes and stories and all the time in the world. I helpfully double checked the calculations in my head, gently correcting the examiner when he veered off course. The IRS ended up owing me money.

The next year, they brought me in again. The IRS owed me money again.

Supposedly if the IRS audits you two years in a row and doesn’t find anything, they can’t audit you the next year. Can this be true? In any event, they left me alone until a few months ago. The crazy thing this time is that I’d paid the alternative minimum tax for the year they were asking about; my tax was going to be the same either way. But when I called in to the IRS regional office in Ogden, Utah and explained the situation, they were adamant that the audit had to go through as scheduled. But it won’t change anything, I told the agent. You never know, sometimes something comes out a little different, the agent insisted. It can’t, I said, it’s an alternative minimum, that’s the whole point–all my deductions could be disallowed, it wouldn’t matter. Let’s see what happens, the agent ventured.

Here’s what happened: I didn’t owe anything. And I’m ready to go double or nothing.

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