Making sense of a tax return questionnaire

I’ve spent several days gathering up W2 forms. Scanning in documents. Calculating expenses and donations and figuring out the square roof of 72. It’s tax season and I’m getting down to business. So, the other night I finally filled out the tax organizing questionnaire my family accountant sent me. I don’t know if these are changes to the tax code this year, but every question seems a little strange to me. Maybe I’m just paying better attention. But does anyone else get questions like these?

Please answer the following questions with a Y or N:
• If you sold stocks at a loss last year, did you cry because you were the only person in America to lose money in a bull market?
• Have you or a family member found any loose change in your sofa cushions amounting to more than $13 million?
• If you or a family member found loose change in your sofa cushions, have you deposited it in an offshore account?
• Did you offload any junk vehicles, in particular a green 1978 Oldsmobile that had been parked in front of 273 Parkdale Road before it was stolen?
• Have you imported any illegal trophy animals only to re-export them because you didn’t like the smell?
• Did you lose a beloved pair of sunglasses this year causing you to experience emotional pain and mental anguish valued at more than $1,500?
• Have you ever truly tried to walk in someone else’s shoes?

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Mysteries of the Winter Olympics

I grew up in Tampa, Florida, where if the temperature dipped below 76 degrees, the entire city moved to an evacuation shelter in Miami. Anything performed on ice or snow — or more clothes than a loin cloth — was pretty foreign to me. We didn’t ski or ice skate or launch ourselves off ice ramps. If we could get an ice cube in our tea before it melted, that was a winter sport.

It’s much the same today, which is maybe why the Winter Olympics is so fascinating to me. I find myself hooked, staring at the screen, marveling at these sports I’ve never tried, or didn’t even knew existed. There are so many mysteries. For instance:

• In any sport I’ve ever watched — or for that matter, anything that has ever moved — I’ve rooted for a massive crash. Cars. Poker games. Anything involving pom-poms. But in winter sports, I sit in fetal position peeking through my arms screaming, “Please Lord, don’t let that guy wipeout!” Winter crashes are terrifying, horrid and cataclysmic. On slick ice with no friction to stop them, they could go on forever, jumping barricades and shooting through town like a cartoon catastrophe. I get spasms in parts of my body I didn’t even know existed and can’t look at ice cubes for weeks.

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Family origins as a birthday present?

“Brian! You need to come over right now and get your birthday present! It says ‘time sensitive’ on it!”

Oh no!

Not like, “Oh no!” I’m not going to do it. More like, “Oh no! What could it be?” “Oh no! Why in the world is it ‘time sensitive’ that I have to get it right now?” or “Oh no! Is this going to kill me?”

“Mom, my birthday isn’t for like 20 days. What is it?” I said into the phone.

“I can’t tell you,” she answered. “You just have to come get it right now. What are you doing, anyway? Watching the ‘Puppy Bowl?’”

It was Super Bowl Sunday. I think I WAS watching the Puppy Bowl. I didn’t have time for this.

I told my daughter to get in the car. That I needed moral support … and a witness. Plus, someone to drive the car if I got injured.

“I’m only 12,” she said. “I can’t drive!”

“That’s of little consequence. Now, bring your bike helmet and the first aid kit we got for the hurricane.”

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Has my vocabulary started going gray?

I don’t know why I said it. Where it came from. What possessed me to utter such a strange and utterly absurd greeting to a co-worker.

“How you doing, sport?” I said.

Sport?!? Who says “sport?” I wondered.

I wasn’t the only one. Amused faces popped out of holes everywhere to ponder the same thing.

“Did you just say ‘sport?’” they asked. “Seriously?”


Yes, I’m afraid I did.

And it wasn’t the only one that day. In class later that morning I was talking to my college students about something and then blurted out for some unexplained reason, “Well, damnation!”

The class burst into laughter.

“Damnation?!?” they howled. “Is that like ‘tarnation?’ ‘Well, fiddlesticks, pa. You best take junior down to the well and fetch a pale for the vittles. Grab the pig while you’re down there.”


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Ideas for Amazon’s grocery store of tomorrow

Amazon opened something truly revolutionary the other day: A grocery store in Seattle without a single checkout line. Lined with cameras and sensors, you walk into the Amazon Go store, scan an app, pickup what you want and leave. No lines. No loud calls over an intercom for Herb to do a price check on aisle 8 for your corn remover. No trying to pretend that the tabloid story about Prince Harry being a space alien doesn’t actually interest you.

Personally, I love the idea of a store like this. I hate checkout lines. But this only solves a couple of my biggest annoyances. So, in hopes that a bright Amazon engineer might read this, here are a couple of things that should also be incorporated into a high-tech grocery store of tomorrow:

• We need sliding floors. Let me explain: This would come in handy in situations where someone has decided to park their cart right in the middle of the aisle so they can read the ingredients on a box of crackers. First off, who reads ingredients on a box of crackers!?! Any way you look at it, they’re bad for you! But to the point, I’m so polite that I hate asking someone to move. So, I stand there for 20 minutes while saying in the softest voice, “Uh, excuse me … Um, pardon me, but I can’t get through …” Sliding floors, though, could use sensors to spot this and gently “slide” that person out of the way. Presto!

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A Florida yard braces for more leaf-burning cold

I have a Florida yard. A Florida yard is loaded with nice, flowery plants that don’t need a lick of water, attract butterflies and hummingbirds and bees, and look pretty much bountiful all year-round.

EXCEPT … if the temperature dips below 86 degrees. At which point the entire yard packs up and moves to Miami on a Greyhound bus. Or worse, shrivels up and dies, leaving behind a brown, crunchy wasteland. The surface of Mars is not so desolate, barren or sad.

My dune daisies are wrecked. The porter’s weed looks like it has been stricken by a case of vegetative mange. And the bougainvillea — so happy to impale me with its saber-tooth thorns just a couple of weeks ago — has dropped every leaf it could find, ordered more on Amazon, and then dropped them, too.

The aesthetic of my yard right now? Dead sticks in creepy forest.

I tried to save them all. Or as best as I could considering we had several nights of sub-freezing weather, and I can’t really get too motivated with anything involving the word “sub.”

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New Year’s resolutions worth resolving

I don’t know what to make of our new year’s resolutions. My wife had resolved to be less judgmental. Then she declared that if I were any kind of a good person, I would pledge to be less critical.

“Less critical!” I erupted. “That is by far one of the silliest things I’ve ever heard you say.”

And whammo! Just like that we had blown up two perfectly good resolutions … in the span of the first couple minutes of 2018.


We’ll probably keep trying, though. We’re not the kind of people who take failure well. We don’t give up. That’s for stupid weak people who have … DANGIT! There I go again. OK, seriously, I’m really trying.

There are other ones I want to work on in the new year, too. Like learning whether there is any correlation between the amount of cake I’ve been eating and the fact that I’ve slipped a notch on my belt. Or how when it comes to running consistently, I’ve not only fallen off the wagon, but the wagon turned around, ran me over twice and then gave me a slice of cake. At this rate, I’ll be down another belt notch by June!

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Cold, Florida weather and the soothsaying acorns

Cold. So cold. Teeth chattering. Bones aching. Lips chapping. Dog not going outside unless I stand with the door open while screaming, “Be gone with you, wretched cur!!!” (My neighbors always pass by at the same, exact moment and report me to Animal Control.)

It’s not my fault: It’s winter, and my dog would prefer I put out a stack of newspapers and let her do her business inside. It’s cold out there, and she has no interest in braving it.

I don’t either. What is this chilly stuff? Is this not Florida, a state so immune to freezing weather that the snow shovel is listed as an endangered species?

The other day I had to go do the unthinkable: root around in my closet in search of — GASP! — a sweater. I didn’t even know I had one. It was moth-eaten and covered in dust — a relic from 1996 when I bought it as a joke, or to use as a rag while changing my car’s oil.

But after the cold snap this week, we Floridians could use a few sweaters. And some mittens and scarves and ear muffs … and about 17 batts of insulation to wrap around us with duct tape.

It is cold, and we don’t know how to hack it! I watched bleary-eyed at the weather map as a mass of light snow moved across north Florida toward Jacksonville. Ouch! Not a sight you see every day.

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The Christmas Gift Search for Meaning

It’s been almost a week, so it’s time to dig through those bags of Christmas presents stacked up in the bedroom and try to make some sense of the head-scratchers. You know, the unusual and perplexing ones you received. Call it “The Christmas Gift Search for Meaning.” That’s when you try to find the answer to why someone thought you needed such a thing. Try it. It’s rather enlightening.

Two portable car battery chargers – These both came from my aunt. She’s the queen of strange and mystifying Christmas gifts. Usually there’s a theme, and this year it was: “A hurricane is gonna’ kick you in your privates, so be prepared!!!” As such — and because here in St. Augustine, Fla., we’ve been through two hurricanes in a single calendar year — we got solar-powered radios, military-grade tactical flashlights AND multiple car battery chargers … just in case while fleeing a hurricane my car breaks down MULTIPLE TIMES. My aunt doesn’t understand that in this disposable age, when car batteries go dead, people just walk away and call an Uber. Even in hurricanes.

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The meaning behind a Christmas light car ride

It doesn’t help that it’s 76 degrees outside, and that when you file into the car, there are mosquitoes buzzing your ears.

But gather up your family, no matter what the temperature, and load them in for a spin around town looking for Christmas lights, and you’ll feel the holiday spirit, even in Florida … where it feels more like a rotisserie chicken than December.

The temperature doesn’t matter as you roll around looking for the most garish, the most over-the-top, the most outlandish, retina-blinding, chaotic spectacles of light that anyone can plant in their yard.

There are houses drowned in blow-up lawn decorations with absolutely no thought put into how they’re grouped together. Hula Santa in board shorts hanging with frigid North Pole Santa and penguins? Who cares! It’s Christmas!

Houses displaying taste and grace and a holiday sensibility with simple, twinkling white lights and dignified Christmas wreathes. And houses that look like their owners bought up the entire holiday sale aisle and then dumped them out of a helicopter.

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