Friday, April 21, 2023


Speaking of things that I’ve probably purchased for the last time, I went out and bought a suit today.

It is a nice suit, as suits go. Charcoal grey. Wool. Jacket and slacks. Suit-like, really. There’s actually a store here in Our Little Town devoted solely to such things – you can rent them for proms and such, or just buy them new – and they are very friendly and helpful about measuring and getting the proper sizes. They have another store in a Nearby Town that had the correct combination of size and color that I liked, and they were happy to collect it for me and hem the pants to the measured length. And since I needed it [pause to check clock] tomorrow, they were very nice about expediting all this. I can recommend them wholeheartedly for all your men’s suit needs.

They even threw in a coupon for a free dry-cleaning, which was cheerful of them.

I do not like formal wear of any kind, to be honest. I was a college graduate before I figured out how to tie a tie and it is a skill I would gladly forget except that every few years I need to remember the process. I would happily spend the rest of my days in my comfortable pants plus t-shirts or sweatshirts (depending on weather), with occasional forays into my teacher uniform, which is the same comfortable pants plus a button down shirt, and the older I get the less interested I am in how I look anyway.

But needs must.

It's been a long, long time since I bought a suit. It might have been before the kids were born, but I suspect it was probably later than that. You can’t really tell with suits. The joy of men’s clothing is that unless you are out there on the bleeding edge of fashion it never really changes all that much. If you get something in a conservative color, with medium lapels, and put on a pair of black shoes, you’ll always be just slightly out of the current look but not so much that anyone will complain and you can just wear it forever after that.

It's been a while since I had to wear a suit of any kind. I don’t travel in the sorts of circles where such things are part of my every day – or even every year – experience, and fewer and fewer events ask for them anymore. During the pandemic I went an entire year without putting on even a button down shirt – the joys of Zoom meetings, where people were just glad you were wearing anything at all really. If there are any silver linings whatsoever to be gotten from a worldwide plague, one of them surely must be the general turn away from any sort of formal wear outside of rather limited and obviously formal occasions. Nobody really wears suits much these days that I can tell, and this is no great loss.

The last time I wore a suit was last May, when I was the graduation speaker at one of the high schools that sends students to my remote class. I figured I should dress for that one. The time before that was my mother’s funeral, and the time before that was probably my dad’s and now we’re back to 2016.

But I have a wedding to attend tomorrow and the invitation said “semi-formal” and I’m not entirely sure what that means other than the fact that I should wear something that lies between a tuxedo and a Green Bay Packers jersey (“Wisconsin Formal”) to this event, so a suit it is.

Unfortunately, the last few years have been both sedentary and – for those of us who pay attention to the news – infuriating, which means I have rage-snacked a great deal and not actually burned off any of those calories, and the old suit just wasn’t going to cut it.

So now I have a new one.

Assuming I remain roughly the same dimensions, I will probably wear this one a dozen times over the next twenty or thirty years and then it won’t be my problem anymore.

Friday, April 14, 2023

A Less Taxing Time

I may have bought my last copy of TurboTax.

I’ve never really enjoyed the process of paying taxes in the United States. Not that this is uncommon, really, as it is a bit of a shell game when you get down to it. You spend however many hours filling out increasing numbers of forms of intentionally more impenetrable complexity to reach a conclusion that the IRS already knows but won’t do for you and if you guess wrong they can throw you in jail.

Do not mess with the IRS. It was not Eliot Ness who got Al Capone.

The one saving grace of this, if you look carefully, is that the IRS does not actually ask you to swear that your tax returns are accurate. They ask you to swear that they are accurate to the best of your knowledge and ability. This is a crucial distinction and I am happy to play the float on this. I may screw up, but without intent there is no fraud. What can I say? I tried. Sweet dancing monkeys on a stick, I tried.

That said, I have never really had an unpleasant experience with the IRS. I’ve had to call them several times to get things corrected, and other than being on hold for longer than I’d have liked I can’t say the experience was ever as awful as we are led to believe by the political hacks and moneyed interests who would like to see it destroyed so that the wealthy can just keep their hoards and let the little people fend for themselves among the scraps. I haven’t always won those conversations – sometimes yes, sometimes no – but they were always polite and professional and willing to explain clearly why it was This Way and not That Way, and when I was actually right they fixed it right there on the phone with me.

I also don’t have any particular issue with paying taxes in general. The whole “Taxation is theft!” routine that you hear from the single-digit-IQ crowd that dominates the right wing these days is quite possibly the most idiotic bit of twaddle ever foisted off on an unsuspecting world. Taxes are the price of civilization. They pay for infrastructure, services, and all of the things that individuals alone cannot do, which is why governments were invented in the first place. Any time someone introduces the idea that taxation is inherently evil and that cutting taxes is the solution to all political and economic problems into a conversation you know you can just walk away without listening to anything else that person has to say. It will save you grief in the long run.

So it’s not the idea of paying taxes that is so dreary, or even dealing with the bureaucracy. It’s the actual forms.

Way back when in the callow days of my youth I would do the 1040EZ form, which I don’t even know if they have anymore. They must, mustn’t they? I would get a W2 from whatever hapless company had employed me that year and fill in the boxes and usually got every bit of the withheld taxes back since there wasn’t much there to start with.

Then I started to get Real Jobs and had to graduate to the 1040, which wasn’t all that much harder except for the fact that my professional experience has rarely ever been confined to one job or even one state in a year, which means that it could get complicated. And then Kim and I got married and bought a house and had kids and it got more complicated still.

For a while Kim and I had our own business. We made homemade soap and sold it through mail order and the craft show circuit for seven years. It kept us afloat in the summers, since academics don’t get paid in the hot months unless we find summer jobs. We gave that up when the kids were little, though, since having 50lb bags of lye sitting around in a house with toddlers didn’t seem like a bright idea. Having a business complicates taxes immensely, since now there are Schedules to deal with.

But I got by, filling out the forms. It took more time, more vague swearing, and more alcohol as things got more complicated, but it all worked out.

This, by the way, is also the arc of my experience with state tax forms. Pennsylvania’s was dead simple when I lived there. It was literally a 4”x6” postcard and a flat percentage tax, and other than one year where I cashed in some very old and long-since matured savings bonds I never had to pay or receive from them anything. Iowa’s was more complicated. Wisconsin’s is a mess. Don’t even get me started on the various other state forms I’ve had to fill out due to short jobs working there, such as AP grading. I once got a check from Utah for $3. I spent it all in one place. Probably on a cheeseburger.

Along the way I discovered TurboTax, which at least took the guesswork out of the calculations and the forms I needed. You enter the numbers it asks for, pay for whatever extra forms you need, and it spits out tax returns. The problem with this, though, is that you have to know what to enter. What exactly is it asking for here? Where does this number go? Is that number a 401k? A 1028c/j? An 867-5309? An Illudium Pu36 Space Modulator? Who knows. It very quickly gets out of hand trying to figure out what counts as what, and not worth the time.

Honestly, once I was told by two different accountants that if I didn’t want to claim the Education Tax Credit I didn’t have to report anything from the 529 accounts (as long as we actually used that money for education and not, say, tequila, which we can prove so we're good), I stopped bothering with it. It cost me money, but – having played that game the first year Oliver was in college – it saved my sanity. That’s not a bad trade.

But this year was the year where my share of my mother’s estate became part of my taxes and with the benefit of experience my brother just flat out told me, “Get someone else to do your taxes.” So after some diligent research consisting of looking through online reviews of the various financial sorts of people here in Our Little Town, I settled on one and brought over all the various records that I needed and a pile more since I wasn’t entirely sure what I needed.

It was wonderful.

I scheduled an appointment. I sat down with the tax person. We looked over the documents and she asked me a pile of questions.

And then … I went home.

That was it! It was Somebody Else’s Problem and therefore invisible to me. My sanity remains at whatever level it was last month, which may not be ideal but at least was not harmed by the process. And this past week I went back, paid them a sum of money, and was told that we’d be getting a larger sum of money back eventually.

Win all around.

I still get emails from the TurboTax people desperately reminding me that I have only a few days left before taxes are due and won’t I please purchase their product?

Not this year!

And if this year was anything to go on, not likely next year either.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

News and Updates

1. I finally managed to get the half-inch-long splinter out from under my thumbnail, where it has been lodged for a week or so. After a while you stop noticing it, but eventually it started to work its way out and I could grab it with tweezers without gouging holes in my thumb, so out it came. I feel a full half a gram lighter now.

2. We had our Easter over at my in-laws’ house on Saturday, since that was when we could mostly all gather. Things are busy these days. But Kim, Oliver and I gathered Lauren and Max from college and spent a fine evening eating good food and having lovely conversations with good people. Oliver brought out his Fantastically Awful Pink Deck of Cards – the deck we got in Washington DC when we were there over a decade ago and it was the only one for sale at the only store open in the entire city as far as we could tell – and we played Go Fish and Max taught us a new game that I never did quite wrap my head around but which looked entertaining. And on the way home we discovered that one of Lauren’s Squad from high school works with one of my good friends at a wholly different university, so three cheers for small worlds.

3. I keep thinking I’m going to write an entire post about the current descent into madness led by the American right wing that we seem to be experiencing, as opposed to all of the previous ones, but every time I try to think about it my brain leaps from my head and into the path of oncoming traffic in a desperate attempt to save my sanity by preventing me from thinking too hard about it. I’ll get to it eventually, I suppose.

4. We saw the Dungeons and Dragons movie over the weekend as well, and it had no business being as good as it was. Even Oliver – who is an avid D&D player and thus most likely among us to notice its flaws – enjoyed it. There was one sight gag that still makes me laugh.  Although, as someone else has said, if they really wanted this to be a D&D movie they would have brought the house lights up about halfway through and then had the audience spend the next hour trying to decide when they could get together again to finish it.

5. There have been a lot of movies of late that are far better than they had any real right to be. The most recent Puss In Boots movie, for example, was a surprisingly sharp exploration of what it means to face mortality and had some great lines in it. I love how computers have made the actual process of animation inexpensive enough that studios can afford to hire good writers again.

6. We are inundated with cheese here at the house. Not just Cooper Sharp, but all sorts of cheese. I am not complaining about this, though I do think we need to make a more concerted effort to whittle it down than we are currently making.

7. It is definitely spring here in Baja Canada. The rabbits have gone back outside to their hutches and we have fired up the grill for dinner twice now, these events not being related in any way except for the weather.

8. Lauren continues to go viral with a social media post that has eclipsed my personal hit record by more than two orders of magnitude now. I am impressed.

9. Oliver, Kim and I watched the final Flyers home game tonight – an oddly tentative overtime win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, one of the vanishingly few teams in the NHL below the Flyers in the standings. It was good to see them go out on a high note, though, and it’s been a nice thing to share with family through the season. And with others, I suppose. A couple of months ago I was standing in a retail establishment here in Our Little Town when a guy accosted me about my Flyers hat, in the cheerful sort of way that sports fans give each other grief while understanding that it’s a game and it’s supposed to be fun. “Who should I be cheering for, then?” I asked. “The Chicago Blackhawks!” he replied, as they are the nearest NHL team geographically to Our Little Town. “Dude,” I said, “they’re just about the only team in the league worse than the Flyers!” He just laughed. On to the playoffs, which I and my hometown Flyers will be watching together from our respective living rooms.

10. I think it’s about time that the semester ended, don’t you? Of course you do. We all do.

Friday, April 7, 2023

A Man and His Cheese

Sometimes you just have to do something for yourself, for no other reason than it needs to be done.

One of the ongoing minor annoyances in my life is the fact that I have never found Cooper Sharp cheese anywhere more than about 75 miles from the Liberty Bell.

Cooper Sharp, for those of you who have not had the pleasure, is a mild sandwich cheese that comes in a 5lb brick about two inches wide by six inches across. You slice it moderately thick and put it on food. It will never win any awards, but it’s great stuff. It’s basically what American cheese wanted to be – something with actual flavor that you could put on a sandwich to make it taste better.

I grew up with the stuff back in Philadelphia. It was a household staple. My dad was a big sandwich person and we always had it in the fridge to put on whatever lunchmeat he’d picked up that week. But I’ve never seen it anywhere else.

And despite the fact that it is made in Green Bay, Wisconsin, you cannot get it in this state.

This is just one of the things that I hold against my current state, along with the utter inability of Wisconsinites to use high beam headlights responsibly and the fact that the state GOP has turned it into a one-party mockery of American democracy.

I can’t solve those other two problems by myself, but every time a new food store opens in Our Little Town I visit the deli section to see if I can get them to stock Cooper Sharp. And every time I am met with blank stares and confusion. They check with their distributors and find nothing, and I’m back where I started.

We have a new supermarket here that opened a couple of months ago. It is an astonishing and frankly somewhat unnerving conglomeration of things all piled together under one roof. There’s the supermarket part, of course. But there’s also a food court that stretches across one entire side of the building and has maybe half a dozen different restaurants – burgers, pizza, sushi, Mexican, and so on. It has a liquor store. It has a cosmetics shop roughly the size of the one at the mall. You can buy clothing there. There’s a Starbucks, and – how you know you’re in Wisconsin – an actual full bar.

Make it a date night, folks!

It’s also got a cheese counter that is surprisingly impressive, and a full deli section. So I spoke to the people who work there and, as usual, came up empty.

But you know. Folks. This is the 21st century. You can get everything online. Including, I discovered, Cooper Sharp cheese. It turns out that for a reasonable sum someone will ship you a 5lb brick of the stuff. I don’t know why it goes from Wisconsin to a store in New York and then back to Wisconsin, but there it is.

My brick arrived Thursday.

This is the face of a happy expat Philadelphian.

I went back to the new supermarket and found the deli manager I’d been talking with and asked how much she would charge to slice it for me and she named a reasonable price so now I have it all sliced into five one-pound packages for my future consumption and distribution to worthy recipients. I also gave her the contact sheet for the place in Green Bay that makes it and a sample of the cheese (which she enjoyed) so perhaps sometime soon I will just be able to walk in and buy some rather than ordering it by mail.

In the meantime, I have my cheese.

This is, of course, a ridiculous sort of thing to do, but sometimes in this darkening world that is exactly what needs to be done.