Driving Mister Dad – Part 2

We also visited four different Wal-Marts (San Jose, Gilroy, Mountain View and Roseville).  The San Jose (Monterey Road) and Mountain View stores were smaller than average with a limited grocery selection.  The first time Dad and I visited the Mountain View store was 6:30AM on Black Friday after Thanksgiving in 2005 where 16 police cars were outside for a riot that broke out over a cheap flat screen TV. On these two recent occasions, he was able to drive an electric cart around the store.  If he was driving the truck, he would’ve been arrested for DUI because of his medications.  Although he managed to run over my feet a half-dozen times, he didn’t kill anyone despite all the near misses and plowing through the crowds.  He didn’t like the Gilroy super store because the grocery department was on the wrong side (left instead of right), selection was limited and prices were higher than the local grocery stores.  The Roseville super store was, of course, perfect.  Except he was mad that three electric carts were out of order and the other two were being used by people more mobile than him.  Angry Senior Citizen in a wheelchair was less frightening than Angry Senior Citizen in an electric cart on full throttle.

Last month I had to take my car to the shop to replace the vacuum hose, fix a ground fault and install a new Interstate battery.  I was able to take the old battery back to Kragen for a warranty exchange and the shop bought back the battery.   However, that wasn’t the end of my car troubles.  This month I started having trouble starting up the car.  Went back into the shop where all the mechanics groaned when I drove up.  This time the ignition switch and right headlight was replaced.  Dad took the ignition switch apart to confirm that the contacts inside were worn down, which might’ve been the cause of all the electrical problems in the car.  The brand new Kragen battery was diagnosed as bad—the third one in a year.  I bought an Interstate battery from the shop.  When the clerks at Kragen found no record that the recent battery was exchanged under warranty six weeks before, they took back the battery and gave me a full refund.  Dad paid $800 USD in repair bills to get my car up and running again.  Whenever he complains about that, I remind him that he gave me a lemon—or a lime, the car is green—for my birthday three years ago and the yearly cost of insurance, registration and smog is more than the blue book value of the car.

Dad will have his last doctor appointment next week.  Whether he gets a clean bill of health or not, I’m kicking him out.  After two months of putting up with Angry Senior Citizen, I’m looking forward to getting my own place back.  He’ll be happy to get his own place back in Sacramento where all the over-the-air TV channels are in English and his neighbors are white as slice bread.  (He’s not racist, just stuck in the 1950s.)  I’m treating his departure the same way I treated the departure of the bedbugs a few summers ago: renting a rug shampooer to clean the carpets, putting my dedicated office space back together, and cleaning the apartment from top to bottom. I’ll be driving up to Sacramento every week or two to visit him and make sure he’s doing fine now that I know how to get to his trailer park and have the endurance to put up with the long drives.

Fortunately, my car doesn’t come with a backseat driver in the passenger seat.


The Tax Man Cometh

For the first time in ten years, I was filing my own federal tax return on paper.  I entered all the numbers into TurboTax and then figured out where to put all the numbers on the paper form.  I owed the federal government $452 in taxes on my unemployment benefits.  I wasn’t going to pay $150 to file through TurboTax.  My tax situation is somewhat complicated by the business side of being a writer.  If I didn’t have that, I would’ve followed the same steps that I did with Dad’s tax returns.  Fortunately, state owed me $338.  With Dad helping out with half the rent and covering my newest car repair bill for a replacement ignition switch and battery, I was able to pay off the tax.  I filed my state return for free using CalFile.

Doing my own taxes made me appreciate the small business angle that I haven’t considered before.  I’ve been writing in red for the last five years from buying all those red pens to revise my work.  I haven’t started making money until now and I’m hoping to break even this year.  After struggling to fill out my own tax return, I took some steps to avoid repeating this awful annual ritual.

First, breaking down the numbers on a quarterly basis.  Shoving all the receipts into an envelope all year long is the easy part.  Figuring out how to break down the numbers at tax time is very time consuming.  Doing that every three months will make putting the final numbers together a snap.  I also did my first profit and loss statement.  I haven’t done one of those since I took business courses in college.  I’m updating that every two weeks to keep tabs on my income and expenses.  Ideally, income goes up and expenses come down.

Second, I started filing estimated taxes for both federal and state.  Technically, I’m not required to do so.  This is a preventive measure on my part to avoid not paying enough tax when I file my return next year.  If you start making some serious money as a writer, you want your tax bill to be current at all times.  Since I’ve shown a loss on tax returns for five years with little income, I need to prove that I’m running a business.  Only an honest small business would fork over money to the tax man.

Third, if I do reach the break even point and make more than $400 in profits, I will have to pay a 15% self-employment tax.  At first, that made me mad.  Looking into this deeper, this is half of what I would be paying in a regular job plus the employer contribution.  This amount is then reduced in half as a personal deduction.  Doesn’t make much sense but that’s how the tax law works.

I’m hoping that this year will be very profitable indeed—even if I do have to pay more in taxes.