Thursday 26 May 2016

Make Taxes Fun
David Simmonds

The noxious green plastic package arrived in early January. It sits on my desk like a dead fish. My tax return is what I mean.

Perhaps to compensate, I have been reading my other mail more carefully. Fascinating are those gas bills. The mail I have been reading most thoroughly, I insist, I do have a life, of some sort, comes from the “Reader’s Digest.”

You probably know to what I’m referring. One day, you receive a big brown envelope addressed personally to you, by Mel Wretched, vice-president of reader sales. He advises that you have been ‘pre-qualified’ for a grand prize draw of $1 million. You don’t have to buy a subscription to enter, although that would make his sainted mother proud.

All you have to do is seal the attached ‘certificate of entitlement’ stickers to the back of the ‘official acknowledgement’ form and return it within three weeks. You think, what the heck, I’ll gamble a stamp on becoming a millionaire. From then on, you’re a fish caught on a lure. 

A month later, you get another package emblazoned with phrases such as ‘priority delivery’ and ‘urgent: open and reply immediately.’ This letter, from Mona Lisa Teresa, contest administrator, advises me that my winning numbers have been reserved and all that I have to do is return a ‘certified status notification’ form along with my ‘guaranteed eligibility’ certificate and my ‘confirmation of standing’ sticker within two weeks, otherwise I am out of the hunt. “I’m talking to you, D. Simmonds of Wellington, Ontario. Imagine how stupid you will feel if a neighbour down the street wins the big prize and you don’t because you were too cynical to mail in your forms.”

So I do it, partly for the thrill of the risk, partly because I would indeed feel pretty stupid if Farnsworth, down the street, did win and partly because the only way I can justify wasting my time putting stickers on forms instead of reading Margaret Atwood is by winning the big one.

I then brace for the next wave, and the next. At some point, I fold and become a subscriber. After a while, the encounter transforms into a battle of wits with the Reader’s Digest marketing department: how can I keep my hopes for the big prize alive without buying anything else. For instance, I almost took the bait and when I was about to put a ‘bonus entitlement’ certificate on a reply form. Then I realized it would sign me up for a multi-CD package” ‘Mantovani plays the classics,’ and I would receive a new package every month, such as ‘Mantovani plays Motown, ‘Mantovani plays rockabilly’. You have to hand it to them: one way or another, they engage you in their product.

It’s back to the dead fish. My point is simple: wouldn’t you pick up a tax return more readily if they emblazoned it with stickers saying ‘urgent prize notification enclosed’ and ‘for immediate attention.’ You had a letter from Minister of National Revenue Keith Ashfield, who seems like a nice man from his picture, urging you to ‘file now, so as to qualify for our grand prize of $1 million in lifetime tax credits,’ or for ‘early bird draws of a 50% reduction in your taxable income.’ Come to think of it, they could also offer ‘Stephen Harper plays the Beatles,’ and send you a new package every month, such as, ‘Stephen Harper plays Abba’ or ‘Stephen Harper plays heavy metal,’ until you begged them to stop.

Why take all of our inspiration from one source? What about the lotteries, which strangers always win, or ‘Roll up the Rim’? Why not have a chance to win hidden under the removable address label that says either ‘file again’, ‘one free year of principal residence exemption’, or ‘winner/gagnant, your taxes are waived this year’. What if Canada put a ‘scratch-an-win-patch’ beside the medical expense credit calculation, wouldn’t you more eagerly open the package.

Why not dress the tax package up a little, so it’s as attractive as a magazine. Put an alluring picture on the cover, and then tease the reader with headlines like ‘15 ways to get your date to maximize his foreign tax credits’, ‘a sure fire recipe for employment expense deductions’, or ‘how celebrities complete line 234.’

Next year, I expect you’ll see quite a different looking tax return. I won’t be here, of course: I will have persuaded my sweepstakes-winning neighbour Farnsworth to let me join him on his celebratory round the world tour. I might have won if I’d put the stickers in the right place.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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