Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Degenerate Gamblers Guide to the Lounge Pants Deviation

Having reveled inside the empty water fountain in the middle of the square in front of the Fine Arts Building, been dowsed with cheap champagne by complete strangers and lost my voice whilst chanting “We’re Number One!” until the wee hours of the morning with friends after Indiana University won the NCAA Championship years ago, you’d think I might be at least remotely interested in the college basketball hysteria known as March Madness.
But I have no time for such follies.
Nay, the term “March Madness” indicates an entirely different mania for me this time of the year; a rare opportunity to make wish-lists, an empowered sense of self, and the belief that despite whatever may have occurred in the past twelve months, the Government will owe me money! 
Unfortunately, that’s when the frenzy kicks in…
My clinically undiagnosed disease HAFTA-HAV (“Habitual Annual Financial Tournament of Acquisitions – Here’s A Visa!”) always begins most innocently.  Last year, the symptoms manifested in a casual manner; the polite decline of a weekend vacation with my friends RJ and Richard, followed by the irrational onset of re-acceptance for the opportunity to spend approximately 22 hours in Las Vegas wherein I would promptly gamble away roughly five hundred dollars.  (EEK!)
This year however, with the simple mouse tap on a button to an animal rescue site (a link I keep in my Inbox) and a one-second charitable act which supplies food to homeless pets just by visiting daily, I found myself unwilling to navigate away from the usual “Thank You!” page, instead locking eyes on a ridiculously cute pair of HAFTA-HAV black and purple paw-print rain-boots, the meager cost of which would provide 84 bowls of food to shelter pets.
Justifying the purchase as an act of kindness and generosity – not to mention the fact that it’s rainy season in L.A. and I was looking forward to some serious puddle splashing in my chic new galoshes – I put away my Visa (Debit card) feeling most satisfied that the visions of well-fed happy puppies and kitties accompanying me to sleep that night could quash the March Madness within.
But like a recovering gambling addict who thinks filling out a $5.00 NCAA bracket sheet at work is perfectly harmless, I too could taste the temptation of a big win, the exhilaration of hopping on-line again; maybe just one more purchase…?
Technically I haven’t received notification from my Accountant as to my Federal and State refunds, and technically I should be stock-piling money into savings when my sit-com goes on hiatus April 15, but metaphorically the HAFTA-HAV needle was already lodged in my arm. 
So what’s a junkie to do?
Pouring a rather hefty vodka cocktail on the weekend and checking my email, was the first dealer on the corner to offer me a fix:  The Wrath of Klahn Crosswords – Puzzles from the World’s Toughest Clue Writer, Bob Klahn. 
“Pfft” I scoffed dismissively (actually jonesing for the challenge and immediately unearthing my Debit card).
Seduced next by a recommendation from (on my third cocktail) with regard to a spectacular pair of buckled ankle-high brown boots on sale for 70% off, I felt the addictive needle wedge deeper into my vein…
And eyeballing the world’s greatest back-pack (pink and white skull-and-crossbones on a black background!), I couldn’t help but pour my sixth (?) voddy and marvel at the owner reviews of how comfortable and durable the affordable knapsack appeared to be.
Granted, I’m still awaiting the arrival of a pair of “Women’s Convertible Fingerless Gloves/Mittens by Isotoner” (perfect for holding a script on cold nighttime location shoots!); I’ve stomped through some magnificent puddles in my purple-soled paw-print boots over the course of the last three days (heavy rains as scheduled in usually sunny Southern California); solved the first (of 72!) intimidating Klahn crossword puzzles; contemplated the idea of erecting a pedestal for the artistic magnificence of the Overstock ankle boots; and having padded around the apartment in my jammies for an entire afternoon sporting the skull and cross-bones back-pack loaded with all my usual work stuff as a test run (ooh, my posture improved dramatically!), I was convinced that for roughly a hundred bucks for all the above combined items, had I been playing the ponies at Santa Anita Racetrack, I would have hit a boxed Superfecta!
Yet remarkably (even though it’s felt like Christmas in March from the Post Office this week), I do believe I have effectively (albeit unwittingly) cured myself of the HAFTA-HAV addiction this year.
The package on my doorstep indicated its origination was also from the animal rescue web-site; the shipping slip informed me that with my generous purchase, another 14 bowls of food had been provided for animals in need, but it wasn’t until the moment of unfurling the contents of said package that this HAFTA-HAV internet-shopping junkie recognized herself as hitting rock bottom.
May I present to you (not for the faint of heart), the singularly most disturbing reason why one should never, ever, EVER drink and shop on-line:  The “Here Kitty Kitty Lounge Pants”…
Please do enjoy a closer view below...

Stashing my Debit card in horror!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Is it called "Tax Evasion" if my Accountant is avoiding me?

“I chose all the brightly colored worksheets and mailed them in lovely cranberry envelopes at the end of January!  You couldn’t miss them!” the ever-so-helpful receptionist at my CPA’s office bubbled on the telephone.
“That may very well be” I concurred, having received over the last twenty years my fair share of key lime, tangerine, boysenberry, passion fruit and (an all-time favorite) ylang-ylang colored packets. “But I didn’t receive them this year, and although I probably don’t need to itemize anything, I was wondering if I could still do a simple mail-in and whether or not the fee has changed?”
“Oh dear…” she sighed in a dire voice that could only indicate the serious clutching of pearls noosed around her throat.  “You’re going to HAVE to have the WORKSHEETS!” she panicked, the sudden loud clacking of fingers on a keyboard pulling up my history.  “Yes, the fee went up this year by $30.00, and, oh dear” she repeated, “you’re an Actor…  You’re going to have more than one W2 aren’t you?” she fretted.
“Yeah, I think I have four or five.”
“FOUR OR FIVE!” her voice cracked with mild hysteria.  “And you’ll have deductions!” she added horrifically as though I were a blistering leper hoping to try on her Sunday-Best white gloves.  “My boss won’t even LOOK at your return if you don’t itemize your deductions!  You probably have bank statements too!  And if you want to do a mail-in, she absolutely HAS to have everything by March 15th! Or she’ll MAKE you do a sit-down interview IN PERSON!” she shrieked.  “So I’ll mail you the papers today, please fill out everything and make SURE she has it all by Tuesday!” the clearly-never-would-have-lasted-as-a-Hotline-Crisis-Operator lady panicked.
“Maybe I could just drop it off at your office after work on Monday?” I asked benignly.
“Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!” she blustered frenetically.  “But then your IRS filing to my boss wouldn’t officially be a ‘mail-in,’ would it?!  I mean, doesn’t there HAVE to be POSTAGE on your package for it to be considered a ‘MAIL-IN’?!” she stammered helplessly.
Whilst I may have simply imagined the cheery albeit muddled receptionist at her desk just after she apologized profusely (“You’re one of three people who got lost in our computer glitch this year!”), I could almost swear that before I hung up, I heard a strand of glossy white pearls ‘tink’ against the front window of her office…
With lilac, fuchsia and eerie tombstone grey papers in hand (what, no avocado in stock this year?), I tended to the emergency task of totaling up my tax-deductibles, feeling confident yet very much under the gun to meet my given deadline. 
And that’s when the grave horror dawned on me…
There were only two days until the Ides of March, and I had just been cast in the role of Julius Caesar.
Having spent twenty years with the most awesome laid-back Accountant (ironically named Bill) who casually typed all my financial doo-dads into the computer in about twenty minutes, we always shared the rest of the hour appointment happily chatting about our families, what show I was working on and any new Hollywood gossip. 
But having sent my W2s through the post office last year on a whim (naturally assuming Bill would handle my usual doo-dads), I had unwittingly subjected myself to the ONLY unwritten rule not spelled out on any of the guava, papaya or mango worksheets in two decades:  Apparently, all mail-ins are to be immediately handed over to the senior Accountant – the Matriarch of Hollywood (and the only name listed on the company letterhead). 
Notorious for refusing new clients (including relatives of her current clients), rumored to be the CPA to some of the Entertainment Industry’s biggest money-making moguls and purportedly seriously hardcore with regard to her ethics and those of the people she represents, the Matriarch has established a legendary reputation for being positively ruthless.  If you have the receipts and she can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they’re valid, she will squeeze every possible dollar into your return, no itemization too small. 
However, should you not respect the sacrifices she has made in order to make your tax appointment nearly ‘effortless’ by creating six pages of worksheets, well then, God help you…
And last year, without her Majesty’s Crown Seal of Approval to become a new client, there lay upon her regal throne, my humble manila envelope containing my meager Stand-in income, a few measly residual payments, unemployment benefits, puny dividends, plus the unfortunate whimsical hand-written letter addressed to Bill in which I may or may not have casually mentioned that ‘at least we don’t have to waste valuable chat-time with those annoying worksheets’, and which I may or may not have also possibly referred to them as a ‘colossal pain in the ass’.  (Oops.)
Hence the horror!
In a flash the diabolical plot became painfully obvious…
There was no mistake in not sending me the cranberry envelope, nor was there any unrealistic computer mishap in the office; only the cold hard fact that the Matriarch had me under her thumb and was sending a painfully clear message:  Should I fail her in any way, my tax history might ‘accidentally’ be deleted, my accounts frozen and my name covertly leaked to the IRS Most Wanted list; case file “Glitch One of Three”.
Bottom line:  I needed to prove my worth. 
Bolting awake in a cold sweat that Monday morning, having tossed and turned in bed all night trying to calculate and recalculate the precise percentage of my cell phone and internet business usage on my tombstone grey worksheet, I rushed to the nearest post office, manila envelope in hand. 
“I really, really, really NEED to overnight this!” I pleaded, clutching at the invisible strand of pearls noosed around my neck.
“No problem.  We guarantee it will be there by noon tomorrow, and we require a signature when it’s received. OK?” the cheery lady smiled (echoes of a receptionist whom I hoped hadn’t officially gone ‘postal’).  “That will be $13.25 please, and here’s your tracking number.  Have a nice day!” the government angel added most pleasantly.
Tossing and turning again in bed that night, I couldn’t help but wonder…  Was my choice of a magenta-colored pen too aggressive in my hand-written letter to the Matriarch?  Or was it a brilliant psychological ploy subconsciously chosen to catch the appreciative artistic eye of the receptionist who might then place my return on the top of the regal throne?  (And was the receptionist even still there?   Or had she flung herself out the first-floor window, in which case she might have some nasty grass stains on her Sunday-Best white gloves!) 
There was nothing left to do but go to work, scurry home, log onto the computer and track my USPS package…
But as promised, in beautiful red, white and blue lettering I saw the confirmation of receipt at 10:37am, signed by none other than the Matriarch herself.
Cheers to $13.25 I can legally write off in postage next year!
And many happy returns to you,

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Vision Quest

My "farsighted" vision into the future had always seemed crystal clear: in my old age I would become the crazy Bat-Lady-With-a-Cat in the creepy cob-webbed mansion atop the Hollywood Hills, infamously known for my capricious youthful antics in Tinsel Town, notorious for my outlandish style of living; rumored through the years to be (by local terrified children who dare not approach my vast, gated, gargoyle-protected Estate) the supposed axe-wielding eccentric wealthy lunatic who parades around in a black tattered wedding gown and smeary blood-red lipstick; the frightful misanthrope who sucks down vodka like water, engages in casual conversation with inanimate objects and reportedly buries ‘treasure’ in her backyard with a platinum shovel whenever there’s a full moon!
(Ah, the unfulfilled innocent Utopian dreams of childhood still bring a tear to my eye…  I’m not in the hills, and I could only afford a small metal trowel…) *sigh*
But I digress!
As I mentioned above, my sights were set from an early point, despite a few obstacles laid before me…
Maybe my parents didn’t have to tape a pink bow onto the top of my bald skull for the first few years to indicate “girl” until I managed to actually grow hair, and perhaps the constant thwacks to the cranium and lack of quality adhesiveness may have had something to do with the Frankenstein-esque approach to which I loved, cherished and immediately decapitated my first Barbie doll.  (Not saying that any of those actions affected my vision, nor that I fathomed the hilarity at my expense whilst being trotted about for two years as a hairless whelp, but to this day when I unwrap a present, the first thing I do is stick the bow on my head.)
Additionally, I remember somewhat myopically the blurry Optometrist strapping the heavy coke-bottle lenses onto my face, and at the age of eleven (?) clearly eyeballing my parents for the very first time since my triumphant swim out of amniotic fluid.
“And you are…?”
Granted, in my Goth college days nothing was cooler than to hear the Doc label me “legally blind as a bat” (i.e. I couldn’t even see the big E on the Snellen chart, hence an over 20/200 diagnosis), but after a few more years of boiling calcium deposits off of my soft contacts (I kid you not, youth of today, they made a special creepy device for this task), I was finally fitted with RGP (rigid gas permeable) lenses. 
And to that end, this One Red Cent finally made Sense of the world.
In my thirties, the glamour of carrying my (then) Rock Star Boyfriend’s reading glasses in my purse was the equivalent of a VIP backstage pass to any concert; a pocket of visionary glory, one that I didn’t require for myself but would still occasionally trot out in order to read a restaurant menu in dim lighting, then hand over across the table.
It was a charming ritual.  And yes, it was romantic. 
But I was breaking an actor’s cardinal rule… 
“I’ve got to show you this clip of Oscar in the shower” my AD Diddy laughed, cuing up on his smart phone a video of one of his feline companions, that (in my opinion) should become the next most virally watched cat-minute on YouTube.
But that’s precisely when the Hollywood curse hit me…
In the blink of an eye, I found myself to be the middle-aged person I’d seen in every restaurant since I could remember – the one holding the bill of fare at arm’s length, squinting relentlessly in search of focus unable to see three feet in front of me despite the Frankenstein-esque saucers of glass on my corneas that were capable of correcting for over two hundred feet in the distance.  And that could only mean one thing… 
Clearly I had an inoperable brain tumor.
Alas, in no way would I reside in the glamorous Hollywood Hills, my substantial fortune never to be realized nor buried under a brightly lit moon; the perfect black tattered wedding gown would become my burial shroud and the smeary blood-red lipstick merely a final touch applied by the icy hand of a mortician.
And as any rational human being without a medical degree would do, rather than ‘seeing’ a professional in person, I logged on to the computer to self-diagnose, confirm, and prepare for my final days…  (Oh CRAP!  I have to vacuum all my well-cultivated cob-webs or my Mom will kill me!!!)
But nevertheless, I bravely typed my symptoms into Google, leaned back dramatically in cautious anticipation of the search results (translation: leaned back to read the stupid screen a foot away), and there it was:  the title of my fateful illness…
(Courtesy of the American Optometric Association)

Presbyopia is a vision condition in which the crystalline lens of your eye loses its flexibility, which makes it difficult for you to focus on close objects.

Presbyopia may seem to occur suddenly, but the actual loss of flexibility takes place over a number of years. Presbyopia usually becomes noticeable in the early to mid-40s. Presbyopia is a natural part of the aging process of the eye. It is not a disease, and it cannot be prevented.
Some signs of presbyopia include the tendency to hold reading materials at arm's length, blurred vision at normal reading distance and eye fatigue along with headaches when doing close work. A comprehensive optometric examination will include testing for presbyopia.

To help you compensate for presbyopia, your optometrist can prescribe reading glasses, bifocals, trifocals or contact lenses. Because presbyopia can complicate other common vision conditions like nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism, your optometrist will determine the specific lenses to allow you to see clearly and comfortably. You may only need to wear your glasses for close work like reading, but you may find that wearing them all the time is more convenient and beneficial for your vision needs.

Well that puts a bit of a damper on my funeral, now doesn’t it?
In truth, I don’t mind so much if I have to spend a dollar or two at the local drug store for reading glasses (particularly if I want to read that explanation above again, because seriously, did they have to use such a tiny font?!)  But at least I now know that I still have time to amass my riches, enjoy countless conversations with my cat and my automobile and savor the rest of my youth in Tinsel Town whilst tunneling mole-like with my sturdy trowel in the moonlight.
And to that end, this One Red Cent has once again made Sense of her world.  (And not in a Charlie Sheen kind of way!)
Looking forward,