Toronto
3 min

The tax man cometh

And I got nothin' left to give

Credit: Xtra files

The world was a more enchanted, less brassy place when last I filed an income tax return.



Princess Diana was still alive, in capri pants, leaning on her tawny sons for friendship and spending money, imparting the arcane wisdom of her 37 ethereal years: “Don’t be afraid to hug dying people. It’ll highlight your tan.”



The skies were a little more blue. The seas were a little less murky, a little less filled with drowned children done in by frazzled mothers who only ever wanted a pair of capri pants that were really capri pants, and not normal pants grown too small because of a malignant pituitary gland tumour. Cigarettes were still good for you – or so my mother told me, enacting plan B after the failed drowning attempt.



Now the government is after me for several years’ worth of back taxes, and the world is suddenly so cold. The coins have fallen from my eyes and into the bottomless pot labelled “Every last fucking penny you will ever make goes to the government.”



What am I to do? And don’t tell me that I have no one to blame but myself. I have plenty of people to blame: the smut peddlers, the dream merchants, Jane Curtin, Marianne Williamson and the drum-tight, apple-shaped face of Loretta Lynn, which seemed to say to me, “Y’all don’t worry ’bout taxes! Y’all just spend your money on pornies and ill-advised hair extensions! Doo! Still country!”



Now that I’ll never have disposable income ever again, I can’t stop thinking about money and the grimy pall it has cast over my whole adult life. So twitchy and doom-laden am I about money, one would think I was raised in a ditch by nude drug addicts, pawning kidneys and tearful handjobs in exchange for change.



But I wasn’t. I was raised middle class, which means that I was taught to include nude drug addicts in my prayers: “Please God, keep nude drug addicts away from me, or at least make them explode on contact, should they rub up against the sleeve of my J Crew windbreaker.”



I wish I could be like other gay men, like the ones I stand behind at Starbucks, as I try to decide if saying “grande” rather than “venti” will make me sound less like a European drag queen marvelling at the girth of a new lover’s testicles. These men seem to me such a lively, carefree combo of frivolity and frugality. The kind of men who would buy a John Galliano suit, then pretend to be a penniless, immigrant scrubwoman at the dry cleaners, wielding half-off coupons and sob stories about Mama Ka-Svetya still sleeping in a broken fridge back in the old country. I wish I could be like that.



But I’m not. Money haunts and terrifies me, like a brain-damaged nanny lulling her charge to sleep with homemade fairytales that always end, “…and they all died screaming, from cancer, just like you will.”



What if I never have money again? What if I need to buy a black market liver or the upcoming re-release of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, with eight bonus tracks – and have only hair and beads with which to barter? I suppose I could panhandle. But I’m too meek to cope with panhandler turf wars. I’d end up panhandling in a virgin forest. The odd, sandalled, mid-life lesbian might pass through, deep into a “making friends with peri-menopause” nature retreat. But she’d only offer me healthful food and warm counsel. Yuck.



I know I should be more transcendent about finance, being a creative artist and everything. The artist’s sole concern is the capacity to write in his/her own blood, said a famous philosopher who clearly would never have been invited to the holistic crafting bees that are all the rage among creative types these days.



What’s more is that Canada is renowned for producing artists who proudly cling to their poverty as a source of earthy fodder. Witness the penniless Margaret Atwood, vending herself in dank alleyways as The Edible Woman. Or Alice Munro, who has perfected the art of the traditional short story, but has never owned a pair of panties that wasn’t made from paper towel. Or the gifted playwright and filmmaker Brad Fraser, whose only source of nourishment comes from licking the back of rogue stamps that may have fallen in his path to the drop-in centre for penniless Canadian artists. Poor, poor Superman!



The grave irony of my tax predicament is that it’s mostly the result of getting heavily taxable arts grants. Now, me getting money to make the kind of art I make – glib, dashed off, requiring little effort and certainly no funding – is quite like someone going to grad school to learn how to fall off a balcony to their death. I should’ve never applied for arts grants. This bit of capricious, fiscal anthropology is clearly going to be the end of me. At least, the end of me that can afford cigarettes.



Fuck it. There are lots of fun, inspiring things you can do without money. There’s -. And there’s always -. Wait! There’s sex! Sex is free. Sex has no aftermath. Except STDs. And love. And some kind of minimalist anti-operetta that I’ll definitely need a grant to mount.



Please kill me, taxman.



* Greg Kearney’s column appears in every other issue. Greg welcomes e-mail at sweetbabygreg@ hotmail.com.