Filing Taxes Isn’t As Thrilling As It Used To Be

It’s that time of year again — tax season. I began filing my W-2’s last night in what’s become one of the most joyous endeavors of the year for me. I’m not yet to the point where I’m paying in, so whenever late January rolls around, I start to plan out ways to spend that sweet check signed by Uncle Sam.

Last year, I was responsible with my return. I put the whole thing in savings to help fund a cross-country move. The year before, I re-upped my golf equipment — new irons, a driver, a bag, shoes. This year, I was planning on a car down payment.

I’m halfway through filing but I keep running into an error with H&R Block’s online filing service. Here’s hoping this won’t lead to an audit or something. I’ve already passed the section that determines which income-based credits I will receive, and unfortunately, my income is too high for several of those. I found myself wishing I made less so I could get a bigger tax return. I’m not saying I support tax evasion, but I certainly understand it.

The cruel part is H&R Block’s program shows your federal and state return through each step of the interview, and each time you move onto a new page, it adjusts to your most recent answers. Last night, my federal return peaked at $1,784. That was after my first W-2 statement. After I entered my second W-2, that amount dwindled down to $903. I felt like I lost $800 — money to which I was never entitled, but money H&R Block never should’ve promised.

Everyone deserves a tax return. It’s like the government’s giving you a high-five and saying, “Have a 42-inch LCD TV, on us.” Thanks, government.

I agonize knowing my lucrative tax returns are probably coming to an end, which is significant to a guy who, at age 26, still gets a stocking on Christmas and an Easter basket on Easter. Soon, I’ll have to save up before filing so I can pay in. This is among many moments and events that remind me, in no uncertain terms, that I’m getting older.



I’ve Never Felt So Wrong About Being Right

I caught the second half of the Bears-Packers playoff tilt yesterday at a friend-of-a-friend’s apartment. Among the dozen or so people there, I knew just a few: my longtime friend Jake, his girlfriend and his friend who owned the apartment.

There wasn’t a single Packers fan in the place, which was bad, because the Bears quickly trailed 14-0 and third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie was taking snaps midway through the third quarter. What the Bears lacked in points these folks made up for with whisky shots. I have to marvel at 20-somethings with full-time jobs who can observe Sunday Funday. I rarely observe Friday Funday.

So, I watched on as the tenor of the room began to shift from disappointed to hostile the more alcohol and emotion mixed. Late in the game, when the Bears’ mad attempt at a comeback ended with an interception, there came a commercial break.

You know the commercial: It’s the Revolutionary War and the British army stands atop a hill, ready for Gen. George Washington’s army with muskets drawn. Instead, Washington comes peeling through a valley in a Dodge Challenger holding an American flag from the window. The British army looks on, terrified, before running away in retreat.

At the end of the commercial, there’s a male’s voice: “There’s a couple of things America got right — cars and freedom.”

My friend Jake loves this commercial. When it came on, he asked a guy sitting ahead of him in front the television to quiet down from his Jay Cutler-rant so he could hear the commercial. The guy blew Jake off. Jake — always outspoken — said, “Are you a terrorist?!”

The guy paused, slowly got up from his chair, turned around, and said, I served overseas for two years in the National Guard, defending our country from terrorism. So, no, I’m not a terrorist.

I quickly came to Jake’s defense and said, “So, you fought for his right to speak freely?”

The guy sat down, visibly agitated, and continued watching the Bears game. Jake sat quiet, stunned and pale, which is rare, because, again, Jake isn’t afraid to get into a war of words, but it was clear he felt bad about the “terrorist” remark.

And you know what? I felt bad, too. I’m not a big fan of war, but I support our troops. Anyone who’s ever fought overseas owns a type of courage I’ve never known. Still, I get frustrated with the “fighting for our freedom” rhetoric, which is to say if we weren’t engaged in war, our freedom would actually be at risk. I don’t believe that. Not one bit.

I took and threw that rhetoric back into the face of a veteran. If he fought for our freedom, well, the First Amendment is among those, so he fought for the right to be called a terrorist. Jake had no idea this guy had served and he wasn’t actually accusing him of being a terrorist, which is why I pounced at his heavy-handed response. If we can’t speak recklessly, even if it’s in poor judgment, the terrorists have already won.

Still, I was wrong. I was wrong. I may have been right in a literal sense, but it wasn’t my place to be right. And what was there to win? Did I expect him to apologize? I have no idea what he experienced over there. I couldn’t begin to imagine. I hate the fact there was ever reason for him to go overseas in the first place, and despite my opposition to the war, that doesn’t mean I should’ve tried to make this guy look like a fool. Instead, I appeared ungrateful for his sacrifice, which is the last thing I wanted to do.

He was drunk and emotional from the game, so he was more justified in his response to Jake than I was in sober response to him. I didn’t apologize to him before leaving. I didn’t feel the need to apologize until hours later. Maybe an apology isn’t necessary. Maybe the best thing I can do is appreciate my freedom to speak (and write) freely, regardless of whether I feel that right has ever hung in the balance. That’s not the point. The point is someone fought on my freedom’s behalf.

I’m sorry and I deeply appreciate those who’ve served.



Could ‘Fountain Lady’ Put an End to Viral Videos?

Once every few weeks, I write a blog post for Idea Peepshow, which is the official blog of Fast Horse Inc., the consumer marketing agency where I’m currently an associate. Today, I wrote about a woman who’s threatening a lawsuit after a security tape showing her falling into a fountain was posted on YouTube:

Woman walks through a mall. Woman receives a text message. Woman responds to the text message. Woman, distracted, trips and falls into a fountain.

Woman – shocked, embarrassed, drenched – exits the fountain, and exits the television screen if you’re watching the security tape that captured the whole event. Mall security watches the tape. Someone with mall security decides to post a video of the video – an important distinction – onto YouTube.

Within a week, the original clip is viewed more than 1.8 million times.

Continue Reading

His Name Was Colin — Here Are His Papers

It’s finally here! Well, almost. Portlandia, the new short-form comedy series on IFC debuts tomorrow night. However, the first episode has been posted on YouTube – fo’ free!

(The first episode was pulled from YouTube yesterday. Sorry.)

You won’t have to travel far on this here blog to happen upon my love-hate relationship with Portland. Just when I was starting to miss ol’ Stumptown — the coffee, the rain, the bridges — Portlandia smacked me back into reality, reminding me of all the goofballs and poseurs who damn near drove me berserk.

Jason DeRusha — The Rare Broadcast Journalist Who Gets It

Good journalism is hard to find, especially on television.

A career in broadcast journalism usually equates bouncing from market to market every few years, so by the time a reporter finally gets a grasp of the community they’re serving, it’s on to the next city. It’s a tough gig to be sure, and few do it well.

Jason DeRusha does it well. Really well.

I’ve settled on DeRusha and WCCO-TV as my go-to TV news source in the Twin Cities. He’s been in the local market since 2003, acting more as a concerned citizen than the know-it-all news guy. DeRusha’s bursting with curiosity — an essential trait for any journalist — and that’s most apparent during his Good Question segment, which seeks to answer viewer submitted queries that run the gammut.

Last night, DeRusha took on a tough one — “Why have so many Somalis chosen to come here?” Most journalists would avoid the question in the name of cultural sensitivity, but DeRusha went for the jugular:

It is perhaps the least likely place to find tens of thousands of African refugees: the cold, snowy, middle of America. So why are there so many Somalis in Minnesota? … The Somalis are here as legal refugees, largely. The Somalis Minnesota story tracks to 1991, when civil war broke out in Somalia. Millions fled to refugee camps, many in Kenya. Two years later, the first wave of Somali refugees were sent to Minnesota.

Is it a sensational story? Is it riddled in scandal, sex, crime, blood — the accoutrement we expect to make the 10 p.m. news? No. But it’s answering a matter of public curiosity with facts and research — you know, actual journalism.

Kudos to DeRusha and WCCO-TV for winning this viewer over. Why can’t we get more broadcast journalists like him?

Good question.

What Are You Doing For Others?

Our savior wore a brown canvas snowsuit with a tightly drawn hoodie underneath. He wore yellow gloves made for handling twine, construction boots and questionable sunglasses. He wore closely cropped red hair, a stubble red beard, appeared something of a ginger Jake Gyllenhaal. He drove a new red Chevy truck. He had chains.

Beth and I were returning from her parents’ home on a four-hour drive across rural America. We’d just crossed into Western Minnesota when our puppy made it clear she needed to go — immediately. So, I pulled off onto a country road, drove a hundred feet and came to a stop. I let Olive out to do her thing and we were back in the car. Instead of driving onward to find an intersection or trying a three-point turn so we could double back, I tried a U-turn.

The ditches were filled with snow, so they appeared level with the road. Mid-U-turn, the front of the car bobbed downward and the front tires quickly sank into the powdery snow. I must’ve driven a thousand country roads growing up in South Dakota, yet here we were, stuck in a ditch on a completely calm winter day.

I hopelessly attempted to shovel the car’s front wheels out, praying they might catch. Our phones were without service, but we knew we were at Highway 212 and 221st Street in Lac qui Parle County. It was warm enough to walk a few miles for help.

Before we grew desperate, our savior arrived. He coolly grabbed a stretch of chain from his truck and began looping it through the undercarriage of our car. He worked silently and he worked without judgment. He ordered me to get into the car and put it in reverse as he pulled, and moments later, we were free. Stuck and unstuck in a span of 10 minutes, all thanks to this kind stranger.

I reached for a handshake, though with his hand was coated in snow, dirt and rust, he bashfully declined. I took his hand and shook, anyway. He hopped in his truck and took off, showing no sign of self-satisfaction. It was as if he’d spent the day pulling cars out of ditches just for the good of it.

Strangers help strangers everywhere every day in many ways, so I won’t start in on that Minnesota Nice bourgeois. Our savior was just a single example of why humanity can be so great. If he hadn’t been there to help us, he may have been elsewhere helping someone else. Someone else may have come along and helped us. Regardless, I’m confident we wouldn’t have been stuck in that ditch for long.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Life’s most urgent question is what are you doing for others?” For our savior, the answer would’ve come together in short order. I think that’s important, to know how your deliberate actions positively impact others. Help whenever you can, however you can. You might just be someone else’s savior.

Things That Are Awesome About South Dakota, Episode 1

This is the first in a series of posts dedicated to my home state, South Dakota. The population of South Dakota is just over 800,000 or roughly one quarter of the Twin Cities metro area. But, what South Dakota lacks in people, it makes up for with awesome. In my latest trip home, I remembered South Dakota is awesome because…

South Dakota Has Drive-Thru Liquor Stores

A Whopper value meal is one thing — a fifth of whiskey is quite another.

Considering the effort police across the country put into enforcing drunk driving laws, a drive-thru liquor store seems nothing short of counterintuitive. Then again, who walks to the liquor store? South Dakota’s liquor stores say, Hey, it’s cold out. You keep your F150 running and we’ll take your order at the window.

Thanks, South Dakota.