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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Rule Of 3's

There's an old adage in showbiz, as perhaps there is in other similarly superstitious disciplines, that recognizes the power of "all things coming in three's". Jokes, alliterations, deaths. Everything comes in 3's.

We had a pretty good example of that the past few days with the passing of three minor celebrities:

1. Don Knotts

2. Dennis Weaver

3. Darren McGavin

Although the late Mr. Knotts was perhaps most well-known for his portrayal of the bumbling Barney Fife on the 1960's comedy "The Andy Griffith Show", I personally never felt his subsequent performances on TV or film ever managed to rise above his early success as an ensemble member on the "The Original Steve Allen Show". Sure, Barney was what made him a household name to tens of millions of TV viewers, but in my mind at least, it was a one-trick pony kind of role, as was his later turn as the lecherous Mr. Furley on "Three's Company". And we won't even mention the string of forgettable film comedies he did in the '60's and early '70's, when he was sort of that era's Pauli Shore to the likes of Jerry Lewis and Peter Sellars.

The late Mr. Weaver was probably most known for his extended stint on "Gunsmoke" or later as the bronco-riding NYC detective in "McCloud". But I'll always remember him for his quirky portrayal as the ennervated hotel manager in Orson Welles' film noir classic, "Touch Of Evil".

McGavin had a bit of a Northwest connection, tenuous as it may have been, as a result of the indelible cult favorite "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" which was originally (in two made-for-TV movies) set in Seattle. And of course anyone who hasn't lived under a rock for the past several years (or who lacks cable) will no doubt recall his now annual Holiday Season appearance as the expletive spouting Old Man in the classic, "A Christmas Story".

McGavin has another, even more ephemeral connection to Seattle. There's a local Thrift Store chain not far from where I live that has a couple of old photos of McGavin prominently displayed in its stairwell. Apparently sometime during his "Kolchak" stint he'd been hired to promote one of the chain's store openings. There he is in glorious black-and-white standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the owner of the chain shaking hands, his face frozen in a glassy-eyed "deer caught in the headlights" expression. It's the look of someone slightly out of their element, trying to make the best of what might easily turn into a rather demeaning situation. Remember that scene in "Galaxy Quest" where Alan Rickman is standing outside some big box computer store dejectedly mumbling about the "low, low prices"? I imagine it must have been a moment like that.

On the other hand, there's a second shot of McGavin holding up several coat hangered garments, looking for all the world like prize catches he'd just pulled out of his trout creel; he's smiling, almost triumphant, an "I survived this G-D--N'ed ordeal, and I even have a trophy to show for it!" look on his face. A sense of relief that this horrible few hours of standing and posing, shilling his nascent celebrity in exchange for publicity and an easy paycheck was almost over, knowing that in a few hours he'd be back in the warm embrace of the smoggy LA sunshine, pouring over another script where he chased zombies or vampires or smelly creatures that crawled up out of the sewer, but what-the-hell-it's-television-and-even-if-it-stinks-twenty-million-people-are-still-gonna-tune-in.

The one commonality that strikes me about all three of these performers is that each was essentially a character actor, the kind who managed to impress themselves on your consciousness, despite being relegated to the background or supporting the leads. Yet, each had brief sojourns into the more rarified atmosphere of actual stardom, although none ever managed to completely break out of the restrictions of their respective types. Knotts would always be the nervous, gangley fish-out-of-water; Weaver, the quiet, taciturn cowboy; and McGavin, the gruff, irrascible interloper. They were, despite their obvious talent too weathered, too idiosyncratic, and too unpolished to ever be considered "stars".

I'm not big on the Afterlife and such, but one can imagine these three would have some interesting stories to tell each other about their struggles and brief flirtations with the heights of celebrity. But of course, now we'll never get to hear them.

Now, it's just a few old photographs on a wall somewhere.

Posted byCOMTE on 10:19 PM

0 Scurvy Dogs Have Gathered 'Round The Scuttle Butt

Friday, February 24, 2006

Brain My Hurt Now Much

We started our annual audit at work today. I spent six and a-half hours
trying to track down a $20,000 discrepency in our books.

But I found it.

One down, four more to go.

And the auditor is coming back on Monday.

I'm going to have six aspirin with a Scotch chaser for dinner (It's okay.
I had a nice Indian buffet for lunch).

Ooh, the pain. The pain.

Posted byCOMTE on 6:49 PM

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Monday, February 20, 2006

These Are The Weeks That Were

Light blogging - okay, no blogging whatsoever - for the past week and a half. Been busy. Still am, but one tiny window opened up in my calendar this morning, so I've actually got the afternoon free.

What have I been up the past couple of weeks? Besides work? Here's a partial list:

- Had two dinners out with friends.

- Saw five shows ("The Wedding Singer" needs a LOT of work, and a plot, and two well-written leads, and better lyrics, and - oh, I could go on, and on, but hopefully, you get the idea.) On the other hand, if you're in the neighborhoods, go check out "Last Year's Kisses" , and

- Attended five meetings after-hours.

- Taught a tax seminar.

- Did someone's tax return.

- Worked on building Our New Theatre.

- Watched four movies

- Read one book

- Found out I do in fact get to go to San Diego for a few days early next month. There was some doubt. Now, there's not.

And then there were a couple of events with which I had absolutely nothing to do, but are worthy of note nonetheless:

- Two babies were born - congratulations to Meaghan and Ron (Adelaide Jane Darling, Feb 2nd) and SGNP and P-Rat(Betty George Gude-Pratt, Feb 14th).

- Chuck Yeager turned 83 (Feb 13th).

And one thing for tomorrow:

- Happy Last Day Of Work Ever, Mom! Well, that's not exactly true. How about:

- Happy Last Day Of Punching A Timeclock Ever, Mom!

Yeah, that sounds better.

Posted byCOMTE on 11:13 AM

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

From Our "Better Late Than Never" Dept.

Bill Nye, the Science Guy, gets hitched


NEW YORK -- Bill Nye is no longer the Single Guy.

Nye, who hosted the educational PBS series "Bill Nye, the Science Guy" during its nine-year run, married his fiancee, Blair Tindall, on Friday, it was announced Tuesday.

The 50-year-old, bow-tied Nye and Tindall, author of "Mozart in the Jungle" and a former concert oboist, exchanged vows at a conference where Nye spoke.

They were married by the Rev. Rick Warren, pastor and author of "The Purpose-Driven Life." Cellist Yo-Yo Ma, accompanied by MIT Media Lab professor Michael Hawley on the piano, performed a wedding march.

This is the first marriage for both.

Congratulations to the happy couple. And thanks for being an inspiration to all the rest of us middle-aged singles out here. Especially with that dreaded holiday just around the corner.

Posted byCOMTE on 8:37 AM

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

It's Just A Wafer-Thin Mint

So, tax season seems to be starting a tad early this year.

I held a seminar last weekend for about 23 people, and have another scheduled for the 19th. I won't start taking appointments for doing returns until the end of the month, but I currently have a list of about a dozen people who have contacted me for slots. I've agreed to do someone's tax return this weekend, because they'll be out of town when the VITA site is open in March and April. And of course, my own return was mailed out last week.

I've started getting emails from people with questions. Here's a typical one:

One more question--what does a "$400 profit" mean exactly? That I only have to figure out the self-employment tax if line 24 is $400+?

(This was in a follow-up to a preceding question about filing as a Qualified Performing Artist, and how to deal with self employment income.)

And here's the response I sent back this afternoon:

When you file a Schedule C or C-EZ to track self employment income
& expenses, if the amount of profit is more than about $425, then you
would be obligated to pay "self employment tax" on the additional
amount above $425. The amount of self employment tax you owe is
calculated on Form SE, and then gets carried over to line 58 of the
1040 form.

What's happening here is that you are making a contribution into the
Social Security Trust Fund. For example, when you work a regular job,
you and your employer split your Social Security contribution 50/50.
In this case, since you are in effect your own employee, you're
responsible for paying into the Fund on your own behalf, hence the
tax. On the plus side, if you do have to pay self employment tax, you
get to take a credit of half the amount as an adjustment to your
income on line 27 of the 1040; this doesn't do much to reduce your
overall tax burden, but it does reduce your Adjusted Gross Income
(AGI) slightly, which helps a bit (the idea being that the IRS isn't
going to tax money you're already paying as a tax in the first place).

Calculating expenses can get a bit tricky at this point, because if
you have self employment income, you want to use as much of your
qualifying expenses as possible to reduce the net income (profit from
the business) to below the $425 mark in order to avoid paying the self
employment tax, but still ideally show just a small amount of profit
of anywhere between +$1 and +$400. That way, the IRS sees you're
running a profitable business, which they really, really like, but at
the same time you're not being dinged for the extra tax.

The other tricky part, is that some of your expenses can only be
applied directly against the income that caused you to spend the money
in the first place; union working dues would be a good example. So,
if you have both 1099 and W-2 income, some of your expenses would need
to be applied exclusively against each particular income source, while
some things - basically anything you spend seeking work, as opposed to
what you spend because you HAVE work - can be written off 100% against
your self employment income.

If you have a lot of expenses, but not much 1099 income, you're going
to be in good shape, because as a QPA you're not obligated to report
all your "job seeking" expenses on the Schedule C. Just put down
enough to get below $425 profit, and then you can pile all the rest of
it onto line 24. On the other hand, if the situation is reversed and
you have much more 1099 income than you have expenses to offset
against it, there's probably no way you're going to avoid paying some
self employment tax.

The upshot is that if you have income from both 1099 & W-2, the amount
of expense you can take on line 24 as a QPA gets knocked down, since
at least some of it HAS to be applied against your Schedule C income.
On the other hand, if all you have is W-2 income, then it's not an
issue and all of your expenses can go on line 24. The real advantage
to the QPA is that you don't have to worry about itemizing your
expenses on a Schedule A, which is subject to the "2% limit" (you
don't get credit for the first 2% of expenses as a ratio of net
income), and it means you don't have to worry about digging up enough
expenses to exceed the Standard Deduction - it all gets counted, which
results in a lower AGI, and thus a smaller tax obligation (and
conversely, a larger refund - woo hoo!).

Also, make note that net income from self employment is entered on
line 12 of the 1040, whereas income you receive on a W-2 would be
entered on line 7, then both get added together on line 22. Any
remaining QPA expenses are entered on line 24, and the 50% of the self
employment tax - if any - is entered on line 27, both of which are
then subtracted from your income, and the remainder is entered on line
37/38 as your Adjusted Gross Income.

So, the basic formula is:

W-2 income (line 7) + 1099 net income (line 12) - QPA expenses (line
24) - 50% of any self employment tax (line 27) = AGI (line 37).

I realize this is all rather confusing, but again just keep in mind
that, so long as you meet the three tests for the QPA, you're going to
be able to take advantage of all your expenses; it's just a matter of
figuring out where to apply them.

This evening, I received a "thank you" email, along with one more quesiton:

How do you manage to keep track of all that without having your head explode?

How indeed.


I think there's simply no question about it any longer.

I've become a tax-geek.

Posted byCOMTE on 11:03 PM

0 Scurvy Dogs Have Gathered 'Round The Scuttle Butt

But Where Are The Rocket Launchers?

Even though most of the people who bother to come to this little corner of the Blogoverse already know about this, for the one or two others of you out there not already plugged-in to my Inner Circle of Geekdom, you really should check this out:

bunny slippers
(Click the bunny slippers)

This was done by a whole bunch of my friends, and for those not up on their Pop Culture Cult Television, is a parody of the recently cancelled Joss Whedon produced spinoff to Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel.

Evidentally, there are lots of devoted fans of Whedon's series (including the ill-fated Firefly), who do crazy things like this (scroll down & look for muppets), so my pals are in good - albeit strange, weird, and nerdy - company.

But, that's just the jealousy talking. If it weren't for the fact that I belong to one of the performer's unions (as does Mr. Cherub himself - but he's on contract), I too could probably be seen screaming, cavorting, or otherwise requesting donations of aubergines.

Lucky so-and-so's.

Posted byCOMTE on 12:24 PM

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