Tax Tales at the Hang Ah Teahouse

April 12, 2024
2 mins read

Says Phil to Chris, “Will Rogers wasn’t wrong when he said: ‘The
income tax has made liars out of more Americans than golf.’” Both Tom and
I laugh in accord.
Phil Berlin, Christopher Rand, Tom Ganiatsos, and I meet for dim
sum at the Hang Ah Teahouse in San Franciso’s Chinatown ten years after
our days at the University of California at Berkeley when we lived together
in a house on Hillegass Avenue. We settle into our booth in good humor
enveloped in nostalgia to renew our bond after we had all gone our separate
Chris, now a seasoned translator of Arabic publications for companies
that are fronts for CIA investigations, leans forward, sipping his tea, and
with a conspiratorial arch if his eyebrow says, “The tax man commeth on
the 18 th of April. I am the only free-lancer here, the rest of you are on salary.
Still, could any of you give me advise on how to dodge paying taxes as much
as possible?”
Phil, an economist at the World Bank in Washington makes a sour
smile. “Government agencies, even clandestine ones, send you a Form 1099
which details what they have paid you. The IRS computers quickly detect
any discrepancy. But of course, you can pad your offsetting expenses. That’s
what Will Rogers meant when he said that the income tax creates liars. If
your expenses are unbelievably high that raises a red flag.”
With a face full of false alarm, I, a lawyer for the United States Postal
Service interject, “Remember what Jay Leno said, ‘Avoid those red flags at
all costs.’ We don’t want the IRS computer algorithms waking up to your
shenanigans as they electronically comb the labyrinth of your return.”

Tom, an economist who had found his way to the United Nations
office in Geneva, Switzerland, nods in agreement. “A tax return is a
labyrinth. I wish we could guide you better through it.
As I lean forward to take a dim sum, I feign a serious expression.
“Let’s not forget Albert Einstein’s bewilderment, ‘The hardest thing in the
world to understand is the income tax.’”
Chris’ brow furrows, “I see you are not all experts in evading the
Phil shrugs with a smirk on his lips: “As Chris Rock put it. ‘You don’t
pay taxes—they take them.’ We just try to minimize the damage. That’s why
we procrastinate in doing our returns. As they say, ‘Trying to do your own
taxes is like a do-it-yourself mugging.’”
Tom raises his teacup in a mock toast. “To the psychopaths who file
early and the rest of us who procrastinate until the very last moment!”
My friends all nod solemnly, monetarily pondering the complexities
of the tax code before Tom speaks up: “Well at least Arther Godfrey found a
half-hearted acquiescence to paying taxes. ‘I’m proud to be paying taxes in
the United States,’ he said. ‘The only thing is, I would be just as proud
paying half the money.’”
Amidst the banter, Chris cannot help but recall for everyone Mark
Twain’s observation, “The only difference between a tax man and a
taxidermist is that taxidermist leaves the skin.”
As we all pick at our dim sum, the conversation turns to lighter and
nostalgic topics, but the Spector of Taxation lingers over our heads. Chris
makes us almost choke with laughter when he recalls Bill Murray’s quip:
“The best way to teach our kids about taxes is to eat 30% of their ice
Tom shakes his head in mock disapproval. “Let’s not dwell on the
negative. Let’s look at the bigger picture. As Vanya Cohen aptly put it,
‘When there’s a single thief it’s robbery. When there are a thousand thieves
its taxation.’”

Phil raises his cup in agreement. “Well said, Tom. Let’s not forget the
immortal words of cynicism in our Hang Ah fortune cookies: ‘The best
things in life are free, but sooner or later, the government will find a way to
tax them.’”
We toast to our friendship, camaraderie, and the unavoidable trials of
being responsible adults. Together, we will face our challenges with humor
and the occasional sly tax loophole. And as we leave, I am reminded of
Sanuel Butler’s observation, “Friendship is like money, easier made than

Rafael Ramos is a member of the Monterey Peninsula Toastmasters Club where friends teach each other
public speaking and welcome new members.

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