Wrestling With the IRS

When Dad works for a guy named “Killer,” you worry

This time of year is not winter. To the daughter of an accountant, this is “tax season.” My father had his own accounting business, and growing up, I rarely saw him from January until April. He left for the office in the dark, cold morning, and he returned in the dark, cold night, long after my siblings and I had gone to bed. To see him by the light of day was a bit disconcerting.

There was a certain mystique to his world, considering my own tendency toward dyscalculia. My father is methodical and organized and has a system for everything; there is much contentment in rows and columns and making things balance up, down, and sideways.

To walk in his office was to smell the perfume of office assistants, perhaps something Prince Matchabelli or the daring Tabu. There was a hint of that burning, inky smell of the copy machine. There was the tiny, corkscrew rubble of erasers rubbed vigorously, a relic of a time before computers became ubiquitous. There were the rhythmic tapping sounds of various hands on adding machines and typewriters.

Behind his standard-issue gray steel desk, my father would have a pencil in one hand while the other hand danced on the keys of the adding machine, which churned out a white curling roll of paper that would eventually cover the floor, as if a bookkeeping parade had passed through. He didn’t even have to look at the keyboard, even when carrying on conversations with his clients, many of whom were neighbors in our small town.

But there was one thing in particular that captivated me every tax season: A certain Bert Smith. You may know him as Stan Kowalski, or perhaps Krusher Kowalski, a.k.a. Killer Kowalski—the Big K, the self-same Krippler Karl Kovacs.

Favorite moves: eye gouge. Notable feuds: Dick the Bruiser and Crusher Lisowski. Accountant: Jerry Pehl. Even professional wrestlers had to get their taxes done.

Once a year, the Krusher would come to Pop’s small office in a small, nondescript strip mall, which also housed the local insurance agency, the little library, and the weekly paper, the Circulating Pines. Sometimes I would accompany my father to the office on Saturday mornings to “help” (read: make art projects on the copy machine and daydream). I always hoped that Saturday would be the day Killer had his tax appointment. Would he wear his singlet to his appointment? If so, would he at least wear a coat over it in the frigid Minnesota days? I tried to imagine Killer Kowalski sitting in my father’s modest office, discussing amortizations and deductions and saved receipts. Did my father call him Bert? Or perhaps Mr. Killer? And because I had a precocious grasp of the argot and an obsession with logistics, I wondered to my father: Did professional wrestlers get issued W-2s? Or are match earnings considered 1099 income? Was the vicious tag team he formed with Tiny Mills, “Murder Incorporated,” officially incorporated in the eyes of the IRS?

None of this was my business, and my father told me so, but still I worried. What if my father asked the Krusher to keep better track of his receipts next year? Would this make him see red? Perhaps the Krusher would lunge over the desk, his cup clanking against the metal desktop and skewing paperwork to and fro; wherein Krippler Karl would issue a piledriver and a chokeslam and a front facelock on my pop. My father would clutch his glasses to keep them from getting broken—we could not afford to replace spectacles—and cry out, “It’s the IRS’s rules, not mine!”

Maybe that yearly meeting was a highlight for my father amid the grind of 20-hour days. After all, watching Saturday morning wrestling with Hamm’s in hand was a rare respite, with five kids and often two jobs after tax season. But he was nowhere near as starstruck as I was. To ask him about it now, Mr. Smith was just a regular guy, the sum of his adjusted gross income and deductions, all columns and rows, calculations that balanced tidily. One hopes such order offered him solace. And that Saturday mornings offered him some sort of breather.