newyorksubalien has evolved. New city, new life, new blog

newyorksubalien has evolved. New city, new life, new blog.

Yes, I’m still socially-insecure and still deemed too primitive a life form for a bank account. I still can’t say ‘water’ correctly and voice-recognition software still doesn’t understand my number 8.

Meanwhile Superalien is still as super (at least in my eyes), Male Mini-Me is taller than all of us and Mini-Mum has returned to the home of the Mini, only popping back from London to sleep, be fed and help balance out testosterone levels.

But in my new home of Chicago, I can at least lay claim to my own subgroup. I’m now Chi-rish as in Chicago Irish. Apparently the hyphen is important so as not to be confused with Chinese Irish or the town in Armenia. But I’m trusting my readers not to be churlish and to forgive these, my (hyphen-less) Chirish chatters…..

Monday, April 14, 2014

In Al Capone's town and elsewhere, the Taxman cometh

This time of the year is a very taxing one here in Chirish-land and throughout the US as across the country, the good folk of America race to meet the April 15 IRS deadline and file their income tax returns.

IRS stands for Inland Revenue Service but other popular alternatives are Infernal Revenue Service and Income Removal Service. No doubt Chicago’s most notorious resident Al Capone would have had his own version after finally being caught, not for his illegal gangland operations, but for failing to file his taxes.

Along with learning how to navigate health insurance options, understanding tax requirements has to be one of the biggest challenges to living this side of the Atlantic. There is one basic rule we quickly learned – if in doubt, pay it out. Unpaid taxes are a thing to be feared here, attracting penalties like Al Capone’s enemies attracted bullets.

In the UK, we file our taxes and wait for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs Service to send us a polite letter if it needs more money. Here, even when you file your tax return on time in April, if you haven’t actually paid enough taxes between January to December, you are already liable for penalties. So not only do you have to calculate how many noughts you owe but also how many more you owe for being naughty. And perish the thought if you still underestimate because that’s when the penalties really start.

It doesn’t help that you generally have to file a federal return and a state return. And if you are living in certain big cities such as New York, they are also due their own significant chunk of your earnings. Working out who gets what is enough to make anyone ready to be submit themselves to the Intelligence Retrieval Service.

The good news is that for most people, the fear of falling short leads them to pay too much tax throughout the financial year so they end up actually receiving a refund. Last year this averaged around $2,800, which sounds great except, as some have pointed out, it also means they essentially were giving Uncle Sam an interest-free loan.  A loan, which for the 2012 tax year totalled just under $310 billion, according to statistics from the IRS (this time standing for Interest Rates are for Suckers?).

Refunds are helped by deductibles, an encyclopedia of tax allowances and deductions which could easily be described as Imaginative Reporting of Spending. Had a rough year at the bingo halls? Never mind, the tax man allows you to deduct your total losses up to any amount you won. If your doctor signs off on it for specific medical reasons, wigs, weight loss expenses, clarinet lessons and even swimming pools can be used to stop you going bust. And talking of bust, there is even the famous case of a professional exotic dancer who managed to persuade the tax courts that her breast implants were a work expense and therefore deductible.

There are also other ways of getting something back. Several restaurant chains have special “Tax Day” offers to help you fill up while you fill out your forms. From McDonalds where you can grab a second Big Mac for just a cent, to the Hard Rock Cafe, where if you grab the mike between noon and 2pm, you can “sing for your supper” (I know, I told you people eat early in Chicago).

And it’s not just food handouts. Over at Office Depot, they appreciate the necessary cathartic process required after tax filing so they’re giving customers the chance to shred up to 5 lbs of paper for free. I however prefer the therapeutic service being offered in our local wine bar which is picking up the tax amount on all food and drink tomorrow. That’s my kind of IRS – Imbibing Rioja Slowly.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Chicago home comings and goings

It’s always good to go home. It’s where I went last week, and it's where President Obama popped back to, dropping in on Chicago the same day we returned from the Emerald Isle. Except he didn't have to stop at traffic lights as he sped into town from O'Hare airport.

Chirish-land is proud of its presidential son but perhaps not so keen when he heads home to water the houseplants due to the inevitable traffic snarl-ups. Unlike other recent heads of state, his family home is not a ranch in Texas or California but a 6 bedroom, 6,200 sq ft red-brick house on a relatively quiet residential street in the South Side of Chicago.

Apparently not a great deal has changed since the Obamas had to move because of his job relocation. Except that the street is now a good deal quieter as it is blocked off completely by those nice men in black suits and sunglasses. And as the same nice men are reportedly looking after the garden (and most likely the houseplants), Obama himself has admitted the lawn has never looked better.

It must be a little tough on the neighbours 'though. All visits have to be announced in advance and I pity any local teenagers hoping to throw an impromptu house party while Mom and Dad are out of town. And then there are the tour buses, inching their way through the busy residential streets, just for the fleeting 3 seconds it takes to drive behind the back of 5046 South Greenwood Ave.

The area is not new to celebrities. Just around the corner is the former abode of Boxing World Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali who also co-founded the city’s largest mosque a few blocks away. Obama will no doubt have been pleased to discover he also now has a permanent monument in the nabe which will outlast his presidency. A local shopping mall has immortialised the spot Michelle and he shared their first kiss after a Baskin Robbins ice cream with a 3,000 lb granite boulder. Probably to mark where he "bowled her" over.

At the start of his first presidency, Obama said he hoped to return home every few months but in reality he has had few opportunities to visit what is nicknamed the “Western White House”. Many are questioning whether the family will eventually return once his Presidency ends in 2017. There was already speculation towards the end of his first term the Obamas' house was going on the market and the possibly no-longer 1st family would be moving to the 50th state (as in "Hawaii 50"), where the lawns are always green, with or without the Secret Service.

The President no doubt was relieved not to have had to give up the day job last year. He's still reportedly paying off his mortgage on the home he bought for $1.65 million in 2005. But at least house prices have picked up a bit, with his home currently valued at just over $2 million by some real estate websites.

Of course when he comes to sell, he won't be able to boast of living in the "The World's Ultimate Gated Community" as was the case when his neighbours put their house in the market in 2009. But at least his lawn will be looking good.