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January 21, 2000

It's too late this year to think about filing on line or getting the software I would need, so I'm having to do the W-2s the way I always have, by hand on a typewriter, one keystroke at a time. That's thanks to our government, which insists that they be filed on their six-part forms with the red lines, no alternate forms or copies.

Because Tim (the Boss's son and the company's project manager) goes through employees like beer at a frat party, I have twenty W-2s to do this year. We never have more than five or six employees at any time, but not many people who work with Tim make it to the $7,000 maximum for paying unemployment taxes. But, looking on the brighter side, at least that means they can't draw on our unemployment reserves for very long.

I have a fine typewriter available, so that isn't the problem. It's that I rarely use it, doing all of my work on the computer. I'm used to the PC keyboard, and I can't forgive IBM for not thinking, ten years ago, to put a numeric keypad on its Wheelwriter. Once I was a decent typist, around 85 wpm. That was before I got lazy, because Word made errors so easy to correct. Now I rarely use the typewriter except to fill out forms, and it's near torture.

Because my home isn't big enough to accommodate a full size office, I have to make do. The computer gets the most space, and the typewriter gets shunted to the spare bedroom, on a utility table, with no chair. So I'm hunching over the machine like a jeweler, taking such pains not to hit the wrong key that I'm bound to make a mistake. And one mistake is all it takes to void the form, since at least three of the five carbon copies have to be mailed.

The worst is when I've done it all accurately and precisely, until I get to the last box on the last form on the page. That's when I transpose a figure or hit two keys at once or suddenly realize I'm typing in the wrong box. On a typewriter, Backspace doesn't do any more than show you where the error is. The correction tape only makes the blunder darker on the carbons.

So I strive for perfection, knowing how elusive it is. How impossible. I don't expect to go through the whole employee roster and get everything right on the first try, but I've never had this many to do before. Each mistake extends the anguish, and since I'm bent over in such an awkward position, I can do no more than two forms at a time before I have to straighten my back and move around a bit.

This, then, is how I expect to spend my weekend. Type two forms, find my mistake, void one of the forms, take a break, walk around, start over. And once the W-2s are done, it's on to the 1099s. Let's resolve to have software that will do this for me by next year. Just like the big companies that actually have a lot of employees.

My experience at the Rialto tonight wasn't quite as brilliant as on the theater's opening weekend a week ago. The particular auditorium I was in this time was having equipment problems, and customers were given the option of a refund because of the glitches in the sound system. In fact, the owners will close that room down for the rest of the weekend, or at least until they get a replacement part for the projector. That's for the best, since the five-minute foghorn blasts scattered throughout the picture were not appropriate, and not a little jarring.

The film was Claude Berri's starkly unsentimental story of love and intrigue in the French Resistance, Lucie Aubrac. Fortunately, the subtitles were helpful when dialog was drowned out by the full-blast droning of the faulty machinery, not to mention the lip-smacking mouth breathers that chose to sit behind me in a nearly empty theater. At least it was organic popcorn that was being chewed so loudly in my ear. How these people found themselves at a foreign film I don't know. There couldn't have been more than a dozen people there, but I always seem to get the Golden Ticket.

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