Tuesday, March 31, 2020

A “Mr. Mom” Remake

I’ve always maintained that the jobs boasting the greatest disparity of idiocy-to-compensation lies squarely with executives in Hollywood.

I mean, whose idea was it to remake cinematic gems like “Arthur”? It was bad enough to tarnish one of the all-time comedy classics, but to cast a talent-less fop like Russell Brand in the title role is something my grand-niece couldn’t envision – and she’s barely toilet trained.

Ditto for the remake of “Longest Yard.” Hey, I enjoy Adam Sandler as much as the next guy, but in no universe was he comparable to Burt Reynolds as the over-the-hill and imprisoned quarterback Paul Crewe in the 1974 original.

See where I’m going with this?

I think I can say with justifiable certainty that the dolts who approved those above-mentioned projects were and are compensated far more than I am.

But with the Coronavirus quarantine, you know what movie and character I feel that I’m starring in a remake of?

Jack Butler in “Mr. Mom.”

For those of you unfamiliar with this film, Michael Keaton plays Butler, a laid off auto engineer in Detroit who is forced to oversee the household while his wife goes out into the workforce. So, with three young children, Jack becomes chief cook, bottle-washer, grocery shopper and baby-sitter for the foreseeable future.

As his layoff continues, Jack sinks deeper into depression and commiserates with the neighborhood housewives with regular poker games using store coupons as chips as well as group discussions of the campy plot lines of “The Young and the Restless.”

Now as I’ve mentioned many times in this space, working remotely is hardly a new endeavor for me. In fact, last week marked eight years I’ve had a home office. In full disclosure, it took a longer-than-expected adjustment period. There were certainly things I missed about a traditional office, but eventually it became second nature.

But it’s different this time. For one, my one up close and personal social interaction each day came during my gym workout where I talked to folks who were not on the other end of a phone call or email.

But my facility has been padlocked since March 17, so my daily exercise routine consists of running or walking around the neighborhood. Secondly, my spouse and daughter are also working from home, so our kitchen has become a claustrophobic maze of wires and computer screens.

And there’s no telling when that will end.

So, I retreat to my upstairs office to keep my sanity in times that with each passing day I lose just a bit more.

Now I sit by the phone and hope to get a call from Hollywood to tell me they have this great idea for a remake.

Hey, I have to get through the day somehow.

Friday, March 27, 2020

However Remotely

You know which two phrases I never want to read or hear about for at least five years?

“Social Distancing” and “Working Remotely.”

Not to make light of a more than serious situation, I’m just about social distanced and remote worker-ed out.

Over the past week, I have received no less than 30 emails that explained in painstaking detail the methods and time-tested strategies for working at home during the Coronavirus outbreak. One was even generous enough to offer their remote worker techniques via a 30 percent discount. It instructed me to use the price slashing code, “Corona.”


Sorry, but where the (expletive deleted) were you eight years ago when I began my solo journey from traditional bricks and mortar to virtual? Why did it take a pandemic for ideas on running an efficient home office to emerge?

How about the fact that pre-COVID-19, Gartner Research projected that some 80 million people will be working remotely as least one day a week by the end of 2020. I would have thought that staggering figure would have generated a column or two from the usual suspects or at least the peanut gallery.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

It’s not even April 15th yet!

The good news is that Rocco, my long-time accountant, is still open for business and was happy to report that my tax obligation this year was significantly less than in 2019.

The bad news was that literally one day after picking up my return, I came home to a voice mail with explicit instructions to call a designated number as it’s been determined that I owe thousands in back taxes.

The caller, whose dialect put him somewhere between Peshawar and Bangalore, warned that “significant penalties could result, including jail time” if I didn’t comply. While this was hardly the first time I’ve been contacted by scammers, the fraudsters traditionally waited until post April 15th to begin dialing.

Sadly, it’s estimated that 1 in 10 people become the victim of some type of telephone-based financial scam each year. According to the Federal Trade Commission, the leading states for financial fraud are in order: California, Nevada, Florida, Texas and Delaware. Identity theft and fraud alone affected some 15.4 million people last year. To put that figure in perspective, it’s roughly 3 million more people than the entire population of Pennsylvania.

And anyone who knows the first thing about IRS enforcement procedure will tell you the IRS NEVER calls as their correspondence is conducted all by mail.

I immediately speed dialed Rocco to tell him and he pointed out that someone would have to have a 3-inch stack of letters from the IRS before any action was taken.  

Friday, March 13, 2020

Welcome to My (Remote) World!

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus my email box has literally been flooded with tips on how to effectively work through the accounting profession’s busiest season amidst this pandemic (yes it has been officially classified as such).

Despite the National Basketball Association suspending its season and the annual March Madness college Tournament now bereft of spectators, CPAs unfortunately don’t have the luxury of postponement during filing season – although there has been talk of extending the tax deadline.

My local CVS and Costco locations are displaying large print signs warning customers that they are out of toilet paper and hand sanitizers, although why a respiratory illness would cause a run on toilet paper is something for far brighter minds than mine to figure out.

One of the strategies thrown around is for CPA firms to allow employees work remotely – something I have done for eight years. After a quarter century toiling in traditional bricks and mortar offices I’ll be the first to admit it did take some getting used to.

Technology researcher Gartner Group estimated that by the end of 2020, more than 80 million people will work remotely at least one day a week – albeit those figures were calculated was before the coronavirus global blindside.

I’m not going to tell you the transition from an office to working from home was an easy one.

It took more than a while to get used to not seeing your colleagues up close and personal for simple conversation or lunch. Often the only contact I had and still have with clients and colleagues was via phone or email.

Then there was the “D” aspect – discipline.

A home office admittedly has many distractions – the television, the refrigerator or just the urge to take a walk or run during the nice weather. In a traditional office, closing shop before 5 p.m. was viewed as a venial sin – generating whispers and possibly a stern lecture from management. A remote worker has no such peer or supervisory pressure if he or she decides to knock off early. But on the flip side, I have had more than my share of conference calls at 8 pm or later.

Conversely, food shopping and appliance repairs are far easier when someone is home during the week. And since both the bride and I have always worked, it’s relaxing not to be eating dinner at 9 pm.

And I should point out that one of unintended consequences is that you will talk to yourself at an alarmingly higher rate than ever before.

But on the plus side, you’ll find you will rarely lose an argument.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Stress Tests

The other day at the supermarket I heard the person in front of me complaining to the cashier about how stressful her job was. They apparently saw each other on a regular basis and depending on how long the checkout line was, their conversation was either brief or prolonged.

I never learned what this woman did for a living, but I thought to myself, if you want to experience the Webster’s unabridged definition of job-related stress, you should try and convince a CPA firm to merge. That would merit a daily dose of Prozac every time.

But I got to wondering what fields of pursuit actually did earn consideration as among the most stressful jobs? So, I did what everyone else does in this information age – I Googled it.

Some of the results my search generated were expected some were not. To wit, a policeman made most of the career stress lists, while a firefighter did not. Why I cannot explain since both are often faced with terrifying situations.

Many of the white knuckled posts were unsurprisingly in the medical field – surgeon, anesthesiologist and paramedic – as minor mistakes in any of those aforementioned capacities can easily result in tragedy.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

“No” is the Second Best Answer You Can Give Me

Two lines of work I have always been impressed with – albeit only if someone excels at it – are salespeople and bartenders. Both toil in a similar capacity – trying always to up-sell a customer and keep them interested.

Face it, no one I know goes into a bar just to browse. They’re there for one purpose – to drink. Now how long they remain seated and imbibing adult beverages depends largely on two things – their budget and the company. A good mixologist will keep a customer engaged and by that measure their tips increase. It’s always a pleasure to watch them work.

It's different for someone selling cars. 90 percent of the time customers enter a showroom to browse. Often, they’ll visit three or four dealerships in a day to mine the best value. I’ve owned cars since the early 1970's and never have I gone to a dealer, pointed at a car and told the floor manager – “I want that in black and the V-8 engine.”

No, drilled down to the lowest common denominator, car buying is comparison shopping.

Now, fuse those two disparate sales strategies and that’s akin to trying to sell accountants without a succession plan on an upstream merger. You’ll experience more waffling than on Sunday mornings at IHOP.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Hellenic Budget

This past week, I was speaking to a fellow gym member about our respective vacation plans this summer and he mentioned he was mulling a trip to Greece in August.

But first he cautioned, he would have to severely tighten up what he termed his family’s “profligate spending” in order to be able to visit the Acropolis and Parthenon while sipping Ouzo and enjoying bottles of Agiorgitiko.

When I asked him how he planned to accomplish that, he said he had formed an austerity plan and was all too happy to share it with me.

First, he announced that he was suspending his membership to the health club for six months. Next up, he would hold off on a planned new car purchase and then stop paying into his 401(k). And that was just for starters.

Then, on Friday nights, which was his family’s regular day to “order out” for dinner, they would stick to fast food only.

Okay I told him, let’s examine each measure more closely.