UNITED STATES—Can the expenses incurred by a writer working at a café be written off on taxes? You bet if the time spent there qualifies as a business meeting, then it will qualify as a tax deductible expense.
This is the first year I’ve been getting receipts for my ritual morning expresso. Let me tell you evasion is the mother of tax evasion. I’ve kept the receipts in an envelope, dubious about trying out this deduction. All the espressos add up quite astonishingly, and they never really did add up before. We had something beautiful in the past, where I’d just shove some money in a jar, and never have to reckon the financial impact of this enhancement in my life.
So before embarking on this twisted and nostalgic fiscal journey, let me leave you with the pay-off up front. If your café time qualifies as a business meeting, you can write it off. Be sure you know the name of another writer present in the joint.
I used to have my espresso served without even having to utter a word. I was not the customer, nor did the owner play his role. As I say, it is really astonishing how it adds up and I toy with throwing my scruples to the winds and “going for it,” tax wise. Why shy away from a little shadiness? You keep turning the thumbscrews, and that is a natural result, says one voice.
At the same time, I’m hearing the voice of my Mexican mother-in-law who said you always have a right to your treat, which meant I had an inalienable right to my pleasure and pastry. It’s funny how in the old days, my ritual reached its apex and I generally went solely with my espresso.
Whenever I wanted I could choose, as a special treat, a chocolate-chip oatmeal cookie. But now, the cafe is serving boutique pastries. And even if I don’t want to order one, I feel so uncomfortable knowing that my standards very seldom allow me to order one.
Anyhow, let me give you the straight dope, so this writing lives up to it’s title: The mileage to and from your favorite cafe is not deductible. It belongs to the realm of personal preference rather than a business expense.
You know, David Mamet wrote a book called “Writing in Restaurants.” I wonder if he got a deduction out of it. Humn.
Here’s something else that sheds light on the case: More and more I go to the cafe as a refuge, away from outside demands and a few moments immersed in the known and comfortable, and the most known and comfortable would be writing a letter or editing a manuscript. With my growing fame, it is hard to go to the dear old place and get anything like work done. There’s that sweet zone, the espresso nearby, the pencil shuffling across paper, and the reverie starts. Then someone pulls into the seat next to me and suddenly I’m engaged in chat. And I get sore… Part of me.
Generally, I feel so much better, after a stop in the cafe. Like my rumpled self has been hung out on a line and aired out. Where else will my necktie be complemented and the stubble commented on: “Are you preparing for a new role?”
I am not uncritical. The Greek novelist who wrote “Zorba the Greek” puts the criticism in Zorba’s mouth, “Look at all the people behind the steamed café window, they might as well be embalmed and in their caskets.” But there is the ritual, undeniably beautiful and invigorating. The espresso gliding toward me in the white ceramic cup, for that first bracing sip coated by crema. I am in good company. Ludwig von Beethoven had to have his just so, composed of precisely 61 coffee beans. When I remember my first espresso as a teen I scoffed with righteous Americanness at the tiny amount. Now I know when the work goes well, and the sips linger and nearby hovering a beautiful face my eyes just fall into, and there is more than enough left in the bottom of that puny cup. It gets thrown away to the gods.
I cannot put a price on it. And the regularity and constancy so contrast with this day surfing where so much changes with a phone call and multiple scenarios are constantly playing out. But it does add up, even when I neglect to ask for the receipts, even when they fail to include the gratuity which is my joy. And I’m starting to feel like those wonderful smokers and literate people, Vic and Gene Rugh, I knew back in high school. They chuckled about once having added up all the cigarettes, pipe tobacco and cigars, and it would have been enough to send one of their children to Stanford.
So here I am with all the receipts– will I or won’t I deduct?
Humorist Grady Miller is the author of the comic story collection “Late Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood” (available on Amazon).