Dog Bites

Hoochie Nation; Dot-Commers and Taxes

Later we stood on the roof of our apartment building in the warm evening looking toward downtown, and realized the dome of City Hall was missing from the illuminated skyline. We thought about power shortages, layoffs, evictions, and rats in cages.

Some Leading Economic Indicators

One would think that one of the perks of being a columnist is being able to work at home part of the time -- and one would be right. Still, Dog Bites' work ethic occasionally prevents our enjoying this as much as one might otherwise expect, as it did this week when, after a frustrating morning of unreturned phone calls and fruitless note-taking, we decided to head to the gym.

We had finished our cardio -- 30 minutes on the eliptical trainer while watching a CNN report on the slowing economy -- and were doing obliques and stretches when two other patrons emitted mild exclamations of mutual recognition. Subsequent clues in the conversation revealed they had both recently been laid off by the same dot-com.

"So what are you doing?" asked the guy.

"Oh, you know. Hanging out, going to Tahoe. Partying," answered the tanned young blond woman, whose coordinating Fila outfit Dog Bites had been envying earlier. "It's going to be hard to go back to work."

"Yeah," the guy agreed, stretching his quadriceps.

"You started looking for another job yet?" she asked.

"No," he answered.

Hard to go back to work! Dog Bites repeated mentally, our tiny mind reeling. Hard to go back to work! Like it's a sabbatical, instead of a full-on freaking recession! Haven't these people ever been laid off before? Do they even understand this is reality?

The pleasant sensation of taking a well-deserved yet productive break vanished, and we found ourselves eyeing the elderly lady on the ab crunch machine, wondering if she suspected Dog Bites, too, was an unemployed dot-commer, loafing around the gym in the middle of the day in the vain pursuit of perfect glutes instead of looking for gainful employment.

We skipped the lat machine and hurried home to get dressed in one of our more businesslike outfits before driving to the office.

Do please feel free to disagree, but it strikes us that many of the recently laid-off dot-commers haven't quite grasped the fact that they're not just taking well-deserved breaks from their strenuous $100K-a-year biz-dev jobs -- which, God knows, they need, after several entire years in the workplace -- sleeping late and meeting their friends for drinks at G and Eastside West to plan trips down to Mammoth and Cabo. They've been canned. Canned.

But the latest buzz in more branché dot-com circles is that some of the laid-back laid-off are about to be brought up short by the AMT. Dog Bites, who is nearly as frightened of acronyms as we are of tax forms, was appalled to learn these letters stand for alternative minimum tax. It turns out that when someone exercises stock options and then holds onto the stock into the next calendar year, the IRS says the difference between the fair market value of the stock on the date he bought it -- vs. what he paid for it -- is taxable income. These paper profits have pushed many high-income dot-commers into the bracket in which the alternative minimum tax applies -- only lots of them don't know it yet, because this particular tax rule is on the obscure side.

"A lot of folks didn't cut their stock options loose in 2000," says IRS spokesperson Chips Maurer, who says most government estimates are that about 1.5 million taxpayers will owe the AMT this year. "Get thee to a tax professional for advice, but be prepared to set up an installment agreement."

Of course, if the NASDAQ had continued to rise, dot-commers would have been able to cover their April 16 tax bills by selling some stock. But -- well ....

Wow, and you thought it was easy to get into Butterfly now.

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