Clam Up at Tax Time

BACK a ways, but not too long ago, Uncle Jasper Simmons ``got into'' Jay Wallace for something like $20,000. Jay had the lobster-buying wharf, and the way business was conducted in those days along the Maine coast there wasn't all that much leeway to $20,000, but all the same it was a bit of money. At that time the IRS was not held in high repute, and those who dealt in lobsters hesitated to keep any records that might be looked at. A couple of yarns come to mind to explain how things went. Hiram Look owned a packing factory, and every year along in the spring he would pack a few clams. There was never any profit to canning clams, but it gave the diggers some pocket money in sour-pickle time, and it kept the crew together until the spring run of fish.

Keeping any kind of books about clam packing was considered whimsical and a waste of time, paper, and ink. When the season tapered off, Hiram would put a thousand dollars in his pocket and start canning clams. He'd pack clams until the smelts appeared, and if he had any of the thousand dollars left by that time, he considered that his profit. He did this until the IRS had him in Bangor court for falsifying his return, and one of the funniest situations developed when Hiram tried to explain to the Washington lawyers about the clam business.

Another illustrative anecdote has to do with Simeon Blethen, who also had a packing plant. But he also sold marine hardware, had a dry cleaning agency, kept a sail loft, handled marine insurance, tuned pianos, offered gifts in the summer with post cards and picture film, and turned a penny one way or another.

Sim did all right until the IRS boys came and wanted to see his books. The only book Sim had was called ``The Busy Man's Friend,'' and it told how to measure straw in the stack, and draw deeds and wills, and had useful tables about how many pounds in a quintal and the foaling time for brood mares. That and his bank book. Sim was in trouble, but he was affable and promised to do better.

So he hired young Dennis Tomkins to come in two days a week and keep books. Next time the IRS boys called he'd be ready for them. But after a couple of weeks or so young Dennis Tomkins came to Sim, and he spoke to him like this: ``Mr. Blethen [he said], I find you've been going to the cash register and taking money.''

``Ayeh,'' said Sim, ``that's right!''

``Well, it's none of my business in a way - it's your cash register and it's your money. But if I'm going to keep your books, I ought to know how much you take.''

This seemed reasonable, so Sim agreed to cooperate, and the next time young Dennis Tomkins went to cash up he found the register as empty as your congressman's head. Not a coin. But there was Sim's little note - just as he agreed. The note said:

Took it all.

So business affairs along tidal Maine need understanding more than some other things, and it was by no means unreasonable that Uncle Jasper Simmons got into Jay Wallace for something like $20,000.

Repairs on haulin' clutch, advance for bait, note for parts to motor, groceries on tick, and such as things like that there. Adds up. Meantime Jay was buying Uncle Jasper's lobsters, so there was a contra-account, but even so, things had got into the neighborhood of $20,000, and that can sometimes be a tough neighborhood.

Jay caught Uncle Jasper when they could be alone, and meaning not to offend the old fellow he spoke in friendly fashion, and he said, ``Uncle Jasper - I'm wondering if we can't do a little something about what you owe?''

Uncle Jasper wasn't one bit offended. He reached over and put a hand on Jay's shoulder, looked him in the eye, and in folksy fashion he said, ``Jay, you worry some about that, don't you?

Jay nodded his head and said, ``Well, yes - I do worry about it.''

Uncle Jasper nodded with complete understanding. ``Good,'' he said, ``and keep right on worrying enough for both of us. No need for me to be upset about it.''

I shouldn't spoil that by adding that Uncle Jasper paid up soon after, so I won't. There's a sequel to the clam story. Pretty soon Hiram Look began putting the ``clam juice'' into bottles instead of ``dreenin''' it back into the ocean, and he sold it at a profit as a gourmet treat, so he began to make money packing clams. But the war came along and the War Production Board wouldn't let him have bottles, so he went out of the clam business entirely.

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