FOREIGN EARNED INCOME EXCLUSION
From The Caspian Business News, 2004
© 2004 George Bishop, Jr.

 

The trick was to stay out of the country for 330 days. Then you wouldn’t have to pay any income tax. Keep it all for yourself, start a nice little savings, Roth IRA, that kind of thing. Andrew had socked away almost 25K last year alone with the Brunei gig. Try doing that with your liberal arts degree somewhere up in Massachusetts. No way.

That left 35 days a year in-country. Just over a month to see the family. Hook up with old friends, buy new underwear, get your teeth and private parts checked before heading out again. Some didn’t make the flip-flop so easily.

Melanie, for instance, two years in Java, was caught by her mother in their home back in Trenton squatting on the toilet like a monkey, her bare feet hooked up on either side of the rim, doing something with a plastic pitcher of water in her right hand. The plastic pitcher they used for the orange juice. Melanie had to explain that this was the way the Javanese did it. Her mother had to explain that if she ever caught Melanie doing that again, so help her, she could start packing her bags right now. She was not going to squat, not like that, not in this house.

Jason, eleven months in India, wouldn’t come out of his upstairs bedroom for almost ten of his 35 days back in Columbus. He burned incense, and sat cross-legged against the wall on an embroidered cushion while whirling a small hand drum on a stick. His parents, embarrassed with the whole Buddhist get-up, began telling friends and visiting neighbors that Jason was quarantined with malaria and couldn’t come down. Over dinner, the two of them wondered seriously if they shouldn’t look up one of those psychologists who did Moonie deprogramming. Blik blik went his drum upstairs, and tears formed at the corners of his mother’s eyes as she pressed her fork to her gravy and mashed potatoes.

Thirty-five days. You could do a lot of damage in that amount of time. Tim, quiet little Tim, who’d spent a year and a half teaching village kids in a school in central Thailand, was so persistent in his flirtation with an African-American night-shift waitress at the Applebee’s back in Biloxi that the management finally had to call the police. It was only his dad’s membership on the city council that kept him from going to jail. Call it culture shock or just plain stupidity; either way, his old high school buddies blamed the brothels in Bangkok for the alarming transformation in Tim that had caused him to grab the frightened girl in the hallway near the men’s room and offer her $100 to make boom-boom with him in a stall. “You can’t be saying that to an Applebee’s waitress, son,” his father said, driving him home from the police station. “Not in Biloxi. There’s laws against it.”

In 35 days, Matthew, home from China:

Wrecked his sister’s new Camry.

Got into a fight with some international students in the parking lot of the Greenville McDonald’s over the territorial integrity of Taiwan.

Threw up on his mother’s American Beauties trellised at the kitchen door.

Made a girl pregnant.

“Good god, you’d think he was nineteen again,” his father said; he didn’t even know about the pregnancy yet. “You’d think he was just starting college.”

“You can still smell it in the rosebushes,” his mother said, frowning.

Soon enough, when his 35 days was up, Matthew would be back in his office in Guangzhou with his manager, Mr. Karl “Popeye” Liu, bad teeth and bad breath, the two of them laughing and slapping each other on the back: “Mat-tew! You God Damn America Boy! Hey You! Superman! I Love You!” Tim would be back at his favorite little club on Patpong Road, where the girls called him Mickey Mouse and tousled his hair and kissed him on the nose, and were really quite honest and decent once you got to know them, especially the one who called herself Mari and had cried to see him leave and to this day wore around her neck a delicate gold chain he had given her on her birthday. Jason would be back in his four-by-eight room in the shadow of the Himalayas with his cot and incense burner, where no one laughed at you for praying, not ever. And Melanie had a new job waiting for her with the Peace Corps in Outer Mongolia, where they drank warm goat’s milk for breakfast, and where everybody squatted, because, really, that was how most of the world lived, wasn’t it? Not like in America, with your germicide soap and perfumed toilet paper and the Tidy Bowl man, and all that other SUV-driving, Prozac-popping, gun-toting, terrifying Big Mac Mr. Bush insanity.

They could hardly wait to get back.