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Dear Mary Jane and Uncle Sam,

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Few frustrations equal a child's questions when they divert one's attention from important adult concerns. The particular concern which comes to mind is my annual attempt to spot a flicker of intelligibility within the prose of a Form 1040 instruction manual. The child who intruded is the son of a woman who cleaned my office.

She found me at my desk after hours, munching pencils. Explaining she could no longer afford a baby sitter, she asked would I mind if her boy sat quietly in a chair while she dusted, vacuumed and emptied wastebaskets? Not at all. Moments before their entry, I discovered a piece of depreciating property had acquired, thanks to an undefined something called Asset Depreciation Range System, a ''midpoint class life,'' and I would never notice the lad.

She and the vacuum wandered into a back room. I commenced searching for a definition of ''midpoint class life'' (or ADRS . . . or any other term in the manual). The mini-inquisitor slid from his chair, wandered up, stared at my papers and inquired, ''Do you know Mary Jane?''

''What?''

''Do you know Mary Jane?''

''Um . . . I was in high school with a Mary Jane . . . somebody.''

At the precise moment when I understood (I think) that Asset Depreciation Range System is not the same thing as Accelerated Cost Recovery System and began to realize I would be well beyond the midpoint of life before I knew what either meant, the interrogator whispered, ''Doe?''

''What?''

''Doe.''

''What are you talking -- as in deer? Or re, mi, fa?''

''Mary Jane Doe.''

''Oh, for goodness sake. Mary Jane Doe is a pseudonym . . . or an acronym, maybe . . . or -- well, whatever nym it is or isn't, Mary Jane Doe does not exist.''

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