Steve Martin gives a lesson on sales taxes(Read article summary)
Steve Martin's new novel 'An Object of Beauty' includes a scene in which state sales tax plays a critical role.
Larry Downing / Reuters / File
Steve Martinâ€“yes, the wild and crazy guyâ€“has a new novel. â€śAn Object of Beautyâ€ť tells the story of Lacey Yeager, an up-and-comer in New Yorkâ€™s art world in the mid-1990s. Iâ€™m 19% of the way through the novel (up to location 779 in Kindle-speak), during which Lacey has been climbing the ladder at Sothebyâ€™s, the famous auction house.
Thus far, my favorite passage depicts how sensitive wealthy art collectors can be to taxes. Sothebyâ€™s has sent Lacey to Washington to deliver a painting to the winning bidder in a recent auction. After getting off her train, Lacey heads over to Georgetown:
The white door of the brownstone swung open with a faint jingle-bell tinkle, and Saul Nathanson waved with full panic shouting, â€śDonâ€™t come up the steps!â€ť
So many interpretations. Was he shouting at Lacey, the painting, or the taxi driver? â€śDonâ€™t step on the walkway!â€ť Was the concrete wet? But Saul ran toward them more sheepish than commanding, and they all stayed put.
â€śI thought by having you bring the picture,â€ť Paul said, panting, â€śthat we were taking delivery of the picture in Washington. But it seems to be disputable that this might constitute taking delivery in New York.â€ť
Lacey looked at Saul, then at the taxi driver. He pulled his cap back and scratched his head. â€śOh yeah, sales tax,â€ť he said.
â€śWhat?â€ť said Lacey.
â€śMy wife sells jewelry. Thereâ€™s always a sales tax issue.â€ť
Saul pointed at the driver with a silent â€śbingo.â€ť â€śWeâ€™ve got to have it shipped to us from New York by a reputable carrier.â€ť
Lacey muttered, â€śIâ€™m reputable.â€ť
â€śBut unlicensed. Weâ€™ve got a questionable situation here. Youâ€™ve got to take it back. Itâ€™s a difference of almost ten thousand dollars,â€ť said Saul.
The statement hung in the air, until the taxi driver said, â€śYou mean that box is worth a hundred and fifty thousand dollars?â€ť
Lacey turned to him. â€śWho are you, Rain Man?â€ť
Saul was balanced on his toes. â€śIâ€™m so sorry, Lacey, we tried to turn you around, but we just learned it an hour ago. Hereâ€™s something for youâ€ťâ€“he handed her a folded hundred-dollar billâ€“â€ťand donâ€™t let the painting touch the walkway.â€ť
â€śIâ€™ll be a witness,â€ť said the grinning taxi driver, implying there could be another tip due.
â€śI canâ€™t even invite you in,â€ť said Saul. Then he turned to the half-opened door. â€śEstelle! Wave hello to Lacey!â€ť
Estelle poked her head out of an upstairs window. â€śHello, Lacey. Saulâ€™s insane!â€ť
Or maybe heâ€™s highly rational?
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