A few years ago, I made a short film for the Oscars, and as a result - and to my surprise - a goody bag arrived. Why was I surprised, you may ask. Everyone knows about the goody bags. But this, as I just said, was a few years ago, and in the annals of history where goody bags are concerned, it was the Dark Ages.
I had of course received many goody bags in the course of my life, most of them on the way out of charity events. The classic goody bag at a New York charity event is a pathetic thing. It usually contains several extremely tiny samples of a makeup product no one would use, a lipstick in a color that went out of style in l954, last month's copy of a magazine you've already read, and a coffee mug. Most New York goody bags pass, within 24 hours, from the recipient to the recipient's housekeeper's teenage children, or they go straight into the trash.
But this Oscar goody bag was another thing entirely. It had practically taken a camel to deliver it to the house. There were sacks and sacks of goodies, and sacks and sacks full of envelopes promising more goodies. There was, for example, a weekend at a brand-new fantastic resort in Mexico called La Esperanza. Of course you had to get to the resort in order to have the free weekend, which involved several thousand dollars in air travel; still. There was a free weekend at any Ritz-Carlton Hotel in America. There was a certificate for a desk chair, a very nice-looking one, and I ordered it immediately. (It turned out to be uncomfortable and is now in my basement.) There was a certificate for a mattress, not that I needed a mattress, and for several pairs of shoes, including a pair of Birkenstocks. There were several expensive but extremely unattractive scarves, and the chance, and I'm not exaggerating, to have at least fifty facials in the city of Los Angeles, not to mention twenty appointments for eyebrow plucking. I don't live in Los Angeles, I hate facials, and my bangs cover my eyebrows; so I threw all that out. Weirdly enough, I ordered the Birkenstocks, and discovered that if I wore them, my husband would leave me.
But it was an amazing goody bag, even if so much of it was useless. There was so much stuff. It was like Christmas, a Christmas where you didn't get anything you really wanted but it took a long time to open the presents, so you felt overwhelmed, in a good way. There's nothing like something that's free. There's an term in the Mob for a stolen credit card - a Muldoon; whiskey always tastes better, they say, on a Muldoon. After all was said and done, I had fond feelings for my Oscar goody bag, and I vowed that if I were ever lucky enough to again be part of the Oscar presentation, I would take much better advantage of my gifts. Furthermore, I had heard that in intervening years, there were now television sets with plasma screens.
But this week the IRS announced that it would start taxing goody bags - and the Academy simultaneously announced that it would stop giving them out - so I guess that's pretty much the end of that resolution. According to the Los Angeles Times, the tax on a goody bag estimated to have $100,000 worth of swag in it could run as high as $40,000, which in my case is a lot to pay for a useless desk chair and a pair of Birkenstocks.
"It was just so clearly taxable we felt we had to step in..." said IRS Commissioner Mark V. Everson. "You can't let the rich get away with something." This is a ludicrous remark given the inequities of the current tax code, but I can hardly object. And the goody bags are just the tip of the iceberg. Almost nothing that is worn by celebrities - on red carpets and even in everyday life - is actually paid for, and except for the jewelry, almost all the clothing that is "lent" for awards ceremonies is kept by the wearer, tax-free. Soon, I'm sure, the IRS will move from goody bags to all this free designer clothing. From there it will be a hop-skip-and-a-jump before they get to things like taxing complimentary drinks at the end of dinner, and the bottle of champagne they give you in hotels that no one ever drinks.
Meanwhile I think I'll put on my Birkenstocks and walk around the house.