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A Taxing Time

04/07/2014 @ 11:39am

The sounds of weeping and gnashing of teeth can be heard throughout the land at this time of year and not just because it’s National Poetry Month, which means that we are mandated by federal law to memorize a new poem each day.

Another cause for our collective discomfort is that the middle of April is when income tax returns are due. “Forcibly extracted without Novocain” would describe how some feel about this event.

For many, the acronym “IRS” brings to mind an encounter with a schoolyard bully. Grasping your forearm, the bully used brute force to make you smack yourself.

“What’s the matter?” he asked as you involuntarily self-administered dope slaps. “Why are you hitting yourself? Why don’t you stop? Gimme your lunch money!”

At least that’s how I felt about the IRS until I became acquainted with one of their agent guys, the man who would eventually become my father-in-law.

It was an unmitigated ambush. One evening after I had finished chores on my little dairy farm, I went to town to call upon a particular young lady with whom I had been spending a good deal of time. A large American-made car was parked outside her house. This was troubling as it was obviously a guy’s car.

I sat in my pickup and mulled things over. It was clear that she had a gentleman visitor. Should I cut and run? Or should I stride inside and fight – metaphorically, not physically; I faint at the thought of fisticuffs – for my gal?

I took a deep breath and knocked on her door. My girlfriend opened it and smiled, “Come on in! This is my father, Dale. He works for the IRS.”

He fixed me with a stern look as we shook hands. I suddenly felt extremely guilty.

Digging in my pocket, I said, “I’ve got, um, $7.87 on me. Would that be enough to keep me out of jail for the rest of today?”

Dale assured me that he wasn’t there on official business, that he was merely visiting his daughter. What a relief! Although I then had to explain why I was at his daughter’s house at that time of night.

As I got to know Dale better, I quickly realized that he was a really nice guy who just happened to work for one of the government’s most feared and loathed bureaucracies. He was able to dispel some notions I had about the IRS.

For instance, I had assumed that during audits he would pistol-whip taxpayers to extract “interest” and “penalties.” This was not the case. He used a hand-crank adding machine - the kind that had a lot of cast iron parts – for this purpose.      

Dale also had a razor sense of humor, albeit one that was accountant-centric.

One year for Christmas, he gave me a spent rifle cartridge that had been soldered to a trio of pennies. “It’s a Norwegian quarter,” he said, grinning. Seeing that I still didn’t get it, he explained, “Twenty-two plus three is 25! That makes it a quarter!”

In his home office, I noticed that sitting on his desk was a miniature umbrella mounted to a small block of wood. The wood base was studded with little nails.

Puzzled, I picked it up and tried to divine its purpose.

“That’s my tacks shelter,” Dale deadpanned.  

Some years later, my wife and I received one of those dreaded notices from the IRS. The letter essentially said, “Dear Taxpayer: We have discovered that you owe us one jillion dollars in unpaid taxes, plus interest and penalties. Please remit the full amount immediately or else. P.S.: We  shouldn’t have to explain what we mean by ‘or else.’ ”

How could this be? Our farm didn’t even gross that amount! Was this a mistake? Or had we simply failed to grasp the incomprehensible intricacies of our tax system?    

We gave the letter to Dale and he read it and muttered, “Those blockheads!” He then typed a letter to the IRS that said, “You blockheads! These people do NOT owe this money! You need to immediately rescind these taxes, interest, and penalties!”

He didn’t use those exact words, but that was the gist of it. He put it in bureaucrateze so they would understand that they were dealing someone “in the know.” It certainly didn’t hurt that he added his agent number beneath his signature. Dale was such a senior agent by then, he probably had access to nuclear launch codes.

His letter worked. We soon got a reply from the IRS that essentially said, “Oops! Our bad!”

The point is, don’t get too uptight at tax time because everything will likely work out just fine. Besides, April is National Stress Awareness Month.

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