Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Talking With The Taxman About Poetry? Not In This Case...

Sorry to bother you,
Citizen taxman!
No thanks...
Don't worry...
I'd rather stand.
I've come to see you
on a delicate matter;
the place
of the poet
in a worker's land.
Vladimir Mayakovsky, "Talking With The Taxman About Poetry"

Now and again, we all experience what The Reckoner likes to call "The Rod Serling Moment" -- an experience that's so bizarre, off-kilter, and downright surreal, it cries out for an image of the late "Twilight Zone" writer addressing the camera.

For anyone who's watched the cavalcade of reruns on July Fourth, those moments tended to occur when Serling wanted to double-check whether you were really listening (hint: which typically followed his utterance of that telltale phrase, "Submitted for your approval").

Examine these figures
of loss and gain,
the production
I have been facing,
the raw material
I had to obtain.
With the notion of "rhyme"
you're acquainted, of course?
--Vladimir Mayakovsky

My Rod Serling Moment occurred (surprise, surprise) during my latest phone conversation with the taxman. I was calling for a straightforward enough purpose (amend an existing payment plan), but that didn't spare me the 15- to 20-minute-plus wait that's become part of our IRS experience. Either they haven't hired enough agents, or maybe it's some weird rite of passage (remember, this is what bureaucracies do best: keep you cooling your heels).

I kept a book handy, and ignored all the voice mail jail prompts; perversely enough, I've found that things work better if you pretend to sit on a rotary phone. Finally, I got through, and started talking to a pleasant-sounding woman who assured me, "Things are going in the right direction."

"That's nice to hear," I responded.  "Now, I just have to ask a fairly straightforward question -- I just got my latest tax bill, and well...I can't pay that in full, either...so can we add 2013 to the current payment plan?"

The agent assured that me that I could.  Then she paused, and I got my Rod Serling Moment: "What would it take to fix the problem?"

"Excuse me?" Now, it was my turn to pause.  "What do you mean, exactly? I never had anyone ask me that before."

"We're required to ask those things now," the agent responded, slipping back into the stone-faced demeanor that screams of all IRS-related activity. "When we're dealing with people who are paying on multiple years, you're supposed to be doing something to correct the problem."

I couldn't laugh quickly enough.  "What would it take to solve the problem?  More money coming in, what the hell do you think?"

"What keeps you from paying the bill in full?"

Upon my honour,
Citizen Taxman,
cost poets a pretty penny in cash.
As we poets see it,
a barrel
the rhyme is,
a barrel of dynamite,
the fuse is
each line.
--Vladimir Mayakovsky

"Look," I sighed, shifting the phone receiver to a different ear.  "It's pretty simple, actually.  I work for myself, but once I finish paying all those various people every month, who have their palms held out...well, essentially, there isn't anything left over."

"Oh, OK, I see."  The agent didn't press further, and we turned to more comfortable territory...hashing out the technicalities.  "Your installment payment will now go up from $62, to $65 per month. Is that OK?"

"Yes...I believe that we can accommodate you," I said.  (How does deadpan humor translate over the phone, anyway? I asked myself.)

"And do you want to keep your payment date on the twenty-eighth?"

"Yeah, fine, works for me."

The agent resumed her initially breezy demeanor (the other basic IRS mode; the flipside of the stone-faced sourpuss, in other words).  She was back on familiar territory, so everything was fine again.

"OK, I'm going to put you on hold for two or three minutes, so I can enter all this information into the computer...then, I'll come back on, and give you a time frame for the confirmation letter that I'm going to send out," she said.

"No problem," I answered, "I'm patience personified."

I see your form,
there's a list of questions:
travelled abroad?"

Or spent all the time here?
What if
I've run down
a dozen Pegasuses
in the course of
fifteen years?!
You want to know
how many servants
I'm keeping,
what houses?
My special case please observe:
do I stand
if I lead people
and simultaneously
the people serve?
--Vladimir Mayakovsky
Just before the usual ersatz muzak kicked back in, however, the phone went dead, and the call cut off.  I called back right away -- this is why they tell you to keep that agent's ID number handy, right? -- but I got the same mechanized warning: "Your wait will be greater than 15 minutes."

The problem was, I had to be somewhere in 15 minutes, so I shrugged my shoulders, and let the situation slide...your tax dollars at work, right?

Two weeks later, the confirmation letter duly arrived in the mail, so I guess we're back in familiar territory...and everything's fine, for now...until my next Rod Serling Moment kicks in, I suppose.
--The Reckoner

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