A couple of weeks, ago I received a notice from the IRS concerning a mortgage deduction I took in 2011. The letter indicated that I would owe an additional $1022 (and any further interest) unless I produced documentation showing that my deduction was justified. This is the first issue I have ever had with the IRS, so the letter made my blood chill a bit when I considered the horror stories I had heard from friends and relatives about their experiences with this allegedly grim, American institution.
I gathered some paperwork and set my car’s GPS for the IRS office, which is ten miles from my winter home in Florida. I arrived at the gray stone building (just the kind of architecture one would expect for an IRS structure) and saw a line of people outside its big doors. This was not a good sign, but I parked the car and joined the folks outside those massive portals. Though sunny, the morning was chilly, and the line of twenty to thirty people stood in that shaded area shivering as though it were a winter’s day somewhere up north. Of course, I didn’t have my jacket, which was in the car, but I was afraid to leave my place in the line, which was growing by the minute. A uniformed guard opened the door every few minutes to admit five more people. My turn came, and I was led to a security area equipped with metal detectors and a walkthrough x-ray kind of machine. We were asked to place everything metal, including change, jewelry, watches, cellphones, and belts with buckles into baskets, like the ones at the airport and then were led a few at a time to the first waiting room, where we were issued call numbers. The room held about forty people called three or four at a time to the next waiting area, where we were issued new call numbers. There were approximately seventy of us sitting on chairs in the new area, called tree or four at a time to the ten numbered windows behind which were IRS agents, ready to deal with our various problems and questions.
Behind me was an Asian Indian couple with two small children, a girl aged about three and a boy about two. The beauty of the little family faded gradually as I observed that the boy was horribly spoiled and controlled both his parents by screaming at the top of his lungs whenever he wanted something, even if only some attention. His shrill voice had the effect of a fingernail on a chalkboard. It was obvious that he was able to play his parents like musical instruments, and I suspect that this was due to the fact that in their culture, boys are given more leeway than girls, who are considered the less important gender. The three-year-old girl was absolutely charming and beautifully behaved. She knew exactly how her parents expected her to control herself. There was simply no question about that. The little boy, however, was in charge. I knew that I couldn’t leave my seat to escape outside even for a minute, as I would lose the seat to the many others, who were streaming into the room to find seats too. After four hours, my bladder felt ready to burst, but I couldn’t risk losing that chair. Standing would have been worse, and I didn’t know how much longer I would have to wait. The worst moments came when a woman changed the TV station in the room to a fundamentalist channel with a screaming rightwing preacher hurling accusations of sin at all of us, even though there was no sound, just printed words on the screen. I turned away, avoiding the eternal damnation that seemed to be the evangelist’s programming sponsor. In fact, the hellfire described by the preacher didn’t seem any worse than what the IRS might have in store for us poor taxpayers.
The waiting room was filled with the sounds of Spanish, Hindi, Eastern European tongues, an African dialect, and a little bit of English. It made me think of Ellis Island at the beginning of the last century, with all those people coming to America to find a better life than they had known abroad. I felt like an immigrant myself this afternoon, puzzled by languages I didn’t understand, hoping that everything would come out all right for me at last.
Finally after more than five hours, my number was called for “window ten,” which turned out to be the only actual room. I entered and closed the door behind me to help muffle the shrieking children still carrying on in the waiting room. Joe, the agent, smiled and welcomed me, apologizing about the long wait, which he said was even worse on some other days. I gave him the letter from the IRS and explained my circumstances. He gave me instructions on how to clear up the matter and shook my hand before I left. When I walked out of the room, I actually thought briefly that it might have been worth just writing a check to the IRS for the $1022 instead of sitting in that torture chamber all day. At least now I know how to deal with the matter, should it ever come up again. If it does, I’ll just mail in the documents in order to escape the nightmare of hours in that waiting area, a place with which even Dante’s Inferno couldn’t compete. JB