Once, long ago, I had a screw up on my W-2s, and I had to get it sorted out. A friend had just come over at the time.

“I’ll be just a minute,” I said from the kitchen. “I just gotta call the IRS and get my taxes straightened out.”

There was a pause from the other room, and then, with infinite sadness, my friend said, “Virginia…there is no Santa Claus.”

I did manage to get things sorted out–there’d been a typo–in good time, but nevertheless, my friend’s eloquent commentary on my faith in the system vs. the reality of existence stuck with me. I thought of it again yesterday when I picked up the large envelope with the clear plastic window that said “IRS” and discovered a Notice of Intent to Levy.

This came as something of a surprise, since I have been paying off my taxes with clockwork regularity. In times of financial strife, some bills do occasionally slide–cable’s not a neccessity, and you can string the phone company along for a few months on partial payments–but it’s an article of faith with me that you Don’t Screw With The I.R.S. (It’s worth noting that I haven’t been in those sort of financial straits for close to a decade, mind you.) It’s like not poking the bear and not tickling the wolverine. Certainly, ethically one should pay one’s taxes and one should not torment large vicious mammals, but the ethics are not really the primary cause. The I.R.S. can Mess You Up.

So I got on the phone. As I punched my social security number in, I heard, ringing through my head, still in the slow, sad tones of a friend watching a friend plummet towards destruction, “Virginia…”

I got a very nice woman who looked at my history and began making the small, mumbling sentence fragments of someone studying something intently and discovering it makes No Sense Whatsoever. “They took the fee…but then…but it didn’t…and here they…and it’s $47…but here’s a…on the 25th…but then… but where is…?” After awhile, I was put on hold. After awhile I was taken off hold and informed that this was completely baffling and made no sense. I went back on hold. I came off hold to be transferred somewhere else. I went back on hold. I came off hold to be told that the people who could might know what had happened had left for the day. At last, however, the words that I had been longing to hear came down the line–“Well, this certainly isn’t your fault…”

Hallelujah. Choirs of angels sporting Schedule C’s descended from the heavens and circled my head.

In the end, it did not get sorted out yet, but I was reassured that it would be thirty days before the IRS came and broke my kneecaps and reposessed my cat, and surely it would be sorted out by then, and to call back by such and such if they didn’t get ahold of me. Well, but the computers were going down for three weeks in January, but surely they’d fix it before then. Or after. Well, anyway, it wasn’t my fault. Keep sending money. They’d sort it out.

And I believed them.

Oh, Virginia…

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