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I Was a T-Man Temp

by Steven Utley

As a seasonal employee at the Internal Revenue Service Center in Austin, Texas, during the 1990s — essentially, working for the IRS to scrape together what I owed the IRS on the previous year’s income from freelance writing — I expected my time to be given over to data entry or similar drudgery. Contrary to that expectation, I rather enjoyed the two or three months I spent sorting mail, for I was not merely a temp, I found myself cast as a sort of T-man temp, doing my tiny bit for law and order and against crime and disorder.

Part of the job, of course, was not much of an improvement over data entry, consisting as it did in getting each of 837 different preprinted forms into the pigeonhole reserved for that form and no other. Once that had been taken care of, though, I would settle back with my caffeine-delivery system of choice, carefully read all the real actual letters received that morning from irate, distraught, or merely bewildered fellow citizens, and separate them into basic categories for the convenience of IRS folk concerned with investigations and compliance. It was a bit like what I imagine reading the slush pile for a science-fiction magazine to be.

Most common were the letters from individuals who claimed to be unable to meet their tax obligations, due to illness, insolvency, asteroid impact, or the like. It did not fall to me to decide who was or wasn’t telling the truth; I merely passed along the letters, and somebody else got to investigate the legitimacy of the claims and whether or not there had even been an asteroid in the area at all.

The second basic type of letter worked variations on the general theme of someone’s worthless brother-in-law, boss, neighbor, or ex-husband’s having bragged about never paying income tax, unlike the letter-writer who paid every year even though liberals in the Marxist-Leninist-dominated U.S. Congress were just going to give the money away to unwed lesbian welfare queens, or worse.

The third type of letter was usually a fat, legal-looking document from an individual usually residing in a remote corner of the American Southwest who usually announced his decision to secede from the United States and establish his own independent country, usually some sort of latter-day Republic of Texas — as a citizen of which he was no longer subject to U.S. law, U.S. tax law in particular.

Well. The IRS, for the benefit of you who have never run truly afoul of it, does not possess anything like a sense of humor, and invariably declined to indulge these latter-day secesh, and, more to the point, invariably set about disabusing them of their notions of sovereignty.

I’m afraid my sympathies generally lay with the IRS, not the tax protestors — after all, I pay my taxes every year, unlike some people who had better never brag in my hearing. Still, I would have given bonus points to the author of a letter who claimed that his tax obligations were irrelevant, not on legalistic grounds, but because God would be returning to the planet Earth soon after the turn of the century to destroy Satan and his works and myrmidons, undoubtedly including the IRS and possibly even its seasonal employees.

Copyright © 2004 by Steven Utley

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