May 24th, 2006


IRS adventures

I went to the closest local office of the IRS today. It's in Santa Maria, about 35 miles from where I live, in an anonymous office building.

I went there of my own accord, to find some things out. I wanted to find out the status of my many tax returns - how much do I owe and what years. And I wanted to know how to release a lien they put on my property years ago.

Of course it wasn't all that simple to find out the answers.

Fortunately, there weren't many "customers" today. This office has a little machine with labeled buttons. When you come into the office, you choose the button next to the label that most closely describes the reason for your visit. In my case, "tax questions". I pressed the button and a little number slip printed out. It's a more elaborate "take a number" machine. It wasn't long before I got in to talk to someone.

The woman I spoke with printed out the information on the taxes that I am paying off in installments - 2001. The way the IRS calculates what is owed,though, doesn't show everything. So I was not able to see how much money they took from my credit union and my ING accounts. Their accounting system is not like any other, and it's frustrating because it is difficult to see how they come up with what they do.

I asked her if there were any other taxes due. The unfortunate answer here was really, "I don't know". She noted that I did not file my 1997 tax return. But she was unable to determine if I actually owed anything for 1997. I have to fill out a form to get some information and then, I assume,file that return. My memory is that I did pay it, when they simply estimated it.  I figured what the hell,I'll pay their estimate and  they'll leave me alone. But that was many years ago and now she can't figure out if I paid anything or not. I'm beginning to think their record-keeping is worse than mine.

And about the lien. I didn't know what year and she couldn't tell from my records. I have to go to the county recorder to dig out a copy. The lien may have already been released.  If not, I can bring it with me to confirm that it's paid and then request that it be released.

The experience wasn't bad. I wasn't tight in the stomach as I usually am when I deal with this agency. I wasn't dreading going there. I just wanted the information so I can make some progress. Mainly in improving my credit. I got enough info to make some moves and maybe get a thing done. It was okay,  really, just, in its inimitable way, weird.


I just finished Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, a short book on what we can perceive in the blink of an eye. Drawing on many studies and conversations, Gladwell pieces together a positive, highly-readable book that not only explains what our minds can do in a split second, but also how we can go so terribly wrong in that same instant. And then takes us to the next step: how to avoid the dangers and take advantage of the powers we already possess.

That's a tall load for a short book. But I think he's done it. Just as he did it with The Tipping Point, an exploration of what it is that takes a concept that is but a blip on the radar screen and turns it into a deluge. That's oversimplifying, of course. Both books offer a sideways look at a lot of what we already knew or thought we knew and offers up a whole new way of seeing the world and ourselves.

A large part of Blink delves into our prejudices and how they affect our actions and perceptions of others, often unconsciously. It was while I was reading a chapter about appearances that I took a look on the back flap of the book cover to see the face of Malcolm Gladwell himself. He's a funny-looking little guy with an out-of-control afro. I admit that I was thrown by this appearance and wondered if what I was reading was really that good...thus proving a point or two.