Letter to Uncle Sam

Text and Photos ©2010 by J. Pint





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Why does the IRS send its mail to Mexico via Germany?

By John Pint

Dear Uncle Sam,

I know you’re well over 200 years old and I also realize you’ve got a mighty big farm and can’t keep an eye on every chicken in the coop. Therefore, I consider it my civic duty to let you know what’s cooking in your own backyard.

Sam, I hate to break this to you, but the U.S. Postal Service is just a little bit out of date, even though it was a great hit back in 1775, to the eternal credit of good old Ben Franklin. You see, I live down in the heart of Mexico and one day I got a letter from the Internal Revenue Service telling me I was not going to get my tax refund unless I sent them a certain document that I forgot to attach to my last tax return. Of course, there was a date before which I had to send that document—or else. That’s when I noticed that the letter had taken six weeks to reach me and that this letter sent from Austin Texas was postmarked Frankfurt Germany!

Well, you know, Sam, a letter from the IRS would make just about anybody jump. I know I did, and the following day I sent them two copies of the requested document, one by Mexican airmail and the other by courier.

Months went by and no tax refund. Then one not-so-fine day, another letter from the IRS arrived, once again postmarked Frankfurt. “Dear taxpayer,” it read. “You have failed to send us the required document within the required time limit. Therefore, we are amending your tax return. No refund for you!” Well, it didn’t read exactly like that, but you got the idea.

After turning several shades of purple, I found a phone number in this letter—not a free 800 number, of course—and called them long-distance.

The phone was answered by a man I’ll call Helpful Herbert. “No, we never got your letters,” he told me, nor could he figure out why his organization was corresponding with me via Germany (which is not exactly along the way from Texas to Mexico).

“Can’t I just email you this thing?” I asked him. “It will take half a second.”

“Heavens! You can’t do that; it’s not safe. The document has your Social Security Number on it—but you can fax it to me.”

“Phew!” I sighed, “You guys actually accept faxes! OK, just give me the number.”

“Well, no, sir. It’s not that easy. You have to fax it to me at precisely the same time we are speaking to each other on the phone, upon which I will go over to the machine and recuperate the fax. Are you able to do this?”

“Er, no, I have to drive into town to send faxes. Hmm, Let me work on this, and I’ll get back to you.”

During my chat with Herbert, I saw a vision before my eyes. I could see smoke pouring out of the IRS’s overworked fax machine which is spewing out hundreds of faxes per minute: faxes flying through the air, faxes blowing out the window, faxes falling to the floor like confetti. It was a frightening vision, but even more frightening was the thought that we may be entrusting our tax dollars to people who can’t seem to manage a fax machine.

Well, I decided to risk Identity Theft and worse by emailing the now infamous document to my sister and brothers in the USA, asking them to print it and mail it to the IRS. Actually, one of them got a little carried away and sent three copies of the document, each in a separate envelope.

Even though I had the fullest confidence in good old Ben’s good old Post Office, I waited a full week to be sure those five letters would get to the IRS. Then I called them up again and this time got a person I’ll call Gentle Jane.

“Er, Jane, I had a bunch of letters sent to you with that missing document. Did you get them?”

“Hmm, let me see… Yes, one copy of it has arrived, sent from Mexico several months ago.”

“What? You ought to have a grand total of seven copies of it by now.”

“No, there’s only this one, sent by ordinary Mexican mail.”

Happily, that one copy was enough to reanimate my moribund tax refund, but I couldn’t help asking Jane how in the world it was possible that the five letters send by my siblings via U.S. Mail had not reached them.

“You must understand,” she replied, “that there are procedures like photocopying which we must follow for every letter we receive…and, ahem, at the moment we are three months behind in opening our mail.”

Three months behind! Another vision unfolded before my eyes. I could see a mountain of unopened mail towering 12 feet high above a little old lady with a letter-opener. She was a Mexican, of course—who else would want a job like that?

I was tempted to ask Jane the obvious question: if you’re three months behind in opening your mail; if you have problems keeping track of faxes; and if you send your mail to Mexico via Germany, why do you tell people they have to reply within one month or else? One year would be a lot more realistic.

But, Sam, I didn’t say a word to her because I could see she and Herbert and the other people working at the IRS are overburdened by factors beyond their control. Still, Sam, I figured maybe, if you’ve got the time, you could somehow put things right and maybe even haul the IRS out of the golden days of the Pony Express and right into the 21st Century.

I do believe you can do it!

John Pint

PS: I see that another branch of the U.S. government, the Social Security Service, maintains a team at the Guadalajara Consulate which resolves U.S. citizens’ problems quickly and easily with no need for communicating by “snail mail.” Maybe the IRS could email them to find out how they do it…oops, sorry I mentioned email: how about using a carrier pigeon?



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