By John Pint
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just a little bit out of date, even though it was a great hit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
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
“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!
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?