Monday, April 4, 2011

The Charm of the Third Time

I never enjoy doing my taxes. Adding to the difficulty this year was the fact that (unbeknownst to me) my birthday had (at one point in my life) changed. Yes, apparently your birthday can change.  And when filing tax returns, the IRS doesn't like it when you declare a different birthday than the SSA does, and the SSA thought it was the day before it actually was. But my birth certificate was correct, so when did it change?

It changed in 2003, when I got a new social security card. The office to do so was in the Veteran's Administration Building in Philadelphia, and I had to walk through a metal detector. What I didn't know at the time was that the metal detector was actually a magical portal of youth, making me exactly 1 day younger. I guess it was pretty cool, except that 8 years later I would have my federal tax return rejected by the federal government because in their eyes I was lying to them about my age.  But why would I lie to them about being younger? I'm dating an older woman.

When Turbo Tax told me that my return was rejected, I cried out in anger. After that I called up the SSA. They told me of the magical blessing of the portal of youth and the power I now possessed, but warned that the journey to restore my old body back to its original form required a long and perilous journey to the local SSA office and find my fate in the most dreaded terrain in all the world: A government agency waiting room.

After work the next day, I decided to venture onward to begin my quest to restore my age. The roads were perilous and the rain pricked my face as I slithered down 7th Ave on my bicycle. The aura was that of disturbing annoyance, very typical of West Midtown in general. My hinderances continued as the actual building was numbered out of order on the street, a timely allegory of my dilemma. I approached the dreary facade and encountered a locked glass door with a sign saying that the office is open from 9 to 4. 9 to 4?!? Thwarted again! Thwarted and dejected. But dejected yet determined. Determined to succeed in restoring my body back to my rightful age and ultimately...filing my tax return.

The next day I snuck out on my lunch break and jogged the 11 blocks back down to the office. The front door was open this time. I entered. A claustrophobically small lobby was occupied by a small desk and a slow-motion security guard. This struck me as peculiarly ineffective yet I kept my distance as I muttered to myself the reminder: "never underestimate the government, never underestimate the government..." A single elevator door straight ahead was my only directional option, so I approached it and pressed the only button. An awkward 143 seconds later, the door opened, with a confused woman asking both myself and the security guard where the bathroom was. It was a confusion indicative of my journey.

After the even more awkward 4 minute elevator ride from the ground floor to the third floor (I thought the lady was gonna burst), I entered the floor, followed a sign, and walked down a sterile looking hallway to a double door. Behind the door was the waiting room, the stage for my battle. I took my number, grabbed a form and sat down. There were 12 other people waiting. It was 11:47 AM. I hadn't quite beaten the lunch crowd like I had hoped. There were 3 windows, of course only two were staffed. So I sat, quickly filled out the form and awaited my chance to fight for my honor, and my birth date.

The wait was not easy, but rather a true test of the little remaining sanity that I still possessed. I gazed ahead at the security guard, who was of course armed. A sign behind him read "Do not ask the security guard for help with forms." I then overhead somebody whispering in an unknown language and slowly looked around and noticed most people probably didn't share my native language. Then, entering the room came somebody who also fit that criteria. He was also struck dumb with confusion. Several concerned people gestured to him to take a ticket and to fill out the form on the table. I looked out of the corner of my eyes as he looked at the form. I looked at him, I looked at the guard. The guard looked at him, he looked at the guard. I looked at him, then I looked at the guard, then back at him. Then I watched as the man demonstrated to the guard that he, in fact, spoke none of the 14 posted languages as he approached the guard and meekfully grunted, holding out the forms. He had actually taken both an English and a Spanish version of the same form, and he seemed to be wondering which one to fill out. The guard replied, politer than what was warranted, that he was allowed to fill out either, but that he as a security guard couldn't help him, because he was, in fact, only a security guard. The confused yet eager man was persistent but finally backed down as a kind samaritan agreed to help the man fill out his form, and the confused man sat down next to her. This was all well and good except that she was sitting right next to me, so I was then burdened with the caustic persian mumbles that buzzed in my ear like a mosquito. The kind woman slowly asked him to spell many of the indecipherable words that he spewed, but he was unable. As I pondered why somebody who was so inept at communicating deserved a social security card, the next person's name was called. I was only 5 numbers away from finally facing my fate.

The next person who walked to the open window also had an appearance of not speaking an ounce of english, and I quickly discovered that he too was incapable of speaking the primary language of this country. But what frustrated me even more was watching the hand signals of the window worker direct the confused man to walk back over to the table to fill out the form that everybody was supposed to fill out prior to window service! I sighed, but was relieved that maybe she would read the next number, making it one turn closer to my turn. However, instead she just waited...WAITED for him to complete the entire form. He was even distracted by another confused scoundrel asking him for directions. I almost jumped up at that moment to strangle them both, but I remained calm. I closed my eyes and tried to purge my mind of all thoughts.

Suddenly, an official looking man entered the waiting room and declared that he would like to take the next two numbers in line, to service them in the next room. two people got up and follow. 10 minutes passed. He then came in again. I quickly jumped to my feet and headed his way, making strong eye contact with a persistent stride. Surprised at my quick response, the man nodded accordingly, grinned and led me out the room, down the hall, and into a quite different looking room, one with many cubicles, resembling an actual office where actual work was done. The man led me to a cubicle with a kind woman at a desk who smiled and asked me for my form. She then proceeded to process my request and cheerfully ask how my day was. Confused, yet relieved, I sat back in my seat and exhaled. "Good...thank you," I slowly responded. The kind woman continued to dispel my anxiety while calmly explaining to me why my SS# had changed and how she was fixing it for me. Hypnotized by her soothing voice, my arms started tingling as she slid a form across the table for me to sign. I gazed down at the information to verify my new, and one time original birth date. I slowly signed on the line. The woman then smiled, took the form from me, and told me I was all set. I then arose from my chair in an aura of calmness, and walked out and around, through the door, down the hallways to the elevator, down, and out the strange small lobby to the familiar city streets. I looked back up at the subtle-looking government building, and sighed. I slowly walked back to work, drained yet relieved that I had emerged somewhat successful.

Later that week I logged into TurboTax and submitted my tax return again. An hour later I received an e-mail saying it was rejected. Again!?! Even though I discovered this while I was at work, I dropped everything I was doing and called up the SSA. After a 10 minute wait I was able to speak to a representative who confirmed that my birthdate did indeed change in the system, but perhaps the IRS hadn't been notified. As I refused to let the phone call end before I resolved the issue, the agent tried a variety of escape tactics. I persisted however, and then all of a sudden, in a surprise turn of events, the SSA rep proceeded to call the IRS while keeping me on the line in a conference call. The line rang as I awaited in eager anticipation. The automated menu came up and I listened to a series of interrupting beeps, which I presume was the SSA rep continually pressing "0." Finally a representative picked up an asked how he could be of assistance. I hesitated to hear if the SSA rep would speak but she did not, so I spoke up and explained my woes. The IRS person gave his generic response, blaming it on the SSA at which point the SSA rep jumped in and refuted his claim. The two began to bicker slightly, but then came to the shared conclusion that I should wait a week and re-file my taxes. I signed, having no confidence whatsoever in their decision, but somewhat defeated, I conceded to their advise and hung up.

A week later I re-filed my taxes, for the third time. Shortly afterwards I got an e-mail saying that my return was finally accepted. Finally! I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. My journey was almost over. Several weeks later my checking account was finally credited. I paid my rent, and went on with my life.

The End.