IRS refund delays put school plans at risk

The time: 12:39 a.m. The place: My cluttered 635 square-foot apartment a fart and armpit noise away from Drake University. I’m hunched over my elegantly aging laptop with Warren Zevon’s “Poor, Poor Pitful Me” blasting in my eardrums at top volume and my Oska Tigers ballcap screwed on my bald head.

My body shakes with anxiety. It’s been that kind of day. Or yesterday was that kind of day. These wee, small hours of the morning posts are tricky bastards when it comes to the timing of things.

I checked my credit union balance this afternoon. I needed to get some allergy pills.

I wanted to save back a few bills for when my buddy, Memphis Paul, hits town next week. We don’t close the bars anymore, but I was thinking of a nice trip to the Amana and the Ox Yoke Inn restaurant with a stop in Iowa City at Prairie Lights Books and Cafe.

To my surprise, my online tax preparer had deducted about $240 from my account, leaving me in the all-too familiar position of being flat-ass broke.

Bad balance juju

What fuckery was this?

I indeed used the company’s software to prepare and file my taxes. But they were to take the money out of my refund, not my bank account.

My refund was big enough to cover the prep fees and take care of a couple months’ worth of rent with change left over.

Said refund has yet to arrive in my account. Apparently, the previous president of the United States was not fond of the IRS, particularly their auditors, and gutted the staffing for the agency.

The pandemic forced federal employees out of their enclaves and taxes filed by paper form piled up for the 2019 tax year and the beginning of the 2020 filing season.

IRS hell

My refund has been tied up in IRS hell since my return was filed and accepted on April 15. Normally it takes 21 days to process. We are at 68 days and counting.

I’ve tried to get the IRS on the phone. This usually meant hours on hold with a recording bleating the woes of the understaffed agency. A few times I got to a point where even the recording gave up on the charade and said, “Call back tomorrow or send us an email.”

Only the federal government can stick its middle finger so squarely in your eye without fear of reprisal.

I tried to make my elected officials work for me, which on face value seems as foolhardy as chewing tinfoil to improve your car radio reception.

The futility of representative democracy

Calling your elected representative: The last refuge of the desperate.

I dialed up the offices of Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley and Rep. Cindy Axne.

Ernst’s office didn’t return the call. Maybe she takes personally all those columns where I called her “Dollar Store Sarah Palin.” That’s fair. Ernst seems exactly the kind of person who is only interested in helping the people who scratch her back.

Grassley’s office called and sent me a privacy form to fill out. I did so. I’ve not yet heard back from his people.

Axne’s office emailed me the form. I sent it back the same way. The next day someone called back and said they would assign it to a caseworker who deals with IRS problems.

They warned me this is an ongoing problem and they’ve dealt with a lot of calls about it. I’m supposed to hear something back this Friday.

Companies inside of companies

So, back to the online tax preparer, whom I’ve done business with since 2001. I paid the company the extra dough for 24-7 support because if there was a year shit was going to go sideways on my taxes, it would be the year I lost two jobs and lived off unemployment.

I dialed the tax prep company up and got a man on the phone within minutes.

The reason they hit my bank account: It’s the fine print, the man said. In the fine print, I agreed to pay the online tax preparer even if my refund never shows up.

We did send you three emails, the man said.

I searched my mail. I found nothing.

He read my email address to me. It was an address I hadn’t used for years and it isn’t the one I log into the tax prep site with.

Ah, well there was the rub, the tax prep man said. I changed my email with that part of the company, but there’s this other company that handles the money transaction side of things.

That part of the company sent emails to an address I no longer use warning me of the pending transaction. If I had replied to one of those messages, they would have extended my grace period.

But I don’t check that email. So, I’m out that cash. It’s legit. But it still sucks.

Hopeless against the merciless

I don’t know what a citizen is supposed to do. You can’t fight the IRS. You can’t get them on the phone. The government works about as well as going uphill in roller skates in an ice storm.
I’m unemployed. I need that money, which the law says is my money and should be returned to me.

This wouldn’t hit so hard if Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds hadn’t cut off the pandemic assistance unemployment, which tacked an extra $300 to unemployment insurance.

Reynolds seems primarily concerned that restaurant servers get back to work for substandard wages and earn their tips rather than make a living wage.

I’ll remind you that the $300 unemployment booster came from federal money and didn’t take a cent from Reynold’s budget. And the money ended in September anyway.

If Disney keeps up with this “Cruella” franchise, they might consider Reynolds for the lead role.

Job market is great for servers

Some jerk already has their pity “Get a job!” response keyed up. Yeah. I’m trying.

Funny thing about that, though. I had a job for 23 years. I worked at different shops. But I did well until one day I made too much money for the greedy Wall Street hustlers and the put me on the bricks.

By then, I hated my job and what it had become so much, it was almost a relief to be cut loose from the toxic trade.

What I quickly learned is the skill set I have may have value to other careers, but I have zero skill in translating what I can do to what people need done. I’ve paid companies to help me with it.

The closest I got was a short engagement with a TV station that was an absolute disaster because I was totally out of my element.

Trying to be a better person

But what I’m really trying to do is get a new career. I’m studying to be a teacher, to give back to the institutions that gave so much to me and maybe pass along what I’ve learned.

I’m am trying to be a better person. I’m trying to grow out of this miserable experience. And, yeah, I wanted to go for a nice meal with my buddy whom I haven’t seen in three years.

The time is 1:43 a.m. Zevon’s “Mr. Bad Example” blasts. Boy, that man knew how to sling a savage lyric.

I get it. This is America. There are winners and losers. And if you’re a loser, it’s your fault. Nobody gives a shit about the runners-up let alone the last guy to cross the line. And if you don’t make it? Hey, you might as well not exist.

Reminds me of another Zevon tune: “Lawyers, Guns, and Money.”

Somehow, I got stuck between a rock and a hard place

And I’m down on my luck

I’m down on my luck.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. 
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HOT SHEET: Nobody cares what I have to say about the #election2020, but I’m saying it anyway

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, sergeant of the watch, Drake Station, Des Moines, Iowa.

ITEM FIRST: Nobody cares what the typist thinks about the presidential election, but he’s going to talk about it anyway. The ol’ Paragraph Stacker is happy that Joe Biden won the presidency. Donald Trump is a horrible human being who embodied the worst traits of this country and forever lowered the standard of person it takes to occupy the Oval Office. The typist struggles to understand how his fellow Iowans voted so heavily in favor of this person who in every way refutes the image of kindly neighbors Iowans have always sought to project. He will struggle with this as he continues to move forward with life.

ITEM SECOND: Iowa political historians should study the campaign of Theresa Greenfield for the Senate because it was hysterically poor from its media standpoint. If you watched Greenfield’s ads — and if you watched a sporting event live since September, you couldn’t have missed them — her entire campaign centered around how her husband died in a work accident, he once owned a Chevy Nova, she played high school basketball and, most embarrassing of all, she has a twin who thinks her sister would be a good senator. These saccharine confections are the kinds of things that win middle school class presidencies, but not U.S. Senate campaigns. Whoever managed her media campaign should go into hiding for a while.

Even the dark money groups trying to help Greenfield fumbled. They took shots at Sen. Joni Ernst, Iowa’s Dollar Store Sarah Palin, because she — GASP! — lives in a $400,000 condo in Washington, D.C. The typist is not one to defend Ernst, but she does work in D.C. and a $400k condo in D.C. is a cheap hole-in-the-wall, not a swank luxury pad. Trying to go after someone for daring to have a residence in D.C. when they’re a senator is almost as dumb as filming an ad with your twin sister and expecting voters to give a flip about it.

ITEM THREE: If anyone is fool enough to think Joe Biden’s presumptive election to the presidency settles anything consider the following: This election was so close it took almost five days to figure out and there are still court cases to go through.

And then consider the cool, calm and even-handed response from the College Republicans at Iowa State, which tweeted “Everybody needs to arm up, expect these people to attempt to destroy your life, the elites want revenge on us.”

The typist won’t bother to try to figure out how Donald Trump, a billionaire by inheritance, con man, philanderer and failure at everything but being a reality TV host, somehow became an avatar for the downtrodden and disrespected.

It does remind the ol’ Paragraph Stacker of how foolish the notion that dangerous and horrible ideologies will not die out generationally.

ITEM FOUR: Withheld to give everybody a chance to count to 10 and settle down.

ITEM FIVE: The Hawkeyes and Cyclones were both winners Saturday. Iowa stomped Michigan State. It’s always fun to see Sparty lose. The Cyclones almost laid an egg against Baylor, but scored 28 unanswered points to earn their fifth win of the season. Iowa State is now 5-1 in the Big 12, the best record in program history and making the Cyclones real contenders for the league title. The ol’ Paragraph Stacker mocked this idea at the beginning of the season, but what the hell does he know?

ITEM SIX: Watch David Chappelle opening monologue on “Saturday Night Live.” I can imagine no better thing to see, laugh at and think about than this.

Daniel P. Finney is still optimistic enough to believe he may one day be in a torrid affair with a celebrity.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

HOT SHEET: Will the endless parade of ads for Joni Ernst and Theresa Greenfield end before we all lose our damn minds?

Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, sergeant of the watch, Drake Neighborhood Station, Des Moines, Iowa.

ITEM ONE: The Senate race between incumbent Republican Joni Ernst and Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield could decide the balance of power in the Senate, per CNBC. The campaign packed in the usual cartoonish bitterness. Ads for Greenfield showed alleged Republicans who believe Ernst is a liar. Ernst ads displayed Democrats who believe Greenfield wants to burn down small businesses and end law enforcement testimonies. Both candidates made use of grief porn. Ernst is a domestic abuse survivor, thus she cares about domestic abuse laws. Greenfield’s first husband died in an industrial accident, thus she cares about Social Security. One might argue that a candidate for office could have enough empathy for their fellow humans that they would care about Social Security and domestic abuse without personal experience. One can certainly argue that personal experience with said issues does not necessarily qualify either to be a good lawmaker. That said, in a race that has so much importance, it’s a shame that regardless of who wins, any Iowan with a TV is already sick of both of them.

ITEM TWO: Worth a click: The Omaha World-Herald points out that both Nebraska and Iowa have Republican governors soft on mask orders and restrictions during the pandemic, yet Iowa deaths are 72% higher per capita than Nebraska’s. Give Henry Cordes’ deliciously titled piece “What’s the matter with Iowa? Why COVID-19 deaths east of Missouri River are so much higher” a read.

ITEM THREE: Dark money — political spending by not-for-profit organizations such as special-interest activists — already dominates our state and national politics. The cash now swamps President Donald Trump’s selection for the U.S. Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett. Big money has been spent by groups that support Trump, groups who wish abortion to be abolished and groups who fear Barrett’s ascension to the high court will result in abortion’s abolishment. This is gross, but not unexpected. If anything proves true in American politics, it’s that anybody can be bought.

ITEM IV: The reign of Caesar Itemus Aggressivus IV ended after its assault on the cubicle of Item Six failed. Four teenagers and their anthropomorphic dog thwarted Caesar Itemus Aggressivus IV with a half-hour onslaught of frightened running, pratfalls, eating of special snacks and a complex exposition by a girl in an orange sweater. The kid named Fred pulled a rubber mask from the face of Caesar Itemus Aggressivus IV revealing him to be Item Four, who had faked his death by COVID-19 in a grand real estate heist meant to take over the entire Hot Sheet and replace it with a new social media site controlled by the same cabal of algorithms that outlawed bunts and stolen bases in baseball. Item Five, located after a police dragnet, testified as an unindicted co-conspirator to Item Four’s culpability in the scheme. Item Four and Item Five were returned to their regular spots in the Hot Sheet and reprimanded for excessive silliness.

ITEM FIVE: The typist loves free streaming service Pluto TV. It hosts a dedicated channel to classic James Bond movies. The current Bond flick, “No Time To Die,” is mired in pandemic hell with theaters unable to gather the crowds necessary to support true blockbuster franchises. Classic Bond on a loop gives fans a chance to appreciate all the unrealized potential of wristwatches (lasers, grappling hooks, etc.) and the aesthetic masterpieces of underground lairs with great brutalist architecture style combined with the best in mid-century furniture and fur rugs.

ITEM SIX: Congratulations to the Iowa State Cyclones on another victory in the college football season. The typist has no rooting interest in the endless patter about the Cyclones and Iowa Hawkeyes, however he recants his earlier prediction of misery in Ames.

ITEM SEVEN: They’re playing pro football this Sunday. It should be enjoyable because the Chicago Bears are not playing. The Bears, though 4-1, play the losingest winning football possible.

ITEM EIGHT: The NBA Finals continue today. This is not a misprint. The end of the pro basketball season is in October, but teams in the Big Ten have yet to play a college football game.

ITEM NINE: The Hot Sheet mourns the end of another baseball season, even one as disjointed and bizarre as the 2020 season. The eagle-eyed retired English teachers might point out that the Major League Baseball playoffs continue. This is irrelevant. The typist believes the words of the late, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Frank Miller, who often said a World Series was only official if the Yankees played in it.

ITEM LAST: A former newsman himself, the typist respects the need for news websites to sell advertisements and have them viewed by visitors. However, even when he stacked paragraphs for a local corporate news outlet store, the typist used an adblocker on his browser because news sites were practically unnavigable with the advertisements interrupting text every few sentences. The typist would like to make a deal with news organizations: He will unblock their ads when they find a way to present the news in a way that doesn’t look like a 1996 GeoCities page assembled by a Doctor Who fan who figured out how to get their cartoon TARDIS to spin and play a MIDI file.

Daniel P. Finney fights for your rights in his satin tights.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help Daniel P. Finney cover expenses as he studies to earn his master’s degree and teacher certification. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.