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. 
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311. 
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com. 
Venmo@newsmanone
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

You think you’ve got it bad during the pandemic? Imagine being a bank teller

If you don’t enjoy a root beer Dum Dum lollipop, I’m not sure we can be friends.

Typed by friendly neighborhood paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney in Des Moines, Iowa.

Do you know who must be especially freaked out these days?
I mean besides everyone.
Bank tellers.
Bank tellers have to be on edge unlike anyone else in the middle of the pandemic.

You spend your whole career thinking that if someone comes into the bank wearing a mask, there’s probably going to be trouble.

Hit the alarm.

Call the cops.

Get the ink bomb ready for the getaway bag.

But in the pandemic?

Somebody comes into the bank without a mask and that’s trouble.

You’ve got to ask them to put a mask on.

Then you’ve got to tell them to put a mask on.

Pretty soon you’re yelling at them to put a mask on.

Sir? Sir! Masks are required in the bank!

And you know what?

Getting a guy to put a mask on could go either way.

It’s not like a bank robbery.

Most bank robberies are boring.

Guy walks up to the teller, hands them a note and they run out with as much cash as they can get from a drawer.

The other customers don’t even know what happened.

But today, a guy not wearing a mask could go either way.

The sensible people, of which there are precious few, will be like, “Oh, of course. My bad. I took it off in the car to eat a delicious burger and fries from that new place downtown. I’ll just slide the mask right on up. Sorry.”

But there seems to be an equal chance, perhaps greater than equal, that the teller asks a guy to wear a mask and they start screaming like William Wallace in “Braveheart.”

COVID-19 may take our lives, but they’ll never take our FREEDOM!”

As an aside, when you think of it, what a stupid thing to say.

Once they’ve taken your life, you have no freedom.

You’re dead.

Dead people have no rights.

They can’t even move.

They’re just decomposing in a box, crypt or urn somewhere.

They can’t vote.

They can’t engage in policy discussion.

They can’t even tweet.

Anyway, the anti-mask guy at the back of the bank starts shouting about FREEDOM and TYRANNY and HOAX.

And the clerk is like, “Look, I’ve got asthma, all right? COVID-19 would hit me pretty hard. Could you just wear a mask, sir?”

And this guy starts going off about he’s got a medical condition that prevents him from breathing with a mask on.

He can’t name the condition.

He has no medical documentation.

It can’t be anything with the lungs, because he can yell like a snowplow mom after her kid gets an A- in art.

Anyway, there’s cries of freedom.

Cops get involved.

There’s a lot of drama.

People record it on their mobile phones for their TikTok and Instagram.

And the teller probably has to fill out more paperwork.

They thought this would be a good job.

Count out money for customers.

Take deposits.

Traveler’s checks, back in the day.

Give a Dum Dum lollipop to kids who come in with their parents.

You saw a guy with a mask, you hit the silent alarm.

Now, you see a guy with a mask, you end up in a political debate.

Everything’s a big damn hassle.

It’s why four out of five bank tellers use the ATM.

Daniel P. Finney believes his country must come to a compromise. There has to be room for both the “Tastes Great” and “Less Filling” factions.

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. The new semester starts soon. All donations are greatly appreciated. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

2020: The year of the grunt

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, friendly neighborhood paragraph stacker, Des Moines, Iowa.

I’ve developed a nervous tic: I grunt.

I mean to hum, but it comes out a grunt. It’s anxiety, I think.

I don’t know how long I’ve been doing it. I’ve hum lyrics to songs. I’ve whistled movie themes.

These days I grunt.

Why? I can’t say.

I’ll blame 2020.

There’s 15 minutes left to the year, so it’s just another thing to attribute to the calendar.

It seems fair. I think I took to grunting during the pandemic while I was unemployed for seven months.

I worried a lot. I perfected my already strong self-loathing skills.

But I also endured.

I persevered.

I demonstrated resilience.

That’s what my therapist says.

2020 was the year of resilience, I think.

A lot of terrible things happened this year: the pandemic, the presidential election and social unrest.

The sadness stacked upon misery and grief.

2020 was a lot.

Getting through every day took more effort than usual.

I used to go to a gym when my mind and body were healthier. I may go again when the pandemic passes.

My trainer, Nate Yoho, used to encourage grunts — even shouts — when exerting energy to accomplish a cardio challenge or set a personal record in weightlifting.

I did not set many personal records in 2020.

But I maintained. I held the line.

I almost cracked.

But I was blessed. Friends and family propped me up. They would not let me fall even when I was ready to collapse.

I won’t try to name them all here. I’ll just say that without all of them, I wouldn’t have made it. They showed faith in me when mine was gone.

I survived pneumonia, unemployment, depression, going back to school and starting a new career. I didn’t do it alone.

It was hard. Damn hard.

Hard enough that I needed to grunt sometimes.

I grunt because my arthritic knees and back hurt.

I grunt as a nervous habit. (I’m trying to stop that so as not to become a greater annoyance to my new coworkers.)

I started grunting in 2020. It was a hard year and it required exertion.

I’ll probably grunt plenty in 2021.

Life is work. Damn hard work.

It requires a little grunting.

Daniel P. Finney once watched “The Big Lebowski” 136 days in a row.

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.