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: How I’m getting ready to start my career in local television news

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, Paragraph Stacker, 24th Street bureau, Des Moines, Iowa.

ITEM FIRST: I start my new job as an assignment editor for WOI-DT on Monday. The only thing I know about television is how to watch one. I decided to turn to the best possible source to prepare myself for joining broadcast media: movies. Here are five flicks I’m watching to get ready for my new TV job:

  1. “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy”
  2. “Network”
  3. “Broadcast News”
  4. “The China Syndrome”
  5. “Good Night and Good Luck”

ITEM TWO: Today is new comics Wednesday. Let’s talk shop:

  1. Darth Vader: The Heart of the Sith Vol. 1— The story picks up in the hours after Vader cuts off Luke Skywalker’s hand and lets the young Jedi know who his daddy is. Vader vows revenge on the Rebellion and the people who made Luke such a wimp, but first he has some questions of his own he wants answered. First, how did Padme survive the force choke fallen Jedi Anakin Skywalker put on her, and who delivered baby Luke into this world? To find the answer, Vader traces Padme’s final days and crosses paths with Padme’s old pals from Naboo. Again, Marvel proves it knows how to handle “Star Wars” characters better than the people who make the movies. This is Vader as we all dreamed of seeing him: pissed off, cutting people in half with lightsabers and just too much of a force to be reckoned with — even for giant sea monsters. The first trade paperback of the latest Vader series is on sale now.
  • Star Wars: Bounty Hunters Vol. 1 — What Vader gives to “Star Wars” comics, Bounty Hunters takes away. That’s not quite fair. The story centers on a comics character resurrected from the original Marvel comics of the 1970s and 80s, which were often mediocre to terrible. There’s Boba Fett, the most overrated character in “Star Wars” lore, and Bossk, a reptilian bounty hunter who makes for a better action figure than character in a story. The story deals with a protection job gone wrong, some mafia clans and other jibber jabber that just doesn’t entice more reading. The art isn’t for me. I’m always hesitant to criticize art because even the worst comic book creators make things more beautiful than I could ever create. Still, this artwork feels like posed shots that belong in pin-up galleries or sold as paintings at conventions rather than pages of a comic. It lacks action and sense of motion. But I know Boba Fett and bounty hunters as a concept sell, so a lot of “Star Wars” fans might want to give this trade paperback a look.
  • Green Lantern Season Two Vol. 1 — Writer Grant Morrison and artist Liam Sharp team for some of the best Green Lantern stories in decades. Morrison is one of modern comics’ geniuses. His stories are trippy, fun and balance badassery with a hint of Silver Age fun. Sharp’s artwork is so tremendous one might be convinced this is why God invented pencils.
  • Batwoman/Catwoman No. 1 — Writer Tom King shaped the love story between Batman and Catwoman like no other creator before him. That story propelled through his entire 85-issue run on “Batman.” This issue begins a special year-long story about Batman and Catwoman set after the events of “City of Bane,” during which Catwoman nursed a broken Batman back to health in order to defeat Bane and an alternate version of his father, Thomas Wayne. I’m looking forward to this comic more than any other on the schedule. I usually wait for trade paperbacks for stories, but I’m buying this in single issues.

ITEM THREE: A recent study found that when people preface a statement with the phrase “with all due respect” the thing that followed was in no way respectful in 100% of cases.

ITEM FOUR: A joke from a Johnny Carson “Tonight Show” from the 1970s: “A new record is out that teaches people how to have better sex. It encourages couples to play the record in the act. There’s already been a tragedy. One couple put the record on at 78 instead of 33. Services are this week.”

ITEM FIVE: This is the best #2020 thing ever and of course it comes from a collaboration between Taylor Swift and Ryan Reynolds:

ITEM SIX: One of the few things I know about English soccer leagues is the concept of relegation. The poorest performing teams are sent down to a lower league and the better performing teams are brought up to play at the highest level. Such a thing would have been a mercy to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who posted 20 consecutive losing seasons from 1993 to 2012. It similarly would be a mercy to Chicago Bears fans to see the Bears sent down to the Big 12 or the Pac-12 for a couple of seasons. Let Ohio State or Alabama have a go at the pros. Their college programs are damn near that good anyway. Anything to ease the suffering of Bears fans who have to watch a team without an offense, a quarterback, a competent coach and general manager play pro football games against bonafide NFL winners such as the Green Bay Packers.

ITEM LAST: I was overwhelmed with the kind notes, messages and well-wishes after the announcement of my new job. I plan to continue to write for this blog. There will be no more politics talk and the profanity will be scaled back to PG-13 levels. As for what I’m going to be doing at WOI, well, I don’t know yet. I do know I won’t be on camera and that’s a blessing to everyone including me. I will be working with our team of reporters, anchors and producers. And I’ll be doing some reporting and writing for the WeAreIowa.com website. Frankly, it’s good to have something to look forward to each day besides more worry. Unemployment is a crushing mishmash of depression and anxiety. You’re depressed because your old shop sent you packing and even though they tell you it’s not personal, it sure as hell feels that way. It’s anxious because the money goes fast and when you start to wonder if you’re going to be living at the YMCA by this time next month, your guts churn. So at the risk of one more political comment, having been through what I’ve been through and knowing millions of Americans are still going through, I hope Congress and the new president figure out a stimulus bill as soon as possible to help everyone who wasn’t as lucky as I was to find a job in the middle of a pandemic.

Daniel P. Finney is getting down to this sick beat.

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: Hey, Finney finally got a job!

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, Paragraph Stacker-at-large, Des Moines, Iowa.

ITEM ONLY: I got a job.

The last of the “onboarding” paperwork went through this morning. I start as assignment editor for Local 5 We Are Iowa at 9:15 a.m., Monday, Dec. 7, 2020.

This ends an employment drought that dates to May 1 when the local paragraph factory eliminated my job amidst corporate cutbacks during the coronavirus pandemic.

That WOI-TV wooed me back to daily journalism surprises me only slightly more than they convinced me to try a new medium.

I started stacking paragraphs for pay when I was 17. I thought that part of my life was over for good.

But the people at Local 5 seemed to want me at their shop even after I explained that all I know about TV is how to turn one on.

I don’t know what “assignment editor” means yet. I know it means I will be behind-the-camera, which is exactly my preference. I know it involves writing, story idea generating and working with reporters and anchors.

Hell, I’ll get people coffee if the pay deposits on the regular and I can afford to get cortisone shots for my arthritic knees.

I plan to continue my graduate studies at Drake University. I’ve laid out money for next semester already. I will teach someday. As my old friend Don Adams, the retired Drake vice president, always says: “Preserve your options.”

This week, I’m finishing up the semester work. I’m off school until Feb. 1, which means I’ve got two full months to learn my job, get to know people and immerse myself into the new gig’s culture.

Family, friends and readers, I thank each and every one of you for your support of this blog and me personally. This year tested all our souls.

I am blessed to know so many people who showed the love for me even as they carried their own burdens.

I promise to reward your faith in me by being the very best journalist I can be for Local 5. You may not see my byline, but know that I’m there trying my hardest to make sure you know what’s going on in your hometown.

As for this blog, the future is uncertain. I may keep writing. Some topics will be verboten, especially media criticism and politics.

That’s OK. There’s lots of good stuff to type about.

For now, though, I’m going to take a break to finish up the semester and get ready for my new adventure in journalism.

With love and hope,

dpf

Daniel P. Finney works in TV news now is a sentence he never thought he’d type.

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.