This is the season when the Internal Revenue Service denudes our bank accounts and spoils our dreams. It's also the season when bewildered citizens call the special IRS information numbers to get help with their tax returns.
But talking to Mr. or Ms. Faceless on the other end of the IRS hot line can be an exercise in massive frustration. Here's what happened when Al Thomas of Arlington called the Baileys Crossroads info line last Tuesday morning:
Al: I have a question about capital gains and losses.
Ms. Faceless: Yes?
Al: How does one determine a capital gain or loss on a Ginnie Mae investment?
Ms. Faceless: I'm not qualified to answer that. If you want, I can take your name and number and have someone get back to you. Or you can submit your question in writing and mail it in for a written response.
Al: Well, how long will it take for someone to get back to me if I give my name and number?
Ms. Faceless: Anywhere from 10 to 14 days.
Al: Who can I call to get a faster answer?
Ms. Faceless: You'll have to call back to this number again and if someone qualified to answer your question answers the phone, as I did this time, then they can answer you right away. But I can tell you that no one is available right now who can answer your question. They're not at work today.
Al: Well, you said if you take my name and number, you'd have someone get back with me. Who is that someone?
Ms. Faceless: That would be someone in a different section.
Al: Well, what's their name?
Ms. Faceless: No one in that section is available now.
Al: Yeah, I know, but give me one of their names.
Ms. Faceless: I don't have any names because I don't know who's qualified to answer your question.
Al: What's the name of the section they're in?
Ms. Faceless: The same section I'm in.
Al: What's the name of the section?
Ms. Faceless: There is no name. Everyone works in one unnamed area.
Al: Well, how can I contact who I want directly?
Ms. Faceless: You'll have to call back and find out who they are by them answering the phone and indicating they're able to answer your question.
Al: How can I call back and find that out if I don't know who to ask for when I call back?
Ms. Faceless: If they answer the phone, they'll be able to tell you if they're qualified to answer your question, and then you'll know.
Al: What's your supervisor's name?
Ms. Faceless: I don't have a supervisor.
Al: Well, who do you report to?
Ms. Faceless: I work for the IRS.
Al: Isn't there anyone there you can refer me to who can answer my question?
Ms. Faceless: I told you. The person you want works in another section and is not at work today.
Al: Well, what's that person's name?
Ms. Faceless: Goodbye, sir (click).
Al says that rather than calling back, he's going to staple a transcript of the above phone conversation to his Form 1040. He figures that'll prove how hard he tried to get an answer to his question. Sadly, it'll also prove how hard Ms. Faceless tried to provide an answer.
News flash: Safeway grocery stores have found something worse than Muzak. It's Specialzak.
A reader from Falls Church was shopping at a Safeway in Arlington the other day when here came a mellifluous voice through the P.A. system, telling him that the canned pears and mixed fryer parts were being sold for reduced prices that day.
"It goes without saying that shoppers are already exposed to a large number of psychological pressures to buy," writes my reader. "However, this practice seems more than a little out of line."
Jane Ratti, consumer affairs manager at Safeway, said that "the real reason we do it is that it's a convenience to the customer." She said Safeway advertises "specials available to the customer and money-saving tips and menu-planning ideas."
Jane said the chain has had "good response in other areas where it's been tested." She acknowledged that complaints are lodged when Specialzak is begun at a particular store "because it's different. Then everything drops off. The negative comments are minimal."
With a little practice, I guess it'll be just as easy to tune out news of bargain tomatoes as it is to tune out a gooey version of "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head." But I line up with my Falls Church reader. There's enough sales pressure already.
Sharp-eyed comics fans have probably noticed already, but in case you haven't: There are some changes, beginning today. Wee Pals and Herman have been replaced on a provisional basis by U.S. Acres (specially designed for small children) and Bizarro.