Thursday, April 12, 2012

Wild Blessed Freedom

It's Thursday night, so there's only one thing I could possibly be writing about: taxes! At long last, I'm free!  Well, I'm now free on Thursday nights...from taxes...though work might be another story.  Tonight was the twelfth and final week of volunteer tax preparation.  This is officially tax season crunch time, and I received a warning email from the main office on Tuesday saying that I should expect a busy night tonight.

Earlier this week, I also received an email from one of site directors saying that each of the volunteers could each bring a dish for a potluck since this was the final night of the season.  My strong aversion to both cooking and shopping precluded me from participating; I decided that sharing my cold, four-day-old boiled chicken could damage my reputation and potentially expose me to lawsuits.  The other volunteers brought a disappointing array of dishes to the site.  There wasn't much "real" food--mostly things like mixed fruit, pasta salads and desserts.

The site director had us keep the food in the back room where we were preparing returns, knowing that the poor people out front would pounce like wolves if we set the food in the main room.  Two hours in, he advised us to take a quick food break so we could put the leftovers out for the paupers.  I was sitting right next to the food table, which I would have been far more exited about had the spread been more appealing.

Unfortunately for me, some of the more amply proportioned volunteers interpreted "quick dinner break" as more of an "extended feeding vacation."  I swear, a few of the women were tethered to the food table!  And they were certainly in no hurry to get back to working on tax returns, which was frustrating for two reasons.  First of all, the less work everyone else accomplished, the more likely it was that I'd have to stay late. And second of all, their incessant hovering/grazing near the food table--and my laptop--serenaded me with the sound of chewing and heavy breathing while I tried to work fast and furious on the returns.  I could actually hear the lost productivity over my shoulder...

Food fiasco aside, as things got underway,  I felt cautiously optimistic about the evening. My first return was a breeze; I was done in less than a half hour.  But it wouldn't be volunteer tax season if my old friends awkwardness and discomfort didn't make a guest appearance.  And appear they did, during my second tax return.  

My second client of the evening, a fifty-ish year-old woman walked up, looked at me, and said, "you don't look so scary!"  I'm not sure if that was a compliment, an insult, or if she'd been expecting some kind of tax monster.  I thanked her, then got to work.  The first thing I noticed was that her name consisted of three random letters.  She didn't have a first name, she didn't have a middle name, just three capital letters, separated by spaces and no periods.  Odd...but I kept working, mildly curious as to how to correctly pronounce that strange combination of letters.

The woman had three years of returns to prepare (how do so many people go for years without filing returns!?), but because the site was so busy, we only promised to file her 2011 taxes tonight.  As I entered information from one of her W-2 forms, I noticed that the address on the form didn't match her current address on her driver's license.  It makes no difference for the return; I just have to enter the address as it's printed on the W-2. I asked her if it was an old address and she said it was incorrect, then grabbed the form and started crossing it out.

I tried to explain that it didn't matter and that I needed to enter the address as it was printed, but she insisted on scribbling over it.  One of the site directors was walking by and also mentioned to the woman that the address made no difference on her return and that we needed to enter it as printed.  The woman continued staring directly at me and, clearly upset, said to the site manager, "I'd prefer to talk to one person at a time!"  The site manager backed away, leaving me alone with the irate taxpayer by my side.  I continued to calmly explain that her tax refund would not change at all regardless of what address was listed on the form, and she eventually calmed down and let me continue. I, too, calmed down, slowing gaining confidence that I wasn't going to get stabbed by a taxpayer on my final night.

Apparently I hadn't offended her too badly.  In fact, she seemed to take quite a liking to me.  Glancing at the buffet table, she told me that I was skinny and needed to eat more.  Later, she asked if I was married and had kids.  When I told her "no" to both, she asked if I wanted help with that.  I told her I was fine and tried not to vomit on my keyboard.  I'm not sure if she was asking for herself, one of her kids, a friend, or just making conversation, but I was officially creeped out.  I've never finished a tax return faster than I did from that point forward.  But I guess her apparent attraction makes sense in a reverse financial Florence Nightingale effect sort of way.

Fortunately, my last two returns of the night--and the year--were both slam dunks.  I left at the unspectacular but not terribly late time of 8:30PM.  I now officially have one year of volunteer tax preparation experience under my belt.  Well, technically, I don't know if I can still call it volunteer work since I received my big payout from AccoutAbility Minnesota this evening:

Now all I have to do is insert the words "the end of" in the middle of the mug and it'll be a truth-bearing dispenser of liquids.

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