Electronic IRS filing: endless loop of nothingness

The small nonprofit which I started 20 years ago for conservation-related publishing hasn’t had any inflow of money for years, but I maintain it in case I want to do such work again. Each year I file forms with the IRS saying “no income” and every so often they tell me not to bother filing, then they tell me to start filing again.

Now filing is via “E-postcard” and like many other nonprofits I got a mailing giving me directions, which I followed, last April. And I just got my third notice of failure to file, this one threatening penalties for unpaid tax.

The only proof I have of the e-postcard is a copy of the receipt they sent—via email of course. As I recall, the form was a series of fill-ins with no final complete page that I could have saved. So, unlike a paper form, the E-postcard leaves no tangible proof in the hands of the taxpayer.

The first two “You failed to file your e-postcard” letters asked me for proof that I filed, so I sent them a copy of the email receipt and a letter. This third notice is from the “enforcement division”, includes threats of property seizure and requests a phone number so they can call me.

Like many small nonprofits I have no paid employee who sits in an office waiting to answer the phone, so I have decided to try calling them. Right now I am on hold with the IRS, and have been for 30 minutes, waiting to talk to a trained employee who, if memory serves, cannot be cited as having told me anything. That is, if the advice I get is wrong, or the person fails to record her conversation with me correctly, it will not avail me to say “But Jane Smith of your office told me on July 30 at 8:42 am that she had found my e-postcard and everything was fine.” No, the IRS is not responsible for whatever its agents tell you. Maybe I should just send them a check for some random amount of money and see what happens. Oops, don’t do that: 20 years ago I saw another small nonprofit threatened with a fine for overpayment of taxes.

After 40 minutes a very nice woman has informed me that I called the wrong number; I looked at my printed-out receipt and called the assistance number on that, rather than the number on the forms just received from the IRS. We had a short but cordial conversation and now I am on hold again. The music is the same as on the previous call: loops of a lilting cheery tune of the sort that could be used to extract information from hardened terrorists, if it were played continuously, so I don’t know how long I can hold out before I decide to let them call me.


Cartoon © The New Yorker, Gahan Wilson, used with appreciation but no permission.

I did it! (Maybe) Another polite person (think of the abuse they must endure!) finally came on, and—speaking of the IRS as if he were not part of it, and maybe he isn’t, maybe he’s part of some outsourcing—after checking my information, told me that “This electronic filing is a new requirement that the IRS has instituted for some non-profits, and the IRS has told us that if people call in and tell us that their receipts for the year were less than $25,000 we should just cancel out their case, and tell them that they may file in the future but they don’t need to.” [His words but condensed a little]

We concluded our conversation on a cordial note, but having been through something like this before, I will not rely on his assurance that I need not file in the future. I will file any forms they tell me to file. And probably go through this whole thing again.

Then of course I may get another even more threatening notice next month, as if all this telephone time never happened.

Would it have been any better if I’d had a physical copy of a paper form, instead of an ethereal email receipt for an e-postcard? I can’t say, but at least I would have felt more secure. There’s a disconnect when you don’t know what the person on the other end is looking at, because it is not the original of the paper you hold, but some electronic compilation.

Wait until all our medical records have been digitized by low-wage workers in Nigerian cybercafes recruited by Chinese low-bid companies, that’s really going to be fun! “But our records show that you are dead/a drug abuser/not allergic to anything…”

Ah, Oregon!

Here in Elk Snout (the fictional small Oregon coastal town featured in the 1987 Kurt Russell/Goldie Hawn movie Overboard), things are different, all right.

From an article in the Oregonian about use of fake urine in drug tests, this information from a county Dept. of Community Justice spokesperson:

The tampering includes people who dilute their own urine and tricksters who turn in a range of substitutes. “For example,” she said, “someone tried to pass off a sample of elk urine as their own.”

Elk .jpg

”You want what?” Photo source.

Victorian Square in Sparks, Nevada: a public plaza with no public

Early on an autumn morning I walked around Sparks (contiguous to Reno) a bit, just the area around the Nugget casino. The Nugget is about the biggest thing in this low-rise town; the original casino and one of its newer hotel towers are pictured below.


Across the thoroughfare is what seems to be an extensive public area, called Victorian Square,


with a bandshell-like gazebo.


But alas, the constantly-flowing music comes from speakers mounted on the lightpoles, and the only other living creatures I saw were a man picking cans out of a garbage bin, and a lonely pigeon.


The lack of pigeons emphasized to me the lack of public use, since wherever people congregate outdoors for any period, pretty soon they start dropping bits of food. When pigeons can’t find any reason to flock around, then the area is really unused.

But there was a sundial showing the correct time, just in case you’d hocked your watch and lost the money the night before.


If I’d been there a month earlier, on a Thursday between 4 and 9 pm, I could have caught this event:


The sign promises a “family activity park”––whatever can that be? Probable answer: one without “adult activities” like drinking and gambling. (I’m so behind the times, when the TV tells me a movie contains “Adult themes” I always have a micro-instant of thinking, Oh, it’s going to be about philosophy, or honoring one’s commitments, or solving world problems.) Anyway, as far as I could see the plaza itself included no play structures, no kid-sized statuary of animals to swarm over and sit on, no tile chess boards, no fountains, no picnic tables, few green areas to sit by…in fact for a while it seemed designed with the idea of clearing a defensible space around the casino where machine guns could command an open line of fire. Or it may be a disembarkation place for gamblers arriving by bus from California.

Along the edges there were a few survivors of the older buildings that must have been cleared for this big paved plaza area. One was the Victorian Penny Park Casino, closed.


And an old brick building, maybe a former hotel, with a vivid exterior including painted roses under the windows.


Looking back toward the Nugget I spotted these women: a few other wanderers who’d gotten bored and turned to stone? no, it’s a really incongruous effort at public statuary.


I didn’t cross the street for a closer look, but a good guess would be that they are either four of the muses, or figures representing Nevadan history and industry. The two female figures in the middle seem less than pleased: one gathers her skirts up as if recoiling from her surroundings, while the other has a melodramatic “You’re breaking my heart” look. The third is holding something bulky to her stone bosom, probably part of the day’s take from the casino, while the last (on the left) stands erect, leg akimbo, and has thrown back her outer garment. Her I can place, with the aid of a taxi sign seen later; she’s inviting you to the world-famous, umm, museum that is nearby.