Friday, March 7, 2014

Eben Danforth read again through the letter from the IRS, his lips forming each word as he went along:
Your income tax for 1983 has been selected for audit. Please come to the IRS Office in Augusta at 10:00 am, Tuesday, August 17. Bring copies of your 1983 return along with any supporting documents.
            He turned to Flora and said, “We’ve been selected for an audit. What does that mean? What’s supporting documents?”
            “I don’t know, Eben. I couldn’t make head nor tail of it neither. It’s something from the guvamint. Why don’t you ask Tommy White. He works for the guvamint. Maybe he’ll know what it’s about.”
            Two weeks later Eben and Flora were sitting the in the IRS office in Augusta. Flora had a shoe box clutched under her arm. She was wearing a cotton print dress. Eben had been ready to put on his suit that morning, but Flora had said to him, “Don’t dress up too fancy. They’ll think we got money.” So Eben didn’t wear his suit but he wore his favorite tie, the one with the bright pink and yellow flowers.
            They were shown into a little room, and pretty soon a young man came in. “Good morning,” he said, “I’m Everet Layton. I’m an auditor for the Internal Revenue Service” Mr. Layton had thinning brown hair and horn-rimmed glasses, which kept slipping down his nose.
            The IRS agent opened a folder and thumbed through it until he found the papers he wanted. “We have some questions about your Schedule A and your Schedule F, and there were some arithmetic errors.”
            “I don’t wonder there’s some arithmetic errors,” Flora said. “Them things are so complicated to fill out. I added that stuff up four times, and I got a different answer each time.”
            “I see,” the IRS man said.
            “It’s them Republicans in Washington,” Eben broke in. “They’ve got everything all mixed up down there. Why it’s worse than it was during the Nixon administration.”
            “Now if we can look at this Schedule A,” Mr. Layton said, pushing his glasses up.
            “What’s a Schedule A?” Flora demanded.
            “That’s itemized deductions. Now you have down here $78.00 for labor donated to the church.”
            “Well, yes,” she replied. “I spent three days working on the church fair. At $3.25 an hour, that would be—ah, ah…”
            She pulled a pencil from her pocket and looked around for something to write on.
            “It wouldn’t matter what it came to, Mrs. Danforth. You cannot deduct the value of your own labor.”
            “You mean my labor ain’t worth nawthing?”
            “That isn’t what I said. You see, if you deducted the value of your labor, then you’d have to …”
            He looked at Flora glaring at him pugnaciously and broke off his explanation. “Anyway, I don’t make the rules. It’s just not allowed. That’s all.”
            “If we had any kind of a guvamint in Washington,” Eben said, “we wouldn’t have all these problems.”
            “Back to the Schedule A,” Mr. Layton said, “I see that you deducted for your dues to the Daughters of Demeter and transportation and lodging to a regional meeting of that organization in Schenectady.”
            “Well, Eben always took off for his dues to the paper workers’ union.”
            “That’s perfectly all right. Union dues are an allowable deduction, but dues to a social organization are not.”
            “Well, the Daughters of  Demeter are dedicated to upholding the farm family. They believe in service to God and country and family. If the guvamint is against them things, I don’t know what this country is coming to.”
            Mr. Layton sighed and pushed his glasses up on his nose. “The government isn’t against those things. It’s just that certain guidelines have been set up so that the tax burden can be distributed equitably.”
            “If them people in Washington warn’t giving our money away to a bunch of foreigners, they wouldn’t have to bleed poor folks like us for every cent they can get out of us.”
            The IRS agent ignored Eben’s remark and went back to the itemized deductions. “You have listed here $35.00 for a Dr. Stark. Is he a medical doctor?”
            “Of course he is,” Flora answered. “I took my cat Rags to him when he was sick, poor little kitty.”
            “I’m sorry, but you can’t deduct payments to a veterinarian to treat a pet.”
            “Why not? Rags is more than a pet. He’s a dependent. He depends on me to feed him and take care of him. Nobody else would take care of him, especially him,” motioning toward Eben. “He’d forget to feed him, and the poor little kitty would starve to death.”
            “Now let’s look at the Schedule F,” Mr. Layton said.
            “The guvamint pays them rich farms out west thousands of dollars for not planting,” Eben said, “but what do they do for the little fellow? Nawthing. Not a thing.”
            “Now, Mr. Danforth, I see that you have a pretty good sum here for chicken feed.”
            “Ayuh, we raised 2,000 chickens last year.”
            “And when those chickens grew up, Mr. Danforth, didn’t you sell them? And didn’t you derive a profit from them?”
            The IRS agent had the manner of a clever detective who had just put his finger on the heart of the mystery.
            “No, we didn’t sell none of them,” Eben said.
            “We’ve got a receipt for every bag of grain,” Flora said, digging into her shoe box and pulling out little pink slips, which she began piling on the table.
            Mr. Layton ignored her and directed his questions to Eben. “You didn’t sell them? What did you do, keep them for pets, like your cat, Bags, or whatever his name is?
“No, we didn’t sell them, and we didn’t keep them.”
“Well, what in the world did you do to them? Did you execute them?”       “We traded ’em. We traded a hundred chickens to Mike Biladou for a Jersey calf. We traded some more for a pair of goats.  Traded some to Bill Farley for a load of cord wood.”
“What about Tommy White?” Flora asked.
“Ayuh, I traded some chickens to Tommy White for a second-hand chain saw.”
“Aha!” said the IRS agent.
            Eben and Flora looked at each other.
“Don’t you know that these things constitute a profit in kind?”
“What does that mean?”
“That means that these things you traded for are worth money.”
“You mean cord wood and goats and things are the same as money?” Eben asked.
“Exactly. They represent a profit to you, and you have to pay income taxes on that profit.”
“Godfrey, Flora, what will they think of next?”
“Now, let’s go back over these things,” Mr. Layton said. He started asking them questions, writing things down, and entering figures into his calculator.
When he had finished, he said, “Here’s what we have. You owe $287.00 in back taxes. In addition to that there are interest and penalties, which brings your total tax liability to $431.00. Can you write a check for that so we can get this cleared up right now?
            “Well, no,” Eben said, “we couldn’t do that today, but if you give us a week we can bring you what we owe you.”
            “All right, I’ll give you twelve days, until August 30, but remember, every day more interest charges are being added.”
            On August 24 Eben walked into the IRS office in Augusta, carrying a crate of live chickens. He put the crate on the floor in the corner of the office and started walking out.
            “Wait, what are you doing?” the receptionist yelled after him.
            “I’ll be right back,” he said.
            In a few minutes he was back with another crate of chickens. By that time Mr. Layton was in the front office. “Oh, it’s you, Mr. Danforth. What’s going on?”       
            “Just a minute. I’ll be right back,” Eben said as he walked out the door. By then the chickens were beginning to caw, and the place was taking on the sound as well as the odor of a chicken house.
            By the time he finished, he had brought in baskets of zucchini, corn, and tomatoes, and a black billy goat.
            The IRS agent said, “Just a minute, Mr. Danforth. You can’t leave these things here.”
            “Well, last week you said that them things was just the same as money, and as near as I can figure out, they’re worth at least $431.00”
            Just then one of the hens started cackling. Eben reached under her and pulled out an egg, which he handed to Mr. Layton.
            “I think there’s a couple more in there. That should take care of the interest I owe you for this week.”
            Then he grabbed the agent’s hand and shook it.
            “Well,” he said, “it’s been real nice meeting you. I wish there was more people like you in the guvamint.”
            He shook Mr. Layton’s hand one more time, and then he headed out the door.

"The Infernal Revenue Service" was first published in The Small Farmers' Journal

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