Tuesday, June 21, 2005

"Dude, our records show you owe us money."

That's exactly how a letter I received a couple of weeks ago started off (without the "dude" of course), causing me consternation in no small quantity. I mean I wasn't expecting the letter to be a note of thanks from the Secretary General of the UN thanking me for my efforts towards achieving world peace, but I really wasn't expecting to receive a formal letter telling me that I owed money either. The remainder of the letter was dedicated to painting a grim picture of how bad life would turn out for me if I did not clear my "debt" in the next 10 days. It turned out the letter was from the IRS (for those of you unfamiliar with the IRS, you are indeed very fortunate. The IRS is one of those dreaded three letter words in the same league as CIA, FBI and GWB. It's the branch of the the US govt machinery that concerns itself with other people's money in the way of taxes...). Now let me give you some background on my troubles with the IRS and by the end of my narration, if your eyes aren't moist with tears, you ain't human....

One of the great joys of being a grad student in the US on university payroll is that while you can comfortably sustain yourself (in some style too, I might add) with the pay you get, you are still below the poverty line. And that's a good thing... Why?? Allow me to explain. As an employee of the university, tax is deducted from your monthly/fortnightly paycheck. Now all you got to do is wait for the financial year to end and then file your tax returns. And since you're below the poverty line, almost all the money you were taxed is returned to you in the form of a sweet refund check!! Neat, eh? That's what I thought too... and for the two tax years I was in the US the scheme worked beautifully.

The third year I finished my MS and sensing that my country was in desperate need of my services, I returned to desh and promptly took up employment with the first company I was able to con into believing that they would be making the biggest mistake of their lives if they didn't hire me. A couple of months later it was the end of the tax year in the US and I promptly filed my returns for the period I was in the US and dreamt happy dreams about what I would do with the check that the IRS would send me. Goes to show how little one knows.....

In June 2004, I received a letter from the IRS telling me a refund check had been mailed to my workplace and my joy knew no bounds. The only minor fly in the ointment was that I had changed jobs in the mean, and the firm I was employed with earlier had shifted their offices to a new location. Still I was reasonably sure that this would only slightly delay the inevitable... viz. me getting the sweet refund check (which shall henceforth be referred to as SRC), as I had left my forwarding address at my old firm. September 2004 and still no SRC... Now I really began to get a little worried.

I called up the IRS from a neighborhood payphone and after listening to some 5 odd minutes of very expensive music as I waited to be connected to a customer service dude, I heard a voice at the other end.. "Hi, This is Dave. How may I help you...." in heavy southern accent and I immediately knew this was going to be one long phone call. Dave then proceeded to ask me like a million questions to verify that I was indeed me and when he was convinced of that fact he said, wisely, "Well, Sir, it appears you are indeed Pushka..... er... Mr. Shanbhag. How may I be of assistance?" I tried to tell Dave, in as few words as I could, that I had not received my SRC and whether he would be so kind as to mail a new check to a different address. He asked me to wait for a bit while he pulled up the screen to enter the new address to send the check to. More expensive music... and I have a hunch Dave also paid a visit to the neighborhood coffee vending in addition to pulling up the screen because it was a good couple of minutes before I heard his voice again. I spelt out the new address excruciatingly slowly for Dave, who for some reason seemed to find "Secunderabad" incredibly amusing. Dave then assured me that a new check would be mailed out to me and I should be receiving it in a couple of weeks time. I returned home that night with a very light wallet and a light heart... and once again dreamt happy dreams...

January 2005 and still no sign of my SRC. With a very heavy heart, I called the IRS and went through the ordeal again. This time it was a southern belle, Melissa. During the course of the call I discovered that Dave had got an amazing six letters wrong in the address I had spelt out for him. By the time I got Melissa to correct the address, I realized I had spent a small fortune on phone calls to the IRS, but by this time I was beyond pain and sorrow. Melissa cheerfully assured me that a new check would be mailed to me immediately. I walked home feeling all that could go wrong had gone wrong and things couldn't get any worse. But I hadn't counted on the IRS proving me wrong.....

A month or so later I did receive the SRC, which I happily encashed thinking the entire sordid episode was finally behind me. Another month passed uneventfully and then another SRC landed at my doorstep (the one Dave sent, with six characters wrong in the address) and I instinctively knew I hadn't seen the last of the IRS. Sure enough a couple of weeks later I received the "Send us the money or else..." letter that the title of the post speaks about. I called up the IRS .... again... and learnt that the IRS had assumed I had cashed both the checks I received. Much pained, I assured the lady at the other end that I had deposited only one check and asked her what I was to do. I was asked to mail the other check back with a letter explaining exactly what had happened. So I composed a letter to the IRS, narrating the story above (worded a little differently, of course) and mailed it to the IRS along with the check I had not encashed.

I'm now waiting for the IRS to land their next punch. Probably I'll find two huge blokes at the door when I answer the doorbell tomorrow morning, asking me to pay up.. or else....... until later... cheers. :)

Monday, June 06, 2005

What the...

I found this personality disorder test at a friend's blog... and being the curious types, I took the test. I still believe the test was a load of baloney, but here's what it had to say of me:


-- Personality Disorder Test --
-- Personality Disorder Information --

until later... cheers from a moderately paranoid, schizoid and avoidant psycho... 8-)

Top ten..

These days everyone seems to have their own "top ten" list. Not all of which make a whole lot of sense... like "Top ten reasons I hate broccoli." Now what kind of list would that be? Anyways, I digress.... I have decided to get onto the "top ten" bandwagon and here's the first of my lists. You can look forward to a lot more of these in the days to come. And unlike the broccoli list, they shall be very enlightening.... providing useful insights into the mysteries of the universe besides helping you make a ton of money in the stock market...

It's now been an year and half since I returned to India after completing my Master's and it's been a very good year and half by any standards. But I'd be lying if I said that there was nothing from my life in the US that I missed. Here's a list of the Ten things I miss most:

i) Fixing myself a large bowl of raisin bran and cold milk for breakfast. Idli-vada's not bad at all, but I really miss my cereals...

ii) Law and Order (all the three variants). If you're wondering what the "Law & Order" I'm talking about is, you really have led a deprived life. It's only the best TV drama series.... ever....

iii) The trolley ride through downtown Knoxville. One of the joys of living in a mid-sized town in America.... quaint downtowns. And Knoxville was no exception. The trolley ride from the University campus to downtown and back was a real joy... and best of all, it was FREE!! ... words that are music to the ears of every desi grad student.

iv) The public library in downtown Knoxville. The reason I was no wiser after my MS than I was before, as I preferred Wilbur Smith to Wide Area Networks and Arthur C Clarke to Automata Theory.

v) Chips Ahoy Chocolate chip cookies. Chocolate chips... in a cookie... life really can't get much better. The guy that invented these should have been made president of the US!!!

vi) Cici's all you can eat pizza buffet for $3.99 .. the first time I went to the Cici's pizza parlor in Knoxville, I was able to have all of three slices of pizza. And towards the end of my stay in Knoxville, I could have ten slices of pizza without breaking a sweat... a testament to the fine art of pizza making espoused by this pantheon of culinary delights for the masses.

vii) The dollar movie theater. The first time someone told me I could watch a movie for a dollar at the Dollar Movie theater, I thought they were just trying to make a bakra of the naya desi in the department. A sandwich at Subway cost like four bucks.... and a movie in a hall for a buck!! no way... it just didn't make sense. But as I discovered, much to my delight, sense it might not have made, but true it was!!! Woo-hoo!!

viii) Catching the first day, first show screenings of mind-numbingly stupid Hollywood action flicks made for the populace... of which I am an integral part!!! Case in point: Matrix II and III, Tomb Raider, Bad Boys II... the list really goes on for a bit...

ix) And much as I hate to admit it, American football. Grown men in funny attire charging at each other, fighting for a very weird shaped ball that they even had trouble holding on to... but boy, was it fun...

x) The easy and carefree student life. I can't really thank the country enough for affording me an all expense paid two and half year long vacation... with a degree at the end of it. America... truly the land of milk and honey... and chocolate-chip cookies...

So, there you have it... my very own top ten list. As I said before, it'll help you make a pile of money in the stock market. And you will be able to do that as soon as you figure out exactly how to use the information provided above to that end. You seriously don't expect me to babysit you to the bank, do you? Besides as you may have gathered from my earlier post "Stock Taste", if any of my tips do manage to help you make money off the stock market, it's totally accidental and wholly unintentional.... for which I would be well and truly sorry!! So stop dreaming and get those dollar signs out of your eyes, you greedy mercenaries... :) .. until later.... cheers...

ps: I have no idea how I forgot to include this one in the list of things I missed.... South Park!!! outrageously offensive, incredibly crude and distasteful.... and absolutely hilarious.... and now, in the immortal words of the inimitable Cartman, "Screw you guys, I'm going home!!!" ;-)