OMG, it's that time of year again, spring thaw, birthdays, and of course, Mr. Taxman; here is my story. Well, it's not actually my story, but that of a loved one whom I will call W*.
Six weeks ago, on a bright late winter Monday morning, W decided he would try something new this year, filing our taxes by telephone. He gathered all appropriate materials, slips and statements, dialed the number provided on our forms and was answered by an automated robot voice named R*. So far, so good. W started with my tax return, answering all the questions, ones such as, if you are claiming ....., please refer to line 1697. Once or twice, when W didn't find line 1697, or line 7597, or line 39,124 in the allotted time, R, in a friendly voice, would say,
"I'm sorry, I did not hear your response. Please hang up and try again."
Okay, lesson learned. You have to fill out the paper thing first and practice speed page–turning so you can find the line required by R before he (the voice was male) hangs up on you. Apparently, automated telephone robots do not have any patience for us first–timer old guys. No doubt a kid could sail through the return in record time, receive kudos from R and maybe an extra zero on the refund cheque for outstanding automated telephone response time.
Success at last, the return was confirmed with a refund of $xxxxxxx. On to the next income tax return. After three more hang–ups—what is R's hurray, anyway?—and much impressive page rifling, W finished and received that ever–friendly goodbye from R, with the usual promises—you know, the cheque–is–in–the–mail type.
Eight days later, my refund arrived in my bank account. Hurrah! W and I considered early retirement, but rejected it on the grounds my refund wasn't quite enough to get us through. Nevertheless, it restored our faith in our government's automated telephone robots, and especially in R. His impatience was forgiven and forgotten. We awaited W's refund with great excitement. Maybe it would be enough to retire, or take a vacation, or buy an extra bag of chips for those Saturday night video marathons.
Waited some more...
Yesterday, when W's refund was still A.W.O.L, he decided to call. Out came the forms, the numbers were consulted and dialed, and with much pushing and poking and prodding at the prompting of an automated robot voice (not R this time, he was on another call), a voice answered,
"Good morning. Welcome to your friendly government Income Tax And Revenue Service. How may I help you?"
"Are you real," W inquired?
"Indeed I am the real thing, alive and pleased to be of service."
W explained his problem, the mysteriously missing second refund cheque. Mr. Aliveandfriendly** punched a few keys—we could hear his fingers flying across the keyboard.
"Oh oh," W muttered, "what have I got us into?" He chewed his nails, fidgeted in his chair, and dropped the phone as the seconds and minutes ticked off, then managed to retrieve the phone just as Mr. A spoke.
"Aha, I see the problem. We have no record of your 2008 return Mr. W." He then proceeded to recommend re–filing over the telephone, with a follow–up phone call an hour later to confirm the confirmation. "Works every time," Mr. A assured. We, on the other hand, suspect R must have been on his coffee break while W was filing his return. You just never know with these automated robot voices, they could be pre–recorded to make polite noises so that you feel all tickled and loved.
After the conversation, W proceeded to follow Mr. A's instructions, made the call, pushed the buttons and R cheerfully accepted his input once more. He was even more impatient this time, expecting instant answers for lines 109, 1004, 12,743, and 46,202. After the second, the third call, finally, it was over. Just one more step, confirmation.
At that very moment, no more than a nanosecond before the whole ordeal should have been over...
No tax return filed. No polite confirmation. No cheerful goodbye and thank you for calling your friendly Income Tax and Revenue Service.
I watched in a great silent awe as W yelled, screamed, pulled hair, tossed rainbow–coloured invectives to the wind, smashed furniture, threw the phone out the window, punched the walls and generally created mayhem. I suspected he was a teensy bit annoyed. And, I suspected R and his cronies were having their coffee and donuts, laughing over R's adventure with W,
"Boy did I get a live one this time."
I'm positive the story has been told and retold dozens of times, reaching mythic proportions in the world of automated robot voice services.
Finally, finally, W summoned up whatever patience and courage he could find within himself, made the same call once more, and there was R, just as friendly and polite as you please, as if nothing had happened. This time, though, W was prepared, had every answer memorized and roared through his return with the force of an old steam engine. He was magnificent. He took command. He showed R who was boss, and by the end of it, R was left with little choice but to mount his cheeriest, friendliest voice and offer confirmation for W's income tax return.
"You are filed. Here is your confirmation number. Your cheque is in the mail."
* names are changed to protect the innocent
** Mr. Aliveandfriendly agreed to be identified since he just answers the phone, and has, nor has he ever had any influence over R