Your Tax Dollars at Work

Not exactly a newsflash; just restating how the IRS wastes time and money.

I just got off the phone with the IRS. I’d called them because I needed a confirmation letter with my company name and EIN. I’d had a document like that, but it was likely among those destroyed when my wasband stored cardboard boxes of my personal and business documents, books, and software on the floor of my hangar and the hangar flooded, thus destroying everything in those boxes. If he still wonders why I threw so many of his personal items into random cardboard boxes in the garage during the 10 months I lived in our Wickenburg home last autumn/winter/spring, that should give him a clue. He should consider himself lucky that I didn’t leave those boxes outside or turn the hose on them.

Confirmation of Sin?
Searching for “confirmation of ein” results in this interesting suggestion — on the IRS website?

Anyway, I tried to get the document I needed online. I got some comic relief from the search system on the IRS website before zeroing in on a document with instructions that I thought would help.

Instructions

You can read as well as I can. The third bullet point tells me to call the Business & Specialty Tax Line at a toll-free number. So I dialed it up on my cell phone, pressed 1 when prompted to get English (really?), and then pressed 3 to tell them I needed an EIN certification letter. The machine then warned me I’d have a 30 minute wait time.

I got out my bluetooth earpiece, plugged it into my ear, and turned it on. And then I went about my business while on hold.

I waited more than 30 minutes. It didn’t really bother me because my cell phone has unlimited minutes and the music they were playing was tolerable. I did some banking and wrote a few email messages. I washed the dishes. I updated my to-do list.

58 minutes after dialing, a series of beeps and clicks told me something was happening. After a moment, a woman got on the line.

I told her what I needed. She asked me questions to confirm my identity. Then she said she’d “generate a letter” and that I’d get it “in the mail in 5 to 7 business days.”

I asked if it were possible to have the letter generated as a PDF and emailed to me. She said they didn’t have the ability to do that. That didn’t surprise me in the least. An organization that takes nearly an hour to answer a phone call isn’t one that’s likely to be too technologically savvy.

We talked briefly about my hour-long wait on a toll-free number. It didn’t cost me a dime — directly. But as a taxpayer, it cost me money. If you pay taxes in the U.S., it cost you money, too. After all, toll-free numbers might be free to people who dial them, but they’re not free to the people who answer them. I don’t know what the going rate is, but even if it’s only 5¢/minute, the IRS spent $3 to make me wait on hold. Assuming I wasn’t the only one with an hour-long wait today, that’s $3 for every call they take.

We also talked about the cost of generating that letter, stuffing it into an envelope, putting a stamp on it, and sending it to me. That’s another buck or two in materials cost and labor, no?

Of course, she doesn’t care. She’s got a job and she’d doing it. I understand that and told her I didn’t blame her in the least. I just told her I wished our government could step up into the 21st century with the rest of us.

They could do that, of course, by giving business owners access to the database. Have a front end that asks me the same questions she asked to give me the ability to generate the document onscreen or as a PDF for immediate access. The phone call wouldn’t be necessary, the wait wouldn’t be necessary. I’d have my document now instead of having to wait a week to get it.

Why do I need this particular document? Ironically, so I can upload it to a website as documentation for opening a new account. At least someone is using technology right.

Another Social Networking FAIL

Tip: When you wait five years to reply to a tweet, you’re doing it wrong.

Yesterday, a tweet addressed to me using Twitter’s @Reply feature appeared in my timeline on the Twitter app on my Mac:

Tweet from GotPrint

Thanks for my interest? What interest? I’d been using GotPrint.com for several years, but didn’t recall ever using Twitter to express my interest in the company.

Fortunately, the Twitter app (and Twitter.com, for that matter) makes it easy to see the original or “parent” tweet an @Reply is in response to. When I checked, I found the following Tweet:

Parent Tweet

Note the date on that tweet: December 10, 2007. Now note the date on this post: July 6, 2013. I tweeted about the company — not even using its Twitter name — five and a half years ago.

And they replied yesterday with a canned, spammy response.

Annoyed at being spammed, I responded:

Response

Apparently, the folks at GotPrint.com think I’m an idiot. Their response a short while later offered an unlikely and lame excuse:

Lame Excuse

Follow up? Five and half years later?

It’s far more likely that GotPrint.com got its hands on a Twitter bot that ran through all the old tweets that mentioned the company by name and generated spam like the message I got. While most people would likely ignore the message — because, let’s face it, most people don’t actually read the tweets on their timeline — I didn’t.

I replied:

Reply

And then I blogged about it here.

Why is this a social networking failure? Mostly because GotPrint.com — or the individual/organization it hired to handle its social networking — misses the point of social networking: engagement.

Social networking isn’t about gathering followers and spamming them with product info. Social networking is about making your company available for a dialog with your customers and potential customers. A timely dialog. (I complained about this in another blog post years ago, but I can’t seem to find the post to link to it. Sorry!)

The companies that use social networking effectively respond promptly and appropriately to social network mentions of their companies, especially when those mentions tag the company by its Twitter (or Facebook or other social network) name. They provide additional information when requested. They link to helpful documentation to solve specific problems. They provide customer service information when its needed.

They don’t generate automated responses using bots based on key words or phrases. They don’t come up with lame excuses when they’re caught doing something stupid (like responding to a 5-1/2 year old tweet). And they certainly don’t attack other social networking users who might have something negative to say about them (as Amy’s Baking Company so famously did earlier this year).

Twitter has been around for more than seven years now. Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networks have also been around for quite some time. I find it incredible that organizations are still struggling to make social networking part of their customer service and marketing efforts. It’s pretty simple; why can’t they figure it out?

As for GotPrint.com, well, I’ll likely continue using them for my print marketing needs — which, admittedly is limited these days. But it isn’t because of the tweet I received from them yesterday. It’s because their price and quality meets my needs. If anything, yesterday’s tweet is a black mark against them — the only black mark so far.

And no, I won’t follow them on Twitter. In fact, if I hear from them again, I’ll likely report them for spam.

Yes, I Fly Helicopters

But come on, get real.

Yes, I fly helicopters for a living. Yes, the red R44 parked out in the dirt is mine. Yes, I bought it new and paid every penny of the $346K it cost, plus interest on the 8-year loan I needed to finance it. Yes, I am aware that’s more than your house probably cost. It’s definitely more than what my house cost.

I’m sorry, but no, just because a friend of yours introduced you to me in a bar tonight doesn’t mean I’m going to take you for a free ride. So don’t waste any more time telling me that you want me to fly crazy and swearing that you’ll sit still while I do so — as if that somehow matters. I have no intention of taking your creepy ass for a ride and would likely find an excuse not to do it even if you did offer to pay me. Which is unlikely. How much do I have to rudely text one of my friends while you jabber about the movie set you worked on 20 years ago in a failed attempt to impress me? How long before you realize I want nothing to do with you? How long before you just go away?

Thank you, yes, it is a beautiful helicopter. You should see it when it’s clean! But no, flying it is not a hobby. As a matter of fact, I have found a way to get paid for hovering. Imagine that! How else do you think I could afford to fly it? Do you think I’m independently wealthy? Or that I’ve got a sugar daddy paying my bills? Amazing that a woman can build a career flying helicopters, no? That someone is actually willing to pay me to do it. Amazing.

What’s that you want? The pay for a commercial helicopter pilot? The “lowest to highest salary and the average”? I’m sorry, but no, I don’t have detailed information about the pay scale for helicopter pilots. I’m an owner/pilot, not a career counselor or headhunter. I know what I make but that’s none of your business. I can tell you this: people who fly helicopters for the money are usually disappointed.

Four moronic men in four days. Just a sample of the kind of idiotic assumptions and questions I put up with from complete strangers. Don’t they think before they communicate? Don’t they realize how rude they’re being by making their assumptions about me and my life? By asking their questions in such a demeaning way?

Yeah, I know I get cranky about things like this. But seriously: four in four days?

PSA: Don’t Kill the Bees

You think people would know better by now.

I’ll keep it short, but it’s not sweet. In fact, it breaks my heart to write this.

I’ll also keep it simple for people who might have trouble understanding the facts of life. Yes, I’m talking about the birds and the bees — mostly the bees.

Why Bees are Important to Protect

Bees being Moved
This Wikipedia photo by Pollinator shows bees being moved from South Carolina to Maine for blueberry pollination.

The production of food throughout the world relies heavily on pollination, much (if not most) of which is accomplished by bees as they gather pollen and nectar from flowers. Bees are so important for agriculture that it’s common for farmers and orchardists to have bees shipped hundreds of miles to their farms — often at a huge expense — to pollenate crops.

Colony Collapse Disorder

is a phenomenon in which worker bees from a beehive or European honey bee colony abruptly disappear. While such disappearances have occurred throughout the history of apiculture, … the syndrome was renamed colony collapse disorder in late 2006 in conjunction with a drastic rise in the number of disappearances of Western honeybee colonies in North America. European beekeepers observed similar phenomena in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, and initial reports have also come in from Switzerland and Germany, albeit to a lesser degree while the Northern Ireland Assembly received reports of a decline greater than 50%.

In other words, the world’s bees are dying.

I can’t stress how screwed the world would be if we lost the bees. I can’t even imagine it.

What Stupid People Do

Last night, when I returned home from a great day out with my dog and friends, I had an email message from someone responding to a Craig’s List ad I posted about wanting bees. He was reporting a swarm in Malaga. He’d sent the message at about 5:30 PM. It was now 8 PM, but still light.

I called him about it. He said the swarm was on a piece of scrap lumber only 2 feet off the ground on a lot with a home under construction. It had been there more than 24 hours. It was easy to reach and probably easy to catch.

Although I sorely wanted to capture the swarm myself, I didn’t want to drive the 40 miles (each way) to Malaga. So I called my friend, Jim, and told him about it. I gave him the address and even looked up directions on Google Maps. It would only take him about 15 minutes to get there. He was psyched. He said he’d throw on his shoes and try to get them.

I heard back from his wife about an hour later.

Dead Bees
Dead honey bees.

Jim had found the bees, dead, along with a few cans of Raid.

The bees are dying well enough on their own, but some moron has to go at them with a can of pesticide?

Dozens of beekeepers who live in the area are willing — and eager — to remove a swarm of bees for free, but some idiot has to kill them?

The stupidity of people amazes me.

Don’t Kill the Bees

Please, people, don’t kill the bees.

If you see a swarm, remain calm. Swarming bees are generally not dangerous. They’re just relocating. They’re like you in that big U-Haul truck, parked at a rest stop on the freeway, taking a break.

Call for help.

Your best bet is a beekeeper, if you can find one listed in a local phone book or online for your area. Try Craig’s List; search for “bees” or “swarm.”

The next best bet is the local Humane Society or Animal Control Department of the town or city where you live. They often have contact information for beekeepers.

Next choice: the police, but not 9-1-1. (A bee swarm is not a police emergency.)

Last choice: a pest control company, but with the request that they send someone to remove the bees without killing them. If they won’t do it for free, ask them to find a beekeeper who will. They should have this information handy.

I will concede that if the bees get into the walls of a building or some other place where they can’t be reached, extermination might be necessary. But if you call for help as soon as you see a swarm, you can usually prevent it from getting into that unreachable place and save it.

As the person who contacted me, and my friend Jim tried to do.

Expensive Delusions

When verifying the reality of a delusion gets expensive — and makes the deluded people look like fools.

I have to blog this. It’s the funniest thing that has happened since my divorce turned ugly last August.

The Back Story

As many readers know, I’ve been planning to buy and build a home on a lot in Malaga, WA. What some readers may not know is that back in July, when I thought there might be a chance of reconciliation with my estranged husband, I took him to see the lot I wanted to buy.

I envisioned us building a summer home there where I was making 80% of my income during three months. I envisioned him opening the bicycle repair shop he’d talked about on more than one occasion, possibly with bike rentals, along the nearby 11-mile bike trail in Wenatchee. I envisioned us living back in our paid-for Arizona home during the winter, taking it easy with a semi-retired lifestyle that would leave him plenty of time to fly his plane and build skills for his retirement career as a certified flight instructor.

I really thought that if he saw the land and the view that he’d envision the same life I saw for us. A life that didn’t include him being a slave to pay for a condo he didn’t need and I hated. A life with new, fun challenges in a beautiful place that wasn’t overrun with cheap retirees and rabid conservatives. A life with lots of recreational opportunities and a sunny future.

I didn’t realize then that he was already under the thumb of a desperate old woman who had seduced him with 30-year-old lingerie photos. I didn’t realize that he had stopped thinking for himself and was only doing what his new mommy told him to do.

That’s the back story: I found a 10-acre view lot in Malaga and I showed it to my future ex-husband, foolishly thinking he’d like it, too. Then I waited until the divorce was finalized and I got my settlement to buy it.

Fast Forward, May 7, 2013

My husband and his girlfriend/mommy managed to drag the divorce process out to April 2013. Other factors dragged it into May. On May 7, we had the first of two half-day sessions in front of a judge.

I was on the stand most of that time. During the cross-examination, their lawyer — I can’t really call him my husband’s lawyer since his girlfriend/mommy has been giving most orders to him since at least November — asked me a curious question:

“Isn’t it true that you own a home in Washington state?”

The question really took me by surprise. Me own a home in Washington? If that was the case, then why would I be living in Wickenburg, AZ, in a home filled with memories of a life I’d lived with the man I loved? The home I’d been locked out of by the man who obviously now hated me and had been harassing me since my return in September?

I answered truthfully: “No.”

He pressed on: “Isn’t it true that you have been living most of the past six months in Washington?”

I might have laughed. “No,” I replied. Other than a few short trips to Washington and California and Florida, I’d spent most of the past six months stuck in Wickenburg. Packing.

Afterwards, I talked about that question with my lawyer, family, and friends. It had seemed so out of left field. Did they honestly think I was living in Washington? If so, my testimony, under oath, should set them straight.

At least that’s what I thought.

Another Court Date

After another delay, we had our final appearance before the judge on May 31. My future ex-husband testified. Although most of his testimony was irrelevant and complete waste of time, he did manage to convince me that he’s become quite a liar. Or he’s more delusional than I thought.

My favorite piece of fiction: That during the six years of our marriage, he’d helped me with my helicopter business at least 100 times. That’s quite a feat for someone trapped in a 9 to 5 grind who uses his vacation time to visit family in New York and spends most of his other free time watching television. I was able to get back on the stand and insert a dose of reality for the judge’s consideration.

When we left the court, we all let out a sigh of relief. Now that it was in the judge’s hands, it was finally over. They’d finally stop harassing me.

At least that’s what I thought.

The Abuse Continues

The first indication that I was wrong came the day after the court appearance. He transferred the the balance of our joint checking account, which has always been equally contributed to and used for household expenses, to his personal checking account.

It’s not the money that bothered me. Frankly, it isn’t worth spending time worrying about the $445 that was my share.

What bothered me was the fact that the account was being used to pay our sole joint liability: the home equity line of credit. When the automatic payment came through, the payment would bounce and the account would be charged $35.

I knew this for a fact because I’d been watching my husband’s old checking account, which I could see when I logged into Bank of America. He’d drained that, too, but had stupidly forgotten to stop automatic payments from that account. Since September, he had bounced five checks and had been hit with a $35 fee for each one. (I knew because I still got low balance alerts for that account with all the others I monitored. That’s how I found out immediately about his withdrawal from the house account.) Some people just can’t manage their own finances. Good thing I was in charge of paying the bills all those years.

So by removing the money from that account, he’d set us up for bank fees and a possible hit to our credit scores for late payment of a loan.

And let’s not ignore the fact that he had no legal right to remove any funds from that account without the permission of the court unless it was to pay for house expenses. This money was true joint funds used for a specific purpose. Half the money was mine. He was stealing from me.

What a freaking idiot.

Amazing that it took him less than 24 hours to prove again how stupid he could be.

And Now for the Funny Part

On June 5 — still less than a week from that final court date — I was sitting at an outdoor restaurant, having lunch. I’d just spent the morning traipsing all over that 10-acre lot in Malaga with two surveyors, identifying property corners and the northern property line. I wanted to make sure I could visualize what my future 10 acre lot looked like. I wanted to see what land I had to work with.

(I was very pleased with the results. The lot appears about three times the size I’d visualized, working from incorrect corner markers.)

As I sat eating lunch, I checked my email. And that’s when I saw the latest bit of nonsense from my husband’s side of the divorce: They were insisting that I had already purchased the lot. In fact, they insisted that I had closed in January and that I was already developing it!

I really didn’t have any idea where they’d gotten these specific details. Although the email communication I’d been forwarded — from my husband’s mommy/girlfriend to their lawyer to my lawyer — mentioned tweets, I can’t remember having ever tweeted anything about having bought the land. Why? Well, I’d never bought it. So how could they have information about a closing date? And what made them think I’d started developing the land?

An earlier email message answered one of those questions. Apparently, back in early April 2013, they’d hired an “investigator” to snoop around the property I planned to buy. He’d photographed an RV (not mine) and cargo trailer (not mine) on a lot with a view a lot like the one I’d soon have. He’d provided details about septic system takeouts and obvious earthwork. The investigator’s report and some of the photos were included in the email forwarded from my husband to his lawyer to my lawyer. This was their proof that I’d lied in court — that I owned a home in Washington and was building on it!

Click play to cue soundtrack for this hilarity. (Many thanks to Facebook friend Dean for offering up this very appropriate music track.)

The only problem is, the photos showed the lot next to the one I was planning to buy.

You cannot imagine how hard I laughed when I realized this. My husband and his girlfriend/mommy had spent hundreds of dollars hiring an “investigator” to photograph my future neighbor’s property!

How they screwed this up so badly is beyond me. Who gave the investigator the address? Where did it come from? That has to be a story in itself.

How Delusions Become Costly

You realize that to find out what property I own in Malaga, all a person has to do is go to the Chelan County Assessor’s Office website and do a parcel search for my last name. If my husband or his girlfriend/mommy or their lawyer or the investigator had spent about 5 minutes doing this, they would have concluded that I didn’t own any land in Malaga or anywhere else in Chelan country. And if they thought they got the county wrong, they could have done the same for Douglas and Grant countries.

But the trouble is, they weren’t interested in reality. They were interested in producing evidence to back up their delusion.

They were convinced that I owned land in Washington. That was their delusion.

Maybe they did try a property search. They would have come up empty. But in their deluded minds, they knew I had property in Washington. They would have made excuses for why the tax rolls didn’t reflect their idea of reality. Perhaps they hadn’t been updated lately. Perhaps I’d bought the land in someone else’s name. Perhaps the Chelan County Assessor’s office was conspiring against them to hide the truth about me and my vast Washington real estate holdings.

Hey, anything is possible when you don’t rely on facts.

So they hired an “investigator” and told him where to take photos. Maybe they told him approximately where the lot was and he did some “investigating,” coming up with the only lot on that side of the road that was being developed. Having an RV on it must have sealed the deal that it was my lot, even though the tax rolls said it was owned by someone else.

Never mind that the RV on the lot wasn’t the one I owned, the one he claimed in court to have installed $5,000 to $9,000 of improvements in. (Another lie.) It wasn’t even the same make and model. And even though the “investigator” took photos of the Washington state license plates on the RV and the cargo trailer, no one had the idea to run those plates and see who they were registered to? If they had, they’d see that they were registered to someone other than me. Probably the people who owned the lot.

But that would shatter the delusion. Can’t do that. Delusional people only want evidence to support their delusions.

And apparently, they’re wiling to pay to get that evidence.

What Now?

Well, I’ve informed all parties that they investigated the wrong lot. I made it quite clear how amusing I think this is and how incredibly stupid I think my husband, his girlfriend/mommy, their lawyer, and the “investigator” are. I haven’t heard anything more about it.

But I suspect they don’t believe me. After all, they are delusional. I said in court, under oath, that I did not own a home in Washington. I said this on May 7, 2013. I did not lie in court.

But they obviously didn’t believe I was telling the truth then, under oath. So why would they believe me now?