Thursday, June 29, 2017

In Which I Go Forth And Part The Red Tape

Well, THE SUSPENSE IS OVER.  I had my appointment at the IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center today in Flint, Michigan, after having my identity stolen, which someone used to file a phony tax return in my name.  The link to the left will take you to the earlier episode in this Erisian adventure.

I was delighted to learn that there was no Taxpayer Assistance Center (TAC) office closer than an hour from where I live.  I'm not even half an hour from the state capital BUT THEY DON'T HAVE ONE THERE.  They don't have one in the large college town 20 minutes away.  

So I got onto the pockmarked, rutted, potholed, perpetually-being-fixed highway between me and Flint.  There is nothing not to like about this freeway.  I heard on the radio on Monday that one of the northbound lanes was closed for emergency repairs "after a void opened up under the pavement," as the DJ said.  This photo was taken at the scene of a different freeway sinkhole, but you get the idea:

 Luckily for me, the emergency repairs had already been done, so I went ahead without hours of extra delays. 

Of course, on my quest I took an armload of proof that I AM WHO I SAY I AM.  This year's tax return; last year's; my voter registration card; my Social Security card; a mortgage statement with my name on it; a utility bill showing the same address, also with my name on it; all the letters the IRS has sent me about this debacle; all the letters my tax preparer sent me about it; and the names, phone numbers, and advice given me by everyone I'd already talked to at the IRS Fraud Department.  You never know what they're going to ask you to present.  I lugged it all in a 25-lb zipper case too big to fit in my backpack.

The drive was nerve-wracking.  I kept finding out I was in the wrong lane to get to my exit ramp just as a thyroidal pickup truck was trying to "Ben Hur" me off the road.  But once off the freeway, the place was simple to find.

I was over the moon to find that the office doesn't have a public restroom.  THIS IS OUR GOVERNMENT AT WORK, PEOPLE.  Planning in advance matters at a time like this, and it stood me in good stead now.  I left an hour and a half early because the backups on this freeway have been so ridiculous lately.   Naturally, there were no backups of any sort today and I arrived early enough to give me time to go around the corner to the Michigan Works! building for a badly-needed pee.

I got back to the TAC office with ten or fifteen minutes to spare, and I was just opening one of 3 paperbacks I'd brought to while away the wait when the guard came over and said it was my turn.  This was a full 20 minutes before my appointment time.  Great!  Never mind the book!  I plonked the zipper case down on the desk and handed over 3 forms of ID.  I also tapped my Social Security number into a little keyboard gadget on the counter in front of me.

The lady said that according to her records, the case had already been resolved.  The IRS determined that the mailed tax return I sent out WEEKS AND WEEKS AGO had adequately proved to them that I AM WHO I SAY I AM.  They sent out a letter a day ago certifying that and promising to mail me, at long last, my refund check.

I never needed to make that drive or collect all those documents.

Behold The Terrorist Of The Moment

This man is not, in fact, a fashion model appearing in an ad for a splatball camp or a chain of sporting-goods stores.  Oscar Perez is the guy who recently hijacked a police helicopter, dropped it low over the Venezuelan Supreme Court building in Caracas so everyone could see the protest banner hanging from the door, and pelted the vicinity with bullets and grenades. 

The banner said "350 And Liberty," referring to a clause in the Venezuelan constitution saying that if the government there gets too authoritarian, the people have the right to OVERTHROW it.  That's a hell of a clause, and I don't think the US of A has any equivalent -- just those tedious checks and balances that keep President Trump from going full-bore MUSSOLINI on us.  But back to Venezuela.  This is only the latest spike in hostilities after MONTHS of protest against the Maduro regime.

The funny part of this story is the fact that Perez co-produced, and starred in, an action movie with some of the same elements going on.  He also released a rather dramatic filmed statement about what he's up to.  Great production values in here -- ISIS TAKE NOTE.  Their costume designer could really CLEAN UP by going into business outfitting other terrorist groups:

Don't they look snappy?

What I like best is the fact that Perez announced that he's seeking "BALANCE."  I have to agree on his goal.  Whatever else he is, Oscar Perez is not my idea of BALANCED.

Saturday, June 24, 2017


Fuzz, by Ed McBain (LOC # 68-12156), #22 in the 87th Precinct series, is a book I wanted to read because it's a police procedural that actually seems to have started a crime wave.  A terrible, terrible movie with the same name, based on this book, was shown on the ABC Movie of the Week not long before someone apparently copycatted a crime from the story in Roxbury, Massachusetts.  As you can see from the book jacket above, part of the plot involves Detective Steve Carella's attempts to capture some young hoods who are pouring gasoline on sleeping hobos and lighting them up.  The same week the movie aired on TV, a woman named Evelyn Wagler was walking to her car one night with a can of gasoline, and some young hoods made her pour it over herself.  They set her on fire and she died a few hours later.  I first learned about this because Stephen King mentioned it in Danse Macabre.  He said that when they caught the killers, the kids explained that they got the idea from the movie.  In fact, they have never been caught, but someone noticed the coincidence and that's still one theory -- not a bad one -- about where these young guys got this horrible idea.  For those of you not alive in the early 1970s, when flocks of pterodactyl still blackened the sky for miles in every direction, in those days there were only about 6 TV stations, not 253 or whatever they have now.  The TV guide was in the daily newspaper, so everyone in the viewing area knew what was showing, complete with plot summaries, so there was always a general sense of what was on the small screen. 

Life really does imitate art.  Apparently, idiots with cans of gasoline have been setting fire to hobos ever since.  This meme is such an institution in American crime that even Hudson Platt, the cameraman character in Cloverfield, mentioned it while the plucky survivors were fleeing the monster through a subway tunnel.  That's just one example off the top of my head.  If you Google "set fire to homeless," case after case pops up -- new and different killings every time you look.  That's a lot of impact for a book and a movie that (if you ask around) practically nobody has ever heard of.

But I review this well-written page-turner here as a Golden Apple, because if there's a central lesson in this story, it's that random events change everything.  In here you see the police go off on what looks like, and what turns out to be, a wild goose chase related to their attempts to find a master criminal they call the Deaf Man.  The more they investigate, the farther it seems to take them from the man they are looking for, but they proceed because hey, it looks like some kind of crime is shaping up here anyway.  And it has nothing whatsoever to do with the hoods torching winos with gasoline.  But then a random event occurs...other stuff happens...and the fuzz find themselves confronted with an unexpected solution to every crime on their docket.

And here's the ripest, most fragrant golden apple in the whole barrel.  Remember Evelyn Wagler and the hoods who killed her in Roxbury?  She borrowed a friend's car to go somewhere that night, and it happened to be low on gas.  It conked out in a spot that forced her to walk past where these hoods were waiting.  If she hadn't been walking specifically down Blue Hill in Boston on that night, she never would have run into these three guys.  This wouldn't have happened if she had borrowed a different car, or if the car's owner had thought to fill it up earlier that day.  If she hadn't been carrying a can of gas, she would never have been set on fire; the hoods who killed her were not armed.  If anything at all had gone differently, Wagler almost certainly would have lived through the night and gone back to raising her 6-year-old.  And if this ugliness had never happened and been reported around the world -- Evelyn hailed from Germany so the interest was international -- this particularly foul crime would not have spread with it.  When I Googled "set fire to homeless" just now, the first case I found was from Germany.

Life is terrible sometimes.

Evelyn Wagler, 1949-1973

Friday, June 02, 2017

Today's Golden Apple

"Clever people master life; the wise illuminate it and create fresh difficulties."
(Emile Nolde)