Philadelphia Metropolis


Never a Dull Moment at the IRS

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By Laurie Braxton

So this guy wrote a novel about working at an IRS service center, and I thought, crap, someone beat me to it. I once worked at the Philadelphia Service Center, a place rife with stories, and I figured this writer had a similar experience.

It turns out the author wanted to write a novel about boredom, and thought writing about the drones at the IRS would be ideal. He apparently did tons of research, studying the tax code, taking accounting classes, etc., but the one thing he did not do was actually work at an IRS service center. If he had, he would have realized that his boredom novel would have to be set somewhere else.

IRS.jpgI have not read this novel, nor do I intend to. Apparently, the IRS workers in the story are required to take a class in how to combat the boredom of their job. This was not a problem when I worked at the service center then located on Roosevelt Boulevard in the Northeast. We were quite capable of handling it ourselves. When I first started working at the PSC I felt like I was in another dimension. There were a couple of bearded ladies. I mean that literally.  They had whiskers.  In the space of two weeks I saw two different people who were each missing one hand. There was a blind person with a service dog. There was a flamboyant individual who wore outrageous clothes (we put a copy of the dress code on his desk the day he wore a mesh shirt to work). And those were just the characters in the North Building.

A promotion sent me to the South Building, where I met some great people, some of whom are still my friends today. But I also worked among alcoholics and people who suffered from severe OCD. There was Sweater Man, who always wore chest-hair-revealing v-necks, had bloodshot eyes and reeked of alcohol. There was the woman nicknamed Jim Beam after her drink of choice. There was a guy who would vigorously scratch his head with all 10 fingers at once and then smell them. We called him Scratch and Sniff.

There was a man I'd see in the cafeteria who would sit in front of his lunch and look from it to the clock and back again several times, without eating or even taking it out of the brown bag. There were two different guys who would go out at break time and move their cars to different spots in the parking lot. The one guy, Steve, would put on his seat belt and sunglasses to drive twenty feet. The other guy would drive a few inches forward and back a few times, get out and walk around the car, then get in and go back and forth a few more times.

That particular guy was known variously as Prom King, Greg Brady, and Elvis. For a few months a bunch of us were put to work in his department. He wore dress shoes that clack-clacked as he walked, and he would cut through our cubicle row to get back to his desk after he faxed things, over and over all night (did I mention I worked second shift?). I tried to dissuade Prom King from clacking past me by moving my wastebasket into his path. It stymied him for a second and then he stepped over it, not getting the hint. So my little group came up with a plan.

After he clacked over to the fax machine or wherever he went a thousand times a night, we moved a cubicle partition to block access to our little neighborhood. We heard the approaching clacks, we held our collective breath - clack, clack, CLACK, CLACK. A pause, and then the Prom King, with his outdated polyester suit, went hurriedly around our section. I'm sure he stayed up till dawn doing OCD rituals to get over the stress.

Lots of other outrageous stuff happened there, but the most bizarre story happened after I left. It concerned the aforementioned Steve who worked in the Phone Unit with me. He avoided contact at all costs, and only spoke when absolutely necessary.

On the second floor of the South Building were classrooms, where we learned about taxes and such (not boredom relief tactics). There were also restrooms. Often no classes were taking place, and the floor was quiet and empty, the ideal place to go for your evening constitution. Well, young Steve was going up there on a nightly basis. I don't know why but the security guard followed Steve up to the restroom one night. There he discovered Steve in a stall, naked. He had taken off every stitch of clothing. Put that in your IRS boredom book.

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