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Confessions of a Tax Collector: One Man's Tour of Duty Inside the IRS
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For most of the past thirteen years, I have used a different name, chosen by me and approved by our government, to perform the task appointed to me by the people of the United States. This name, my professional name, I will not tell you.
I am a foot soldier in the most feared, hated, and maligned agency in the federal government.
I work for the Treasury. I execute Title 26 of the United States Code, for the Internal Revenue Service -- or the Service, as we in the trenches call it.
I collect taxes, but don't call me a tax collector. Nobody wants to be a tax collector. Call me what the Service calls me. Call me a revenue officer.
And hear my confession.
"Okay, Rick, let's start. Why do you want to be a revenue officer?"
I was sitting in a small conference room in Tampa, across the table from Jim Neyland, chief of the Tampa branch of the Jacksonville District of the Internal Revenue Service. It was after-hours. His tie was loose around his neck and his shirtsleeves rolled to his elbows. He was about fifty, with thinning salt-and-pepper hair and a bushy black mustache. I had just turned twenty-eight, and was wearing a ten-year-old suit with a ten-day-old dark blue tie. The interview had been scheduled to begin an hour earlier, but I had waited in the reception area of the branch office, while his secretary fussed at her desk and his loud voice boomed throughout the office as he made dinner arrangements on the phone. There were no magazines to read, no television to stare blankly at while I waited. In one corner sat a dusty plastic palm tree. The carpeting was dark blue. The divider separating the secretary's workstation from the waiting area was white. The ceiling was white. On the white wall directly opposite me were two large framed photographs, one of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and another of the space shuttle Challenger. The bridge had collapsed into Tampa Bay in 1980, killing thirty-five people. Challenger had exploded in 1986, seconds after the photograph was taken.
Jim Neyland did not want Chinese. He wanted barbecue. He had been thinking about it all day, and his heart was set on barbecue. He hated Chinese; he was always hungry again thirty minutes later. He wanted some barbecue pork and some beans and corn on the cob and some coleslaw and he didn't give a good goddamn what everybody else wanted. No, not Italian, either. There would be no compromise where he was concerned. It was barbecue or nothing. The secretary flashed an apologetic smile in my direction and buzzed him again. "Mr. Yancey is here for his interview." He apparently didn't hear her. I examined my new tie for any picks, stains, or hitherto unnoticed blotches. I had to urinate, but knew the moment I bolted for the bathroom, Jim Neyland would turn the corner from the inner recesses of his office, looking for me. I stared at the picture of Challenger. Like most Americans, I could remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news. How long ago that seemed -- a lifetime or two. And now I was here, four months after answering an ad in the newspaper, more on a whim than design. My destination, my mission, was not as clearly defined as Challenger's, but in its own way was no less perilous.
"I need the job," I answered. I had decided not to repeat the preface I had used in my second interview, which had taken place two weeks prior to this one: Well, I never dreamed of being a tax collector when I grew up. This had not gone over well with one of my interrogators. "And it sounds like very interesting work."
"Well, you'll never be bored," Jim Neyland said. He picked up a folder and opened it. I could see my name printed on its face in large black letters: Yancey, John Richard. Inside were my application and notes from the first two interviews. I folded my hands in my lap, rubbing the tips of my thumbs against my slick palms. There was a motel-room quality print of a beach scene on the wall behind Jim Neyland, with a lone seagull perched on a picket fence, staring out over the dark ocean.
"So, you went to law school." His hair was thinning at the crown, a perfectly round bald spot about the size of a golf ball. Curly black hair carpeted his forearms.
"For a year."
"You dropped out?"
"I dropped out."
"Why did you drop out?"
"I decided it wasn't for me."
"It took you a year to figure that out?"
"I was kind of trying to live up to someone else's expectations." My father was a lawyer, as was my brother.
"Need a job to pay off the loans?" His tone was friendly; he seemed genuinely interested.
"Among other things."
He turned a page. "Boy, you've had quite a few jobs over the years."
"Well, the application said list everything for the past ten years." I stopped. I sounded defensive.
He ignored me. "Typesetter. Drama teacher. English professor...your degree is in English?"
"What the hell did you think you were going to do with that?" The question was rhetorical. He continued, "Dramaturge...what the hell is a dramaturge?"
"Someone who analyzes drama."
"They pay you to analyze that?"
"Playwright. Convenience store manager. Ranch hand. Ranch hand?"
"Sort of the family business."
"Get along lil' doggies!"
I managed to laugh.
"Anything you haven't done?"
"Anything you won't do?"
"What's your deal, Rick, besides comedy? I mean, what do you want to be when you grow up?"
He slapped the file closed and leaned back in his chair,
cupping the back of his head with both hands, fingers laced
Excerpted from Confessions of a Tax Collector by Richard Yancey. Copyright © 2004 by Richard Yancey. All rights reserved. Posted with permission of the publisher. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.