When my father reported for duty at Quantico Marine Corps Base in 1952, there was no officer housing available. For one summer and part of the fall, his family – wife and three children – lived in a rented farmhouse somewhere in Northern Virginia. We had indoor plumbing and electricity, but I remember my mother cooking on a cast-iron, wood-burning stove.
Behind the house was a patch of what I thought were vines, but which my father called weeds. He warned me not to play among them. “Besides probably some poison ivy, there’s kudzu and maybe other stuff. It’s all growing where the old outhouse used to be.”
It took some prodding before he would tell me what an outhouse was.
It was some years before I understood that the lush vegetation grew there because it was fertilized by the human excrement that had been deposited over the years.
My next exposure to outhouses was at Boy Scout camp the summer of my 13th year. All we had were outhouses, and it wasn’t long before someone discovered that shining a flashlight down the hole would reveal thousands of worms crawling among the excrement. Later, I learned they were not strictly worms, but maggots, the larvae of flies.
It took a letter today from the brokerage firm who handles my retirement accounts to bring these things back to mind.
You see, in October of 2012, I received a check from that firm. The check was to cover interest earned on an account I had recently closed. The check was for 30¢ (yes, thirty cents). Back then, we didn’t have the option of scanning or photographing a check to deposit it. I didn’t have a local bank. To mail the check back to the brokerage firm, in San Francisco, to be put into another account, or to mail the check to my bank in Texas would have cost 45¢ postage plus the cost of a Number 10 envelope. Easy decision: I shredded the check.
In August, 2018, almost six years later, I received a stern letter from the brokerage. (I say “stern” because it began with bold type and all caps). Here’s the message:
THE STATE OF GEORGIA REQUIRES US TO NOTIFY YOU THAT IF YOU DO NOT CONTACT US, FUNDS FROM YOUR UNCASHED CHECK WILL BE TRANSFERRED TO THE STATE.
Please contact us by September 30, 2018
Wow! I was impressed. Flabbergasted. Puzzled. First, why was the 30¢ – interest earned after the account had closed – reported to the State of Georgia? In my opinion, that amount is de minimus, and all the interest on that account (less than $10.00) was not reportable to the IRS under federal rules. Question 1: How did Georgia know about it? Were they somehow able to examine my six-year-old brokerage accounts? If so, under what authority?
Second, I filed a Georgia income tax return in 2012 but owed no Georgia state tax. (I’m old, retired, and not wealthy, despite having a brokerage account). An additional 30¢ interest income would not have changed that. Question 2: Why didn’t Georgia cross-check with my income tax return for that year?
Finally, (and I will use the same stern letters as above) Why is Georgia going after 30¢ when it probably cost them way more than that to find this incident, notify the brokerage firm, and establish a suspense file. Why is Georgia burdening the brokerage firm with more than $2.00 in cost * to send the notice to me, burdening me with the cost of a 50¢ stamp and a Number 10 envelope to return the form letter to the brokerage firm, and burden the brokerage firm about $5.00 * to recut the check and mail it to me? Is Georgia that desperate for money? Should the residents of Georgia therefore heed James Thurber’s injunction, “Run, do not walk to the nearest desert island”? Are the state’s finances in such dire straits? Is this insanity being perpetrated by state employees or by contractors who are paid based on how much “illicit funds” they recover and who do not have to account for their expenses?
It’s clear to me that the Georgia State Bureaucracy is feeding not only at the cesspit of our civilization but at the trough of those too ignorant of their rights to dispute such ridiculous, insane, costly, stupid, insane (I said that, already, but it’s worth saying again) attempts at extortion?
* Costs of preparing and mailing a letter, the cost of a “postage paid by” return letter, and the cost of cutting a check are an amalgam of several Google searches. I suspect the actual cost may be a bit lower, if the brokerage has automated this process, a bit higher if Georg
Registered Curmudgeon, scientist, skeptic, humanist, and writer.