Are face-lifts tax deductible? Can you claim ballroom lessons as a medical expense if you’re fox-trotting to relieve stress? Is it possible to get an extension if your dog eats your tax return on April 15? Citizens who call the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) hot line with these types of pressing questions can grow irate upon learning the answer is no. But Patricia Brummer, taxpayer service specialist, always lets them down as gently as possible.
As a member of the IRS’s elite service corps, she is one of 20 specialists in her office trained to handle difficult questions and callers. On any given day, dozens of people may whine, yell, curse, and rant and rave at her — or simply talk her ear off about their financial woes. But Brummer remains unruffled. “I try to put myself in others’ shoes,” she says in a voice so soothing it could melt paper clips. “I tell them I don’t like paying up, either.”
Brummer is based out of the IRS’s Indianapolis Customer Call Site. Married and the mother of two, she answered an IRS ad for part-time staffers in 1979; the prospect of working for the country’s most despised institution charmed her. “I’ve always played by the rules,” she says. “I never cheated on tests in school. I don’t go above the speed limit. And if the grocery express line says ten items, and I have eleven, I won’t get on it.” Within two years, she was teaching trainees; numerous employee awards followed.
Over the years, Brummer has heard it all. Nosy neighbors call to tattle on ordinary folks with glitzy homes (Brummer forwards reports to the Criminal Investigation Division). Nervous mothers inquire about how their tax-evading children can make amends (yes, the IRS does have payment plans). Professionals insist they can write off custom-made clothes (not allowed “since they can also wear the garments outside their offices”). And then there was the memorable time an exotic dancer reeled off a long list of job expenses she wanted to claim, from manicures to skimpy undergarments (beauty treatments, no; costumes, yes).
Come tax season, Brummer has a tough time getting away from her work. Friends and family phone constantly with questions, and she’s up late into the night doing returns (without pay) for friends and her living-on-their-own-but-still-dependent son and daughter, now 24 and 30.
There have been no tax snafus in the family to date, save for one incident three years ago when her husband won five hundred dollars in a lottery. “Wayne came home and said, `The waitress who sold me the ticket said I don’t have to report it.’ I said, `Not for state, honey, but for federal, you do.’ He said No, I don’t.’ Finally I told him, `Are you going to listen to the waitress or to me?’ We reported it.”